World Nuclear Association Blog

IEA World Energy Outlook analysis: nuclear, hydro and wind lead the low-carbon way

(In the News) Permanent link

Reading the coverage of the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2014 you might come to the conclusion that renewables will flourish, nuclear's future is uncertain, oil supplies are a matter of concern and surprisingly little has been said about coal and gas. 

The projections used in the report tell a different story, particularly in the electricity generation sector. This story becomes clearer if we consider each generation source individually when looking at the three scenarios discussed in the report. 

  • Current Policies: taking account only of current policies, not anticipating any future national or international action to address issues of climate change, energy security and affordability
  • New Policies: the central scenario of WEO-2014, taking into account all current policies as well as relevant policy proposals to address climate change, energy security and affordability, but still using up the Earth's carbon budget, as defined by the IPCC.
  • 450 Scenario: assumes set of policies introduced to allow CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to peak at 450 ppm, putting us on course to limit climate change warming to 2 degrees C.

The contribution of each generation source 

The chart below shows the electricity generation from all sources in 2040 under the three scenarios. The first thing to note is that electricity demand rises in all three scenario. Various levels of energy efficiency are applied in each scenario, but global electricity demand will continue to rise to meet the needs of a global population, when billions today still do not receive adequate electricity supplies.

Looking to nuclear energy, in all three scenarios the amount of nuclear generation increases from 2012 levels. As might be expected, the more effort put in to policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the greater the amount of nuclear generation forecast.

Separating renewables into individual generation sources shows the different prospects for the different technologies. Hydro remains the main source of generation classed as renewable. Wind shows the greatest growth, with wind, nuclear and hydro becoming the three main players in near-zero carbon emission generation. While other forms of renewables are numerous, their overall contribution to electricity generation remains limited in all scenarios.


 IEA WEO generation scenarios

Generation Change

The amount of change in the contribution to the generation mix is best illustrated in this second chart. This chart shows the change in the amount of electricity generated, in terawatthours (TWh) for each generation form in all three scenarios. The greatest additional generation from near-zero carbon generators comes from nuclear, wind and hydro. Nuclear and wind both show the greatest growth between the three scenarios, hydro less so, perhaps reflecting that the potential for large hydro to grow will be limited by the availability of suitable sites for dams. 

The contributions of the other renewables show more clearly, as they add capacity to a very low current baseline.


 IEA WEO Changes In Generation

What this graph makes clear is that the greatest uncertainty is over the future of fossil fuels. Unconstrained in the current policies scenario, coal and gas-fired electricity generation will grow far more than either nuclear or any renewable. The introduction of new policies currently on the table has a markedly different effect on coal and gas. Coal sees a significant fall in generation, as carbon policies begin to bite, but gas sees a growth in additional generation, replacing one fossil fuel with another.

A future of fossil fuel uncertainty

The coal to gas switch of the New Policies would leave us in an impossible situation where the world's carbon emission budget would be used up by 2040. To have a chance of limiting global warming to an average of 2C, according to the IPCC, no further greenhouse gas emissions would be possible. All fossil fuel generation would have to be switched off on 1 January 2041.

It is only the 450 Scenario that sets us on a more practical path of emissions reduction, greater at first, but allow a more manageable retirement of the remaining fossil fuel generation over the second half of the century.

With these scenarios a clearer picture emerges. Nuclear, wind and hydro will lead the growth in near-zero carbon generation. The amount of growth will depend on the international commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This commitment will also encourage the growth of other renewables. The uncertainty in electricity generation to 2040 lies in the futures of coal and gas.



Decommissioning costs in context

(In the News) Permanent link

The Financial Times today has focussed on the IEA World Energy Outlook comment on nuclear decommissioning costs, with a headline reading "Bill for shutting nuclear plants will reach $100bn".

To be clear the $100bn figure is for the decommissioning of almost 200 reactors, nearly half of the reactors currently operating, between now and 2040. 

This might seem to be a significant sum, but it needs to be put context. The table below lists other costs listed in the IEA World Energy Outlook

 Annual Cost
Global nuclear decommissioning, average per year      $4 billion
Upstream oil and gas development costs by 2030 $900 billion
Fossil fuel subsidies 2013      $550 billion
Renewables subsidies 2013      $120 billion


Nuclear decommissioning costs are a tiny fraction of the investment needed in upstream oil and gas development or fossil fuel or renewables subsidies. They are also a small fraction of overall generation costs, only a few tenths of a cent per kWh. 

The IEA World Energy Outlook states: "Decommissioning costs account for less than 1.5% of generation costs in all regions, on the assumption that they are accrued over the entire economic lifetime of plant operation." (IEA WEO p396).

