Nuclear Should Gain Pace

The global nuclear industry has totally overcome the post-Fukushima syndrome, Rosatom is convinced. Increasingly more countries are turning to the development of nuclear power but, according to the IAEA, the current rates of nuclear construction projects are not sufficient to meet the global power demand in the future and respond to environmental challenges. Development plans and goals were discussed at the IAEA’s Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century.

Hosted in Abu Dhabi (UAE), it was the fourth ministerial conference organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The choice of venue was quite symbolic. The United Arab Emirates is a new point of nuclear growth in the Middle East. The country is home to the Barakah nuclear power plant, which will be the largest nuclear facility in the region after its completion.

Over 700 guests from 67 member states of the IAEA and five international organizations spent two days discussing the future of the nuclear industry. The Agency’s position remains unchanged: nuclear plant construction rates are insufficient to meet the growing power demand and combat climate change. “It is difficult to think of the world responding to these challenges without increasing the share of nuclear power,” says IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. “To solve these tasks, we need to establish an optimal mix of all available energy sources. It is clear that wind and solar will play an increasingly larger role, but it is a growing number of nuclear plants that will generate base load electricity.”

According to the IAEA’s latest forecasts, the global share of nuclear power will increase significantly if acceptance of nuclear power grows worldwide and nuclear technologies become safer and solve the problem of spent nuclear fuel disposal. Under the best case scenario, the total capacity of nuclear plants will grow from 392 GWe as at 2016 to 554 GWe by 2030, 717 GWe by 2040, and 874 GWe by 2050. The share of nuclear in the global energy mix will increase from 11% to 13.7% in 2050. “It is obvious that construction rates in the nuclear industry should gain pace,” Yukiya Amano added.

Searching for harmony

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) has a different, slightly more aggressive view of the future than the IAEA and believes that the nuclear industry should generate 25% of power worldwide by 2050. To achieve this goal, nuclear capacity should be tripled, with nearly 1,000 GWe of new capacity to be built by the mid-century. Nuclear is a competitive source of power, but it cannot fully unlock its potential without removing existing barriers, believes Agneta Rising, WNA Director General. These barriers could be overcome when all players of the low-emission energy market follow the same rules, with clear and transparent market regulation and efficient safety culture. “As the voice of the industry, we support national governments that wish to fight the global climate change. It is their commitment that will help the industry to become a reliable 24/7 source of clean power,” she stressed.

Focus on the new fuel cycle

Speaking at the Conference, Rosatom’s CEO Alexei Likhachev said that the future of the nuclear industry was inextricably linked to fast breeder reactors and a waste-free (‘closed’) nuclear fuel cycle. “Our achievements in science and technology make us convinced that the closed nuclear fuel cycle is not a distant prospect. And we have already made the first step towards this goal,” Rosatom’s CEO said. According to him, the waste-free nuclear fuel cycle will make nuclear an environmentally safe and almost inexhaustible source of power for thousands of years ahead. “There is reason to believe that such a product will be marketed in 10 to 12 years, which is almost tomorrow in terms of the nuclear industry,” Alexei Likhachev noted.

To bring these plans to life, the industry needs an infrastructure to handle spent nuclear fuel and repeatedly reprocess fuel components to return them to the fuel cycle. “Rosatom pays much attention to developing this infrastructure. We are building facilities to reprocess spent nuclear fuel in the Russian Federation and developing a new mixed oxide fuel that will enable us to return reprocessed components to the fuel cycle. If we succeed, nuclear energy will remain competitive for decades ahead. This is why we call on every stakeholder country to re-activate cooperation on fast breeders and waste-free nuclear fuel technologies,” Alexei Likhachev added.

He noted that any country that opted for nuclear faced a number of challenges, such as absence of an established legal framework, need for staff training and development of local competencies. “This is where Rosatom is also prepared to provide support. We have always helped, and will continue to help those countries that have decided to embark on nuclear power.”

Safety and reputation

Safety and public acceptance of nuclear power should be on the international agenda as its new key items, according to Rosatom. “We support efforts of the IAEA in tightening safety requirements. Safety of solutions and technology we use is not a formality, but a prerequisite for any nuclear project,” Alexei Likhachev stressed. He also called on everyone to join efforts in building the right reputation for nuclear energy. “We should enhance our cooperation in order to make nuclear energy a sought-after, rather than just acceptable source of power,” he said.

Alexei Likhachev, CEO of Rosatom

Global power consumption is demonstrating explosive growth. Power demand will grow by nearly a third by 2040. We should not forget, though, that almost every country has made a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It is impossible to meet these commitments and simultaneously increase power generation without changing the global energy mix. With this in mind, we can set requirements for the future nuclear industry. The price of energy should be attractive and remain flat over a long period. The source of energy should be environmentally friendly. Nuclear energy meets all these requirements like no other. And it is not an alternative to other sources of clean energy. On the contrary, solar, wind, water and nuclear sources supplement and strengthen each other. They should be those four pillars that will support the future non-carbon energy mix.