Growth rates may have slowed but world nuclear energy capacity will nevertheless continue to increase over the coming decades, according to the latest projections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
When IAEA director general Yukiya Amano referred to the findings of the 32nd edition of the IAEA’s annually updated Reference Data Series No. 1 in his address to the agency’s 56th General Conference in Vienna recently, he noted that although the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident raised “fundamental questions” on nuclear’s future, the atom will remain an important option for many countries, with developing countries continuing to show a keen interest in nuclear power.
The newly released report – full title Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050 – contains high and low projections of energy, electricity and nuclear power trends over the coming years. Under the low scenario, installed nuclear capacity is predicted to grow from 2011’s 370 GWe to reach 456 GWe by 2030, about 9% down on the increase projected in 2011. A ten-year delay in growth anticipated before the Fukushima accident is observed, with nuclear capacity taking until 2030 to reach levels that had previously been anticipated for 2020.
The high scenario predicts nuclear capacity reaching 740 GWe by 2040. Projected growth is strongest in the east Asia, including China and South Korea, where regional capacity is forecast to grow from 80 GWe at the end of 2011 to 153 GWe in 2030 in the low scenario and 274 GWe in the high scenario. Growth is expected in all regions of the world under the high scenario, although total Western European nuclear capacity could decline from 115 GWe in 2011 to 70 GWe in 2030 under the low scenario. The low scenario also sees a slight decrease for nuclear capacity in North America.
The figures on nuclear are based on actual statistical data collected by the IAEA, with country-by-country estimates of future nuclear capacity established by a group of experts using a ‘bottom up’ approach. All possible licence renewals, planned shutdowns and plausible construction projects are taken into consideration. The conservative low scenario assumes the continuation of current trends and few unexpected policy changes, although it is compatible with a potential decline in nuclear’s share of Japan’s electricity mix. The more optimistic high scenario assumes that current global financial and economic crises are overcome relatively soon and global policies are implemented to mitigate climate change. Both scenarios are plausible and technically feasible, the IAEA maintains.
The report recognises the on-going global financial crisis, the low price of natural gas and reduced electricity demand in some regions, in addition to responses to Fukushima, as challenges that will serve to temporarily delay the deployment of some nuclear power plants. Eighteen months on from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident there is still uncertainty about the full extent of the effects of individual policy responses to regional projections. Nevertheless, the report says, the “underlying fundamentals of population growth and demand for electricity in the developing world,” coupled with concerns over climate change, energy security and price volatility for other fuels, “continue to point to nuclear generating capacity playing an important role in the energy mix in the longer term.”