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YGN Futuresight - Countdown to COP26

It is the role of the Young Generation Network (YGN), as part of the professional body for the nuclear sector, to look ahead; to envisage a better world and a future in which our members and our industry will flourish.

1st November 2020 marks exactly one year until the UK will, for the first time, host the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow. The climate talks will be the biggest international summit the UK has ever hosted; bringing together over 30,000 delegates including heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to tackle climate change.

The YGN’s mission is “to encourage and develop the UK’s early career nuclear professionals, and ensure that their voice is heard in shaping the future of our sector”. With exactly 12 months until the eyes of the world turn to the UK, Vicki Dingwall, Learning and Development Lead - Operations for Hinkley Point C and recently appointed member of the Nuclear Institute’s (NI) YGN COP26 Delivery Team, talks about the role nuclear will play in this milestone moment for climate change. 

Why nuclear?

My initiation into the nuclear industry came somewhat unconventionally. Employed as maternity cover for a short term administrative role, I was incredibly impressed by the size and scale of the nuclear power station that became my daily work environment. Whilst attending nuclear safety culture training I became fascinated by the power and importance of the turbines spun by custard-thick steam just a few short steps away from my office space. As my interests grew, kind colleagues found themselves sketching me schematics of the AGR reactor we operated and the different kinds of nuclear reactors around the world. 

The first time I got a sense of being part of something ‘bigger’ came in January 2008 when I got to step into the Station Director’s office and listen live as the Government published its White Paper on nuclear power; a paper which recommended that the Strategic Siting Assessment should prioritise new nuclear at existing sites such as ours at Hinkley Point. “It’s a nuclear renaissance” people said, and I was hooked. 

Then in 2009 when a manager came looking for team members to start some early engagement work on the proposed Hinkley Point C site, the first new nuclear power station to be built in the UK in a decade, a pack of wild horses wouldn’t have kept me from joining the team. 

“Why nuclear?” the groups and organisations we discussed our early plans with would ask. Our answer was invariably the same - it’s safe, it’s reliable and, importantly, it’s low carbon. 

Climate emergency

It’s been five years since world leaders committed to the historic Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. They agreed to keep the global temperature rise well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5℃. The United Nations says we could have less than 10 years left to limit a climate change catastrophe and COP26 will be pivotal in agreeing coordinated action to avert the crisis (Global Warming of 1.5 ºC —, 2018). 


(Carbon emissions | Energy economics | Home, 2020)

In a number of countries including the UK, France and Germany, their commitment to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 has been enshrined in law. It means that future power generation will need to be almost fully decarbonised. With electricity consumption on the rise, this is an ambitious target to meet - and one that renewables cannot meet alone. The wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine.

Consistency of supply means that nuclear power is the reliable ‘work horse’ of the energy industry producing maximum power more than 93% of the time during the year. That's about 1.5 to 2 times more than natural gas and coal units, and 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar plants (Nuclear Power is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It's Not Even Close, 2020).

With no CO2 emissions during operation, over the course of its life-cycle nuclear energy produces about the same emissions per unit of electricity as wind, and one-third of the emissions per unit of electricity when compared with solar (Nuclear energy and climate change - World Nuclear Association, 2020).

Because nuclear power can be deployed on a large scale (Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the UK’s electricity when operational) it can directly replace fossil fuel plants. It is hard to imagine an energy future where both renewable energy and new nuclear power don’t go hand in hand to deliver net-zero.

Perceptions of nuclear

But research shows that while the public is predominantly aware of the contribution of nuclear power in ensuring security of energy supply, its potential contribution to combating climate change is less well recognised. It also shows that support for nuclear energy is generally correlated with the level of experience of and knowledge about nuclear power (Power, 2020).

So what do we do? How do those of us who believe that nuclear will be a key player in tackling climate change make sure that nuclear becomes part of the net-zero narrative?

The NI YGN have pulled together the COP26 Delivery Team to answer that exact question.

COP26 Delivery Team


The UK NI YGN put out an international call for volunteers, aiming to form a diverse team to deliver a number of ambitious, large scale, net-zero related activities prior to and during COP26, both nationally and internationally. They were looking for enthusiastic self-starters, eager to improve the public’s understanding of nuclear as a key element of a net-zero world and I couldn’t ignore the call to arms.

From the 50+ applications submitted (including 10 international applications), a team of nine has been formed to bring together the widest range of backgrounds, knowledge, skills and experience from across the nuclear industry. Over the next two weeks we will introduce you to the incredible team who will share their passion and ideas on why #NetzeroNeedsNuclear. I’m honoured to have been selected and be working with such an inspiring group of people.

The team have hit the ground running with work taking place on developing a position paper from which to gather support and influence policy makers. This will draw upon Nuclear 4 Climate’s previous 2018 paper and will outline our key messages and statements in support of Nuclear. What’s struck me so far is how it feels like we’re all looking at the same picture but we’re viewing it through a slightly different lens. Already I find that I’m challenging myself about my pre-conceived notions based on my local, regional and national experience in the UK. With such diversity of thought we hope to find new and innovative ways to make our voices heard at COP26 and make nuclear a part of the net zero narrative - we’ve got 12 months from today, we are going to make it count.

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Sources: 2018. Global Warming Of 1.5 ºC —. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020]. 2020. Nuclear Energy And Climate Change - World Nuclear Association. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 October 2020].

Power, P., 2020. Public Attitudes To Nuclear Power. [online] Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020]. 2020. Nuclear Power Is The Most Reliable Energy Source And It's Not Even Close. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020].

bp global. 2020. Carbon Emissions | Energy Economics | Home. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020].

UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021. 2020. Significance Of The Summit - UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) At The SEC – Glasgow 2021. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020].

Darby, M. and Gerretsen, I., 2020. Which Countries Have A Net Zero Carbon Goal?. [online] Climate Home News. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020].

IEA. 2020. Electricity – World Energy Outlook 2019 – Analysis - IEA. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 October 2020].