Collapse of nuclear power to threaten climate goals

30th May 2019

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John Hogg

A steep decline in nuclear power would have major implications in achieving climate targets, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned in a report this week.

The industry faces an uncertain future as developed nations phase out old plants, and a large fall in nuclear power could result in four billion tonnes of additional carbon emissions.

Without policy changes, advanced economies could lose 25% of their nuclear capacity by 2025 and as much as two-thirds of it by 2040, the report warns.

And if other low-carbon power sources, such as wind and solar, are to fill the shortfall, their deployment would have to accelerate to an “unprecedented level“.

“Without an important contribution from nuclear power, the global energy transition will be that much harder,“ said IEA's executive director, Dr Fatih Birol.

“Alongside renewables, energy efficiency and other innovative technologies, nuclear can make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable energy goals and enhancing energy security.“

The report highlights how nuclear is the second-largest, low-carbon power source in the world and accounts for 10% of global electricity generation.

The cost is competitive with renewable technologies, and can lead to a more secure, less disruptive energy transition.

However, extending the operational life of existing nuclear plants will require substantial capital investment, and low wholesale electricity prices have eliminated profit margins for many technologies.

Clean energy transitions would also require $1.6trn in additional investment, which would mean higher electricity bills for consumers.

Investment in new nuclear projects is even harder, with new projects planned in Finland, France and the United States that are not yet in service have faced major cost overruns.

Instead of opening new plants, Birol said: “Policy makers hold the key to nuclear power's future, governments should recognise the cost-competitiveness of safely extending the lifetimes of existing nuclear plants.

Image credit: iStock


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