May 28, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Nuclear power's fade threatens push against climate change

Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Axios Visuals

Nuclear power could fall by as much as two-thirds in developed nations by 2040 absent policy support and more investment, making it vastly harder to keep global warming in check, a new International Energy Agency report warns.

Why it matters: Nuclear is cumulatively the biggest zero-carbon power source in the nations IEA examined, which include the EU, the U.S. and Japan. A "significant" amount of this lost nuclear generation would be replaced by gas (and some coal) despite the surge in renewables, IEA said.

The big picture: The report is the latest to show how nuclear power is likely needed to help with the uphill climb of holding global temperature rise below 2°C.

Threat level: If nuclear drops by two-thirds, "cumulative CO2 emissions would rise by 4 billion tons by 2040, adding to the already considerable difficulties of reaching emissions targets."

  • The report arrives as long-running plants are shutting down and the pipeline of expensive new projects is small.

The intrigue: Building new plants is really expensive. But losing nuclear is even more costly, IEA argues.

  • "Without widespread lifetime extensions or new projects, electricity supply costs would be close to USD 80 billion higher per year on average for advanced economies as a whole," it states.

What's next: The report calls on regulators to extend operation of decades-old plants at risk of shutting down due to licenses ending or competitive pressures. It also has proposals to help spur new development.

  • Recommendations include various changes in market rules to better make continued operation of aging plants more attractive.
  • New projects can be made more likely and less risky with a combination of policies like price guarantees, carbon pricing, government-backed financing and more support for small modular reactors.

Go deeper: Green New Deal activists dismiss nuclear power

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