The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its latest projections for energy, electricity and nuclear power trends through 2050. Compared with the previous year, the 2020 projections are largely unchanged. Under the high case scenario, IAEA analysts expect an increase of global nuclear electrical generating capacity by 82% to 715 GWe. Under the low case scenario, it will fall by 7% to 392 GWe.China's Sanmen nuclear power plant (Image: IAEA)
The 40th edition of Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050 provides detailed global trends in nuclear power by region. The report presents its projections for nuclear electrical generating capacity as low and high estimates. They reflect different scenarios for the worldwide deployment of this low carbon energy source.
"The latest IAEA annual projections show that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity seen nearly doubling by 2050 in our high case scenario. Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power," IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said.
From 2019 to 2050, global electricity generation is expected to more than double, exceeding nuclear generation capacity growth also in the high case scenario. Therefore, IAEA experts expect the share of nuclear power amongst all sources of electricity to remain either stable or decline. In 2019 nuclear power generated 10.4% of global electricity.
According to the report, "immediate and concerted action" is required for nuclear power to reach a share of 11% in electricity production by 2050, as seen in the high case scenario, the IAEA said. In the low case scenario, the share of nuclear energy relative to global electricity production could decline to about 6%.
Commitments made under the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change and other initiatives could support nuclear power development, provided the necessary energy policies and market designs are established to facilitate investments in dispatchable, low-carbon technologies, the IAEA said. Furthermore, nuclear power could provide solutions for electricity consumption growth, air quality concerns, security of energy supply and price volatility of other fuels, it added.
About two-thirds of nuclear power reactors have been in operation for over 30 years, highlighting the need for significant new nuclear capacity to offset retirements. Uncertainty remains regarding the replacement of the large number of reactors scheduled to be retired around 2030 and beyond, particularly in North America and Europe. Ageing management programmes and long term operation are being implemented for an increasing number of reactors.
Since it was first published 40 years ago, the IAEA projections have been continually refined to reflect an evolving global energy context. Over the past decade, nuclear power development has remained within the range of projections described in prior editions.
Speaking at the 11th Clean Energy Ministerial side-event, Flexibility in Clean Energy Systems: The Enabling Roles of Nuclear Energy, on 15 September, Grossi said the high-case scenario would be "a big leap, an ambitious scenario, but really not impossible".
The "phenomenon" of extending the operating lives of existing large-scale nuclear power plants is already under way in, for example, the USA. "I would not be surprised if we have some going to a century in terms of their operation," he said.
Of the 53 nuclear reactors under construction in 19 countries today, nine are in nuclear newcomer countries - Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, he said.
The UAE's Barakah plant is "the big story" at present, he said, because "just a few years ago it would have been perhaps the stuff of utopian scenarios to see in the Gulf nuclear power being introduced so energetically by one country."
Last month, the UAE connected the first of the four Barakah reactors to the grid and construction of the others is "well-advanced", he said. And Belarus last month completed fuel loading in the first of the two reactors it is building in Ostrovets.
"We have been working very closely with these two countries based on the guidance, on the methodology, which we call the Milestones Approach, which helps newcomers to go step by step. A nuclear marriage is a marriage of a century, so countries really need to prepare their infrastructure in a very comprehensive way," he said.
"We also provide these countries with infrastructure review services and interestingly we are quite advanced in giving this guidance to three very interesting countries, which are getting seriously into preparations - Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Kenya. The other African country, apart from South Africa, which is a confirmed nuclear power country, is Egypt. I was with President Al-Sissi a few months ago and they are moving very seriously and consistently now on the El Dabaa nuclear power plants, which are going to be there in the next few years."
Researched and written by World Nuclear News