World needs more nuclear power plants to meet future energy needs

Without mincing words the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano said that the world needs to step up the rate of construction of new nuclear power plants or it will be falling short of meeting its future energy needs and climate change goals. Amano was addressing the International Ministerial Conference on ‘Nuclear Power in the 21st century’ in Abu Dhabi.

Preceded by ministerial meeting in Paris (2005), Beijing (2009) and Saint Petersburg (2013), it is the forum for high-level dialogue on the future of nuclear power generation. This time it was attended by 700 representatives from 67 IAEA member states and five international organisations. The meeting concluded on November 1.

“It is difficult to see other low-carbon energy sources growing sufficiently to take up the slack if nuclear power use fails to grow,” said Amano in his address. “It is difficult to see how the world will meet the challenge of securing sufficient energy and mitigating the impact of climate change, without making more use of nuclear power,” added Amano.

The IAEA Chief emphasised that the world needed to make ‘optimal use’ of all the available energy sources to meet its growing energy demands. His remarks come in the backdrop of a raging debate in the world about the safety of nuclear energy and advantages of alternative renewables like wind and solar power. “It is clear that renewables such as wind and solar power will play an increasingly important role. However, more use of nuclear power will be needed to provide the steady supply of base load electricity to power modern economies if countries are to meet the goals for greenhouse gas emissions which they set for themselves in the Paris Agreement,” Amano contended.

The IAEA is optimistic of the growth in the nuclear power provided the world gives due recognition to it as a low-carbon energy source and advanced reactor designs further improve both safety and radioactive waste management issues. In its high case projection, global nuclear generating capacity increases from 392 GWe at the end of 2016 to 554 GWe by 2030, 717 GWe by 2040 and 874 GWe by 2050. Nuclear’s share of global electricity generation would increase from the current level of about 11 per cent to 13.7 per cent by 2050. This projection assumes that current rates of economic and electricity demand growth, particularly in Asia, will continue.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency Director General William Magwood underlined international cooperation as the way forward to boost nuclear energy. “International cooperation can no doubt ease the path forward toward a clean, affordable and secured energy by addressing collectively the major technical, economic and political challenges with a focus on both today and the future,” opined Magwood.

The UAE has also embarked on its first project to generate nuclear power. It also announced to establish a “Collaborating Centre” with the IAEA at Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi. The UAE will be collaborating with the IAEA over a period of four years to develop infrastructure and human resources to support nuclear power.

The nuclear industry has set the ‘Harmony goal’ that envisages the nuclear energy forming one fourth of the total energy supply of the word by 2050. This will require a tripling of nuclear generation from its present level. Some 1000 GWe of new nuclear generating capacity will need to be constructed by then to achieve the goal. World Nuclear Association Director General Agneta Rising told the conference: “Nuclear generation is a competitive option, but barriers are preventing it from making the full contribution that is needed. Removing these barriers is essential to achieving the Harmony goal.”