Major pledges on cutting new oil and gas production or the demand for fossil fuels have been thin on the ground at the COP28 summit in Dubai, as the nuclear lobby hovers on the sidelines and world leaders make big promises to use nuclear power as a future energy source.

On Saturday, over 110 countries committed to triple global renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030 and double the annual rate of energy efficiency improvements. However, the US, France, and Britain are among 22 nations to have signed another declaration – to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050! This prompted Emmanuel Macron to pronounce that “nuclear energy is back!” The French president went on to say that many developing countries were interested in small modular reactors (SMRs), claiming they were a “good investment for strategic autonomy.” A nuclear energy summit – the first of its kind – will take place in Brussels next March.

While US President Joe Biden is not attending, US special climate envoy John Kerry announced on Tuesday a roadmap to nuclear fusion. The plan includes 35 nations working on R&D, supply chains, safety, and regulation. Kerry’s announcement follows the signing of a UK-US agreement on nuclear fusion in November.

On the sidelines, the nuclear industry has been pursuing future deals – with tech billionaire Bill Gates’ TerraPower signing an agreement to explore the rollout of Advanced Reactor Technology plants in the UAE.

However, the UAE – one of the world’s top ten oil producers – has come under criticism. COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber – who heads the country’s state oil company – has denied accusations that the summit is being used by the Emiratis to broker new oil deals. Al Jaber also rolled back on charges of climate denial after he told a meeting in November that there is “no science” to back up reversing fossil fuel use as a way to keep global heating to 1.5C.

Despite the promises made by the nuclear lobby at COP, outstanding issues remain about the safety of nuclear plants and the legacy of disposing of nuclear waste. A year-long investigation published by The Guardian newspaper on Monday, revealed serious cyber security breaches and crumbling infrastructure at Sellafield in Cumbria. Dubbed “Europe’s most toxic nuclear site,” Sellafield used to produce nuclear material for British nuclear weapons and has the largest stores of plutonium in the world – held at a cost of £2.5 billion per year. In addition to Britain’s own nuclear waste, it stores radioactive material from other countries, including Sweden and Italy.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:

“Once again, world leaders have failed to use the COP summit to agree on the radical changes necessary to stop climate collapse. We need to stop new oil and gas. We need to dramatically reduce consumption of fossil fuels. And we need governments to invest in genuine renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and tidal, which do not come with the risks or potential cost overruns of a nuclear plant. Nuclear power is not the panacea its supporters make it out to be and amounts to nothing but government short-termism filling the pockets of big business. As the recent revelations about security at Sellafield show – toxic waste leaves an expensive legacy mired with problems and any future attempt to bury it underground just passes the buck on to future generations. This is something the COP summit is supposed to avoid, not encourage.”