Readers should note that I have reversed my position on whether nuclear energy projects should be eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM was established by the United Nations under the Kyoto Treaty, and allows greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction projects in developing countries to earn emission reduction credits that industrialized countries can buy and apply against their own reduction targets. Nuclear energy is explicitly barred for eligibility under the CDM. I used to disagree with that; now I don’t.
Why did I reverse my position? For the same reason I dislike it when people compare nuclear with renewable energy—wind, solar, biomass—in debates about grid power. There is no comparison. Nuclear produces massive amounts of baseload power; renewables produce small amounts of intermittent power. The two don’t really belong in the same debate. Comparing them is like comparing mosquito-level hockey with the NHL.
This means that the emission reductions from nuclear projects will dwarf those from renewable projects. Nuclear projects would therefore gobble up all the funds set aside for CDM projects.
In the case of grid-connected CDM projects, I wouldn’t really care about that. The bottom line is emission reductions, and if nuclear project produce more of them then that’s where the money should go.
But not all CDM projects will be grid connected; in fact probably most will be in off-grid locations. Far-flung communities in poor countries like the Philippines don’t have access to central station grid power, and won’t for the foreseeable future. Small-scale off-grid renewables projects in locales like these are therefore totally appropriate and should be supported. Most such communities use diesel-generated electricity and kerosene lamps. The CDM is probably the best international development mechanism for bringing clean renewable power to these communities.
For this reason alone, emission reduction credits should be set aside to support these kinds of projects. These credits would be significant in the case of bringing small scale projects into being, and would not make much of a diffference in nuclear projects. So keep them separated.
Nuclear energy could and should be supported in developing countries, but through different mechanisms. Since I started this blog, I have advocated the use of offsets to support nuclear projects in other jurisdictions. These should be transferrable within similar sectors, like power generation. That is, gas-fired power generation capacity additions in, say, British Columbia should be able to buy down their emissions by supporting nuclear projects in Ontario.