At COP27, nuclear power industry vies for role in decarbonizing planet

By Richard Valdmanis, Sarah McFarlane and Valerie Volcovici

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Nuclear energy supporters including politicians and activists sought to polish the industry's spotty image on Wednesday, using the COP27 climate summit in Egypt to argue that atomic power offers a safe and cost-efficient way to decarbonize the world.

Rising concerns about the swift pace of climate change and tight power supplies around the globe have softened some policy makers view of nuclear energy, an industry that has struggled for years to draw investment because of worries about safety, radioactive waste, and huge costs for building a reactor.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that seeks to promote nuclear power, opened an exhibit at the U.N. climate gathering of global leaders in Egypt – its first time doing so in 27 years of the annual international climate negotiations. The showcase – expounding the technology's potential in the fight against climate change.

"Many countries faced with sharply rising energy costs and heightened security of supply concerns are turning to nuclear power," the IAEA said in a release announcing the exhibit.

U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry, meanwhile, pumped up the industry on Tuesday at a news conference at the summit announcing the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM)'s formal interest in providing $3 billion in financial support for a nuclear plant in Romania.

"We have a viable alternative in nuclear ... This is one of the ways in which we can achieve net-zero," he told reporters, referring to an international target of cutting net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. "We don't get to net zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix."

The United States has already earmarked billions of dollars toward keeping existing nuclear power plants open as part of a broader strategy to decarbonize the economy and is hoping to encourage new projects.

The nuclear power industry has had trouble raising money in recent years, having taken a huge public relations hit following the 2011 reactor meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in Japan. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further raised concerns about nuclear safety with sporadic fighting and power cuts at the site of the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Oleksii Riabchyn, advisor to the Ukraine government on green energy, told Reuters at the summit that he thought the country's reactors required a missile shield to protect them.

Even so, Hannah Fenwick, the co-lead of Nuclear for Climate which represents a network of 150 associations advocating for governments to embrace nuclear power, said her organization was lobbying policy-makers at COP27 to consider nuclear energy investments and was getting decent feedback.

"We have been saying that nuclear is a solution for climate for many years and the geopolitical climate has changed and people are now listening," she said.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Sarah McFarlane and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Katy Daigle and Frank Jack Daniel)