IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear power 2050
October 24, 2023
IAEA sees nuclear power doubling by 2050

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to increase its forecasts for the amount of nuclear energy that will be installed it is also calling for a “level playing field” on energy policies and access to financing.

The IAEA has revised its global growth projections for a third straight year, stating that a growing number of countries are now looking at nuclear power as a clean and reliable energy source to address the challenges of energy security, climate change and economic development.

“Climate change is a big driver, but so is security of energy supply,” IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said.

“Many countries are extending the lifetime of their existing reactors, considering or launching construction of advanced reactor designs and looking into small modular reactors (SMRs), including for applications beyond the production of electricity.”

In its high case scenario, the IAEA has forecast that installed capacity will more than double by 2050 to 890 gigawatts electric (GW(e)) compared with today’s 369 GW(e).

In the low case, capacity increases to 458 GW(e).

Political changes needed

However, it warned that those positive numbers are at risk without a change in attitude from some governments and financial institutions.

“We must continue to push for a level playing field for nuclear energy, in terms of policies and access to financing, which can allow the technology to benefit from similarly favourable conditions that helped to deploy renewable energy technologies at scale over the last decade,” Hamad Alkaabi of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said.

“Long term energy policies, innovative electricity market designs and technology-neutral sustainable finance frameworks that recognise nuclear’s contribution to energy system reliability, flexibility and decarbonisation are needed.”

Currently, 31 countries operate nuclear power, which provides more than 9% of the world’s electricity but accounts for around 25% of its clean electricity.

Another 30 countries or so are embarking on or considering the introduction of nuclear power, with support from the IAEA.

“We found consensus on the crucial role of nuclear energy in meeting climate targets, with emphasis on safe long-term operation of existing nuclear power plants in established nuclear markets, the need to rapidly deploy proven large-scale reactors and the urgency of bringing Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) to market as soon as possible, particularly to replace fossil plants of similar size, including to meet the needs of emerging countries and for non-electric applications,” Mr Alkaabi said.

The IAEA says that as well as providing clean electricity 24 hours a day, nuclear power could also radically cut emissions in industry, transportation and buildings, known as the hard-to-abate sectors, which are responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power can produce process heat for industries such as cement and steel making, clean hydrogen for transport and other uses, district heating for buildings and also help address the growing global need for fresh drinking water by reducing the carbon footprint of desalinisation.

“Nuclear power is the only technology that can produce at scale the three low-carbon energy vectors needed to reach net zero: electricity, heat and hydrogen,” Mr Alkaabi said.

“Unfortunately, there is a large disconnect between what nuclear technology can deliver and how this potential is portrayed in climate scenarios that inform policymakers.”

$2.8 billion French investment

One new investment that is expected to help grow nuclear capacity is an expansion of Orano’s Georges Besse uranium-enrichment plant in southern France.

The international nuclear fuel cycle company will invest around $2.8 billion to expand the Georges Besse 2 facility by more than 30%.

Orano says the site will eventually process enough uranium to generate nuclear power for the equivalent of 120 million households a year.

“In the current geopolitical context, the purpose of this increase in enrichment capacities is to strengthen Western energy sovereignty in France,” Claude Imauven, Orano’s chairman said.

“Orano’s decision responds to requirements expressed by our customers to strengthen their security of supply, with production expected to start up as of 2028.”

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