The IEA figures are consistent with other estimates of decommissioning costs, including a much longer report produced by the OECD in 2003 (The IEA was established in the OECD framework). These costs are recognised by industry and nuclear regulators and funds are already being set aside to carry out decommissioning in the future. The commitment of the nuclear industry to properly funding decommissioning costs compares well to preparations made elsewhere in the energy sector. For more information please see our information paper on nuclear decommissioning

The Financial Times focus on nuclear decommissioning costs is disappointing, given the much greater challenges for the world's energy system the IEA's report sets out; that urgent action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.

WNA Director General Agneta Rising said:

"The IEA's central scenario would set us on a path of a dangerous increase in global temperatures. We must act to switch to cleaner and more affordable energy sources. Nuclear is a cost-effective way of producing reliable low-carbon electricity on a large scale. Nuclear must form an increasing part of the world's energy supply if we are to get serious about addressing climate change."

WNA welcomes the report's recognition of the many benefits of nuclear energy, such as enhanced energy security, system reliability and low emissions. The report states:

"Nuclear plants can contribute to the reliability of the power system where they increase the diversity of power generation technologies in the system. For countries that import energy, it can reduce their dependence on foreign supplies and limit their exposure to fuel price movements in international markets."

"Nuclear power is one of the few options available at scale to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions while providing or displacing other forms of baseload generation.It has avoided the release of an estimated 56 gigatonnes of CO2 since 1971, or almost two years of total global emissions at current rates."

Paris climate conference must avoid hot air

(Conferences, Staff) Permanent link

In the latest editorial on the World Nuclear News website WNA's Jonathan Cobb looks forward to the climate change negotiations that will take place in Paris next year. In the article Cobb looks back at the early days of the UN COP negotiations, events he describes as 'exciting', but sees the recent meetings as having ossified. This may not bode well for the Paris meeting.

Many of the world leaders who met in New York last September pressed the case for more action. The path of global greenhouse gas emissions is well illustrated by the series of graphs an article on Energy Collective. If action is to be taken it needs to be meaningful, and that would mean deploying the full range of mitigation options available to us, as there is not sign of overachievement so far.

Banking on Nuclear

(Web) Permanent link

The nuclear industry needs to satisfy the multi-criteria approach to risk that banks take when they decide whether to invest in a large infrastructure project. Only then, can it expect to attract this form of financing to nuclear new build projects, writes Ron Cameron on the latest WNN Editorial article.

Specifically,says Cameron, banks look for long-term certainty on price, stable government policy, industry reputation, regulatory certainty, the process for addressing planning and environmental issues and public acceptance, in addition to the economics of the project.

Cameron argues that European wholesale electricity markets are currently not favourable to nuclear power, however. That, he says, is because the role of nuclear in offsetting the negative effect on price of feed-in tariffs and grid priorities for renewable forms of energy is not adequately recognised. The cost to the system of having intermittency of supply is often borne by the nuclear plants through their role in providing back-up generating capacity or otherwise by the consumer through higher electricity prices, subsidies or taxes. With no level playing field for nuclear in liberalised electricity markets, there is a real difficulty in seeing where nuclear new build is going to come from in Europe, without government action. Cameron thinks that there is a need to explicitly recognise the advantages that nuclear power provides to stabilise these markets long term, to support the move to a low carbon economy and to help with security of supply.

Read more on WNN:

European Crunch Time

(Publications) Permanent link

With the average age of European Union (EU) nuclear plants now at around 30 years, bringing enough new capacity online to match that lost through the closure of old nuclear plants will present a major challenge, writes Stephen Tarlton.

Currently, 131 nuclear power reactors with a combined capacity of around 122 GWe operate in 14 EU member states. This accounts for over one-quarter of the electricity generated across all of the EU's 28 member states. Half of the EU's nuclear electricity is produced in only one country, namely France.

But with the French government planning to cap nuclear capacity at its current level of around 63 GWe, along with the politically-motivated decisions by two member states (Germany and Belgium) to exit nuclear power over the next decade, a decline in EU capacity up to around 2030 is all but inevitable.

In order to reverse this expected short-term decline, the new generation of nuclear reactor designs needs to be firmly established in the EU. Today, nuclear plant construction is underway in only three EU member states - Finland, France and Slovakia (although the reactors under construction in Slovakia are Russian VVER-440 units, a design that is unlikely to be built again). Beyond these units, the countries that are most likely to have additional new nuclear units in operation by 2030 are Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. Though less likely, further new units by 2030 might also be seen in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

According to a new report titled New Nuclear in Europe - 2030 Outlook by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the outcome of the nuclear projects in these 13 countries - but especially the two EPRs currently under construction in Finland and France, along with the planned new reactors in Finland, Hungary, Lithuania and the United Kingdom - will determine whether the expected short-term decline in the EU's nuclear industry will be reversed.

