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IEA: The World Needs to Construct Twice As Many Nuclear Power Plants Each Year

Stephen Lacey's picture
Greentech Media

Stephen Lacey is a Senior Editor at Greentech Media, where he focuses primarily on energy efficiency. He has extensive experience reporting on the business and politics of cleantech. He was...

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A lot has changed in the years since IEA issued its first technology roadmap for nuclear.

In 2010, the International Energy Agency released a report predicting a resurgence for nuclear around the world. Months later, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster unfolded in Japan, rekindling fears about nuclear and sending shock waves throughout the industry.

After the closure of reactors in Japan and Germany, global nuclear generation has dropped by 10 percent since 2010. Investment in new capacity also fallen. There were only three new plants under construction in 2014, with only 5 gigawatts of capacity added last year.

That’s less than half of the yearly capacity additions needed to stabilize global temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius, argues the IEA in an update to its 2010 report.

According to analysts at IEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency, the nuclear industry will need to bring 12 gigawatts of capacity on-line every year for the next decade in order to meet the 2-degree target. By 2050, the industry will need to add an additional 530 gigawatts of capacity in order to boost nuclear generation to 17 percent of global production.

“Nuclear energy remains the largest source of low-carbon electricity in the OECD and the second-largest source in the world. Its importance as a current and future source of carbon-free energy must be recognized and should be treated on an equal footing with other low-carbon technologies,” reads the IEA’s technology roadmap, written in partnership with NEA.

While many agree with that sentiment — including a growing number of scientists and environmentalists — the reality for nuclear is bleak. Slowing power demand in many developed countries makes it difficult to justify building new plants. Post-Fukushima, new permitting requirements have also slowed construction. And across the world, new projects are facing long delays and cost overruns.

Doubling nuclear power plant construction rates in a decade’s time won’t be easy. Safety concerns and competition with distributed technologies for private and public investment will be impediments to growth.

The solutions to help spur new development are also likely to be controversial in some countries. Both IEA and NEA suggest tools such as capacity markets, carbon pricing or fixed-price requirements in deregulated markets to ensure nuclear can compete with natural gas, wind and solar.

“A clear commitment and long-term strategy for nuclear development at the national level is critical in raising financing for nuclear projects,” write the agencies.

The organizations also called on regulators to improve their permitting processes and make it easier for advanced reactors to get approval. Finally, developers need to show they can build on time and on budget — a rarity for nuclear. 

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Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 11, 2015

Although Germany’s Energiewende is mainly a power wende, energy is more than power.

Including a massive reduction in energy demand, end user energy demand is expected to be about 1800 TWh per year in 2050 in Germany. Even 150GW PV without storage or conversion losses would not deliver 8% of this 1800 TWh.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Feb 12, 2015

I presume China will pursue development of thorium fuel cycles … I’ve only lived in the country for five month, but living in a country where 7.4% GDP growth is considered worringly low, requiring substantial reassurance from political leadership that its just about what was intended, it still seems highly implausible that the Chinese are pursuing something close to a pedal to the metal scale-up of windpower in order to “fake out the West”.


Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 12, 2015

Wind power constitutes perhaps 2% of the generation on the Chinese grid(s).  This is well below the point of diminishing returns, so China could easily be playing a “fake out” game using large absolute numbers for propaganda purposes.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 12, 2015

Anything to make money from, however, strategic interests usually requires the most advanced, energy dense sources.

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Feb 12, 2015

If you assume your conclusion into your premises, that does simplify the process of arriving at the conclusion that you wish to, but it does not offer any protection against the danger of confirmation bias.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Feb 13, 2015

From which tree do we pick cherries.


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