Every two years the International Energy Agency, the ‘intergovernmental organisation which acts as energy policy advisor to 28 member countries in their effort to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for their citizens’, releases its Energy Technology Perspectives report. The report offers ’guidance on how to achieve a clean, clever and competitive energy future’ and ‘how CO2 emissions could be brought back to current levels by 2050’.
Moving swiftly over the fact that nuclear power isn’t clean, clever or competitive, just what does the future hold for this most discredited of technologies? It seems that nothing much has changed since the IEA released its 2008 report – the nuclear scenario remains much the same as it was two years ago. You can read the executive summary of the 2010 report here.
It suggests that 1,200 large reactors will be up and running by 2050. Unfortunately, this massive investment of time, energy, labour, money and resources will only reduced CO2 emissions by just 6 per cent (see the graph on page 6 of the executive summary). This is compared to a 17 per cent reduction from renewables, and 58 per cent from fuel switching and energy efficiency.
The overall additional cost to achieve these all these CO2 cuts is expected to be six trillion dollars. The thing is, with the cost of nuclear energy rocketing the way it is right now, new nuclear build could swallow that 6 trillion by itself. Six trillion dollars divided by 1,200 reactors is five billion dollars. That’s less than the current going rate for a third generation so-called state of the art EPR reactor. Imagine the clean and renewable energy projects and efficiency programmes you could build with that kind of money.
Not only that but the IEA projects that if all those reactors were built they would use 5.6 million tonnes of uranium over their lifetime. That’s, according to the IEA, ‘roughly equivalent to current known conventional uranium resources’. More human exploitation and environmental damage in all countries with uranium is going to be needed to fuel this expansion of nuclear power. So much for nuclear power providing energy security.
On the whole the 2010 Energy Technology Perspectives brings bad news for the nuclear industry wrapped in oddly optimistic language. Even if existing reactors were to have their lifetimes extended to 2050 the number of reactors still required simply cannot be built without a massive expansion of expertise and manufacturing capability. More and more countries are in the race for the resources to build their own reactors. They’re racing in the wrong direction.