Read more on WNN Analysis

New nuclear power source for space probes

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 Tim Tinsley NNL
Tim Tinsley, National Nuclear Laboratory

In a new feature article on World Nuclear News scientist Tim Tinsley, from the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory describes the work being carried out to develop a new nuclear power source that will help explore the outer reaches of the solar system. Most space probes are powered either by solar panels or by radioisotope power sources. Solar panels work well in the inner solar system, although the solar-powered Mars rovers have to curtail activities over-night and during Mars winters due to a lack of power. Radioisotope power sources, that use radioactive decay heat to generate electricity provide a more reliable source of power, allowing the Mars Curiosity rover to travel further and work longer, and probes like Voyager, Cassini and the New Horizons probe currently speeding to Pluto to explore the outer reaches of our solar system and interstellar space.

However, supplies of the main isotope used - Pu-238 - are running short. The work being done at NNL would extract americium-241 from plutonium separated from used nuclear fuel. Although the Am-241 produces less power per unit weight than Pu-238, the separation process would be far less expensive. 

It also strikes that Am-241 also has a longer half-life than Pu-238, meaning Am-241 power sources should last longer. Voyager 2 launched in 1977. Although its power source has lasted an impressive 37 years already, the gradual decay of its Pu-238 power source, with a half-life of 87.7 years means that the probe will no longer be able to operate beyond 2020. An Am-241 source would have a half life of 432 years, meaning the fall in output from a Am-241 RPS would be much slower, potentially allowing probes to operate for much longer.

Onagawa: The NPP that withstood the tsunami

(Web, Publications) Permanent link

A fascinating brochure has been published outlining the story of the Onagawa nuclear power plant and how it withstood the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. It is available here.

The report reviews the differences between what happened at Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini and Onagawa. 

Onagawa faced a stronger earthquake and tsunami of similar height to Fukushima Daiichi, at around 13m. The earthquake disrupted external power supplies, but with a combination of one remaining external power line and six of the eight diesel generators the plants shut down and cooling systems started as planned - in fact Unit 2 was in the process of starting up as the earthquake struck and reached cold shutdown a few minutes later.     

When the tsunami struck the damage caused to Onagawa was much less severe than at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, because the Onagawa plant had been built at a height of 14.8m, higher than the tsunami waves. There was some disruption to unit 2 cooling, but all reactors achieved cold shutdown as planned.

The preparedness and efforts of staff at Onagawa were recognised when they were presented with a WANO (World Association of Nuclear Excellence) Award for Nuclear Excellence.

 Onagawa WANO 
Onagawa staff whose combined efforts earned them a WANO Nuclear Excellence Award 

Perhaps even more remarkable is how the Onagawa nuclear plant became a place of refuge for people from the area surrounding the plant, where many had died, and even more had been made homeless.

On March 11, 1,500 people working at the site were stranded, without any reports how their friends and family outside the plant had fared. From the devastated surrounding area 50 people sought shelter at the plant. Eventually the site would become a refuge for 364 people from the local community.

 Onagawa Refugees  

Local refugees offered shelter in Onagawa gymnasium

The article shows how robust nuclear power plants are when back up power supplies and flood defences are properly in place. Since the accident at Fukushima 'stress tests' have been carried out at reactors around the world to ensure that plants are sufficiently prepared. Even at Onagawa defences have been strengthened even more.


IPCC call for low carbon energy action

(Communications) Permanent link

When the third report from the IPCC, on mitigation of climate change, was published on Sunday the world's media focussed on its key messages - greenhouse emissions are rising, the threat of climate change is getting stronger, serious and radical international action is required, but we can still avoid the worse effects of climate change if we take action now and for the long term.  

But what was released on Sunday was just the "Summary for Policymakers", a 30-odd page negotiated skim of the actual report, which contains more a thousand pages of carefully referenced scientific assessment.

The conclusions of the full IPCC report are clear, the energy supply system is the largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions and more action in this sector is required now. The IPCC report says around 80% of our electricity must be supplied by low carbon sources such as nuclear, renewables and CCS by 2050 and to eliminate polluting coal, oil and gas generation by the end of the century.

IPCC Gases

The IPCC concludes that no single mitigation option in the energy supply sector will be sufficient to hold the increase in global average temperature change below 2°C above pre‐industrial levels. Embracing all options will give us the greatest chance of avoiding the harmful effects of climate change in the most cost-effective way.

