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The Nuclear Renaissance – An Environmental Imperative
a report by
Director General, World Nuclear Association (WNA)
Developed and developing countries must expand their use of nuclear nations we now call developed and become the major driver of global
power if the world is to meet the needs of a growing population while climate change.
at the same time preserving the environment. Nuclear electricity is
already being generated in nations accounting for nearly two-thirds of Humankind cannot achieve a global clean-energy revolution without an
humanity, and its use should be judiciously considered by every expansion of nuclear power to generate electricity, to produce battery
government for the soundest of reasons. power and perhaps hydrogen for tomorrow’s vehicles and to desalinate
seawater in response to our world’s rapidly emerging freshwater crisis.
On fair and balanced assessment, nuclear power has a key role to play
in the quest for sustainable global development. Its fuel will be readily A Nuclear Century
available for centuries, its presence confers energy autonomy, its safety The World Nuclear Association (WNA) has developed the Nuclear
record is now excellent and its consumption causes relatively little in the Century Outlook. The Nuclear Century Outlook is an ongoing analysis
way of greenhouse gases, as well as preserving fossil resources for of nuclear energy’s potential worldwide growth – and its potential
future generations. Nuclear capacities are also scalable, from small environmental contribution – in the 21st century. The analysis first
reactors to large, with competitive and declining costs. Finally, its waste examines the world country by country, estimating each nation’s
can be secured in the long term. potential deployment of nuclear energy using both optimistic and
The Energy Challenge
Between now and 2050, humankind will consume more energy than Totalling these estimates yields ‘boundaries’ – low and high – of
has been used throughout our history. The resulting greenhouse gas potential growth. Our ‘low boundary’ is a trajectory whereby global
emissions will yield severe consequences: temperature changes, an nuclear capacity grows to 2,000GW by 2100. This is a six-fold increase
upsurge in extreme weather, drought, flooding, wildfires, famine, over today’s global nuclear capacity of 370GW. The ‘high’ boundary is
species extinction, rising sea levels, migration and epidemic disease. 11,000GW (see Figure 1). This trajectory results from totalling all of the
To avert or mitigate such outcomes, most climate scientists agree that optimistic country estimates. Between these boundaries lies the domain
global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 80% by the of potential nuclear growth.
middle of this century, even as world energy consumption triples.
Under any scenario we foresee, about five-sixths of nuclear growth will
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) occur in countries already producing nuclear power today. This is not
countries, which are home to about 1.1 billion people, represent surprising, as those countries represent over three-quarters of global
one-sixth of humanity. At the other end is the so-called ‘bottom billion’ economic output and can build on existing nuclear capability.
facing hunger, poor access to clean water and high infant mortality.
Poverty correlates closely with energy use and access to electricity is a The analysis then examines how much clean energy capacity the world
frequent barometer to gauge economic welfare. In today’s world, must develop in the 21st century. This analysis of ‘clean energy need’
2 billion people have no electricity and 2 billion more have only limited yields a very steep growth curve. We will be chasing – and must
access. With many developing countries now advancing rapidly, it is eventually catch up with – a quickly receding target as we build clean
those nations that are now becoming the engine of global economic energy capacity (see Figure 2).
growth. Soon their greenhouse gas emissions will surpass those of the
In examining how this will be possible, the Nuclear Century Outlook
makes fair – and indeed generous – assumptions concerning the
John Ritch is Director General of the World Nuclear
Association (WNA). Previously, he represented former
potential for growth in hydroelectric power, new renewables and fossil
US President Bill Clinton as US ambassador to the technology using carbon capture and storage (CCS).
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other
UN organisations in Vienna, where he focused
primarily on strengthening IAEA safeguards under the
Hydroelectric power is assumed to continue growing until the middle
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iraq’s nuclear
of this century and then to taper off as implementation sites become
disarmament and the nuclear crisis with North Korea.
Before this, he served for over two decades as a staff
fewer. On renewables, we make the robust assumption that these
adviser to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, technologies will grow from virtually no contribution today to a level
specialising in east–west relations, NATO affairs and
double today’s entire global electricity capacity. On carbon capture, still
nuclear arms control.
an unproven technology, we also make a generous assumption that it
will contribute substantially, although more likely in a transitional role
than a permanent one.
© TOUCH BRIEFINGS 2009