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IAEA projections for nuclear power growth increase for second year amid climate, energy security concerns

30 September 2022

For a second successive year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has revised up its annual projections of the potential growth of nuclear power during the coming decades, reflecting a shift in the global debate over energy and the environment amid growing concerns over energy security and climate change.

Olkiluoto 3, Finalnd – Image: TVO
Olkiluoto 3, Finalnd – Image: TVO

In its new outlook for global nuclear capacity for electricity generation by 2050, the IAEA has increased its high case scenario by 10% compared with last year’s report. In 2021, the Agency revised its up annual projections for the first time since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011.

In its high case scenario, the Agency now sees world nuclear generating capacity more than doubling to 873 gigawatts net electrical (GW(e)) by 2050, compared with current levels of around 390 GW(e). That’s an additional 81 GW(e) on top of last year’s projection. In the low case scenario, generating capacity remains essentially flat.

The annual outlook identifies climate change mitigation and energy security as key drivers of decisions to continue or expand the use of nuclear power, citing recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions and military conflict in Europe as having impacted the reliability of energy systems, impeded energy flows across regions and led to significant increases in energy prices.

A number of Member States are revising their national energy policies, says the report, leading to decisions to extend operation of existing reactors and plans for new construction of advanced reactors, and the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs). While a large number of reactors are scheduled for retirement in the coming years, ageing management programmes and long-term operation are being implemented for an increasing number of existing reactors, with new policy measures being adopted to support their competitiveness in liberalised electricity markets.

According to the new projections and assuming electricity generation will increase by 85% over the next three decades, nuclear energy could contribute about 14% of global electricity by 2050, up from its 10% share today. Coal remains the dominant energy source for electricity production but has gradually decreased a few percentage points since 1980. In recent years, the share of solar and wind has undergone a rapid increase, rising from less than 1% in 1980 to 9% in 2021.

The report also says that almost half of the CO2 emission reductions needed to reach net zero in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are currently under development but are not yet on the market. For nuclear, accelerating the pace of innovation and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactors including SMRs is required if nuclear is to play a role in decarbonization beyond electricity by providing low carbon heat or hydrogen to the industrial and transport sectors.

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