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Even the International Atomic Energy Agency admits that the nuclear industry is failing

International Atomic Energy Agency forecasts

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released the 2017 edition of its International Status and Prospects for Nuclear Power report series.

Pro-nuclear assessments present low and high forecasts and readers might reasonably assume that the most likely outcome will lie somewhere in the middle. But the IAEA has assessed its past performance and found that even its low-growth forecasts tend to be too high (see p56 in this IAEA report and see this analysis).

So if the forecasts of pro-nuclear organisations like the IAEA are of any value, only the low-growth forecast need be considered. In its latest report, the IAEA’s low-growth forecast is a decline of global nuclear power capacity by 12 per cent in 2030 and 15 per cent in 2040 ‒ from 392 GW in 2016, to 345 GW in 2030 and 332 GW in 2040).

The IAEA has sharply reduced its forecasts since the Fukushima disaster ‒ partly because of the political fallout of that disaster, and partly because nuclear power is the only energy source that is becoming more expensive over time (a negative learning curve).

Low estimate of nuclear capacity in 2030 (GW) 546 345 ‒37 per cent‒ 201 GW
High estimate of nuclear capacity in 2030 (GW) 803 554 ‒31 per cent‒ 249 GW

Note that the current high estimate for nuclear capacity in 2030 (554 GW) is only slightly higher than the pre-Fukushima low estimate (546 GW).

The IAEA’s long-term low-growth forecast is that nuclear capacity will rebound after falling to 332 GW in 2040 and will be close to the current capacity of 392 GW in 2050. The report notes that achieving that underwhelming outcome ‒ stagnation over the next one-third of a century ‒ would require 320 GW of new build to replace retired reactors. In other words, 10 new reactors will need to come online each year until 2050 just to maintain current nuclear capacity.

Comparison with renewables

The recent IAEA report states that the share of nuclear power in total global electricity generation has decreased for 10 years in a row, to under 11 per cent in 2015, yet “this still corresponds to nearly a third of the world’s low carbon electricity production”. In other words, renewables (24.5 per cent) generate more than twice as much electricity as nuclear power (10.5 per cent) and the gap is growing rapidly.

Five years from now, renewables will likely be generating three times as much electricity as nuclear reactors. The International Energy Agency (IEA ‒ not to be confused with the IAEA) recently released a five-year forecast for renewables, predicting capacity growth of 43 per cent (920 GW) by 2022. The latest forecast is a “significant upwards revision” from last year’s forecast, the IEA states, largely driven by expected solar power growth in China and India.

The IEA forecasts that the share of renewables in power generation will reach 30 per cent in 2022, up from 24 per cent in 2016. By 2022, nuclear’s share will be around 10 per cent and renewables will be out-generating nuclear by a factor of three. Non-hydro renewable electricity generation has grown eight-fold over the past decade and will probably surpass nuclear by 2022, or shortly thereafter, then leave nuclear power in its wake as renewables expand and the ageing nuclear fleet atrophies.

A longer version of this article was originally published in the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

November 13, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs

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