IAEA takes the case for nuclear to COP26

18 October 2021

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made the full case for nuclear to be deployed rapidly to enable the phase out of coal in a new Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World brochure. The organisation is taking it to next month's COP26 climate change meeting to argue for evidence-based policy and "ramped up" investment in nuclear.

Grossi holds up the report during its online launch event (Image: Dean Calma/IAEA)

Launching the report on 15 October, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he saw "clear, increasing recognition that we are faced with a combined set of challenges that require we have all options to deal with successfully."

In his introduction to the report, Grossi said, "Clearly nuclear must have a seat at the table anytime energy and climate policies are discussed." However, he said he is worried that "a lack of willingness to embrace nuclear could lead to almost no [growth] in capacity by 2050, causing us to fall well short of doing what is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe."

Nuclear's role is accepted at the international level, recognised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IAEA said that its high case for nuclear projects the sector doubling in size by 2050. This relies on both lifetime extensions of existing plants and about 550 GWe of new build, which is similar to the IEA's Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap. These would have nuclear adding about 30GW of new capacity per year in the early 2030s, which is five times the current rate of growth.

"As we head toward this year's vital United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it is time to make evidence-based decisions and ramp up the investment in nuclear. The cost of not doing so is far too high to bear," said Grossi.

The Nuclear Energy for a Net Zero World report is IAEA's attempt to make the case for the investment and policy that would enable nuclear to make a full contribution to global clean energy. It is supported by national statements from Canada, China, Finland, France, Japan, Poland, Russia, the UK and the USA.

The report first underlines the contribution of nuclear energy to date before expanding on how nuclear can replace fossil fuels, and in particular coal, for power generation as well as heating. One chapter is focused on nuclear energy's ability to support further achievements by fast-growing renewables like wind and solar and how they can work together to add hydrogen as a clean liquid fuel.

Lastly, the report encourages public and private investment in nuclear energy. The IAEA appeals to policymakers to boost public investment and support for private investment in nuclear power, including lifetime extensions, as part of and alongside 'Green Deals' and recovery packages. They need to adopt objective and technology neutral ESG (environmental, social and governance) frameworks for low-carbon investment, and ensure that policy is coherent - embracing regulatory frameworks, market design, infrastructure planning and fiscal incentives such as taxonomies - it says.

On the subject of the EU's Taxonomy, which awaits clarification of nuclear's inclusion, Grossi said: "Nuclear has environmentally neutral characteristics. We do hope that this is going to be taken into consideration. In this situation, what is key is that the positions taken are arrived at on the basis of sound scientific analysis."

The critical importance of keeping the current nuclear fleet in operation is not forgotten. IAEA stated that extending the operation of nuclear power plants from 40 to 60 years would retain 95 GWe of low-carbon generation by 2025 and an additional 90 GWe by 2030.

The investment cost for this was put at USD650 per kW for extension projects in much of Europe and the USA and would create up to 370,000 jobs over a decade.

"Investment in nuclear power is among the most effective actions for a sustainable post-COVID economic recovery, as well as the transition to a resilient net zero energy system," IAEA said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News