Concerns over nuclear energy use have been eclipsed by energy price volatility, the global recession, political unrest and future climate frameworks as the top uncertainties for global energy leaders, according to the World Energy Council (WEC).
WEC's 2013 World Energy Issues Monitor is its latest annual assessment of the issues impacting the global and regional energy sector based on the views of energy leaders. It identifies the key uncertainties while highlighting the areas where action is most required to enable the sustainable supply and use of energy. The report is based on a survey of some 36 issues (including macroeconomic risks, geopolitics, business environment as well as energy vision) by ministers, CEOs and energy experts from over 90 countries. The results were used to measure their feelings of uncertainty and the need for action on the various issues.
The study indicates that renewable energies and energy efficiency have remained dominant technologies requiring action. As well as being driven by climate policy, renewables are seen as contributing to diversity and security of supply. Unconventional fossil fuels - such as shale gas - are now firmly considered game changers that will impact the sector for decades to come. The WEC study found that further action is required to realise their potential.
The latest study notes that "concerns arising from the current depressed economic outlook have overtaken nuclear energy as one of the top critical issues. While nuclear energy continues to be closely observed and debated, its perceived uncertainty and impact have dropped to pre-Fukushima levels. This reflects the prudent re-evaluation of nuclear energy in many countries."
Nuclear around the world
Following the March 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan idled all but two of its nuclear power reactors and has proposed a new energy policy that would phase out the use of nuclear within three decades. However, WEC notes that "recent signals from Japan suggest a re-evaluation of the role for nuclear in the country's energy mix." Germany and Switzerland have also taken actions to end their use of nuclear energy.
However WEC notes that interest in nuclear is growing in some areas. For example, it is picking up in UAE and Saudi Arabia "reflecting a growing acceptance that nuclear energy remains a valid alternative and strategically effective towards diversifying the potential future energy mix, where rapidly-growing domestic power demand has eaten into hydrocarbons available for export."
Nuclear appears as "a more critical uncertainty" in North America as compared to the global level, WEC suggests, primarily because the region has a large fleet of ageing nuclear power plants. It notes that, even with 20-year life extensions, most existing plants will be retired by 2050.
WEC chairman Pierre Gadonneix: "With energy now topping the global agenda, our 2013 World Energy Issues Monitor clearly reveals that the critical issues identified by energy leaders are macroeconomic and geopolitical." He added, "In particular, uncertainties surrounding climate framework reveal the strong desire of the energy sector to have clearer and more balanced governance. The survey also reveals the need to identify pragmatic, cost-effective, and technology-neutral policies."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News