Political hurdles pose big challenge to nuclear power growth

Political hurdles and competition from renewables pose big challenge to the growth of nuclear power across the world. As per the 18th edition of the World Nuclear Association’s biennial report on the outlook for nuclear power and nuclear fuel report the demand for civil nuclear energy is increasing in developing countries and China and India alone would have more than half of the new nuclear power projects planned.

The political fallout of the Fukushima accident has also constrained the growth of the nuclear power. The report fears that the election of a South Korean president with an anti-nuclear programme could result in nuclear phase-out in this most successful of nuclear countries. Sweden and Spain are two other successful nuclear countries where the economic case for extended operation of reactors is being undermined by subsidized renewables and nuclear-specific taxes.

According to the report despite a projected steady growth rate for nuclear power, it would face multiple challenges. “….In both established and potential markets, nuclear power faces and increased competitive challenge from other modes of generation, especially in deregulated markets, while continuing to face regulatory and political hurdles,” the report said.

The International Energy Agency has projected that the nuclear power will continue to grow steadily for the next two decades from its present share of 11 per cent owing to the near-zero Green House Gas and other pollutant emissions associated with nuclear power generation and other benefits like reliable and secure nature of nuclear power and long-term cost competitiveness.

The report sees the maximum potential for nuclear energy in the country in developing countries and not where the nuclear power is well-established. “China and India alone account for over half the projected new reactors in this report. New nuclear countries are also using the technology: the UAE has successfully completed construction of its first reactor while Bangladesh has started the construction of its first,” added the report.

The World Nuclear Association acknowledges that unlike the increasing graph shown by civil nuclear energy prior to the Fukushima accident in Japan in March 2011, there have been “successively reduced capacity projections. The Association terms the growing financial support for other renewable energy sources as one of the reasons behind the adverse trend in the nuclear energy segment.

In the US as well the unconventional gas is undermining the economics of nuclear and in other countries the demand for coal remains strong for economic reasons. “The construction of new reactor designs is proving more challenging than expected with long delays and budget over-runs in the US, France and Finland. As a result, the roll-out of these designs in other countries is being delayed,” the report said while enumerating another reason for the constrained growth of the civil nuclear energy.

The report also talks about three scenarios for world nuclear generating capacity up to 203, referred to as the Reference, Upper and Lower Scenarios. At mid-2017, world nuclear capacity was 391 GWe (including the idled Japanese reactors). In the Reference Scenario this is expected to rise to 403 GWe by 2025 and to 482 GWe by 2035. In the Upper Scenario, the equivalent figures are 455 GWe in 2025 and 625 GWe in 2035. In the Lower Scenario, nuclear generating capacity effectively stagnates in the period to 2030 and then drops away with many reactor closures in the period to 2035.