The Azimuth Project
Nuclear Century Outlook (changes)

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Idea

The World Nuclear Association is an industry group focused on nuclear power. It studied a number of scenarios for eliminating the need for fossil fuels here:

If we had to summarize this report in just one chart, we’d probably use this one:

The World Nuclear Association claims that with a low estimate of the growth of nuclear power production—“Nuclear Low” on the above graph—there will be a serious gap between power demand and clean power production, but that with a “Maximum Nuclear Committment” this gap will be closed… by 2080, which is a bit late. In this project, the report assumes:

  • Hydropower growth stops at mid-century.

  • New renewables grow steadily and robustly, to a capacity by 2100 that is more than double the total of today’s world electricity output.

  • Carbon capture and storage makes a substantial contribution during the 21st Century, serving as a bridge technology, but does not grow indefinitely.

  • Nuclear power grows within the range defined by certain boundaries they have estimated: namely, “Nuclear Low” versus “Maximum Nuclear Committment”.

They claim that these assumptions are “highly favourable to the prospects for new renewables, which today contribute only negligibly, and CCS technologies, which today are still unproven.”

Barry Brook

The Nuclear Century Outlook report has been critically examined by Barry Brook:

He writes:

Important features of the NCO [=Nuclear century outlook] include its explicit recognition of the need to deal urgently with the climate problem (and associated issues of environmental degradation), and the imperatives of a relatively rapid replacement of transportation fuels, whilst meeting the changing needs of the developing world. Some problems include a lack of transparency about how the low/high scenarios were parameterised, and overall, a lack of ambition for some countries — and for the worldwide 2050 target — which stands in juxtaposition to the grand ‘vision’ goals (in short, 3.7 TWe by 2060 just ain’t gonna cut it fellas). At least they admit the problem of this ‘clean-energy gap’ in the period 2000 to 2080 (red area of the above chart) — it’s just a pity they don’t really seek a way to plug it.

One underlying problem with the NCO forecast — a problem that is common to all large-scale energy outlooks I’ve seen — is the lack of explicit detail about technology type/role and their relative contribution to overall system reliability. Like other plans like those cited at the top of this post, the NCO also sets aside the (ultimately crucial) question of cost – which makes it difficult to assess feasibility and likelihood. Now don’t get me wrong — I can understand their reticence to tackle this thorny problem. The ‘nuclear renaissance’ might well be gearing up big time, but hasn’t really produced the goods yet, and this makes ‘settled down costs’ tough to gauge, even for Gen III nuclear power, let alone Gen IV. But leaving economics out does beg the question of how realistic it is assess relative fractions of nuclear vs fossil-CCS and ‘new renewables’. Indeed, it might be that some technologies never even make it to the starting gate, let alone see major commercial deployment, if allowed to compete on a cost-levelised playing field. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind. On that point, I’m co-authoring a technical paper with Martin Nicholson (lead author) on this very topic at present, which we plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal within a month or so.

What of the technological mix WITHIN the nuclear domain? For instance, what is the likely proportion of Gen II, Gen III and Gen IV technologies, and how will that mix of contributions change over time? Which of the current Gen III designs will see the major deployment in the 2010 to 2030 period? What would such a massive nuclear build-out mean for uranium demand? How might nuclear power growth rates be constrained (or otherwise) by the availability of fissile material? On these seemingly rather important points, the NCO is, alas, silent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to make an informed guess as to the answers…

category: energy, action

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