If the world is to meet the target of restricting global warming to 2 °C above preindustrial levels by 2100, then there will have to be a substantial increase in global nuclear power capacity. So affirmed incoming World Nuclear Association chairperson Dr Helmut Engelbrecht at the Nuclear Africa 2016 conference on Wednesday.
"In that scenario, nuclear has a major contribution to make," he stated. "Substantial growth will be required to meet the demand in the IEA's [International Energy Agency's] 2 °C scenario." Global nuclear energy generating capacity will have to be increased from a little under 400 GW today to 930 GW in 2050. This would increase nuclear's contribution to global electricity generation from the current 11% to 17%. Taking into account the need to replace a number of the nuclear power plants currently operating, such a programme would actually require the construction of 680 GW in new nuclear capacity.
"Nuclear can do this," he assured. This was shown by previous successful nuclear power expansion programmes in various countries, such as France. "Ultimately, I believe that nuclear is the only man-controlled energy source that is emission free." Wind and solar power are controlled by nature, not humans.
"The alternatives to nuclear are far more dangerous, even including accidents," he said. "We are by far the safest generating source for electricity. Even [the] Fukushima [accident] has not changed this at all." Among other things, nuclear electricity generation, for example, does not produce smog, which can be a major health hazard.
But Engelbrecht wants the global nuclear industry to be more ambitious. "Our target should not be 17% of global energy production. Our industry's target should be 25%. We need to build 1 000 GW [by 2050]." This is achievable. It could be done through the construction of 10 GW of new capacity a year from 2016 to 2020, and then 25 GW/y from 2021 to 2025, and thereafter 33 GW/y from 2026 to 2050.
Certain things must be done to facilitate this. "We need to standardise safety processes [globally]," he urged. "We need to harmonise and update global codes and standards, to streamline licensing processes and ensure efficient and effective safety regulation."
"The World Nuclear Association has come up with a programme called the Harmony Programme," he reported. "There should be a harmony between a strong framework in policy and regulation, and how to organise the nuclear industry to be affordable and sustainable, as well as to create confidence among stakeholders." Each country will have to develop its own Harmony Programme.
For the programme to work, it will require a level playing field in national electricity markets. "Today, particularly in Europe, electricity markets have been destroyed by subsidies given to preferred energy sources, which, in Europe, are definitely photovoltaic, wind and biomass."
The global nuclear industry today is in a situation that he described as "schizophrenic". On the one hand, Germany, which has had an excellent nuclear safety record, has chosen to stop using nuclear power to generate electricity, while, on the other, globally 66 reactors are under construction. "We have the highest level of nuclear reactor construction worldwide for 25 years."
"Decarbonising electricity generation is vital by the year 2100," stated Engelbrecht. "In that regard, nuclear is one of the cleanest, almost emission-free, sources of energy you can have."