The 2015 edition of the Technology Roadmap: Nuclear Energy jointly prepared by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), has just been published. The nuclear energy landscape has changed since the previous edition of the roadmap in 2010, with a number of events affecting its development: the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which heightened public concern over the safety of nuclear energy in many countries, and the subsequent safety reviews and development of new safety requirements to ensure even higher levels of safety for existing and future nuclear power plants; the shift towards Generation III reactors for nuclear new build; and the economic and financial crises that have both lowered energy demand and made the financing of capital-intensive infrastructure projects more challenging, especially in liberalised electricity markets.
Each country must decide what energy mix is optimal for its national circumstances. However, the fundamental advantages provided by nuclear energy in terms of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, competitiveness of electricity production and security of supply should be taken into account. Nuclear energy can play a key role in decarbonising our electricity systems by providing a stable source of low-carbon baseload electricity. By identifying major barriers and recommendations on how they can be overcome, this roadmap aims to assist governments interested in introducing, maintaining or developing nuclear energy technologies to do so in a safe, publicly accepted and affordable manner.
In order for nuclear to reach its deployment targets under the 2 degrees Celsius scenario, annual connection rates should increase from 5 GW in 2014 to well over 20 GW during the coming decade. Such rapid growth will only be possible if the following actions are implemented over the next ten years. Read the seven key actions.
Contributions of nuclear energy
The contributions of nuclear energy – providing valuable base‑load electricity, supplying important ancillary services to the grid and contributing to the security of energy supply – must be fully acknowledged. It is important, therefore, to review arrangements in the electricity market so as to ensure that they offer investment frameworks as favourable to new nuclear build as they are to other low‑carbon technologies and that they allow nuclear power plants to operate effectively.
Vendors must demonstrate the ability to build on time and to budget, and to reduce the costs of new designs. Integrating lessons learnt from recent first‑of‑a‑kind (FOAK) experiences in project management and planning, human resource allocation, supply chain set-up, qualification and oversight, as well as reactor design, construction simplification and optimisation, will be key.
Regulatory and industry requirements
Enhanced standardisation, harmonisation of codes, standards and regulatory requirements, and the streamlining of regulatory licensing processes are needed to reduce costs and to improve new build planning and performance. At the same time, industry must continue to improve quality assurance and control for nuclear structures, systems and components, and nuclear safety culture must be enhanced across the whole nuclear sector, spanning the supply chain, the vendors, the utilities and the regulators.
Safety and operational performance
Information exchange and experience sharing among regulators, and among operators of nuclear power plants, should be enhanced so as to improve overall safety and operational performance.
Countries choosing to develop nuclear power for the first time must be prepared to set up the required infrastructures prior to the start of a nuclear programme. Building capacities in terms of trained, educated and competent staff for future operation and regulatory oversight is an absolute necessity and requires long-term planning.
Actions to improve public acceptance must also be strengthened. These include implementing post‑Fukushima safety upgrades in existing reactors and demonstrating that nuclear regulators are strong and independent. It will also entail improving outreach to the public by providing transparent and fact-based information on the risks and benefits of nuclear power, and on the role that it can play with respect to energy security, affordability, climate change mitigation and air quality.
Managing nuclear waste
Governments that have not yet finalised their strategies for managing nuclear waste, should do so without delay. For high-level waste, deep geological disposal (DGD) is the recommended solution. If the geology and the safety case allow, and if it makes economic sense, governments should implement a DGD at national level. Alternatively, they might consider a regional solution, making use of another country’s planned or operational DGD site for waste management. Long‑term planning, political commitment and strong engagement with local communities are central to this strategy.