Proposed changes in energy supply to mitigate AGW.
- 1 David MacKay: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air
- 2 DECC calculators
- 3 IPCC *
- 4 Europe
- 5 UK
- 6 US
- 7 forecasts
- 8 mix - plans
- 9 100% Renewables / non-nuclear plans *
- 10 Nuclear
David MacKay: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air
David MacKay's Sustainable Energy - Without The Hot Air discusses, with numerical estimates, the UK's various energy demands and sources of sustainable energy to supply them, and shows example plans for scenarios matching them. MacKay went on to work at the Department of Energy and Climate Change where he was involved in developing the Department's 2050 Pathways Calculator online application in which one can play with scenarios for achieving the UK's Climate Change Act commitment to 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 through simulated changes in demand and supply, and their subsequent and more ambitious Global Calculator.
MacKay has been accused of being pro-nuclear by Jim Hickey, and the 2050 Pathways calculator has been accused of being pro-renewables by Roger Andrews who claims its assumptions regarding the storage requirements of intermittent renewables are unrealistically optimistic.
MacKay on solar
- Taking the United Kingdom as a case study, this paper describes current energy use and a range of sustainable energy options for the future, including solar power and other renewables. I focus on the the area involved in collecting, converting, and delivering sustainable energy, looking in particular detail at the potential role of solar power.
2050 long-term strategy European Commission
- On 28 November 2018, the Commission presented its strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050.
- The strategy shows how Europe can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing into realistic technological solutions, empowering citizens, and aligning action in key areas such as industrial policy, finance, or research – while ensuring social fairness for a just transition.
- Following the invitations by the European Parliament and the European Council, the Commission's vision for a climate-neutral future covers nearly all EU policies and is in line with the Paris Agreement objective to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.
- Fundamental progress has already been made in transforming Europe’s electricity production. The global expansion of renewable energy, instigated by EU leadership, led to massive cost decreases in the last 10 years, in particular in solar and on- and off-shore wind. Today, more than half of Europe's electricity supply is free from greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, more than 80% of electricity will be coming from renewable energy sources (increasingly located off-shore). Together with a nuclear power share of ca. 15%, this will be the backbone of a carbon-free European power system. These transitions are similar to global pathways analysed in the IPCC report. Electrification will open up new horizons for European companies in the global clean energy market worth today ca. € 1.3 trillion. Several sources of renewable energy are still to be harnessed, notably ocean energy. For the EU, which currently hosts 6 of the 25 largest renewable energy businesses and employs almost 1.5 million people (out of 10 million worldwide), this will be a unique business opportunity. It will also give an important role to consumers that produce energy themselves (prosumers), and local communities to encourage residential take-up of renewables.
EU confirms nuclear as backbone of 2050 carbon-free Europe Jessica Johnson; Foro Nuclear; 3 Dec 2018
- The European Commission has confirmed that nuclear will form the backbone of a carbon-free European power system, together with renewables. With each Member State free to choose its own energy mix, the Commission underlines that those which are investing in nuclear agree that it can contribute to security of energy supply, competitiveness and cleaner electricity production.
- This communication comes just one day after the official launch of the International Energy Agency's (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook in Brussels. During this event, Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Directive, issued a stark warning to the EU that current policies are discouraging investments in new nuclear power plants and the long-term operation of existing reactors. He called on the EU to bear in mind that nuclear is a low-carbon source of baseload electricity capable of ensuring security of supply – important attributes when dealing with the variability of renewable energy sources.
- "Even at Member State level, we are seeing a shift in opinion" adds Mr Desbazeille. "Poland has informally taken the decision to invest in nuclear in order to reduce its CO2 emissions whilst ensuring it has access to the electricity it needs. France has decided to delay any decisions on cutting nuclear capacity due to the challenges which this would pose. We hope to see, in the near future, more such decisions and declarations that will contribute to the overall EU efforts of decarbonising its 2050 economy with the help of nuclear".
- 1 This report presents the ongoing work of the IMechE in support of the International Future Climate Project. Previous work was presented in our report: “UK 2050 Energy Plan” published in September 2009.
- 2 The primary basis for this project continues to be the objective of keeping the maximum global average temperature rise to within the guideline of 2C. As a developed country, the UK has shown international leadership in enacting legal obligations to reduce total GHG emissions by 80% of 1990 values by 2050. The UK also has an obligation under the EU Renewable Energy Directive to achieve a target of 15% of energy from renewables by 2020. The overall renewables target for Europe is 20% by 2020.
- 3 The analysis work of DECC, led by Prof. David MacKay and the development of the DECC pathways software has shown clearly that to maintain a modern developed society in the UK it is necessary to build an energy supply system based on a combination of wind energy (the only renewable currently available at scale in the UK), nuclear power and gas/coal combinations abated by CCS. The major issue is that the current version of the DECC pathways model does not include pathway cost comparisons such as cost per tonne of CO2 abated as used by other models.
- 4 In total, other sources of energy such as biomass, solar, wave and tidal power, hydro, geothermal, waste heat recovery and energy from waste materials have an important role to play in providing a resilient energy system. Some of these may develop into major energy sources in the future.
- 5 As in our previous report we believe that doubling the existing electricity supply is at the limit of practical achievement of the current UK approach to infrastructure projects. This means that the demand side of the energy equation must reduce to balance with supply. This can be achieved through a combination of three activities listed in ease of implementation, behaviour change being the most difficult to achieve:
- a) Efficiency improvements throughout the system
- b) Time shifting of electrical demand.
- c) Basic reduction in demand by energy conservation through modal shift and lifestyle change.
- 6 Our investigations suggest that the target reductions in emissions will not be achieved through energy efficiency measures and existing technologies alone but that new innovative technologies will be needed in all sectors of the energy supply and demand landscape.
- Some of these innovations may already be recognised as important - such as marine energy - but based on past experience it is likely that other so far unrecognised technologies will need to be brought into play before 2050.
- 7 The cost of implementing the new infrastructure needed in the UK to deliver a new, balanced and low carbon energy economy is significant and estimated at around £500 billion between now and 2020. To obtain best cost for the new infrastructure it is important that technologies and their supporting industries reach critical mass. In evaluating the relative costs of the alternative infrastructure pathways it is critical that the benefits such as job creation are also taken into account.
- 8 We believe that the creation of so called Green Jobs will be a major motivator in driving forward the low carbon energy supply. The UK needs some 1million additional manufacturing jobs over the period to balance the economy. To reach this level of new job creation will require a conscious development of UK based supply chains so that the supply chain job multiplier comes into play.
- 9 It is recognized however that there should not be an overemphasis on reducing greenhouse gases as resource management in the broadest sense, population growth and the adequate provision of food and water are no less pressing global challenges for engineering in the coming decades.
- The long term outlook for nuclear power
- The annual electricity consumption increase of 1% will mean Britain's 59 GWe peak winter electricity demand increasing by 64% over the next 50 years to reach around 97 GWe by 2060.
- Electrification of the transport sector may dramatically increase this further still. Faced with these energy realities the prospects for new nuclear build look very promising, but the long term outlook for nuclear power will actually depend on several major questions:
- How far and how fast Britain decarbonises from an oil-based economy to an electricity-based economy
- What impact the introduction of smartgrid technology and embedded generation may have on baseload electricity generation needs from large power stations
- Whether clean coal with carbon capture and torage technology can become commercially feasible as an economic alternative to nuclear power?
- To what extent renewable energy technologies are deployed at mass scale
- And crucially, whether another Chernobyl meltdown nuclear accident occurs somewhere else in the world once again.
- On Britain's present trajectory, a balanced low-carbon energy mix involving significant nuclear, gas, renewable and embedded generation technologies looks ideal.
- If another Chernobyl happens early during a nuclear construction programme, further reactor orders would most likely be cancelled and nuclear build perhaps eventually abandoned. Accidents do of course happen. How well we design around them is what makes the difference between nuisance or catastrophe. Good engineering may well decide the outcome.
- Britain’s most recent nuclear power station, Sizewell-B, began construction in 1987 and was commissioned into operation in 1995.
- The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident played an important part in nuclear energy falling out of public favour but electricity privatisation was also a major cause.
- Four factors have contributed to renewed interest in nuclear power; climate change fears, energy security concerns, gas price volatility and an energy crunch from nuclear and fossil-fuel power station retirements between 2015 and 2023.
- The British government no longer operates its own nuclear power station fleet. Decisions on what nuclear power stations may be built in the future will be taken by commercial energy utility companies, who must convince their private sector shareholders.
Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity System - Executive Summary and Recommendations Energy Research Partnership; Aug 2015
- The Energy Research Partnership has undertaken some modelling and analysis of the GB electricity system in the light of the carbon targets set by the Committee on Climate Change. Firstly a brief examination was made of the German and Irish markets with the hope of learning from their advanced penetration of variable renewables. Secondly a new model, BERIC, was written to simultaneously balance the need for energy, reserve, inertia and firm capacity on the system and its findings compared with simpler stacking against the load duration curve. The intention was to assess the need for flexibility on the system but some broader conclusions also emerged: A zero- or very low- carbon system with weather dependent renewables needs companion low carbon technologies to provide firm capacity
- The modelling indicates that the 2030 decarbonisation targets of 50 or even 100 g/kWh cannot be hit by relying solely on weather dependent technologies like wind and PV alone. Simple merit order calculations have backed this up and demonstrated why this is the case, even with very significant storage, demand side measures or interconnection in support. There is a need to have a significant amount of zero carbon firm capacity on the system too - to supply dark, windless periods without too much reliance on unabated fossil. This firm capacity could be supplied by a number of technologies such as nuclear, biomass or fossil CCS
Committee on Climate Change
Reducing carbon emissions Committee on Climate Change
- The majority of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions arise from our production and consumption of energy – whether that’s driving cars, manufacturing goods or simply boiling a kettle. Emissions can be lowered by becoming energy efficient and by switching to low-carbon fuels. Both will be necessary to meet UK carbon targets, along with action to tackle non-energy emissions.
- Using energy more efficiently
- Being energy efficient doesn’t mean going without a warm and well-lit home or making big sacrifices. Many energy efficiency measures are low cost and even save money. Whether on a large-scale, or at the individual level, there are many opportunities to save energy through better insulation, more efficient boilers and appliances, using heating controls and lights more efficiently.
- Switching to low-carbon fuels
- But even the most efficient modern economy will need to contend with significant energy demand. So it’s essential to progress towards an energy system based on fuels with low, or no-carbon, content (de-carbonisation). This means moving away from using conventional coal and gas-fired power to electricity generated from nuclear power, renewable sources, and new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
UK committee says action needed on climate plan World Nuclear News; 18 Jan 2018
- The UK government must take urgent action to "flesh out" plans and proposals set out in its Clean Growth Strategy if the country is to meet its emission targets to 2032, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Reliance on nuclear energy to decarbonise power generation calls for the timely completion of Hinkley Point C and the construction of additional nuclear power plants, it said.
- Under the UK Climate Change Act, the government is required to publish a set of policies and proposals that will enable the legally-binding carbon budgets, on track to the 2050 target, to be met. As part of the Act, the government needs to cut CO2 emissions by 57% from 1990 levels by 2050. In its Clean Growth Strategy, published in October 2017, the government sets out plans to meet the legislated fourth and fifth carbon budgets, covering UK emissions in the periods 2023-2027 and 2028-2032.
United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization The White House; Nov 2016
- Human activities, particularly CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, have driven atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration levels higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years (IPCC 2013). As a result, the Earth has warmed at an alarming rate over the past century, with average temperatures increasing by more than 0.8°C (1.5°F) (NCA 2014).
- The consequences are already severe. Heat waves and droughts are more common, wildfire seasons are longer and fires larger and more costly, and extreme weather is becoming more intense and unpredictable. Left unchecked, from 2000 to 2100, global average temperature increases of 2 to 5°C (3.6 to 9°F) and sea level rise of two to four feet are likely, and much larger increases are possible (USGCRP 2014, IPCC 2013). Climate change will reduce long-run economic growth and jeopardize national security.
- With the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, the world took a decisive step toward avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Consistent with this objective, Parties aim to balance GHG emissions sources and sinks in the second half of this century or, in effect, achieve net-zero global GHG emissions. Countries have submitted near-term targets to address GHG emissions, called “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs, and will review and extend these targets every five years. The Paris Agreement further invited countries to develop by 2020 “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” This document answers that call, laying out a strategy to deeply decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.
- Carbon pricing: "an effective carbon price that starts at $20 per metric ton in 2017" and "A key priority for future policymakers is a transition to efficient carbon pricing over time, either by further optimizing an increasingly ambitious state/ local/sectoral approach, or by moving to an economy-wide policy mechanism. Carbon pricing will enable cost-effective emission reductions through market forces that encourage the development and deployment of the most cost-effective low carbon solutions across the economy. In any scenario, the United States will need complementary policies as well, including programs and standards that encourage cost-effective energy efficiency improvements and infrastructure investments that support the emergence of low carbon solutions."
California plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 EIA; 2 Feb 2018
- In July 2017, California’s state legislature passed assembly bill (AB) 398 to reauthorize and extend until 2030 the state’s economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction program. The bill sets a new GHG target of at least 40% below the 1990 level of emissions by 2030. As of 2015, about 86% of California’s GHG emissions were related to the consumption of energy.
- low-carbon technologies expected to generate almost half of the world's electricity by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Nuclear's share of global electricity generation is set to remain around the current level.
World Energy Mix in 2035 will have more nuclear because China will build it Next Big Future; 3 Apr 2016
- According to the 2016 edition of the BP Energy Outlook, launched last month, BP says world energy consumption will grow by 34% between 2014 and 2035, from 12,928 million tonnes oil equivalent (toe) to 17,307 million toe. Some 95% of this growth will come from non-OECD countries.
- The global use of nuclear energy is forecast to grow by 1.9% per year from 574.0 million toe in 2014 to 859.2 million toe in 2035, which is an overall increase of 50%.
- Nuclear output in the European Union and North America is expected to decline 29% and 13%, respectively, as ageing reactors are gradually retired and "the economic and political challenges of nuclear energy stunt new investments". However, output in China is forecast to increase 11.2% annually. BP said Japan's nuclear output will reach 60% of its 2010 level by 2020 as reactors restart over the next five years.
- Coal's share of global primary energy production is expected to drop from 30% in 2014 to 25% in 2035.
Nuclear's share of primary energy to rise, says BP World Nuclear News; 10 Mar 2016
- While global energy demand is expected to grow by 34% between 2014 and 2035, nuclear power generation will grow 50% in total over the same period, according to the latest Energy Outlook from oil and gas giant BP.
mix - plans
Let’s Run the Numbers: Nuclear Energy v. Wind and Solar Mike Conley & Tim Maloney; The Energy Reality Project; 17 Apr 2015
- It would cost over $29 Trillion to generate America’s baseload electric power with a 50 / 50 mix of wind and solar farms, on parcels of land totaling the area of Indiana. Or:
- It would cost over $18 Trillion with Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) farms in the southwest deserts, on parcels of land totaling the area of West Virginia. Or:
- We could do it for less than $3 Trillion with AP-1000 Light Water Reactors, on parcels totaling a few square miles. Or:
- We could do it for $1 Trillion with liquid-fueled Molten Salt Reactors, on the same amount of land, but with no water cooling, no risk of meltdowns, and the ability to use our stockpiles of nuclear “waste” as a secondary fuel.
- CO2 (from material production and transport)
- Land area
- Deathprint (casualties from power production)
- Carbon karma (achieving CO2 break-even)
- Construction cost
Do The Math
100% Renewables / non-nuclear plans *
See also Nuclear advocacy
Nuclear for 1.5°C -- Hope and Fantasy in Equal Measure Jameson McBride; The Breakthrough Institute blog; 16 Oct 2018
- ... the new [IPCC] report clearly states that “nuclear power increases its share [of world energy] in most 1.5°C pathways by 2050.” Nuclear has a particularly strong role in pathways in which the world has higher economic growth and energy demand. Notably, in every 1.5° pathway, global investment per year in nuclear exceeds global investment in solar between 2016 and 2050.
- Multiple options exist to reduce energy supply sector GHG emissions (robust evidence, high agreement). These include energy efficiency improvements and fugitive emission reductions in fuel extraction as well as in energy conversion, transmission, and distribution systems; fossil fuel switching; and low-GHG energy supply technologies such as renewable energy (RE), nuclear power, and carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS). [7.5, 7.8.1, 7.11]
- Decarbonizing (i. e. reducing the carbon intensity of) electricity generation is a key component of cost-effective mitigation strategies in achieving low-stabilization levels (430–530ppm CO2eq); in most integrated modelling scenarios, decarbonization happens more rapidly in electricity generation than in the industry, buildings and transport sectors (medium evidence, high agreement). In the majority of low-stabilization scenarios, the share of low-carbon electricity supply (comprising RE, nuclear and CCS) increases from the current share of approximately 30% to more than 80% by 2050, and fossil fuel power generation without CCS is phased out almost entirely by 2100. [7.11]
- Nuclear energy is a mature low-GHG emission source of baseload power, but its share of global electricity generation has been declining (since 1993). Nuclear energy could make an increasing contribution to low-carbon energy supply, but a variety of barriers and risks exist (robust evidence, high agreement). Its specific emissions are below 100 gCO2eq per kWh on a lifecycle basis and with more than 400 operational nuclear reactors worldwide, nuclear electricity represented 11% of the world’s electricity generation in 2012, down from a high of 17% in 1993. Pricing the externalities of GHG emissions (carbon pricing) could improve the competitiveness of nuclear power plants. [7.2, 7.5.4, 7.8.1, 7.12]
- Barriers to and risks associated with an increasing use of nuclear energy include operational risks and the associated safety concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation concerns, and adverse public opinion (robust evidence, high agreement). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies addressing some of these issues are under development and progress has been made concerning safety and waste disposal (medium evidence, medium agreement). [7.5.4, 7.8.2, 7.9, 7.11]
- The main mitigation options in the energy supply sector are energy efficiency improvements, the reduction of fugitive non-CO2 GHG emissions, switching from (unabated) fossil fuels with high specific GHG emissions (e. g., coal) to those with lower ones (e. g., natural gas), use of renewable energy, use of nuclear energy, and carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS). (Section 7.5).
- 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. A combination of some, but not necessarily all, of the options is needed. Significant emission reductions can be achieved by energy-efficiency improvements and fossil fuel switching, but they are not sufficient by themselves to provide the deep cuts needed. Achieving deep cuts will require more intensive use of low-GHG technologies such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and CCS.
- 7.4.3 Nuclear energy
- The average uranium (U) concentration in the continental Earth’s crust is about 2.8 ppm, while the average concentration in ocean water is 3 to 4 ppb (Bunn et al., 2003). The theoretically available uranium in the Earth’s crust is estimated at 100 teratonnes (Tt) U, of which 25 Tt U occur within 1.6 km of the surface (Lewis, 1972). The amount of uranium dissolved in seawater is estimated at 4.5 Gt (Bunn et al., 2003). Without substantial research and development (R&D) efforts to develop vastly improved and less expensive extraction technologies, these occurrences do not represent practically extractable uranium. Current market and technology conditions limit extraction of conventional uranium resources to concentrations above 100 ppm U.
- Altogether, there are 4200 EJ (or 7.1 MtU) of identified conventional uranium resources available at extraction costs of less than USD 260/kgU (current consumption amounts to about 53,760 tU per year). Additional conventional uranium resources (yet to be discovered) estimated at some 4400 EJ can be mobilized at costs larger than USD 260 / kgU (NEA and IAEA, 2012). Present uranium resources are sufficient to fuel existing demand for more than 130 years, and if all conventional uranium occurrences are considered, for more than 250 years. Reprocessing of spent fuel and recycling of uranium and plutonium in used fuel would double the reach of each category (IAEA, 2009). Fast breeder reactor technology can theoretically increase uranium utilization 50-fold or even more with corresponding reductions in high-level waste (HLW) generation and disposal requirements (IAEA, 2004). However, reprocessing of spent fuel and recycling is not economically competitive below uranium prices of USD2010 425 / kgU (Bunn et al., 2003). Thorium is a widely distributed slightly radioactive metal. Although the present knowledge of the world’s thorium resource base is poor and incomplete, it is three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s outer crust (NEA, 2006). Identified thorium resource availability is estimated at more than 2.5 Mt at production costs of less than USD2010 82/kgTh (NEA, 2008).
- Nuclear energy is utilized for electricity generation in 30 countries around the world (IAEA, 2013a). There are 434 operational nuclear reactors with a total installed capacity of 371 GWe as of September 2013 (IAEA, 2013a). Nuclear electricity represented 11 % of the world’s electricity generation in 2012, with a total generation of 2346 TWh (IAEA, 2013b). The 2012 share of global nuclear electricity generation is down from a high of 17 % in 1993 (IEA, 2012b; BP, 2013). The United States, France, Japan, Russia, and Korea (Rep. of) — with 99, 63, 44, 24, and 21 GWe of nuclear power, respectively — are the top five countries in installed nuclear capacity and together represent 68 % of total global nuclear capacity as of September 2013 (IAEA, 2013a). The majority of the world’s reactors are based on light-water technology of similar concept, design, and fuel cycle. Of the reactors worldwide, 354 are light-water reactors (LWR), of which 270 are pressurized water reactors (PWR) and 84 are boiling water reactors (BWR) (IAEA, 2013a). The remaining reactor types consist of 48 heavy-water reactors (PHWR), 15 gas-cooled reactors (GCR), 15 graphite-moderated reactors (RBMK/LWGR), and 2 fast breeder reactors (FBR) (IAEA, 2013a). The choice of reactor technologies has implications for safety, cost, and nuclear fuel cycle issues.
- Growing demand for electricity, energy diversification, and climate change mitigation motivate the construction of new nuclear reactors.
- The electricity from nuclear power does not contribute to direct GHG emissions. There are 69 reactors, representing 67 GWe of capacity, currently under construction in 14 countries (IAEA, 2013a). The bulk of the new builds are in China, Russia, India, Korea (Rep. of), and the United States — with 28, 10, 7, 5, and 3 reactors under construction, respectively (IAEA, 2013a). New reactors consist of 57 PWR, 5 PHWR, 4 BWR, 2 FBR, and one high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) (IAEA, 2013a). Commercial reactors currently under construction — such as the Advanced Passive-1000 (AP-1000, USA-Japan), Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR, USA-Japan), European Pressurized Reactor (EPR, France), Water-Water Energetic Reactor-1200 (VVER-1200, Russia), and Advanced Power Reactor-1400 (APR-1400, Rep. of Korea) — are Gen III and Gen III+ reactors that have evolutionary designs with improved active and passive safety features over the previous generation of reactors (Cummins et al., 2003; IAEA, 2006; Kim, 2009; Goldberg and Rosner, 2011).
- Other more revolutionary small modular reactors (SMR) with additional passive safety features are under development (Rosner and Goldberg, 2011; IAEA, 2012a; Vujic et al., 2012; World Nuclear Association, 2013). The size of these reactors is typically less than 300 MWe, much smaller than the 1000 MWe or larger size of current LWRs. The idea of a smaller reactor is not new, but recent SMR designs with low power density, large heat capacity, and heat removal through natural means have the potential for enhanced safety (IAEA, 2005a, 2012a). Additional motivations for the interest in SMRs are economies of manufacturing from modular construction techniques, shorter construction periods, incremental power capacity additions, and potential for improved financing (Rosner and Goldberg, 2011; Vujic et al., 2012; World Nuclear Association, 2013). Several SMR designs are under consideration. Light-water SMRs are intended to rely on the substantial experience with current LWRs and utilize existing fuel-cycle infrastructure. Gas-cooled SMRs that operate at higher temperatures have the potential for increased electricity generation efficiencies relative to LWRs and industrial applications as a source of high-temperature process heat (EPRI, 2003; Zhang et al., 2009). A 210 MWe demonstration high-temperature pebble-bed reactor (HTR-PM) is under construction in China (Zhang et al., 2009). While several countries have interest in the development of SMRs, their widespread adoption remains uncertain.
- The choice of the nuclear fuel cycle has a direct impact on uranium resource utilization, nuclear proliferation, and waste management. The use of enriched uranium fuels for LWRs in a once-through fuel cycle dominates the current nuclear energy system. In this fuel cycle, only a small portion of the uranium in the fuel is utilized for energy production, while most of the uranium remains unused. The composition of spent or used LWR fuel is approximately 94 % uranium, 1 % plutonium, and 5 % waste products (ORNL, 2012). The uranium and converted plutonium in the spent fuel can be used as new fuel through reprocessing. While the ultimate availability of natural uranium resources is uncertain (see Section 7.4.3), dependence on LWRs and the once-through fuel cycle implies greater demand for natural uranium. Transition to ore grades of lower uranium concentration for increasing uranium supply could result in higher extraction costs (Schneider and Sailor, 2008). Uranium ore costs are a small component of nuclear electricity costs, however, so higher uranium extraction cost may not have a significant impact on the competitiveness of nuclear power (IAEA, 2012b).
- The necessity for uranium enrichment for LWRs and the presence of plutonium in the spent fuel are the primary proliferation concerns. There are differing national policies for the use or storage of fissile plutonium in the spent fuel, with some nations electing to recycle plutonium for use in new fuels and others electing to leave it intact within the spent fuel (IAEA, 2008a). The presence of plutonium and minor actinides in the spent fuel leads to greater waste-disposal challenges as well. Heavy isotopes such as plutonium and minor actinides have very long half-lives, as high as tens to hundreds of thousands of years (NRC, 1996), which require final waste-disposal strategies to address safety of waste disposal on such great timescales. Alternative strategies to isolate and dispose of fission products and their components apart from actinides could have significant beneficial impact on waste-disposal requirements (Wigeland et al., 2006). Others have argued that separation and transmutation of actinides would have little or no practical benefit for waste disposal (NRC, 1996; Bunn et al., 2003).
- Alternative nuclear fuel cycles, beyond the once-through uranium cycle, and related reactor technologies are under investigation. Partial recycling of used fuels, such as the use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuels where U-235 in enriched uranium fuel is replaced with recycled or excess plutonium, is utilized in some nations to improve uranium resource utilization and waste-minimization efforts (OECD and NEA, 2007; World Nuclear Association, 2013). The thorium fuel cycle is an alternative to the uranium fuel cycle, and the abundance of thorium resources motivates its potential use (see Section 7.4.3). Unlike natural uranium, however, thorium does not contain any fissile isotopes. An external source of fissile material is necessary to initiate the thorium fuel cycle, and breeding of fissile U-233 from fertile Th-232 is necessary to sustain the fuel cycle (IAEA, 2005b).
- Ultimately, full recycling options based on either uranium or thorium fuel cycles that are combined with advanced reactor designs — including fast and thermal neutron spectrum reactors — where only fission products are relegated as waste can significantly extend nuclear resources and reduce high-level wastes (GIF, 2002, 2009; IAEA, 2005b). Current drawbacks include higher economic costs, as well as increased complexities and the associated risks of advanced fuel cycles and reactor technologies. Potential access to fissile materials from widespread application of reprocessing technologies further raises proliferation concerns. The advantages and disadvantages of alternative reprocessing technologies are under investigation.
- There is not a commonly accepted, single worldwide approach to dealing with the long-term storage and permanent disposal of high-level waste. Regional differences in the availability of uranium ore and land resources, technical infrastructure and capability, nuclear fuel cost, and societal acceptance of waste disposal have resulted in alternative approaches to waste storage and disposal. Regardless of these differences and the fuel cycle ultimately chosen, some form of long-term storage and permanent disposal, whether surface or geologic (subsurface), is required.
- There is no final geologic disposal of high-level waste from commercial nuclear power plants currently in operation, but Finland and Sweden are the furthest along in the development of geologic disposal facilities for the direct disposal of spent fuel (Posiva Oy, 2011, 2012; SKB, 2011). In Finland, construction of the geologic disposal facility is in progress and final disposal of spent fuel is to begin in early 2020 (Posiva Oy, 2012). Other countries, such as France and Japan, have chosen to reprocess spent fuel to use the recovered uranium and plutonium for fresh fuel and to dispose of fission products and other actinides in a geologic repository (OECD and NEA, 2007; Butler, 2010). Yet others, such as Korea (Rep. of), are pursuing a synergistic application of light and heavy water reactors to reduce the total waste by extracting more energy from used fuels (Myung et al., 2006). In the United States, waste-disposal options are currently under review with the termination of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada (CRS, 2012). Indefinite dry cask storage of high-level waste at reactor sites and interim storage facilities are to be pursued until decisions on waste disposal are resolved.
- The implementation of climate change mitigation policies increases the competiveness of nuclear energy technologies relative to other technology options that emit GHG emissions (See 7.11, Nicholson et al., 2011). The choice of nuclear reactor technologies and fuel cycles will affect the potential risks associated with an expanded global response of nuclear energy in addressing climate change.
- Nuclear power has been in use for several decades. With low levels of lifecycle GHG emissions (see Section 7.8.1), nuclear power contributes to emissions reduction today and potentially in the future. Continued use and expansion of nuclear energy worldwide as a response to climate change mitigation require greater efforts to address the safety, economics, uranium utilization, waste management, and proliferation concerns of nuclear energy use (IPCC, 2007, Chapter 4; GEA, 2012). Research and development of the next-generation nuclear energy system, beyond the evolutionary LWRs, is being undertaken through national and international efforts (GIF, 2009). New fuel cycles and reactor technologies are under investigation in an effort to address the concerns of nuclear energy use. Further information concerning resources, costs, risks and co-benefits, deployment barriers, and policy aspects can be found in Sections 7.4.3, 7.8.2, 7.9, 7.10, and 7.12.
Timeline: The IPCC’s shifting position on nuclear energy Suzanne Waldman; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; 8 Feb 2015
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988 as an expert panel to guide the drafting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, ratified in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The treaty’s objective is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a safe level. The IPCC has published a series of five multi-volume climate change assessment reports, the most recent of which was completed just a few months ago, as well as a number of special reports assessing specific issues. Over time, the organization has subtly adjusted its position on the role of nuclear power as a contributor to de-carbonization goals. Here is a timeline of the IPCC’s shifting attitude toward nuclear power.
The U.N.’s climate report has something to piss everyone off Nathanael Johnson; Grist; 9 Oct 2018
- according to the blockbuster report out this week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it’s not enough to stick to your thing, or even to take up all of the causes environmentalists love. If we want to prevent the likely consequences of climate change — food shortages, forest fires, and mass extinctions — we’ll need to deploy the popular solutions as well as the some of the unpopular ones, the report concludes.
- That means turning off coal plants and building lots of renewables, but also devoting more acres to growing biofuels. It means reducing consumption (fly less, drive less, and eat less meat) but also increasing our use of nuclear power.
- Nuclear power: All scenarios have nuclear providing a greater share of our electricity through 2050. Right now, nuclear power provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity. In one 1.5 degree scenario, the IPCC report has the world doubling the percentage of electricity it gets from nuclear by 2030, and quintupling it by 2050. The most “degrowthy” scenario, with dramatically decreasing energy demand, doesn’t require building new atomic plants but does require keeping the ones we have open.
Climate target 'very difficult' without nuclear, says IEA chief economist World Nuclear News; 6 Dec 2016
- Wind and solar power are transforming the electricity industry, but not fast enough to put the world on track for the UNFCCC's Paris Agreement target to hold the global temperature increase well below 2°C, according to László Varró, chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA). This "climate stabilisation" target needs nuclear power to play a significant role in the low-carbon power mix, Varró told delegates at the Budapest Energy Summit yesterday.
- Varró based his comments on the IEA's latest edition of its World Energy Outlook (WEO), which was published on 16 November. The WEO's 450 Scenario shows global nuclear generation output increasing by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040, compared to the present day - from 2535 TWh to 6101 TWh.
IEA chief economist says nuclear vital to climate objective Diarmaid Williams; Power Engineering International; 7 Dec 2016
- The International Energy Agency’s chief economist says the Paris agreement will be ‘very difficult to achieve without an increase in nuclear power capacity.
- László Varró told the Budapest Energy Summit on Tuesday that renewables were flourishing but their deployment wasn’t happening quickly enough.
- "Some NGOs love to hate nuclear, but even with the nuclear renaissance, you'd have to push wind and solar to the limit," he said. "If you want to do it without nuclear, it's technically possible, but incredibly ambitious." There are "unanswered questions" about how a 100 per cent renewable system would work, he added. These include whether large-scale transmission development would have social acceptance and to what extent flexible demand response is scalable to a high level.”
- Varro pointed to the data collected for the World Energy Outlook's 450 Scenario shows global nuclear generation output increasing by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040, compared to the present day - from 2535 TWh to 6101 TWh, in order for the overall 2°C to be achieved.
- In this 450 scenario, low-carbon energy sources dominate the generation mix. Hydro generates 20 per cent, nuclear 18 per cent, wind 18 per cent and solar PV 9 per cent. Fossil fuel generation declines sharply, with gas supplying 16 per cent, coal 9 per cent and oil 1 per cent. The remaining 9 per cent is supplied by a range of other low-carbon sources.
International Energy Agency fears higher emissions if nuclear power is cut Terry Macalister; The Guardian; 16 Jun 2011
- The International Energy Agency has warned that the world faces higher energy costs, more carbon emissions and greater supply uncertainty if it turns its back on nuclear power.
- Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, signalled that the organisation was likely to cut its estimates of atomic power when it finalises its latest World Energy Outlook this year. The IEA previously believed nuclear would generate 14% of all electricity by 2035 but this figure is under revision in the light of Germany and Japan abandoning the sector following the Fukushima crisis. This week, in a referendum, Italy also voted overwhelmingly – and against the advice of Silvio Berlusconi's government – to reject any return to nuclear power.
- "If nuclear is not 14%, but say 10%, then it means more gas and more coal as well as more renewables," said Tanaka at a World of Energy prize-giving ceremony on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. "It will cost much more, be less sustainable and there will be less security. These are the consequences of lower nuclear."
- The IEA says Germany faces a big challenge to achieve its goal of replacing a significant part of its nuclear power generation with wind and solar. The Berlin government says it wants 35% of its power to come from renewables by 2022, with a huge rise in offshore wind from the North Sea and more solar from the south.
- Laszlo Varro, head of the IEA's gas, coal and power division, said the targets could be reached, given the affluence and sophistication of the Germany economy – but there would have to be an expensive upgrading of the infrastructure to handle a much more diverse and geographically spread power supply. "Our view is that reaching its goals without nuclear is not impossible but it will be more challenging and more expensive."
Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley
Decarbonising UK Power Generation – The Nuclear Option Energy Matters; 29 Apr 2016
- Guest Post by Andy Dawson who is an energy sector systems consultant and former nuclear engineer.
- How to decarbonise UK Power generation is a topic of heated debate, with renewables enthusiasts often keen to argue that there are a range of obstacles to the use of nuclear generation to meet more than a small proportion of total demand. Reasons cited are availability of space/sites, grid integration and the challenges of meeting variable demand. So, is an all-nuclear UK grid (with the small sleight of hand of pumped storage hydro in support) potentially viable? I’ll set out an argument that it is indeed so, and more so that it comfortably exceeds any current carbon intensity targets. The basic concepts arose from discussion on the website of the “Guardian” newspaper about the relative strength of fit between pumped storage on one hand, and nuclear or renewables on the other. That led me to do some basic numbers on how much pumped storage hydro (hereafter PSH) you’d need to meet UK daily demand variations on the assumption of a steadily generating nuclear fleet underpinning it. The first pass surprised me on how relatively close we were in terms of total PSH capacity (and in how few nuclear units basic demand could be supplied).
Potential for Worldwide Displacement of Fossil-Fuel Electricity by Nuclear Energy in Three Decades Based on Extrapolation of Regional Deployment Data Staffan A. Qvist, Barry W. Brook; PLOS one; 13 May 2015
The World Really Could Go Nuclear David Biello; Scientific American; 14 Sep 2015
- In just two decades Sweden went from burning oil for generating electricity to fissioning uranium. And if the world as a whole were to follow that example, all fossil fuel–fired power plants could be replaced with nuclear facilities in a little over 30 years. That's the conclusion of a new nuclear grand plan published May 13 in PLoS One. Such a switch would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nearly achieving much-ballyhooed global goals to combat climate change. Even swelling electricity demands, concentrated in developing nations, could be met. All that's missing is the wealth, will and wherewithal to build hundreds of fission-based reactors, largely due to concerns about safety and cost. "If we are serious about tackling emissions and climate change, no climate-neutral source should be ignored," argues Staffan Qvist, a physicist at Uppsala University, who led the effort to develop this nuclear plan. "The mantra 'nuclear can't be done quickly enough to tackle climate change' is one of the most pervasive in the debate today and mostly just taken as true, while the data prove the exact opposite."
- Derek Abbott, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide in Australia, has concluded that nuclear power cannot be globally scaled to supply the world’s energy needs for numerous reasons
NUCLEAR ENERGY IS DIRTY ENERGY (and does not fit into a “clean energy standard”) NUCLEAR INFORMATION AND RESOURCE SERVICE