IEA report: nuclear’s “comeback

In a special report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that nuclear power is ready to make a “comeback” and that its capacity is expected to double between 2020 and 2050, helping to meet the world’s carbon neutrality challenges by that time. However, it will require strong support from governments and increased industrial performance.

“Nuclear power is ready to make a comeback.” This is how Fatih Birol presented the new report of the International Energy Agency (IEA) dedicated to the atom. Entitled “Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions,” this work reminds us that nuclear power is the second most low-emission energy source after hydroelectricity. Thirty-two countries have nuclear power plants, but 63% of them are over 30 years old.

“In the current context of the global energy crisis, soaring fossil fuel prices, energy security challenges, and ambitious climate commitments, I believe that nuclear energy has a unique opportunity to make a comeback. However, a new era for nuclear energy is far from guaranteed. It will depend on governments putting in place sound policies to ensure the safe and sustainable operation of nuclear power plants in the coming years – and to mobilize the necessary investment, especially in new technologies,” says IEA Director General Fatih Birol.

A more expensive transition without nuclear power

Concretely, the IEA predicts a doubling of global nuclear capacity by the middle of the century in a system dominated by renewable energies. It will increase from 405 GW installed today to over 800. This additional capacity will be essential in the fight against climate change. And to achieve this, nuclear costs in advanced economies must fall by 40%, and global nuclear investment must triple by 2030. Western countries have lost some leadership in this field, and 27 of the 31 reactors under construction since 2017 are of Russian or Chinese design. It must be said that, with around 20 reactors under construction, the Chinese domestic market is particularly dynamic.

Aucun texte alternatif pour cette image

“Achieving zero net emissions with less nuclear power than envisaged in the IEA report would be more difficult and would cost consumers an additional $20 billion annually until 2050,” says Fatih Birol.

The report makes several recommendations:

  • Extend the life of existing power plants – this may involve substantial investment; it generally results in a competitive cost of electricity compared to wind and solar.
  • Valuing the emissions avoided by nuclear power plants and the services they provide to maintain electricity security, including capacity availability and frequency control.
  • Create financing frameworks for new reactors to raise capital for new plants at an acceptable cost and share risk between investors and consumers.
  • Promote efficient and effective safety regulation.

The report also promotes small modular reactors (SMRs). The IEA predicts that half of the emission reductions by 2050 will come from technologies, including SMRs. A reform of the Government policy and regulations is needed to stimulate investment in SMRs. According to the report, “decisions need to be taken now” to enable SMRs to play an essential role in energy transitions in the 2030s. ■

Published 6th July 2022

By Sfen with WNN