Nuclear Politics

Study: Europe Needs 25% Nuclear In 2050, But New-Build Costs Must Be Reduced

By David Dalton
22 November 2018

Study: Europe Needs 25% Nuclear In 2050, But New-Build Costs Must Be Reduced
The Dukovany nuclear power station in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy IAEA.

22 Nov (NucNet): If Europe is serious about decarbonising its economy by 2050 then one quarter of the electricity produced in the EU will need to come from nuclear, although the cost of new nuclear will need to fall significantly if it is to be viable, a study commissioned by Brussels-based industry group Foratom concludes.

According to the study, a 25% nuclear share will ensure citizens and industry have access to the low-carbon electricity they need when they need it and will help to reduce the economic burden of the transition to a low-carbon economy on consumers.

Foratom said nuclear’s share of the bloc’s electricity generation today is 26%, although a number of countries – including Germany, Belgium and Spain – have ether confirmed that they will phase out nuclear energy or have announced plans to consider a phaseout.

The figures are for the 28 EU member states with 127 commercial reactors, including the UK, which has 15 operational units.

The study says the EU would need to invest in an additional 535GW of renewable, storage and backup capacity by 2050 to compensate for the 114GW of lost nuclear capacity and ensure that it is still able to keep the lights on.

Europe will also have to rely on storage technologies which have yet to prove their technical and financial viability in order to store the energy produced by variable renewables and release it when there is no wind or sun available.

The study warns that while lifetime extensions for existing nuclear plants are generally more competitive against other low-carbon resources, new nuclear power will need to demonstrate “significant cost reductions to succeed in liberalised European power markets”.

Whilst reducing CO2 emissions remains one of the main goals, the other environmental impacts of power generation must not be ignored, the study says. These include air pollution, land use and resource use. An energy mix composed of at least 24% nuclear would reduce air and water pollution by 14%. The amount of land needed for power generation would be about 15,800km2 lower by 2050 – equivalent to half the size of Belgium – because nuclear generation requires less land than variable renewables to produce the same amount of energy.

With nuclear accounting for 24% of the energy mix in 2050, the EU has a chance of meeting its 2050 decarbonisation targets, Foratom said. Nuclear can also support variable renewable sources of energy by providing proven, carbon-free dispatchable power and flexibility to the system and reducing the system’s reliance on “yet unproven” storage technologies.

The study, ‘Pathways to 2050: role of nuclear in a low-carbon Europe’, analyses how nuclear can help Europe reach its 2050 low-carbon targets. It focuses on three nuclear capacity scenarios by 2050: a low scenario with 36GW of installed nuclear capacity, medium (103GW) and high (150GW). Installed nuclear capacity in the EU today is around 120GW.

“The study finds that achieving the European emissions targets in a scenario with a significant early phasing out of nuclear plants would prove more challenging and increase costs for customers.” said Fabien Roques, executive vice-president of FTI Compass Lexecon Energy, the company which produced the study.

Foratom director-general Yves Desbazeille said instead of focusing on technologies which have yet to be proven, both technically and financially, the EU should be promoting those which can already provide the low-carbon electricity which Europe needs. “Only by doing so, does the EU stand a chance of meeting its 2050 decarbonisation targets,” he said.

Foratom said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises that nuclear power is essential if the world is to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees. “According to one of the IPCC scenarios, a six-fold increase in global nuclear capacity is needed if we want to achieve our climate goals,” Foratom said.

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