UN agency predicts continued expansion of nuclear power in coming decades

11 September 2008

The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today that nuclear power is expected to continue to expand in the coming decades in line with the growing global demand for energy, while also reporting that the power source’s share of global electricity generation dropped another percentage point in 2007 to 14 per cent.

The projections contained in the 2008 edition of Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period to 2030, published by the Vienna-based IAEA, reflect major expansion plans under way in countries like China and India, and new policies and interest in nuclear power emerging in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States.

The report, produced every year since 1981, contains both high and low projections. The lower end assumes that all nuclear capacity currently under construction or in the development pipeline gets constructed and current policies, such as phase-outs, remain unchanged.

The high projection is based on government and corporate announcements about longer-term plans for nuclear investments, as well as potential new national policies, such as responses to new global environmental agreements to combat climate change.

“The IAEA’s higher projection is in step with an anticipated level of 3.2 per cent annual growth in global power generation,” said Hans-Holger Rogner, Head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Energy Planning and Economic Studies Section.

“In the low projection, overall global electricity annual growth is 1.9 per cent and nuclear power’s share is projected to drop to about 12.5 per cent by 2030,” he added.

Mr. Rogner attributed the expected rise in nuclear growth to rising costs of natural gas and coal. In addition, new environmental constraints such as entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol and the European carbon trading scheme mean there is now a real financial benefit to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, adding to the appeal of low-carbon electricity generation, including nuclear power and renewables.

Aspects of nuclear power, from uranium mining to reactor construction and waste disposal, emit only 3 to 24 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour – about the same as wind and hydro power, and well below coal, oil and natural gas, he noted.

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