Paris, 13 December 2010

Nuclear energy’s role in the security of energy supply

According to a study just published by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) on The Security of Energy Supply and the Contribution of Nuclear Energy, together with improvements in energy efficiency, nuclear energy has contributed significantly over the past 40 years to energy diversification and enhanced energy supply security in many OECD countries.

The study uses newly developed, transparent and policy-relevant indicators to confirm the hitherto intuitive assumption that, as a largely domestic source of electricity with stable costs and no greenhouse gas emissions during production, nuclear energy can make a positive contribution to reliable energy supplies. This is the first time that the security of energy supply has been quantitatively verified with a set of coherent indicators, and places the study at the centre of the current energy debate.

Over the years, energy supply security has been defined in various ways, although most interpretations usually encompass both continuous physical availability and the absence of massive short-term price swings. The study clarifies the similarities and differences between various definitions formulated by experts, and analyses both an “internal dimension” concentrating on the electricity sector and an “external dimension” focused on geopolitical issues. Nuclear power possesses several characteristics that enable it to contribute to both dimensions. It is cost-competitive, with high energetic density and low sensitivity to variations in the resource price, unlike fossil fuels. Uranium resources are also well-distributed, with OECD countries such as Australia, Canada or the United States, holding significant shares.

The study then presents a broad range of indicators and models that quantitatively assess a country’s level of security of energy supply. On the basis of prior research, it uses its own composite indicator (the Simplified Supply and Demand Index or SSDI) to measure the level of security of energy supply as well as the contribution of nuclear energy over the past 40 years, for those OECD countries for which a consistent data set was available.

The study shows that between 1970 and 2007, the SSDI in a number of OECD countries increased from 39 to 52, where 100 indicates perfect supply security and zero indicates total absence of security. Some OECD member countries (Canada, Finland, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States) benefitted from an increase of 20 points over the same period, while energy supply security stagnated in other member countries. Different factors help explain this trend. Diversification after the 1973 oil crisis, increased energy efficiency and the reduction of fossil fuel imports all play a role. In addition to these factors, the SSDI demonstrates the specific role that nuclear development has played in OECD countries in this overall rise in energy security.

The study also seeks to identify the implications of these findings for broader processes of public opinion formation and attitudes towards nuclear energy and security of supply in OECD countries. It shows that nuclear energy is increasingly being viewed as a pragmatic contribution to help solve the issues of security of supply, cost stability and climate change.

The Security of Energy Supply and the Contribution of Nuclear Energy
OECD/NEA, Paris, 2010 – ISBN 978-92-64-09634-9
€ 50, £ 45, US$ 70, ¥ 6 500
Order from the OECD Online Bookshop

See also the NEA News article on this study at:

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NEA membership consists of 31 countries. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally sound and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It strives to provide authoritative assessments and to forge common understandings on key issues as input to government decisions on nuclear energy policy and to broader OECD analyses in areas such as energy and the sustainable development of low‑carbon economies.