Almost one-quarter of global electricity could be generated from nuclear power by 2050, making a major contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Nuclear Energy Technology Roadmap, published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). Such an expansion will require nuclear generating capacity to more than triple over the next 40 years, a target the roadmap describes as ambitious but achievable.
Nuclear generating capacity worldwide is presently 370 gigawatts electrical (GWe), providing 14% of global electricity. In the IEA scenario for a 50% cut in energy-related CO2 emissions by 2050 (known as the “BLUE Map” scenario), on which the roadmap analysis is based, nuclear capacity grows to 1,200 GWe by 2050, providing 24% of global electricity at that time. Total electricity production in the scenario more than doubles, from just under 20,000 TWh in 2007 to around 41,000 TWh in 2050.
Nuclear energy is one of the key low-carbon energy technologies that can contribute, alongside energy efficiency, renewable energies and carbon capture and storage, to the decarbonization of electricity supply by 2050.
—IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka
The roadmap finds that nuclear power is a mature, low-carbon technology that is ready to expand rapidly over the coming decades. The latest reactor designs, now under construction around the world, build on more than 50 years of technology development. The roadmap notes that these designs will need to be fully established as reliable and competitive electricity generators over the next few years if they are to become the mainstays of nuclear expansion after 2020.
|Main designs for Nuclear Power Plant Deployment by 2020|
No major technological breakthroughs will be needed to achieve the level of nuclear expansion envisaged, the roadmap finds. The obstacles to more rapid nuclear growth in the short- to medium-term are primarily policy-related, industrial and financial. However, continuous development of reactor and fuel cycle technologies will be important if nuclear energy is to achieve its full potential in competition with other low-carbon energy sources, the report finds.
The roadmap sets out an action plan with steps that will need to be taken by governments, industry and others to overcome these. A clear and stable policy commitment to nuclear energy as part of overall energy strategy is a prerequisite, as is gaining greater public acceptance for nuclear programs.
Progress in implementing plans for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste will also be essential. The international system of safeguards to prevent proliferation of nuclear technology and materials must be maintained and strengthened where necessary.
Financing the construction of new nuclear plants is expected to be a major challenge in many countries. In some cases, governments may need to support nuclear investment through measures such as loan guarantees until nuclear power programs are well-established. The industrial capacities and skilled human resources necessary to build, operate and maintain nuclear plants will also need to be increased over the next few years if nuclear is to expand rapidly.
|Concepts for Gen IV Systems|
For the longer term, the continued development of reactor and fuel cycle technologies will be important for maintaining the competitiveness of nuclear energy. Technologies now under development for next-generation nuclear systems potentially offer improved sustainability, economics, safety and reliability. Some could be suitable for a wider range of locations and to new applications beyond electricity production, for example to provide industrial heat. Such systems could start contributing to energy supply before 2050.
The Nuclear Energy Technology Roadmap is the result of joint work by the IEA and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and is one of a series being prepared by the IEA in co operation with other organizations and industry, at the request of the G8 summit at Aomori (Japan) in June 2008. The overall aim is to advance development and uptake of key low-carbon technologies needed to reach the goal of a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.