Nuclear energy is recognised as having some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions for each unit of electricity generated, even when the full lifecycle emissions are included. Average emissions from nuclear are 12 grams of CO2 per kWh, compared to 11 gCO2/kWh for onshore wind, 12gCO2/kWh for offshore wind, 24 gCO2/kWh for hydro and 28-47 gCO2/kWh for solar. Biomass has no direct emissions, but infrastructure and supply chain emissions averaged a significant 230gCO2/kWh. Emissions for gas and coal averaged 490 and 920 gCO2/kWh respectively. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) helped reduce fossil fuel emissions, but even with CCS fossil fuel emissions were between 160-220 gCO2/kWh.

For uranium resources, the IPCC report notes that if all conventional uranium occurrences are considered there would be enough uranium to meet current levels of demand for 250 years. Closing the nuclear fuel cycle with reprocessing and recycling of fuel through fast reactors could extend that by more than 50 times (to more than 12,500 years) and reduce the amount of waste generated and disposal required. Thorium too could extend the nuclear resource further.

Tackling climate change and weaning ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels for electricity generation can seem daunting. But as has been demonstrated by France, a commitment to nuclear energy, in partnership with renewables, can virtually eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation in little more than two decades - and supply some of the lowest cost electricity in Europe.

Nuclear energy supplies low carbon electricity reliably and affordably. The world needs nuclear energy to tackle climate change.

2nd WNU Summer Institute Alumni Assembly

(WNU) Permanent link


Isis Leslie

The second WNU Summer Institute (WNU SI) Alumni Assembly, held from 31 March – 4 April 2014, was a great success. It was hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA and brought together Alumni from across the nine Summer Institute classes, with almost 70 representatives from 15 countries as diverse as China, India, Sweden, France, Brazil, Nigeria, Germany and Canada. We are really pleased that so many nuclear companies are continuing to invest in the young leaders in their companies.

The main aim of the Alumni Assembly is to continue the SI’s legacy of engaging the next generation of nuclear leaders from across the globe, providing a valuable opportunity to further solidify the global Alumni network of peers, and to build upon the foundations laid down at the SI. The programme addressed three main aims: professional development, leadership and peer-to-peer engagement. We heard from a number of great invited leaders, including US Assistant Secretaries Pete Lyons and Tom Countryman, Cameco Vice President Ken Seitz, US NRC Commissioner and appointed OECD/NEA DG William Magwood, Exelon CEO Amir Shakarami and Agneta Rising, WNA DG and WNU President. Presentations from Alumni were also excellent, and we were given some great information, including updates on the nuclear programmes in China, Finland and the UK, and new developments on waste management, safety, security and safeguards, training, research and public involvement in decision making process. 


Participating Alumni had the opportunity to choose a topic of interest for in-depth professional development training over two full days. These were taken in small Groups and we were able to learn from experts from Oak Ridge and across the world. These focussed on research reactors and isotope production, safeguards and inspector training, safety culture and training on security for the technical community.

The programme was complimented by a range of technical visits including tours of High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), the ORNL supercomputer, the X-10 Graphite Reactor, Safeguards Laboratory and the Canberra Crystal Growing Facility. The Alumni also participated in a range of social activities, both informal and formal, and we were very pleased to be able to attend a reception hosted by the University of Tennessee at the UT Football Stadium, the 3rd largest college sports stadium in the USA. 
All these different elements allowed the participants to not only re-establish their relationships with those from their own SI year but also network with people from different years, consolidating and extending the network and creating a solid foundation for the future of the global nuclear industry. It was a motivating and inspiring event: 

- “The WNU SI was a transformative experience, and the Alumni Assembly allows one to sustain that tranformation over the years” ( Shehab (Sunny) G. Mustafa, Ontario Power Generation) 

We are looking at the possibilities to host the WNU Summer Institute Alumni Assembly 2016, with hopes to organize it in the Asia to encourage the participation of more Alumni from that region.The WNU and the participating Summer Institute Alumni would like to thank Oak Ridge National Laboratory for all their support and for allowing us access to their impressive facilities. Thank to those who supported the event through sending participants, speakers or sponsorship.


Lovelock says not using nuclear is 'quite mad'

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James LovelockJames Lovelock was interviewed on BBC's Newsnight on 2 April, covering a range of the many environmental issues where he's made an immense contribution, including the very future of humanity itself.

Addressing energy, Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman asked what had gone wrong about the perception of nuclear energy. Lovelock said that he wished he knew. He said nuclear energy was a "normal natural thing for the universe." and that our not using it was "quite mad."

Lovelock speculated one reason was that humanity had guilt about having first used nuclear in wartime, that prevented us using it as a "safe, clean and nearly perfect source of energy".

On other energy sources, Lovelock proclaimed himself as "fairly neutral" on gas fracking, although on potential impacts such as water course pollution he was worried. However, he thought countries like the UK may have no choice but to burn methane, in the absence of other available fuels, as he could imagine nothing was much worse environmentally than a sudden cessation of electricity supplies. 

The programme is available for UK viewers to watch again until 9 April at