Nuclear power has a bit of a bad reputation, particularly among the environmentalist groups. This is in part due to catastrophic accidents in the past (and recently as well) that have scared people into avoiding new development. But according to the IEA/NEA Technology Roadmap for Nuclear Energy, with the right political and economic support, nuclear power can play “a major role in lowering emissions from the power sector, while improving security of energy supply, supporting fuel diversity and providing large-scale electricity at stable production costs.”
The road to mitigating climate change isn’t easy, as the report recognizes, but it is possible. Here are the key points the IEA/NEA report says are necessary to accomplish that goal.
The Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power
The IEA/NEA Technology Roadmap states that “Nuclear energy can play a key role in decarbonizing our electricity systems by providing a stable source of low-carbon baseload electricity.” Nuclear energy has one of the lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions, comparable with levels created from the development and operation of hydroelectric and wind power facilities. Compared to coal and natural gas, the use of nuclear power substantially reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment. The benefit of nuclear power has been recognized by U.S. political and scientific leaders, though there remains a substantial amount of public concern regarding waste disposal and safety of nuclear power plants within the surrounding community.
In a report from the Pew Research Center based on surveys of scientists and the public, a majority of respondents also see the value in building new nuclear energy facilities. Sixty-five percent of the scientists Pew polled favor constructing more nuclear energy facilities, while 45 percent of the general public supports the development as well.
More Capacity Is Needed
According to the report, global installed capacity of nuclear energy must be more than double by 2050 in order to limit global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The report calls for installed nuclear generating capacity to increase from 396 gigawatts to 930 gigawatts by 2050 in order to cut energy-related carbon emissions in half and meet the IEA’s 2-degree scenario. This would require increasing annual nuclear plant connection rates from 5 gigawatts in 2014 to more than 20 gigawatts as soon as is practical. That growth rate would result in nuclear energy generating 17 percent of global electricity in 2050, which represents some “formidable growth.”
While the short-term outlook for nuclear energy development was certainly affected by the Fukushima Daiichi accident as well as the global economic downturn, more than 70 reactors were under construction in 2014 which is the most in the last 25 years. So the goal of “formidable growth” may be within reach given the right political and economic support.
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