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Nuclear power to fix climate change? It’s just not going to happen

Future Prospects…….. Can nuclear power grow as rapidly as desired by those advocating it to mitigate climate change? For that to happen, nuclear power would have to increase its share of global generation relative to sources that are proving more economically competitive, such as natural gas and renewables — and that in turn would require vastly accelerated and expanded reactor construction at prices that make sense relative to these other sources.

globalnukeNOAll of this is quite apart from the other well-known and widespread concerns about nuclear power: the potential for severe accidents, the linkage to nuclear weapons and the production of long-lived radioactive waste. These challenges will not disappear and indeed may only grow worse, which is why nuclear’s prospects as a significant climate change mitigator are feeble to nonexistent.

Nuclear Power Is No Fix for Climate, Energy Intelligence, M.V. Ramana27 November 2015

As we approach this year’s climate talks in Paris, several policymakers and organizations dealing with energy have stated publicly that an expansion of nuclear power is needed to combat global warming. The Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have argued on their websites that “to limit the rise in global mean temperatures to 2°C” nuclear energy has to increase its share of global electricity production from “11% in 2014 to 17% in 2050.”What are the prospects of an expansion of nuclear power such that it increases its electricity market share by over 50% in about 35 years? The short answer is that they are slim at best.

Several technical and economic challenges confront such a large and relatively rapid expansion of nuclear reactor construction; these challenges suggest that although nuclear power will remain part of electricity generation in several countries, its prospects for significant growth are limited. In addition, there are social problems; in particular, sustained public opposition in most countries around the world, a sentiment that was clearly apparent in 2011 after the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant……..

As of November 2015, the IAEA reported a total of 441 “operational reactors” in 31 countries and Taiwan, with a combined generating capacity of nearly 382 gigawatts of electricity. However, not all of these “operational reactors” are necessarily operating. Apart from reactors that are shut down for routine maintenance or refueling, this count includes 43 reactors in Japan, only two of which are operating and generating electricity. Most of these reactors are concentrated in just a few countries — over half are in just four countries, if one counts the ones in Japan.

The IAEA also lists 65 reactors under construction with a total capacity of over 64 GW. Some of these will likely never be completed (e.g. two reactors in Japan), and some have been under construction for lengthy periods of time — most notably the US Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar-2 which may see commercial operation next year after a 43-year on-again, off-again construction period………

As with the reactor fleet, construction is also concentrated in a few countries: China alone accounts for nearly a third of the reactors under construction, and, with Russia and India, comprises over half the total number. This growth, in particular China’s rapid pace of building nuclear plants, has led some to expect an increase in nuclear power’s market share. But this is not a valid conclusion for two reasons.

First, China’s targets for nuclear power have declined significantly after Fukushima. In 2010, the official target for nuclear capacity in 2020 was 70 GW, and there were reports that it was or had been as high as 114 GW. The current target is 58 GW by 2020, and even meeting that lower target is a challenge. Second, China is not constructing only nuclear reactors, but also coal power plants, hydroelectric dams, wind turbines and solar plants at a tremendous rate. Hence, it is easy to see that nuclear power’s share of the electricity production in China — only 2.39% in 2014 — is unlikely to increase significantly for decades even if current Chinese nuclear plans go through without any further hitches.

India’s nuclear share has also remained in the 2% to 4% rangefor a couple of decades. Its nuclear program, which dates back to the 1950s, is notable for ambitious expansion plans that have never been met and there are good reasons to expect the same in the future. For example, in 2010, the head of India’s Atomic Energy Commission projected a capacity of 35 GW by 2020. The current expectation is for a little over 10 GW of installed capacity by that time.

In fact, even the IAEA, which historically has always been very optimistic about nuclear energy’s prospects, and which has as one of its objectives “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy,” has lowered its sights:  : The latest of its projections for nuclear power’s share in 2030 ranges from 11.3% to 8.6%, with even lower projections for 2050. This is much lower than foreseen by the agency a decade ago, when it projected the nuclear share declining only to 15%-17% by 2020 and 13%-14% by 2030, and far lower than the 17% by 2050 target it claims is necessary for climate mitigation. This decline in future projections is a function of both anticipated reactor shutdowns due to aging and a reduced rate of construction of new reactors.

Is Nuclear Power Competitive?……

Future Prospects…….. Can nuclear power grow as rapidly as desired by those advocating it to mitigate climate change? For that to happen, nuclear power would have to increase its share of global generation relative to sources that are proving more economically competitive, such as natural gas and renewables — and that in turn would require vastly accelerated and expanded reactor construction at prices that make sense relative to these other sources.

All of this is quite apart from the other well-known and widespread concerns about nuclear power: the potential for severe accidents, the linkage to nuclear weapons and the production of long-lived radioactive waste. These challenges will not disappear and indeed may only grow worse, which is why nuclear’s prospects as a significant climate change mitigator are feeble to nonexistent…..http://www.energyintel.com/pages/worldopinionarticle.aspx?DocID=906841

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November 27, 2015 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change

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