NEA: Celebrating the past, looking to the future

16 October 2008

As the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) marks its 50th anniversary, a new report from the agency suggests that as many as 1400 nuclear power reactors could be in operation worldwide by 2050.

The first edition of Nuclear Energy Outlook, launched today, finds that the security of energy from nuclear power is more reliable than that for oil or gas. In addition, its says that uranium's high energy density means the transport is less vulnerable to disruption, and storing a large energy reserve is easier than for fossil fuels. One tonne of uranium, the NEA notes, produces the same energy as 10,000 to 16,000 tonnes of oil using current technology. However, it suggests that ongoing technological developments are likely to improve that performance even more.

The Nuclear Energy Outlook provides projections up to 2050 to consider growth scenarios and potential implications on the future use of nuclear energy. In one scenario, existing nuclear power technologies could provide almost four times the current supply of nuclear-generated electricity by 2050, accounting for 22% of total electricity generation, compared with the current 16%. Under this scenario, the NEA says,"1400 reactors of the size commonly in use today would be in operation by 2050". To reach this level, 54 reactors would need to be constructed annually between 2030 and 2050. "The world could construct nuclear power plants at a rate more than sufficient to meet the NEA high scenario projections," according to a summary of the report.

However, the NEA warns, "in order to accomplish such an expansion, securing political and societal support for the choice of nuclear energy is vital." It adds, "An ongoing relationship between policy makers, the nuclear industry and society to develop knowledge building and public involvement will become increasingly important. Moreover, governments have a clear responsibility to maintain continued effective safety regulation, advance efforts to develop radioactive waste disposal solutions and uphold and reinforce the international non-proliferation regime."

According to the NEA, "Until the middle of the century the dominant reactor type in use is likely to be Generation III+ light water reactors". It suggests that "by 2030, Generation IV energy system concepts offering competitively priced and reliable operations with minimised waste production, as well as opening up opportunities to produce hydrogen fuel for the transport sector, are expected to be commercially available."

In a presentation today to a gathering of some 250 dignitaries and government officials in Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of the NEA, the agency's director general, Luis Echavarri, emphasised the role that nuclear power could play in delivering cost-competitive and stable supplies of energy, while also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Other projections

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently published its latest edition of Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2030, which says that nuclear power capacity could double by 2030. Under its low scenario, the IAEA said that nuclear generating capacity would increase from the current 372 GWe at an annual average growth rate of 1.3% to 473 GWe in 2030. However, under the high scenario, capacity would double, growing by an average annual rate of 3.3% to 748 GWe in 2030.

The NEA's Nuclear Energy Outlook projections also consistent with the World Nuclear Association's Nuclear Century Outlook, which has made both optimistic and pessimistic projections on the use of nuclear energy worldwide to 2100. The Outlook is built on country-by-country assessments of the ultimate growth potential of national nuclear programs, based on estimates of need and capability.