Roadmap shows the way for nuclear future

18 June 2010

Nuclear power could become the world's single biggest source of electricity, said a roadmap revealed today by intergovernmental agencies. Industry says the projections are not ambitious enough. 


The roadmap for the potential of nuclear in a world that reduces its carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050 was produced by the International Energy Agency at the request of the Group of Eight industrialized nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and USA). In doing so it enlisted the help of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Nuclear Association (WNA).


Addressing the current issues slowing the increase of nuclear power, the report discusses the actions industry and government must take to resolve them. Some of the issues - such as skills and manufacturing capacity - are already being dealt with and would rapidly respond to market forces caused by high demand for nuclear power. Others are far more difficult: "A clear and stable policy commitment to nuclear energy as part of overall energy strategy is a pre-requisite." Immediately however the most pressing problem is the high up-front cost of building a new nuclear power plant, and manufacturers must reduce this financial burden and the risk it carries through standardisation and experience.


Annual power sector emission cuts in the BLUE Map scenario (IEA) 
Annual power sector carbon dioxide emnission reductions in the
BLUE Map scenario in 2050 compared to the Baseline scenario,
by technology area. Nuclear is the only major contributor that
needs no technical breakthrough (Source: IEA)

Given correct action to promote a stable policy regime and an adequate industrial base by 2020, nuclear power could grow by 320% to 1200 GWe before 2050. Achieving this would mean completing about 20 large reactors each year, meaning "the rate of construction starts of new nuclear plants will need to roughly double from its present level by 2020, and continue to increase more slowly after that date." This clearly achievable rate of work is enough to replace every single reactor operating now and grow nuclear power's contribution to 24% of global electricity supplies even while energy demand doubles.


The IEA said the scenario above is based on assumptions of some "constraints on the speed with which nuclear capacity can be deployed." A high nuclear scenario, which the roadmap did not examine in detail, places nuclear power at 38% of power supplies with a total generating capacity of about 1900 GWe. This level of nuclear would bring even greater emissions savings - as well as an 11% cut in power prices. "An expansion of nuclear energy is thus an essential component of a cost-effective strategy to achieve substantial global emissions reductions."


WNA head John Ritch welcomed the positive nuclear projection but found it "still too cautious." The WNA's Nuclear Century Outlook, Ritch noted, is "far more expansive and takes full account of the enormous potential for nuclear growth in China and India. Those two countries alone," he said, "could conceivably achieve as much nuclear expansion by 2050 as the IEA posits for the entire world. Globally, the WNAs upside scenario for 2050 exceeds 3000 GWe."


"Where WNA and IEA fully agree," Ritch went on, "is on the imperative that governments align themselves squarely and unequivocally in support of nuclear power as the world's premier clean-energy source. The time for timidity and double-talk is long past. Our world needs a bold, clear, pro-nuclear policy vision."


Government was told in the roadmap action plan to lead public debate on nuclear energy, put proper regulation in place and implement financial support (such as loan guarantees) where required, while the nuclear industry was told that it must continue to operate existing plants at the highest levels of safety and efficiency.


Reactor vendors must take what steps they can towards standardization of the current generation of designs so that new reactors are be routinely built on time and budget by 2020. Vendors must also build up their supply chains and nuclear fuel companies will have to prepare for a large expansion in production from 2015 or 2020. Good cooperation with government research bodies should help Generation IV reactor designs come to market after demonstration around 2030.


Finally, the benefit of international cooperation to facilitate all this was underlined, with a call to "maintain and strengthen where necessary international cooperation" in a range of areas. Key to this would be "intergovernmental nuclear and energy agencies, international non-governmental industry and policy organisations."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News