The main challenges facing the nuclear industry are not in the production and delivery of electricity, but in securing the policy support required for it to expand its contribution of sustainable and low-carbon energy. This was the message of Philippe Costes, senior advisor at World Nuclear Assocation, to delegates at the Nuclear Power Plants Expo & Summit in Istanbul this week.

World Nuclear Association Senior Advisor Philippe Costes

"Nuclear energy has a vital role to play in a global sustainable energy mix, which must first of all meet the world's growing need for electricity. Over the next 30 years, the global population will rise towards nine billion, the global economy will continue to grow and technological developments will create greater demand for electricity. There is an underlying need for dispatchable electricity. We live in a world that requires a 24/7 supply of electricity and nuclear is uniquely placed to provide this. We also need to make major cuts in greenhouse emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The electricity supply sector is the one proven area in which we can make emissions reductions on the scale required.

And nuclear isn't just about sustainable energy, it also sustains local communities and economies. Hosting a nuclear power plant brings a lifetime of investment into a community: investment in jobs, investment in infrastructure and investment in local economies. A nuclear power plant needs thousands of skilled people to build it and hundreds of skilled people to operate it. This brings a wealth of opportunities for the local supply chain.

There are 450 reactors operating in 30 countries that represent over 60% of the global population. Nuclear energy currently supplies 10% of global electricity, more than a third of the world's low-carbon power production. A further 59 reactors are under construction, in 15 countries, and China is leading this development with 18 reactors. In the 30 countries that are currently operating NPPs, 13 are either constructing new units or are completing previously suspended projects.

There are about 28 newcomer countries considering, planning or starting nuclear power programmes. Notably, the UAE completed construction of its first nuclear power reactor in 2018 and three more are nearing completion. Belarus's first nuclear power reactor is also scheduled to start up this year, and last year Bangladesh officially started construction of its first nuclear plant. Akkuyu 1 here in Turkey started construction in 2018 and a second unit is due to start construction this year.

Others, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia are in the contractual phase. At the end of 2017, Egypt signed a contract with Russia to build four reactors. On-site preparatory work is now under way and construction is expected to start in 2021. Saudi Arabia is in discussion with a number of vendors to build two large reactors and is also exploring the use of small modular reactors for power and water desalination. And some countries, such as Poland, Jordan and Indonesia, are committed to plans for nuclear energy but are waiting formal approval. In Europe, the UK is leading the way with a plan to develop 19GWe. Two EPRs are under construction at Hinkley Point, and a decision could be taken this year for two more at Sizewell.

Current nuclear reactor designs are mature and proven technologies with good safety and deployment records.  Nearly 100 reactors have been producing electricity for more than 40 years; some reactors are licensed to operate to 60 years. Operators are planning to obtain licences for reactors to operate for 80 years. Lessons from the Fukushima accident have led to further improvements in safety, including protection against worst case natural and external events, and appropriate emergency response.

Forty-seven new reactors are expected to have started up in the five years to 2020. They are located in 11 different countries, two of which are hosting their first nuclear power plant. The 47 reactors are based on 20 different designs, and nine of those designs are being built for the first time.

To further support decarbonisation of other energy sectors, significant advances have been made in the design and technology development of small and medium-sized or modular reactors, which offer flexible power generation for a wider range of users and applications.

Nuclear power is one of the most cost-competitive low-carbon options for generating electricity in many countries. This is even more evident when all system costs are taken into consideration.

Lessons learned from recent first-of-a-kind projects in North America and Europe - that have been subjected to huge delays and cost increases - show the importance of maintaining nuclear construction capability and experience, as well as other lessons to improve cost savings and delivery. By contrast, plants built elsewhere (South Korea, China, Japan, Russia etc.) where there is a sustained nuclear build programme have demonstrated that nuclear energy is highly cost competitive and can be delivered on schedule.

Urgent and much greater ambition and actions are needed and it is essential to highlight the increasing importance of nuclear power and its benefits to policy and decision makers.

For the Conference of the Parties in Poland in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report which concluded that, in most scenarios, nuclear power is significantly needed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And in 2019, for the first time in 20 years, the International Energy Agency produced a report on nuclear power, which stressed it is needed to tackle climate change, and it presented major policy recommendations to governments. World Nuclear Association also contributed last year to a report launched by the World Energy Congress at its conference in Abu Dhabi.

Yes, nuclear is coming into the debate, but the world is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 'well below' 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C. This is illustrated by the Nationally Determined Contributions which fall significantly short of the 2 degree target.

The International Energy Agency has shown that between 1997 and 2018 - despite huge investments in renewables - electricity generation still accounts for 40% of the world's carbon emissions and, more surprisingly, fossil fuels have remained the predominant source of electricity. At 63%, that’s the exact same figure as in 1997 and in 2018.

The International Energy Agency calls for a grand coalition to address the climate issue and its director, Fatih Birol, says there is a 'growing disconnect' between the political statements and what is happening in reality. Therefore urgent and much greater ambition and actions are needed. We can't just wait for future technologies when existing and proven nuclear technology is part of the solution to meet the clean energy challenge. The debate should not be 'nuclear or renewables', but should instead focus on them working together to decarbonise the power sector and the other energy sectors. To help the world meet its energy challenges, the World Nuclear Association's Harmony programme sets out the global nuclear industry's vision for the future of electricity. It has a goal of 25% of global electricity in 2050 to be provided by nuclear energy resulting in a tripling of nuclear generation from its present level. This requires building about 1000 GWe of new nuclear capacity.

The Harmony programme set out three objectives. Firstly, we should establish a level playing field in energy markets which drives investment in future clean energy, where nuclear energy is treated on equal terms with other low-carbon technologies and recognised for its value in a reliable, robust low-carbon energy mix. Secondly, we need to ensure harmonised regulatory processes to provide a more internationally consistent, efficient and predictable nuclear licensing regime. And thirdly, we should create an effective safety paradigm, where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are valued when compared with other energy sources.

While the Harmony goal of 1000 GWe by 2050 is ambitious, it is achievable. A ramp-up of new nuclear build to an annual connection rate of 33 GWe within the next decade is required, which is comparable to that already achieved in the 1980s. The main challenges are not in the production and delivery - although significant strengthening and capability building would be required - but in securing the necessary policy support and delivering decisions.

In conclusion, current nuclear reactor designs are mature and proven technologies that have been producing safe, reliable and affordable electricity for more than 60 years. As new technologies come to fruition, the locations and market opportunities will continue to grow. Nuclear energy can be used in off-grid applications, to decarbonise heat, and to desalinate water - providing a fast-track to deep decarbonisation of economies around the world and supporting sustainable development.

Nuclear technologies do not merely provide 24/7 energy - they are improving peoples' lives and are a critical part of our clean energy future."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Friday, 06 March 2020
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