Paris, 1 July 1999
The impact of privatisation and deregulation of the energy sector on cost competitivity and safety of nuclear power was a major focus of the Nuclear Energy Agency in 1998.
1998 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and an important milestone in the overall reassessment of its objectives and strategies. A new Strategic Plan and a greater integration of the Agency's work into OECD activities are strengthening its role as an international forum for the exchange of information and experience amongst its members, a centre of nuclear competence, and a provider of nuclear policy analyses.
The 1998 Annual Report reviews the NEA's achievements across the full range of its programmes, including nuclear safety and regulation, radiation protection, radioactive waste management, economic and resource issues, nuclear science and the NEA Data Bank, as well as nuclear law and liability, and public information.
Some 345 nuclear power units provided approximately 24% of the total electricity supply in OECD countries. At the same time, economic deregulation, privatisation of the power sector, and environmental and political factors, influenced nuclear power programmes. In the continuing search for comprehensive international solutions to climate change, there was increasing recognition of the need for concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector. In the context of international efforts to implement the Kyoto Protocol, a number of countries acknowledged that nuclear power, which generates electricity without producing greenhouse gases, could play a key role in sustainable energy supply strategies in the medium and long-term.
Within this broad context, the NEA has been involved, as part of a major OECD project on sustainable development, in an analysis of the sustainability of nuclear energy from the social, environmental and economic viewpoint.
The NEA published a number of reports which clarify the issues: Nuclear Power and Climate Change studies the economic, financial, industrial and environmental effects of three alternative nuclear development paths to 2050; Projected Costs of Generating Electricity, published jointly with the International Energy Agency (IEA), is the fifth in a series of comparative studies on base-load electricity generation costs; Low-Level Waste Repository Costs analyses the cost of such repositories and investigates ways to reduce that cost while continuing to ensure the highest level of safety.
Nuclear safety authorities faced new challenges from the increasingly competitive economic climate of the energy sector. The nuclear industry was pushed to optimise output from existing reactors and fuel cycles, minimise outages and uprate power, while at the same time it was pressured to cut staff and reduce unnecessarily conservative safety margins. In addition, the need was emphasised for continued national and international support for both existing and new experimental facilities to address quickly and efficiently future safety issues and support operating reactors and the development of new designs. In 1998, NEA Members reiterated the importance of safety research as an essential contribution to the continued safe operation of nuclear plants, and the NEA assisted its member countries in addressing this issue.
The Agency's work in nuclear safety focused on operating experience and human factors, the behaviour of the primary coolant system in nuclear reactors, the confinement of accidental radioactive releases and risk assessment. The possible consequences of Y2K-related computer failures were extensively reviewed and an international exchange of experience on ways to prevent these difficulties was put in place. A special meeting was held to consider the regulatory aspects of ageing reactors and deal with ageing management issues.
The safe management of radioactive waste continues to be a key requirement for nuclear energy authorities. The NEA Annual Report notes that, in 1998, national waste management strategies focused on the development of deep repository systems for long-lived high-level waste, with increasing consideration being given to public involvement in the decision-making process. The NEA considered the growing influence of societal and economic concerns in waste management, and identified several areas for cross-sectorial co-operation, including the process of repository development, public perception and confidence, and the management of wastes from decommissioning.