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Page added on September 15, 2018

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There’s Still A Future For Nuclear Power

There’s Still A Future For Nuclear Power thumbnail Nuclear power plant

The world is consuming ever-growing amounts of energy, and consumption is set for a particularly intensive growth in electricity. Put simply, people are going to need more electricity in the years to come as we shift away from fossil fuels. This fast growth will require more generation capacity, some of which will be nuclear. In fact, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear power generation capacity may grow to 511 GW(e) by 2030 from 392 GW(e) in 2017, and further to 748 GW(e) by 2050.

This is the high case scenario outlined in IAEA’s Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the period up to 2050 report that came out this week. In the low case scenario, global nuclear capacity would shrink to 352 GW(e) by 2030 but will inch up later, reaching 356 GW(e) by 2050. In other words, nuclear will continue taking part in the generating electricity for an increasingly electricity-hungry planet and the worst that can happen is that it loses some ground to natural gas and renewables.

The IAEA notes in the report that cheap natural gas and subsidized renewables are the top factors that act as deterrents to nuclear capacity growth, along with policies following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Nuclear still has a bad reputation despite the fact it is virtually emission-free. This reputation is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Additional challenges for the nuclear power industry are also present: construction costs are higher because of stricter safety standards, and as a consequence, construction times are longer and overall project costs are higher, reducing the competitiveness of new nuclear plants. The twist is that the world still needs and will continue to need nuclear energy despite the rise of renewables. In fact, some of the countries with the most ambitious environmental goals in the world are also some of the biggest nuclear power consumers.

At the same time, many nuclear plants are being closed because they have reached the end of their productive lives. More than 50 percent of reactors, the IAEA said in its report, are already scheduled for retirement in the coming years. Yet in the high case scenario, some of these might receive extensions to ensure enough electricity is being produced as demand grows by 2.5 percent annually until 2030, twice the annual growth rate of total energy demand. In the low case scenario, some 139 GW(e) existing nuclear capacity will be retired by 2030 with only 99 GW(e) of new capacity added during that period.

Nuclear is not hot, despite proponents arguing its case as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. But the IAEA’s report is not even the most pessimistic one. Another recent document on the subject of nuclear energy, the Nuclear Industry Status Report compiled annually by an independent French energy expert, Mycle Schneider, sees a gloomy future for nuclear.

The share of nuclear power generation in the total global mix has already fallen from 17.5 percent in 1996 to 10.3 percent last year, and it will fall further, challenged by renewables. Yet, according to this report, renewables as such are not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that nuclear power is becoming uneconomical as the costs of alternative energy sources fall, at least in some parts of the world, such as in Europe and the United States. China has grand nuclear plant plans, but some of the nuclear projects there are falling behind schedule, Schneider points out. So, nuclear may not be going anywhere, but whether it can grow will depend on electricity demand and the ability of the nuclear power industry to improve its cost competitiveness with its rivals.

By Irina Slav for

7 Comments on "There’s Still A Future For Nuclear Power"

  1. twocats on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 8:07 am 

    three words are notably missing from this “overview” of nuclear power. WASTE. RADIATION. RADIOACTIVE.

    from the article, “The contaminated water in question is that which has been used to cool the melted nuclear fuel rods in the reactor and the ground water around the plant, and each day, roughly 220 tons of such water is amassed, and is expected to amount to 55,000 tons per year in the future. Currently, there are 880 containment tanks on the grounds of the nuclear plant. Even after treating the water, tritium cannot be removed.”

    what is the EROEI of that? what fuel is being used to power the trucks building the tanks? what fuel was used to manufacture the steel for the plant?

  2. George Straight on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 10:04 am 

    Too cheap to meter….yep….take your choice of poison….no matter, when industrial chemical agriculture collapses there will be little need for nuke power…

  3. bob on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 11:58 am 

    You want Nuclear power? Take the money to build a nuke plant and buy everyone batch water heaters. You will have fusion power from the sun. Batch heaters are robust. They have no moving parts. Work year-round. I have owned 1 since 1999. At the 14 year mark I rebuilt it myself. It can be rebuilt forever. It paid for itself long ago. No nuke plant can match that record. People need to wake up and take action themselves. Go think up something solar and do it! Hint: you don’t need a big corporation.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 4:37 pm 

    Of course nuclear power still has a future!

    Chernobyl is still there! The hulking ruins
    sitting there for thousands of years.

    And the nuclear waste… glowing green
    for a real long time.

    Too bad everybody is too stooopid to build
    nuclear reactors that actually work properly.

    All the business owners, politicians, and
    rich people too stupid to put air into
    a tire, so they built these krappy
    reactors that melt down.

  5. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 4:39 pm 

    TwoCats, there’s no problem with the
    radioactive water, tanks and hoses from

    Just put it all onto a barge, start up the
    tugboats, and dump it 50 miles offshore.

    Problem solved.

  6. Plantagenet on Sat, 15th Sep 2018 7:24 pm 

    Nukes don’t emit any CO2 or CH4. Yes, nuclear waste is a problem, but its a lot easier problem to manage then the emission of greenhouse gases leading to runaway global warming that characterizes our current energy system. CHEERS!

  7. Davy on Sun, 16th Sep 2018 4:33 am 

    “Why U.S. Electricity Sales Surged In 2018”

    “Temperature departures from the heating and cooling norm make a big difference for residential KWH sales. Thus, it looks as if the recent sales surge is weather induced. Consumer attitudes towards electricity usage were not likely altered. But electric utility customers did respond to temperature extremes in their respective locales in the way we would expect. How did the electric industry produce that extra electricity sold in the first six months of 2018? Here is how the production by fuel changed: the industry burned more natural gas, used more renewables and burned less coal. That is not an auspicious omen for the Trump administration’s plans to revive coal. It seems that the electricity industry is acclimating itself to a low or no coal future, despite the stated intentions of the Trump administration (See figure that follows.) The six months results probably do not portend an upturn in electricity sales due to a change in consumer attitudes with respect to the efficient usage of electricity. But these strong sales results may say something about escalating future power generation requirements due in part to climate variation itself. Climate change is a topic the once coal dependent electric utility industry has preferred to ignore. But now the industry overall benefits economically with the more rapid demise of coal and increased reliance on natural gas. It seems like an ideal time for industry rebranding. It is not unreasonable to think the local electric utility could one day appeal to consumers as the carbon-free, home climate comfort provider operating on both sides of the meter. No one today, for good reason, thinks of electric utilities as a growth industry. And while climate extremes both hot and cold may propel near term kwh hour sales growth– the electrification of our transportation system –that’s the game changer.”

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