Sep 4, 2018

Study: Nuclear revival necessary for cutting global carbon emissions

Ben Geman, author of Generate

A nuclear power plant in Gundremmingen, Germany. Photo: Stefan Puchner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Steeply cutting global carbon emissions will be tougher without expanding nuclear power, but its future is dim absent project cost reductions and supportive policies, a new MIT study concludes.

Why it matters: Nuclear energy faces very limited long-term prospects in the U.S. and a number of other countries, thanks in part to huge upfront costs to build new plants.

  • But some analysts argue nuclear is among the technologies needed to help achieve steep mid-century emissions cuts that are consistent with limiting long-term temperature rise.

The big picture: The report notes that today nuclear power represents a "meager" 5% of total global energy production and 11% of worldwide electricity.

  • The International Energy Agency's "sustainable development scenario" — a hypothetical future consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris agreement — envisions a substantial increase in nuclear generation by 2040.

What's next: It recommends a suite of steps to rein in project costs for new reactors, such completing more detailed design work before construction starts.

  • In addition, "deployment of multiple, standardized units, especially at a single site, affords considerable learning from the construction of each unit."

Another big takeaway is pricing carbon emissions would "equitably recognize the value to all climate-friendly energy technologies" — and nuclear would benefit.

The bottom line: "Other generation technologies have become cheaper in recent decades, while new nuclear plants have only become costlier," the report states.

  • "This disturbing trend undermines nuclear energy’s potential contribution and increases the cost of achieving deep decarbonization."

Go deeper: MIT Technology Review breaks down the report here. And I recently wrote about a Carnegie Mellon University study that draws pessimistic conclusions about nuclear's future.

Go deeper

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World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has a single novel coronavirus case after reporting a week of no new infections, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Friday local time.

By the numbers: Nearly 6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 2.3 million have recovered from the virus. Over 357,000 people have died globally. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world with over 1.6 million.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,803,416 — Total deaths: 359,791 — Total recoveries — 2,413,576Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,720,613 — Total deaths: 101,573 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
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  5. World: Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S.
  6. 2020: The RNC has issued their proposed safety guidelines for its planned convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

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Why it matters: Up until now, the pandemic has struck hardest in relatively affluent countries. But it's now spreading fastest in countries where it will be even harder to track, treat and contain.