The (Missing) Role of Nuclear Energy in the Sustainable Development Goals

Nuclear science and technology are used in many countries to help meet development objectives in areas including energy, human health, food production, water management and environmental
protection. The focus of this paper will be on energy and specifically how nuclear energy fits into SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy) and relates to SDG 13 (Climate action).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and
prosperity by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goal 7, Affordable and clean energy, aims to “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”, with a focus on developing countries.
This goal classes “renewable” technologies to be sustainable, while excluding nuclear energy. The term “renewable” usually includes unsustainable, high carbon biofuel. From a policy point of view, it is
a problematic term. According to multiple scientific bodies, nuclear energy is clean, reliable and is needed to transition away from fossil fuels in order to combat climate change. No country in the world
has been able to decarbonise its electricity sector without having either nuclear energy or – where available – substantial hydro or geothermal energy as part of the energy mix.

SDG 13, Climate action, focuses on lowering greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. This goal does not mention nuclear energy. Significant research has shown that in the
absence of suitable hydro or geothermal resources, decarbonisation aims are not achieved without nuclear energy. These issues will be discussed in this paper.

Objective: To assess whether nuclear energy should be included in SDGs 7 and 13, and consider the reasons for its current exclusion.