Roadmap to nuclear future

29 January 2015

Nuclear power is one of the most important technologies that can help the world to limit global warming to 2ºC, said OECD agencies in a Technology Roadmap for nuclear that spells out some steps to ensure this happens.

The report is jointly authored by two bodies, the International Energy Agency and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Their Technology Roadmap Nuclear Energy is an update of a 2010 edition.

The Technology Roadmap begins by putting forth a future energy mix scenario in which 930 GWe of nuclear capacity provides 17% of electricity. Even though the use of electricity grows over the timeframe to 2050, this increase of nuclear power from 377 GWe today would contribute 13% of the emissions reduction needed to limit global warming.

It was made clear that "this scenario is not a prediction of what will happen" but it serves as a foundation for analysis of policy change and industrial progress needed to achieve similar results. In that context around 12 GWe of new nuclear capacity must be brought online each year to reach the level of 930 GWe by 2050, but "we are not on track," said IEA head Maria van der Hoeven.


"The contributions of nuclear energy - providing valuable base-load electricity, supplying important ancillary services to the grid and contributing to the security of energy supply - must be fully acknowledged"

Technology Roadmap
Nuclear Energy

First, it is important for current nuclear power plants to continue operation as long as technically feasible. This requires that governments "fully acknowledge" the value of long-term operation and take steps to support research and development that could prolong their operational lives. In some electricity markets, long-established nuclear power plants are challenged by low-cost gas as well as subsidy regimes that enable renewable generators to supply at market prices that would otherwise result in losses. Governments should "review arrangements in the electricity market so as to... allow nuclear power plants to operate effectively."

"Clearer policies are needed to encourage operators to invest in both long-term operation and new build so as to replace retiring units," said the report. This is particularly important to OECD countries, which use nuclear power to generate 18% of their total electricity, making it their largest source of low-carbon power.

Looking to new build, governments have to "provide a clear commitment and long-term strategy," according to the Roadmap. It said: "Governments should ensure price transparency and the stable policies required for investment in large capital-intensive and long-lived base-load power. Policies should support a level playing field for all sources of low-carbon power projects."

The Roadmap also urged governments to take action to dispose of radioactive waste, recommending national or shared deep geological facilities.

In reaction to the report, the Director General of the World Nuclear Association (WNA) Agneta Rising said, "Governments must play their part... We in the industry must work to ensure that we deliver in a timely and cost-effective way."

Industrial performance

Key for the nuclear industry itself is to improve in the delivery of infrastructure on time and to budget. This means the "optimisation of 'Generation-III' designs to improve constructability and reduce costs."

Cooperation is important, both on safe operation and roll-out of post-Fukushima safety upgrades through the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), and for the harmonisation of codes and standards to improve the integration of a global supply chain through the WNA's working group on Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing (Cordel). One issue that must be managed is the conflict between a country's desire to use domestic suppliers for its first nuclear power plant and the global benefit that would flow from standardisation of power plants and standardisation within a global supply chain.


Part of a government's long-term strategy for nuclear should address future reactor technologies and encourage their development, support research and development and enable their licensing.

As a follow-up to this Roadmap, the OECD NEA is initiating a highly technical survey to identify the critical research and development efforts that are needed to enable countries to consider advanced nuclear energy technologies as they attempt to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

In the near term small modular reactors "could extend the market for nuclear energy" and even replace coal boilers forced into closure in order to improve air quality.

"Governments and industry should work together to accelerate the development of SMR prototypes and the launch of construction projects (about five projects per design) needed to demonstrate the benefits of modular design and factory assembly." In the longer term the IEA wants so-called Generation-IV reactor and fuel cycle designs to be ready for deployment in 2030-40.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News