Nuclear power can play a major role in enabling secure transitions to low emissions energy systems – News

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As the world grapples with a global energy crisis, nuclear power has the potential to play an important role in helping countries transition safely to energy systems dominated by renewables, according to a new special report from the IEA.
In countries that choose to continue or increase their use of nuclear energy, it can reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and enable power systems to integrate larger shares of solar and wind energy. Building sustainable and clean energy systems will be more difficult, riskier and more expensive without nuclear power, according to the new report Nuclear Energy and Secure Energy Transitions: From Today’s Challenges to Tomorrow’s Clean Energy Systems.
Nuclear is today the second largest source of low-emission energy, after hydropower, with nuclear power plants in 32 countries. About 63% of current nuclear generating capacity comes from plants that are more than 30 years old, as many were built in the wake of the oil shocks of the 1970s. But a range of both advanced and emerging economies have recently announced energy strategies that include a substantial role for nuclear power, as well as significant financial incentives to invest in it.
“In the current context of the global energy crisis, skyrocketing fossil fuel prices, energy security challenges and ambitious climate commitments, I believe nuclear power has a unique opportunity to make a comeback,” said IEA Director Fatih Birol. “However, a new era for nuclear energy is by no means guaranteed. It will depend on governments pursuing robust policies to ensure safe and sustainable operation of nuclear power plants in the coming years – and to mobilize the necessary investment, including in new technologies. And the nuclear industry needs to quickly address the problems of cost overruns and project delays that have hampered the construction of new plants in advanced economies. As a result, advanced economies have lost market leadership, as 27 of the 31 reactors that have started construction since 2017 are Russian or Chinese designs.”
In the IEA’s global trajectory to reach net zero emissions by 2050, nuclear power will double between 2020 and 2050, with the construction of new factories needed in all countries open to the technology. Yet by the middle of the century nuclear power will only account for 8% of the global energy mix, which is dominated by renewables.
Despite measures to extend the life of some existing plants, the nuclear fleet operating in advanced economies could shrink by a third by 2030 without further efforts. While plant life extensions require significant investment, they generally provide an electricity price that is competitive with wind and solar in most regions.
Robust policies are needed to support the use of nuclear energy and increase its safety, but industry also needs to step up its efforts to deliver projects below cost and on budget to ensure nuclear energy is competitive, he said. the report. Public funding will continue to be needed to mobilize new investment, not only for factories, but also to develop the latest technologies. This is because there is rarely sufficient private sector financing for such capital-intensive and long-lived assets, especially those exposed to significant policy risks.
A total of 19 countries currently have nuclear reactors under construction, demonstrating the recent momentum behind nuclear power, which is likely to be further boosted by recent spikes in oil, gas and electricity prices. At the same time, nuclear energy faces public and political opposition in some countries and the IEA makes no recommendations to countries that choose not to use it in their energy mix.
In IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 trajectory, half of emissions reductions by mid-century will come from technologies that are not yet commercially viable. This includes small modular reactors (SMRs), which are generally defined as advanced nuclear reactors with a capacity of less than 300 megawatts – or about a third of a traditional plant. The lower costs, smaller size and reduced project risks of SMRs can improve social acceptance and attract private investment. There is increased support and interest in Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States for this promising technology.
SMRs could also reuse the sites of retired fossil fuel power plants, utilizing existing transmission, cooling water and skilled labor. But the long-term successful implementation of SMRs depends on strong support from policymakers who start now, not only to mobilize investment, but also to streamline and harmonize regulatory frameworks.
The report looks at how nuclear power can help address two major crises – energy and climate – facing the world today. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the disruptions to global energy supplies it has caused have prompted governments to rethink their energy security strategies, putting a stronger focus on developing more diverse and domestic supplies. Nuclear energy is one of the options for achieving this for several governments.
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