Report outlines attributes of nuclear power

10 September 2019

Nuclear energy has a proven track record of supplying huge volumes of affordable, reliable and dependable clean electricity, but its positive attributes are largely overlooked, according to a new white paper from World Nuclear Association. "The use of nuclear energy is the fast track to a high-powered and clean energy system," the Association says.

A whale near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in California (Image: Mike Baird)

In the white paper - titled The Silent Giant: The need for nuclear in a clean energy system - World Nuclear Association says: "In a world centred on short-term fixes, many of the traits that make nuclear energy a key player in the transition to a sustainable world are not properly valued and are often taken for granted." The paper was released today at the 24th World Energy Congress being held this week in Abu Dhabi.

There are 445 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. "Capable of generating immense amounts of clean power, they are the silent giants upon which we rely daily," the white paper says The current level of nuclear energy supply avoids more than 2500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually had the same amount of electricity been generated using fossil fuels.

The use of nuclear energy in France and Sweden, for example, has illustrated that it can be the "catalyst for delivering sustainable energy transitions". The white paper says the use of nuclear energy is the "fast track to a high-powered and clean energy system, which not only delivers a healthier environment and an affordable supply of electricity, but also strengthens energy security and helps mitigate climate change".

The Association says ways must be found to decarbonise all parts of the economy that are sustainable in the long term. Despite efforts made so far, it says the world remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

"The trend is clear - instead of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, we are increasing it. As a direct result, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise when they need to drastically fall. Given that the majority of baseload supply is fossil-based, an increase in the use of nuclear energy would result in a rapid decarbonisation of the electricity system," it says.

Renewable energy sources alone are not capable of fully decarbonising the economy, but they can complement nuclear energy in achieving this goal. In its Nuclear Energy in a Clean Energy System report released earlier this year, the International Energy Agency concluded that without an expanded contribution from nuclear energy, "the already huge challenge of achieving emissions reductions will become drastically harder and more costly".

The white paper calls for markets to give due credit to electricity generators, such as nuclear energy, that supply affordable, reliable and always-available power. Markets also fail to recognise the relative costs of different forms of electricity generation.

"Nuclear energy is already making a significant contribution to providing the world with clean and abundant electricity, and has a proven track record of being a reliable workhorse around the world," it says.

The nuclear industry, led by World Nuclear Association, has set the Harmony goal for nuclear energy to provide 25% of global electricity by 2050. This will require trebling 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. The Association has identified three requirements to achieve this: a level playing field that values reliability and energy security; a harmonised nuclear regulatory environment; and a holistic safety paradigm for the entire electricity system.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News