IAEA Climate Conference Ends with Call for Major Nuclear Role
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11 October 2019
INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY (IAEA)–As global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise despite increasing use of renewables, the nuclear power industry is looking to lessons from its past success as well as innovations on the horizon in a bid to cut construction times and costs and accelerate the global transition to low carbon energy.
But the full value of nuclear power—the only energy source along with hydropower that has demonstrated the capability to decarbonize electricity supply on a national scale—needs to be fully recognized if the world is to solve its climate conundrum.
These were some of the key messages from the International Conference on Climate Change and the Role of Nuclear Power. The weeklong event, which concluded in Vienna today, was organized by the IAEA in cooperation with the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)...
“The vast majority of new-build projects around the world are delivering very low cost, successful nuclear programmes, achieved through repeat builds, a programmatic approach, and building up skills and capabilities within the supply chain, labour force and project leadership team,” said Kirsten Gogan, [partner at LucidCatalyst and] co-founder and Executive Director of Energy for Humanity, a non-profit focused on solving climate change via access to modern energy services. “That’s actually what will drive down the cost.”
According to data compiled by the IAEA on the 61 new power reactors connected to the grid over the last decade, units in the Far East were built almost twice as quickly as those in Europe, taking on average 66 months versus 110 months.
So why have some new-builds gone over budget and schedule?
“What they have in common is that they are all first-of-a-kind, first-in-a-generation projects,” Gogan said. “There isn’t the experience within the project leadership teams, supply chain or labour force, and those designs are being licensed for the first time by regulators that haven’t really gained real life experience of licensing plants for a generation.”
Jessica Lovering, former Director of Energy at the Breakthrough Institute, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, said the key to bringing down construction costs and times is to achieve high learning rates by repeating projects using standardized designs. “If you look at South Korea today, their costs and construction times have been coming down gradually, so they can get a plant built in three to four years,” Lovering said. “For a plant that’s over a gigawatt, that is really fast in terms of adding electricity to the grid.”
The industry needs to move away from being largely focused on massive one-off projects, she said. “We have to move from project to product,” Lovering said, adding that the deployment of small, medium sized or modular reactors (SMRs) will shift the industry’s approach.