The report, which reviews energy policies in the European Union, says the EU should support a broader spectrum of research, development and demonstration on advanced nuclear concepts and small modular reactors, including for heat production for industrial uses and cogeneration.
It calls for the integration of flexible nuclear and renewable sources and progress towards harmonisation and standardisation. It says there is a need for the development of common approaches for licensing.
The report warns that the EU’s fleet of 126 commercial reactors is ageing after the large construction wave in the 1970s and 1980s and the much more modest rate of construction since then.
The EU has the largest operating nuclear fleet in the world, and comes second, behind the US, in terms of average age of the plants. The average reactor age is around 35 years in the EU. The original licence lifetime was 40 years in most cases, but 30 years for reactors of Russian design in operation in Central Europe.
“The nuclear fleet is now at a point where operating extensions and long-term operation are starting on a large scale,” the report notes. It warns that EU nuclear capacity could fall from 126 reactors to 37 reactors by 2030, with 89 being in decommissioning phase.
This is beyond the 91 reactors that were already shut down before 2015.
According to the IEA analysis, a fall in nuclear share to 5% in 2040 would lead to a higher cost of the clean energy transition and would require higher investments in new generation.
The generation gap resulting from already planned coal phaseouts in EU countries together with such nuclear shutdowns would need to be filled by wind and solar power, and natural gas for flexibility, which “are not perfect substitutes for nuclear power”, the report says.
There are 7 GW of nuclear reactors under construction in EU countries (Finland, France, Slovakia and the UK), but these new plants have seen delays and cost overruns for multiple reasons.
The IEA said these reasons need to be carefully analysed and the lessons learned taken into account for future constructions with a view to ensure continuation of nuclear power once the existing reactors are shut down. “This is a key responsibility for the nuclear sector,” it said.