Nuclear power’s long-term potential remains high, although its global expansion is projected to slow down in coming years, according to a new IAEA report on International Status and Prospects for Nuclear Power 2017.
The decline compared to previous projections is mainly on account of early retirement or lack of interest in extending life of nuclear power plants in some countries, due to the reduced competitiveness of nuclear power in the short run and national nuclear policies in several countries following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.
The report analyses the factors which could influence the future of nuclear power, such as funding and financing, electricity markets and public acceptance. If nuclear power’s potential as a low-carbon energy source grows in recognition and advanced reactor designs further improve both safety and radioactive waste management, the use of nuclear power could grow significantly, the report says.
“In some countries, concerns about climate change provide an incentive to support continued operation of nuclear power plants, or are part of the argument for a new build programme,” said Mikhail Chudakov, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy.
“Over time advanced technologies may become commercially available for consideration as part of a low carbon energy mix. More than 30 advanced water cooled reactors are already under construction worldwide. In the meantime, and in light of increased demand for clean energy, maintaining an operating fleet is necessary in order to bridge the gap between existing and next-generation technologies.”
The IAEA’s projections for global installed nuclear power capacity in the high case indicate an increase from 2016 levels by 42% in 2030, by 83% in 2040 and by 123% in 2050. The low case projects a decline in capacity by 12% in 2030 and 15% in 2040 before rebounding to present levels by 2050.
Significant decline is expected in North America and in the region including northern, western and southern Europe, with only slight increases in Africa and western Asia. Significant growth is projected in central and eastern Asia, where nuclear power capacity is expected to undergo an increase of 43% by 2050.
The low projections through to 2050 show no net growth in installed capacity; however, that does not mean there is no new construction. In fact, even in the low case, some 320 GW(e) of new nuclear power capacity will be installed by 2050, making up for the loss caused by retiring reactors, albeit not necessarily in the same regions.
Global electricity demand growth continues and is mainly driven by emerging economies. There are 28 countries interested in introducing nuclear power. Of the 30 countries already operating nuclear power plants, 13 are either constructing new ones or are actively completing previously suspended construction projects, and 16 have plans or proposals for building new reactors.
The IAEA’s projections are developed by world experts taking into account the status and condition of all 447 operating reactors, possible licence renewals, planned shutdowns and plausible construction projects foreseen for the next several decades. The low case, designed to produce “conservative but plausible” estimates, assumes a continuation of current market, technology and resource trends with few changes to policies affecting nuclear power. The high case assumes that current rates of economic and electricity demand growth, particularly in Asia, will continue.
The detailed account is published annually in the IAEA’s publication Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050. Its 37th edition will be published in September 2017.