IEA meeting considers future of nuclear

02 July 2018

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has held a high-level meeting to identify the key issues faced by nuclear energy and to explore its future. Under current policies, together with limited investment in new reactors, nuclear's contribution to the energy mix in developed economies is set to decline significantly, the meeting heard.

Attendees at the IEA high-level meeting (Image: IEA)

"For more than 40 years, nuclear energy has been an important contributor in several countries to energy security and a key source of zero-emissions generation," the IEA said. "But the future of nuclear energy is facing growing challenges, increased competition with renewables and gas and, in some cases, public opposition."

The IEA held a high-level meeting in Paris on 28 June - titled Nuclear Energy: Today and Tomorrow - to examine the role of nuclear energy in mature power markets and the challenges and future for nuclear energy for energy security, the economy and the environment. The event was attended by ministers and senior government officials from IEA member countries, industry leaders and experts.

"Nuclear power is continuing to play an important role in electricity security along with other conventional generating technologies," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol in his opening remarks. "Despite this, with current policies there is little prospect for significant growth for nuclear power in developed economies on the horizon - although there are new efforts to spur innovations that could change this picture."

The workshop focused on three themes: the challenges of meeting nuclear-specific policy targets while balancing overall economic, environmental and energy security goals; the position of nuclear power in mature power markets; and the potential of nuclear technologies to address future power flexibility challenges and emissions reduction targets.

In a keynote address, US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said: "In the United States, we are committed to reviving, revitalising, and ultimately expanding the use of nuclear energy because we know its benefits." He added, "We are just starting to see the potential of nuclear power in meeting our energy security needs and our clean energy goals. The advanced reactors, the advanced fuels, and the advanced materials being developed in the US, France and around the world all offer the promise of lessened emissions and increased reliability."

"The sessions highlighted how, under current policy frameworks, and with limited investment in new plants, the contribution of nuclear to the power mix in mature markets is set to decline significantly," the IEA said. Most new construction is in Asia, with China and India accounting for over half of the new reactors under construction. In the IEA's World Energy Outlook New Policies Scenario, nuclear power production grows with two countries - China and India - responsible for over 90% of net growth to 2040. By contrast, outside of Japan, nuclear power generation in developed economies is set to decline 20% by 2040.

The meeting also heard about new initiatives to advance innovative nuclear power technologies, including those that can address better the need for greater power systems flexibility, spurred by the rise of generation from variable renewables.

The nuclear industry has set the Harmony goal for nuclear energy to provide 25% of global electricity by 2050. This will require a tripling of nuclear generation from its present level. Some 1000 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity will need to be constructed by then to achieve that goal. World Nuclear Association has identified three areas for action to achieve this: establishing a level playing field in electricity markets, building harmonised regulatory processes, and an effective safety paradigm.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News