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IAEA projects 500 GW of new nuclear capacity by 2050 to deliver on climate goals

In its recently released report titled Climate Change and Nuclear Power 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is examining how nuclear power can contribute to abate carbon emissions and facilitate the world’s transition to clean energy.

The report analyses more than 400 climate and energy scenario studies for achieving the 1.5°C goal, carried out by 18 organizations including the IAEA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“All four IPCC illustrative model pathways project a larger increase of nuclear capacity than our own high projection, which already implies an addition of 500 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear capacity over 30 years,” said Aliki van Heek, IAEA energy expert heading the team that drafted the report.

According to Mr van Heek, achieving the IAEA’s high case scenario of 500 GW(e) of new capacity by 2050 will require an increase in investment of at least 50 per cent over current levels.

In a webinar organised to mark the occasion of the publication, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that the decarbonisation of the energy sector by 2050 will be hardly achievable unless the world makes more use of nuclear power.

Laszlo Varró, Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed out that in order to put the energy system on a trajectory consistent with obligations under the Paris Agreement, low carbon electricity generation needs to triple over the next 20 years, adding the equivalent of Japan’s power demand each year.

The study founds that carbon emissions from the global electricity sector would have been approximately two gigatonnes higher each year over the past decade if nuclear-generated electricity had instead been produced with fossil fuels. That is the equivalent of taking more than 400 million cars off the road — every year.

Currently, nuclear power now provides about 10 per cent of the world’s electricity, but
it contributes almost 30 per cent of all low carbon electricity. The significant increase in electricity demand expected in the coming decades will require a large baseload source of low carbon electricity, according to IAEA nuclear power can be a viable option.

“Nuclear power is very important in the global effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions and we should actively advocate and promote its environmental benefits in our discussions about how to build clean energy systems,” said Zbigniew Kubacki, Advisor to Poland’s Minister of Climate who was also one of the webinar panellists.

Poland sees a huge potential in nuclear energy to achieve measurable and radical reductions of its greenhouse gas emissions. The government aims to reduce the share of coal in electricity production to 56 per cent by 2030 and to 28 per cent by 2040 and nuclear power will be key to reach this target.

Poland is considering to build high-temperature nuclear reactors to slash emissions from industrial processes, in addition to its plans to deploy advanced water-cooled reactors totalling up to 9 000 GW(e) to reduce reliance on coal.

IEA’s Mr Varró highlighted that it is vital to ensure the safe, long-term operation of the current nuclear reactor fleet while increasing investments in new capacity and accelerating innovation adding that governments that choose to use nuclear power need to play a proactive role.

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