The Future of the Nuclear Energy Industry Following the US Election

According to President-elect Trump “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non competitive”.

This may not have been the most outrageous of the many absurd and untrue messages which emerged from his campaign but its implications are among the most frightening.

His “America First Energy Plan” would rescind all the Obama administration’s actions on climate change at the very time when the world needs to step up the scale and urgency of its response.

It remains to be seen what he will do in office and it is possible that the reality may turn out to be less damaging than the rhetoric. Prudence suggests however that we should expect fossil fuel consumption, development and exploration in the US to rise substantially in the next four years and the priority attached to investment in low carbon energy to be correspondingly reduced.

There is simply no redeeming feature about the election to the most powerful position in the Western world of a person who is prepared to ignore the science of climate change so completely. But it has happened and we must now deal with the consequences.

The first task is to minimise the impact which the Trump presidency has on the approach to climate change adopted by other countries. In this respect China and the European Union, who together account for over one third of global GDP and over a quarter of the world’s population, are crucially important.

Hopefully these two great trading blocs will not be diverted from the paths on which they are both well set. In each case the hideous air quality conditions created by fossil fuel consumption, which cause millions of premature deaths every year, will be a powerful spur to continue their progress towards a cleaner low carbon economy.

At NNWE our role is to analyse what this may mean for the future of the nuclear industry. First and foremost it is clear that the world needs nuclear energy as much as it did two weeks ago and possibly more so.

Whoever occupies the Oval Office, the consequences of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rising substantially above the levels which have prevailed at all times since before the human species existed will continue. A four year pause in America’s response to the reality of climate change will simply mean that the action which is needed in the 2020s is more urgent and on a bigger scale.

However if for the time being US energy policy is driven by the goal of cutting the energy bills of industrial and domestic energy users then the importance of cutting the cost of new nuclear power becomes even greater.

Making new nuclear more cost competitive has been a preoccupation of NNWE since its establishment two years ago. It will be the focus of our next Brussels Policy Forum to be held later this month (please contact us if you would like to attend – there is no charge).

Hopefully EU energy policy will continue to recognise that for many countries a significant element of nuclear power in their national energy mix is the best way to maintain energy security while simultaneously hitting carbon emissions reduction targets.

Interestingly that conclusion has already been reached by a number of non-EU members, of whom Britain will soon be one, which are situated geographically very close to the EU. How collaboration between these neighbouring pro-nuclear countries from inside and outside the EU can best be promoted in the next few years, and how Euratom should adapt to Brexit, will be the subject of forthcoming NNWE studies.

 

Tim Yeo, Chairman, New NuclearWatch Europe (NNWE)