IEA report questions wisdom of nuclear shutdowns

A nuclear power plant under construction in India (Source: Petr Pavlicek/IAEA)

By RTCC Staff

A diminished nuclear future would lead to less energy security, higher import costs and increased carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Outlook Report.

The IEA explored a scenario whereby no further OECD nuclear power plants are built, only half of the predicted reactors in developing countries go ahead and the lifetime of existing reactors are shorter than expected. It found that despite a boost in renewable sources, emissions would rise.

“We have looked at the implications of Fukishima,” said Fatih Birol, chief economist, IEA. “We know that many countries, including some that rely on nuclear power, are discussing the future of the technology. We have calculated what the consequences of a low nuclear future would be. The implications of this are alarming.

“On one hand renewables will receive a boost but the bad news is threefold. It will be bad for the economics of energy production, bad for energy security and bad for climate change. Coal demand would jump by twice the current level of Australian exports. Gas demand would increase by two-thirds of Russia’s exports and CO2 emissions would swell by the equivalent of France and Germany’s combined output.”

The group also called for countries to consider their post-nuclear future carefully before committing to nuclear shutdowns.

“Phasing out gives you less eggs in your basket,” said Birol. “If you are not going to proceed with nuclear you must think about what will it cost to replace this generation, what will be the consequences for your energy security how will it affect your renewable plans and obligations.

Germany announced its intentions to phase out its own nuclear power capacity by 2022 with eight reactors already switched off. The short term response was to increase production at its own fossil fuel plants and to import electricity, largely from Polish coal powered generation. In the long-term, it will build 12 additional coal plants of its own.

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