The UK Proposes Nuclear Power To Decarbonize its Defense Sector

The UK Proposes Nuclear Power To Decarbonize its Defense Sector

The industrialized world faces a complex challenge. Globally, and especially for the US, military leadership recognizes climate change as a national security issue and threat multiplier that makes the job of military forces harder. But given its size and capabilities, the defense sector in many countries is also a massive contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Adding to the dilemma, defense sector emissions are largely un-measured or tracked in public ways, partly for security reasons. However, the UK may be creating an innovative model to maintain security while decarbonizing the defense sector.

DW News: Key polluter exempt from CO2 targets - Militaries lag in green technology, November 11, 2021.

In a virtual panel convened earlier this week by The American Security Project, How the United Kingdom is Decarbonizing Defense & Adapting to Climate Change, Lieutenant General Richard Nugee, climate change and sustainability strategy lead of UK's Ministry of Defense (MOD), emphasized the role of nuclear power in reducing the Ministry of Defense's GHG emissions.

Within its central government, the UK's MOD is the nation's largest contributor to carbon emissions -- its activities attributing to over 50% of the total. In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, the MOD released a ground-breaking report in March of last year called the Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach, led by Lt. Gen. Nugee. The document outlines the UK's strategy to increase sustainability and decarbonize defense systems by divesting from the military’s dependence on fossil fuels, and targeting the aviation sector of their armed forces.

ASP: How the United Kingdom is Decarbonizing Defense & Adapting to Climate Change, February 1, 2022.

Why this Matters

As the climate crisis worsens, instability and conflict are inevitable, causing military leaders all over the world to consider climate change a threat to their nation's security. According to the US Department of Defense's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), "the pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world." The increasing frequency of extreme weather events will require more disaster-relief missions, and soldiers will be required to operate in more severe conditions and environments.

Additionally, single source dependence for fossil fuels makes servicemen and women particularly vulnerable in the combat field. Between 2003 and 2007, over 3000 Americans were killed defending fuel supply convoys while abroad. Investing in clean energy would save the lives of countless soldiers, while also saving the planet

The YEARS Project: Why the US Military Thinks Climate Change Is A Critical Mission, July 23, 2019.

The Switch to Nuclear Power

Currently, nuclear power provides 10% of the world's electricity and accounts for 30% of low-carbon power. Since nuclear power is a zero emission source, it has great potential to be integrated with other clean energy technologies -- such as wind and solar -- and replace fossil fuels in the MOD and other national militaries. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) describes nuclear power as a "reliable, affordable and clean energy to support economic and social development."

WW0: General Stan McCrystal and John Kerry Instagram Live conversation on national security and the climate crisis, October 27, 2020.

WW0: Facebook Live conversation on national security, climate migration and the climate crisis, September 9, 2020.