Nuclear Power After Fukushima: IAEA Projections

“It is still an exciting time for nuclear power,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano said last January at a lecture in Singapore. Four years after the devastating accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, what justifies such a view?

Several objective reasons do.

For many countries, nuclear power remains an important option for improving energy security and reducing the impact of volatile fossil-fuel prices. As a stable, base-load source of electricity in an era of ever-increasing global energy demand, nuclear power complements other energy sources—including renewables.

And because nuclear power, together with hydropower and wind energy, has the lowest life cycle greenhouse gas emissions among all power generation sources, it is crucially linked to mitigating the effects of climate change.

A clear correlation links energy poverty and real poverty. Energy is the engine of development. In his vision for Sustainable Energy for All, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says that “all energy sources and technologies have roles to play in achieving universal access in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable fashion.” Simply put, to provide energy access to everyone, all forms of energy are needed.

Today, 1.3 billion people have no access to modern forms of energy. One billion people lack proper health care due to energy poverty. And 2.6 billion people, more than a third of the world population, still burn biomass for basic energy needs.

Projections

Coupled with concern about securing energy supply and carbon emissions, we get to the current situation: Four years after Fukushima, 30 countries still use nuclear power. About 11% of the world’s electricity comes from 440 operational nuclear reactors. And there are 68 more under construction, with the trend growing.

Speaking of trends: The IAEA’s latest projections from August 2014 show that the world’s nuclear power generating capacity will grow between 8 and 88 % by 2030 (IAEA, 2012). Fukushima may have slowed the growth in nuclear power, but it didn’t stop or reverse it. In short, we expect to see continued expansion in the global use of atomic energy over the next 20 years, especially in Asia, where two-thirds of the reactors currently under construction are being built.

Of the 30 countries that operate nuclear power plants, 13 are either constructing new units or are completing previously suspended construction projects. A further 12 are actively planning to build new units (IAEA, 2014a].

Newcomers

In addition to the 30 established users of nuclear power, about the same number of countries is interested in adding nuclear to its energy mix—the so-called “newcomers.” One thing must be clear: it is the sovereign decision of every country whether to launch a nuclear power program. The IAEA does not try to influence that decision. But when a Member State decides to go that route, the IAEA is there to help (IAEA, 2014a).

The newcomers are at different stages of development: although the majority are currently at the “consideration” stage and have not yet made a national decision, the United Arab Emirates and Belarus are already constructing their first nuclear power plants.

Energy Planning

The future of nuclear power is linked to the future of energy. A country’s energy mix changes over time. Resources that become depleted, too expensive, or environmentally detrimental are replaced by new technologies and energy sources. Hence, energy planning is vital to meeting future capacity needs in ways that are economic, clean, and socially and environmentally responsible.

The IAEA’s energy planning models and tools are used by 130 Member States and by more than 20 regional and international organizations. They assist countries in making informed decisions on future plans, irrespective of their interest in nuclear power.

Fukushima Lessons

Any nuclear power program is a major undertaking. It requires careful planning, preparation and a major investment of time and human resources. Of course, safety, as the Fukushima accident reminded us, is vital to the future development of nuclear power. IAEA Member States responded quickly to the accident by unanimously adopting the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety (IAEA, 2011) in an effort to look critically at several technical issues in nuclear power production. From severe accident management to communication, from emergency preparedness and response to enhanced research and development, Member States are focusing on lessons learned from the accident to improve nuclear safety in a holistic way.

Innovations

In addition to post-Fukushima safety upgrades in existing reactors, technological advances are also under way to make nuclear power safer and more efficient. Nuclear fusion, fast reactors and closed fuel cycles can extend the use of our resources to thousands of years. Small and medium-sized reactors (SMR) can respond to issues involving the electricity grid and major capital requirements. There are about 45 innovative SMR concepts, with Argentina, China, India and Russia already building theirs (IAEA, 2014).

The Agency assists its Member States, both newcomers as well as experienced users, in establishing the appropriate legal and regulatory framework, and offers know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and safe operation of nuclear reactors. The IAEA also establishes nuclear safety standards and security guidance. Its expert peer review missions help Member States in a wide range of areas, including uranium mining, plant safety, secure nuclear facilities, decommissioning and waste management.

The IAEA, in conclusion, helps nations gain or extend access to nuclear power—one of the great applications of atomic energy. By doing so, the Agency fulfills the mandate it adopted six decades ago: to “seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”[1]

[1]           Article 2 of the IAEA’s statute

References in the Article here.

IAEA Deputy Director General, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy