Nuclear Energy: An Energy in Decline?

Nuclear electricity is an alternative to fossil fuels. While the yield of a typical nuclear power plant is not much better than that of a traditional thermal power plant, it uses a small amount of fuel to generate large quantities of heat. It also does not release any greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

An Energy in Decline?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (2014) planned several possible scenarios for nuclear electricity production growth in the coming 20 years (Fig. 3.42).

The production of nuclear electricity in North America and Western Europe is likely to decrease, but production should rise at a fast pace in other regions. In China and India, the growth should be spectacular. Nuclear electricity production should rise by 6% in the low-base scenario to more than 9% per year on average in the high-base scenario, which would represent an additional 120 GW of installed capacity for those two countries.

Whether production grows (or not) in a country or region depends on policy decisions that influence the geography’s energy mix. As an example, future production growth in Europe will depend on many factors:

Some countries may choose to exit the nuclear market place

Evolution of nuclear production (IAEA 2014)

Fig. 3.42 Evolution of nuclear production (IAEA 2014)

  • - France: —25 GW reduction if the government decides to exit progressively, —2 GW reduction if it decides to maintain capacity
  • - England: —8 GW reduction or +4 GW increase
  • - Spain: —5 or 0 GW
  • - Sweden: —9 or —2 GW
  • • Some other countries may decide to develop further their nuclear capacities
  • - Italy might decide to actually develop nuclear energy (up to 13 GW by 2035).
  • - Countries in Eastern and Northern Europe will likely use more nuclear energy to reduce their dependence on natural gas from Russia: Ukraine (+9 GW or +14 GW), Poland (+7 or +10 GW from a zero base), Finland (+3 or +4 GW) and Czech Republic (+3 or +4 GW).

In Africa, the difference between the scenarios depends on the energy policy of South Africa, which could take its existing installed base from less than 2 GW to around 20 GW in 2035 in the high-base scenario.

A number of countries in Asia are considering developing their own nuclear power. Among them are Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, any development of nuclear energy in these countries there should not exceed a few gigawatts. South Korea plans to double its nuclear capacity to around 40 GW, and Japan could either maintain its current capacity (around 40 GW) or exit nuclear energy altogether, in which case its production capacity would drop to 10 GW by 2035. Despite the uncertainties that stem from the energy policy of many countries, the worldwide growth of nuclear energy should reach between 1.3% for the low-base scenario to 3.8% for the high-base scenario. This shows the robust dynamics of the market compared to natural gas (1.7% per year on average), oil (0.5% per year) and coal (0.8% per year).

Finally, there is already a large number of new reactors being built at the moment and this will lift the overall production capacity to around 410 GW by 2020 whatever happens (NEI2014; WEC Nuclear 2014). Nuclear energy is thus far from being in decline. Actually, there is here (like elsewhere) a shift from OECD countries to new economies. OECD countries modify their energy mix to the benefit of renewable energies, while new economies use all available technologies for electricity production to meet their ever-increasing energy needs.

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