Decline in nuclear power risks energy security and climate goals, IEA report says

If wind and solar PV are to fill the shortfall in nuclear, accelerated deployment is needed

Eva González Paris (France), 3 June, 2019

“Without an important contribution from nuclear power, the global energy transition will be that much harder,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Alongside renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative technologies, nuclear can make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable energy goals and enhancing energy security. But unless the barriers it faces are overcome, its role will soon be on a steep decline worldwide, particularly in the United States, Europe and Japan.”

Fatih Birol, IEA’s Executive Director. © IEA

“Policy makers hold the key to nuclear power’s future,” Birol said. “Electricity market design must value the environmental and energy security attributes of nuclear power and other clean energy sources. Governments should recognise the cost-competitiveness of safely extending the lifetimes of existing nuclear plants. ”

Governments and market conditions don’t favor nuclear extensions or new developments

Market conditions remain unfavourable for lengthening the lifetimes of nuclear plants. An extended period of low wholesale electricity prices in most advanced economies has sharply reduced or eliminated profit margins for many technologies, putting nuclear plants at risk of shutting down early.

The lack of further lifetime extensions of existing nuclear plants and new projects could result in an additional 4Bn tonnes of CO2 emissions, IEA report Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System published today explains.

The new report finds that extending the operational life of existing nuclear plants requires substantial capital investment. But IEA also underscores that cost is competitive compared with other electricity generation technologies, including new solar and wind projects, and can lead to a more secure, less disruptive energy transition.

Byron Nuclear power plant (Illinois, USA). Photo by Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin) through Wikimedia Commons.

In the USA some 90 reactors have 60-year operating licenses, yet several have already retired early and many more are at risk. In Europe, Japan and other advanced economies, extensions of plants’ lifetimes also face uncertain prospects.

Investment in new nuclear projects in advanced economies is even more difficult. New projects planned in Finland, France and the United States are not yet in service and have faced major cost overruns. Korea has been an important exception, with a record of completing construction of new projects on time and on budget, though government policy aims to end new nuclear construction.

Accelerating deployment of other low carbon sources, not cost effective, underscores IEA

If other low-carbon sources, namely wind and solar PV, are to fill the shortfall in nuclear, their deployment would have to accelerate to an unprecedented level.

In the past 20 years, wind and solar PV capacity has increased by about 580 gigawatts in advanced economies. But over the next 20 years, nearly five times that amount would need to be added. Such a drastic increase in renewable power generation would create serious challenges in integrating the new sources into the broader energy system.

Clean energy transitions in advanced economies would also require $1.6 trillion in additional investment over the same period, which would end up hurting consumers through higher electricity bills.

Fukushima accident should not be forgotten, says IAEA’s Amano

Last March, it had been five years since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In marking the anniversary, IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Director General Yukiya Amano recognized the progress made in Japan and worldwide in nuclear safety since the accident, but underscored the importance of all countries remaining vigilant in putting safety first.

Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by the tsunami and earthquake in March 2013. Image attribution Rikujojieitai Boueisho through Wikimedia Commons.

“The immense human impact of these events should not be forgotten,” said Director General Amano. “In the case of Fukushima Daiichi, tens of thousands of people who were evacuated from their homes have still not been able to return.”

IAEA Director General, Yukiya Amano, in 2013. © IAEA.

“I am confident that the legacy of Fukushima Daiichi will be a sharper focus on nuclear safety everywhere. There is widespread recognition that everything humanly possible must be done to ensure that no such accident ever happens again. This is all the more essential as global use of nuclear power is likely to continue to grow in the coming decades.”

Image over the headline.- Nuclear power plant and mill in Doel (Belgium). Photo by Friedrich Tellberg. through Wikimedia Commons. To watch the original photo click here

Related external links:

IEA report “Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System”

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