IEA calls out nuclear ‘renaissance’: Global nuclear capacity needs to double to achieve net zero

The world is shrouded in the haze of the energy crisis. With the change of heart of many governments, will nuclear power usher in a “second spring”? Recently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed out in its report “Nuclear Power and Safe Energy Transition” that the global nuclear power capacity needs to double in the next three decades to achieve the dual goals of net zero carbon emissions and energy independence.

To achieve net-zero emissions, nuclear power capacity must double from the current 413GW to 812GW by 2050, the IEA said. By the 2030s, annual nuclear capacity additions will reach 27GW.

Nuclear energy ushered in a revival opportunity

IEA director-general Fatih Birol said that in the context of the global energy crisis, soaring fossil fuel prices, energy security challenges and climate commitments, nuclear energy presents a unique opportunity for renaissance.

But he noted that it would be up to the governments themselves. Birol said:

“It will depend on the government’s ability to develop strong policies to ensure the safe and sustainable operation of nuclear power plants for years to come.”

According to the IEA, although developed economies have nearly 70% of the world’s nuclear power capacity, issues such as stagnant investment, budget overruns on the latest projects, and aging nuclear power plants are shaking developed economies’ leadership in the global nuclear power market.

While advanced economies have extended the lifespan of nuclear power plants, which account for about 10 percent of the world’s nuclear power plant, over the past three years, their number of nuclear power plants could still be reduced by a third by 2030, the report said.

Of the 31 reactors under construction since early 2017, 27 were of Russian or Chinese design, according to the IEA.

Currently, about 63% of the world’s nuclear power plants (260 million kilowatts) have been in use for more than 30 years, and their initial operating licenses are about to expire. By the 2030s, annual nuclear capacity additions would need to reach 27GW to make up for the reduction in nuclear power supply due to nuclear plant closures.

Many countries turn back to nuclear power

Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, fossil fuel prices have continued to climb, the global energy crisis has continued to worsen, and many countries have rekindled hopes for nuclear power.

According to the latest statistics from the World Nuclear Energy Association, as of April, there were about 100 nuclear power plants under construction in the world, with a total installed capacity of 100 million kilowatts. Among them, more than 30 countries without nuclear power plants, including Turkey and Vietnam, are planning More than 20 countries including Uzbekistan have also shown strong interest in nuclear power in the construction of nuclear power plants.

Recently, the European Union, South Korea, and the United Kingdom have all released signals to embrace nuclear power again.

At the end of April, the second report on nuclear power safety assessment released by the European Commission showed that EU countries have made good progress in ensuring nuclear power safety in the past 10 years. This is widely regarded by the industry as a signal for the EU to accelerate its embrace of nuclear power.

After the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, EU nuclear power was forced to step on the brakes, and many countries announced “nuclear reduction” or even “nuclear abandonment”. Germany, the European economic locomotive, had previously decided to shut down all nuclear power plants within 10 years.

But with the outbreak of the new crown epidemic and soaring energy prices, the EU has to rethink energy policy. In February this year, the EU reassessed its green investment strategy and re-labeled nuclear power and natural gas with a “green label”.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict that broke out later led to an energy crisis in Europe, further stimulating the EU to re-examine nuclear power. France, the European nuclear power major, announced in February this year a strategy to revive nuclear power, extending existing nuclear power generation facilities, and at the same time accelerating the development of nuclear construction of adjustable small reactors and reactors with less nuclear waste.

Germany has also begun to consider extending the life of existing nuclear power plants. At present, only three nuclear power plants in Germany are still in operation, but these three will also be closed by the end of this year.

The United Kingdom released the “Energy Security Strategy” in April, stating that by 2050, the installed capacity of nuclear power plants will triple on the current basis, and 25% of the electricity demand will be met by then.

After five years of denuclearization, South Korea has begun to prepare for the revival of the nuclear power industry. According to media reports, the new president Yin Xiyue plans to relax the conditions for deferred service of nuclear power plants and reactivate the vitality of the nuclear power industry. He has repeatedly stressed the need to improve the competitiveness of South Korea’s nuclear power industry as soon as possible, actively promote South Korea’s nuclear power overseas, and vowed to make South Korea a major nuclear power country.


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