More than 40 countries backed a statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, saying reactors could help build a “low-carbon bridge to the future” and that “net zero needs nuclear power”.
Their intervention at Cop28 comes with several countries building or planning new nuclear reactors, spurred on by a desire for clean and home-grown power after a period of turmoil on global energy markets.
“Nuclear power emits no greenhouse gases when it is produced and contributes to energy security and the stability of the power grid,” said the statement read by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi.
“The responsible advancement of innovative technologies, including small modular reactors, aims to make nuclear power easier to build, more flexible to deploy and more affordable, which is of particular importance to developing countries.
“To build a low carbon bridge to the future will require that we keep the operating nuclear power plants serving us today.”
The IAEA said the statement was “a further indication of a new momentum for nuclear power as a source of reliable low carbon energy”.
Finland’s Climate and Environment Minister Kai Mykkanen, from one of Europe’s prominent pro-nuclear countries, told The National he hoped to see “technology-neutral” calls to action at Cop28 that do not exclude nuclear.
Negotiators began work on Friday on a joint "global stocktake" text agreeing a way forward on climate action, in which finding consensus on energy is likely to be particularly tricky.
“We are very happy that it seems that at an EU level, but also at a global level, we are starting to have a bit more of a technology-neutral approach also recognising the importance of nuclear,” Mr Mykkanen said.
“It’s totally unrealistic to think that we could phase out fossils and nuclear simultaneously. We need more nuclear in several kinds of solutions.”
The push for more nuclear does not only include new power stations but smaller, windmill-sized reactors that could, for example, provide heat or electricity for a remote area or industrial site.
Opponents of nuclear power object to it being put in the same category as renewables such as wind and solar, because it requires uranium fuel, produces waste and conjures fears of disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Germany closed its last atomic power plant last year because of safety fears.
Pro-nuclear campaigners counter that the wind and sun do not always co-operate and that using fission reactors as an all-weather “baseload” is preferable to coal, oil and gas.