Table of Contents
The Energy Challenge
Nuclear Power Facts
Nuclear Power Advantages
The Salient Points
Annex I: The DECADES Project
Annex II: Nuclear Power Case Studies
Energy Mix Strategies
A shift from fossil fuels
To limit environmental pollution and to slow the rate of increase of CO2 concentration, responsive long term energy mix strategies exploiting the maximum potential of non-greenhouse gas emitting energy sources need to be developed and implemented as rapidly as possible. The future energy mix that evolves will depend not only on environmental considerations, but also on economic, technological, supply and political factors. It is generally accepted that for many decades fossil fuels will continue to be the major energy source, with natural gas, the lowest fossil fuel greenhouse gas emitter, increasing its share. Countries having or exporting fossil fuels cannot easily turn away from their use and likewise the economically dynamic countries of Asia cannot radically shift from fossil fuels towards uncertain and currently costly renewables for their growing baseload power needs.
The 1995 WEC and IIASA middle economic growth Case B Scenario projects at mid-century more than a two-fold increase in fossil fuel consumption and a continuing fossil dominance with a two thirds share of global energy - some 20% less than today - with nuclear power and renewables including hydroelectric each more than doubling their current 6% shares [Fig.: Projected Global Energy Mix].
National and regional factors govern each country's energy mix [Fig.: National Energy Mix]. They differ considerably today and they will in the future. Today China is 98% dependent on fossil fuels, while France and Sweden have reduced their dependence to some 50% and 35% respectively through their use of nuclear and hydroelectric power.
On the global level, difficult policy decisions to foster a reduced reliance on fossil fuel lie ahead. While there is little consensus on how to proceed, there is general support for cost effective energy efficiency techniques to slow down demand, and on the supply side an endorsement of an increased use of renewables. Both efforts are necessary, but they have limited potential over the near term. In the industrialized countries, the significant energy efficiency gains seen over the past two decades, such as in the industrial and residential sectors, may not continue at the same level.
The supply potential of renewables is difficult to assess since they are only emerging technologies and currently not suitable for meeting large baseload energy demand. With differing relevance for the various renewables, technological improvements are needed and basic challenges exist in reducing costs, improving efficiency and reliability, solving energy storage problems and integrating the technologies into existing energy systems.
The prospects of renewables
Both the WEC and the International Energy Agency (IEA) of the OECD predict that non-hydroelectric renewables will not be economically competitive for large scale production in the foreseeable future and that they will play no more than a limited role in the decades to come. The WEC Message for 1997 indicates that even with adequate support and subsidies the share of renewables could reach only 5-8% of primary energy supply by 2020, this figure including a 2% non-commercial energy share. Hydroelectric has already been extensively developed in Europe and North America - some 50% of the estimated maximum economic potential. Its greatest potential lies primarily in Asia, South America and Africa, where the trend will likely be towards small capacity units as concerns grow about the damaging environmental and social impacts of large dams. The hydroelectric share is forecast to remain around the current 6% level.
The ecologically driven low economic Case C Scenario (Box 2) in the 1995 WEC and IIASA study which focuses on a shift away from fossil fuels considers a major share of energy supply from renewables, in one variant some 39% by 2050 and as much as 81% by 2100. A second variant assumes a somewhat smaller renewable contribution with nuclear power assisting the shift away from fossil fuels through a 33% contribution to global electricity needs by 2050 and some 38% by 2100. However, the ecologically driven scenario - as with any scenario that assumes a huge shift away from fossil fuels principally through renewables and an extremely low energy demand - requires an unlikely rapid reorientation of the global energy system focused explicitly on the environment and on developing countries. The WEC and IIASA study, in addressing today's realities, concludes that:
"There is little sign in current energy policies around the world or the behavior of energy consumers that the conditions required to bring about Case C are realistic as of now."
"Case C (Ecologically Driven) is the most challenging. It is optimistic about technology and geopolitics, but unlike Case A (High Economic Growth), assumes unprecedented aggressive international cooperation focused explicitly on environmental protection and international equity. The future described by Case C includes a broad portfolio of environmental control technologies and policies including incentives to encourage energy producers and consumers to utilize energy more efficiently and carefully, "green" taxes, international environmental and economic agreements, and technology transfer. It reflects substantial resource transfers from industrialized to developing countries, spurring growth in the South. These include stringent international environmental taxes or incentives, which recycle funds from the OECD to developing countries."