Nuclear power is often overlooked as a low-carbon energy source that can complement renewable energy and provide grid stability. But as the world faces a growing demand for electricity and an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power could be the turning point in the race to decarbonize.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), nuclear energy generates about 10 per cent of the world’s electricity, and after hydropower, it is the world’s second largest source of low-carbon power. Nuclear power is a reliable source of electricity that can operate around the clock, unlike solar and wind power that depend on weather conditions. It can also provide high-temperature process heat for industrial applications and produce low-carbon hydrogen that can be used for transport and other sectors.
However, nuclear power faces significant challenges that limit its potential to scale up and meet the rising demand for electricity. These include high costs, safety concerns, public perception, regulatory barriers, and waste management issues. Nuclear power plants are among the most complex engineering projects ever undertaken. They require long lead times, large upfront capital investments, and rigorous safety standards.
But there is hope for nuclear power to overcome these challenges and play a bigger role in decarbonization. Innovation is the key to unlocking the benefits of nuclear power and making it more accessible, affordable, and acceptable. Advanced nuclear technologies and reactor designs could enhance the safety, efficiency, and versatility of nuclear power, as well as enable new applications such as maritime propulsion and space exploration.
Advanced nuclear technologies offer the promise of improved performance, reduced waste, lower costs, and greater public acceptance. They also open up new possibilities for nuclear power to address some of the most pressing global challenges, such as climate change, water scarcity, and space exploration. More innovative forms of advanced nuclear include maritime propulsion to decarbonize the world’s commercial fleet, and powering space reactors for science outposts on the Moon and interplanetary transport to Mars. Nuclear innovation is even benefiting nuclear medicine, with applications such as radionuclide therapy used to treat cancers.
Another way to increase the value proposition of nuclear power plants is to use them for cogeneration. Nuclear cogeneration is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat or a heat-derivative product, such as fresh water, hydrogen, or synthetic fuel. By using heat for cogeneration, the thermal efficiency of nuclear power plants can be improved up to 80 per cent. This can generate additional revenue streams and enhance energy security and resilience.
Nuclear power has a vital role to play in the energy transition and decarbonization efforts. It can complement renewable energy sources and provide clean and reliable electricity and heat for various sectors. Policymakers should support the development and deployment of nuclear power and innovation to ensure its safety, affordability, and sustainability. Nuclear power is not a silver bullet, but it can be a powerful tool to help the world achieve its climate goals faster and cheaper.
– Nuclear Power May Become Crucial In Decarbonization Efforts, OilPrice.com, Jun 01, 2023
– Nuclear energy can be the turning point in the race to decarbonize, World Economic Forum, May 31, 2023
– The Use of Nuclear Power Beyond Generating Electricity: Non-Electric Applications, IAEA, Oct 18, 2021
– Nuclear power and the climate change challenge, McKinsey, Oct 19, 2021