There is an estimated $500 trillion of global wealth, equity and debt. If the earth warms by 3.7° Celsius by the end of the century – a business as usual trajectory - it will swamp that value and more, producing an estimated $551 trillion in damage.
That is the kind of wholesale financial disintegration that should stun every person and policymaker into rethinking their strategy for global decarbonization. No viable option can be dismissed and comfort zones need to be expanded.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, clearly states that limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented” decarbonization action.
But, the IPCC itself equivocates on one of the largest existing zero-carbon technologies - nuclear power – citing its undisputed value but focusing on its perceived drawbacks rather than analyzing how they can be overcome. That produced a backlash from a number of prominent scientists and scholars who complained that the IPCC unfairly treated nuclear power and that it was an essential technology if the panel’s extraordinary objective is to be achieved.
Their position is consistent with the determination in MIT's recent report that “realizing nuclear energy’s potential is essential to achieving a deeply decarbonized energy future.” And it is bolstered by two other new reports. One from the Department of Defense that looked positively on the value of nuclear power for supporting multiple missions and another from Google acknowledging the necessity of the existing nuclear fleet and the development of advanced reactors to reach its own ambitious corporate decarbonization goals.
But, the future of nuclear power can’t be driven by climate objectives alone. There are global security, geopolitical competitiveness, and technology innovation objectives to which nuclear power also is essential. But this package of value will not be wholly realized if the nuclear governance system can’t adequately adapt to new challenges and technologies.
Nuclear governance is an area where the U.S. and its allies have a significant advantage over its geopolitical competitors, Russia and China. They have been strong supporters and innovators in nuclear safeguards to prevent proliferation, nuclear security to prevent nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety regulation.
But the nuclear governance system will need to be more rapid and agile in dealing with the coming deployment of smaller, advanced nuclear technologies and new challenges posed by cyber threats, the impact of artificial intelligence, and other emerging disruptive technologies.
A positive development is the IAEA Symposium on nuclear safeguards that will convene next week. It has multiple sessions devoted to the safeguards challenges posed by advanced reactors and the implications of new technologies. The Global Nexus Initiative will be presenting its analysis on Advanced Reactor Design – Ensuring Excellence in Non-Proliferation and Security.
There is no guarantee that the technical reports from this wide-ranging symposium will influence international governmental, corporate and expert policy makers and influencers. But, global decision makers ignore at their peril the clear link between strengthening nuclear governance and the potential wipe-out of global wealth caused by a runaway global temperature increase.