Nuclear power in a clean energy system

6 November 2019

Peter Fraser

Head, Gas, Coal & Power Markets Division

International Energy Agency

Nuclear power, along with hydropower, form the backbone of low-carbon electricity generation. Together, they provide three-quarters of global low-carbon generation. Over the past 50 years, the use of nuclear power has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 60 gigatonnes – nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions. However, in advanced economies, nuclear power has begun to fade, with plants closing and little new investment made, just when the world requires more low-carbon electricity.

The presentation will cover the highlights of a recent IEA report, Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System, the first such report the IEA has published on the topic in 18 years.  The report focuses on the role of nuclear power in advanced economies and the factors that put nuclear power at risk of future decline. It is shown that without action, nuclear power in advanced economies could fall by two-thirds by 2040. The implications of such a “Nuclear Fade Case” for costs, emissions and electricity security using two World Energy Outlook scenarios – the New Policies Scenario and the Sustainable Development Scenario are examined.

Achieving the pace of CO2 emissions reductions in line with the Paris Agreement is already a huge challenge, as shown in the Sustainable Development Scenario. It requires large increases in efficiency and renewables investment, as well as an increase in nuclear power. This report identifies the even greater challenges of attempting to follow this path with much less nuclear power. It recommends several possible government actions that aim to: ensure existing nuclear power plants can operate as long as they are safe, support new nuclear construction and encourage new nuclear technologies to be developed.

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