News in Depth: Nuclear Energy and Mexico’s Radical Quest to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emmisions

Mexico’s Bold Emissions Goals

On Friday, March 27, 2015, the Government of Mexico announced new targets that aim to cut output of greenhouse gases by 22 percent and its emissions of black carbon and soot by 51 percent by the year 2030. Such a move would make 2026 its peak emissions year.

While Mexico is only responsible for an estimated 1.5% of global emissions, the country felt strongly that is was important to set the goals high and to set them early in the lead up the global climate conference in Paris in December. Roberto Dondisch Glowinski, Mexico’s lead negotiator to the United Nations (U.N.) climate talks, is quoted in Scientific American saying: “we are trying to show that what we say in the negotiations, we stand by our words. Second, we want to show that it is feasible.”

How does Mexico plan to meet these targets? Steven Mufson, writer for the Washington Post, notes that meeting these goals will require higher fuel efficiency standard for cars and an increasing of investment in renewable and nuclear energy for the power sector.

The Future of Nuclear in Mexico

As the World Nuclear Association (WNA) highlights, Mexico currently operates two nuclear reactors that generate approximately 4 percent of its electricity. The country is also a net energy exporter, as it is rich in fossil fuel resources such as oil and natural gas. As the WNA notes, there is political will to further develop nuclear capacity, but the recent drop in oil prices has stymied any significant progress.

Given these new targets, Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) may pursue an earlier strategy which included building six to eight 1400 MWe units and, potentially, more flexible and less cost-intensive Small Modular Reactors (SMR) that could service the agricultural sector. However, putting these plans into action will require new investments in education and training.

In January 2015, ScienceDaily featured the research of Dr. Lorenzo Martínez Gómez, a researcher at the Institute of Physics of the Autonomous Nacional University of Mexico (UNAM). Dr. Gómez’s argues that nuclear energy is key to mitigating climate change and to reducing fossil fuel use in Mexico. The article summarizes Dr. Gómez’s main points, including: 1) that the public in Mexico fears nuclear, despite fossil fuels inflicting more actual damage to the environment and to public safety, and 2) that the key to the success of nuclear in Mexico will be training and education of scientists and technicians.

The federal government manages employment opportunities that will be generated by energy reform efforts (about 135,000 in total) not only in areas of hydrocarbons, but new technologies to develop alternative energy. Given the government’s investment in training, Mr. Gómez argues that now is the time to spark a revival in nuclear engineering in Mexico.

In short, it’s likely that the nuclear sector can play a big role in helping Mexico achieve its new emissions goals by leveraging investments in training and education and by capitalizing on new found political will both at home and abroad. Significant progress is hard to predict in the short term, but we’re optimistic that the global climate change conference in December may provide the necessary spark to push the government of Mexico and its partners into action.

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