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Rising Expectations for Nuclear Electricity Production

Guangdong NPP

The Guangdong nuclear power plant in China. (Credit: Hong Kong Nuclear Investment Company)

Story Resources

The IAEA forecasts stronger growth in countries relying on nuclear power, projecting at least 60 more plants will come online over the next 15 years to help meet global electricity demands.

The Agency's Nuclear Technology Review - Update 2005 goes before its Board of Governors this week. The report signals a more favorable outlook for nuclear power than was predicted five years ago by the IAEA and the OECD International Energy Agency.

"The current picture is one of rising expectations," IAEA Director General Dr. ElBaradei told the Board in his introductory statement. Based on the most conservative assumption, the report estimates around 430 gigawatts of global nuclear capacity in 2020, up from 367 gigawatts today. This translates into just over 500 nuclear power plants worldwide by 2020. It represents a slight rise in nuclear power's share in the world electricity market, from 16 to 17 percent, reversing previous downward estimates. Today, some 30 countries produce electricity using nuclear power. Worldwide 441 nuclear plants are in operation and 27 are being built.

The upward forecast is rooted in specific national plans but is also driven by factors like the Kyoto Protocol, which recently came into force. It commits countries to meet cleaner air targets and imposes a tax on emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Nuclear electricity plants produce virtually no greenhouse gases. Apart from environmental considerations, nuclear power plants remain most attractive where energy demand growth is rapid, alternative resources are scarce, and the security of energy supplies a priority.

The fastest growth is in Asia. By 2020 for example, China plans a six-fold increase in its nuclear electricity capacity, India a ten-fold increase. The Director General told the Board that an increasing number of developing countries were requesting the IAEA's assistance to help evaluate their energy needs and options.

"In many cases -- despite the acute need for energy that are central to these countries’ development -- the prospects for using nuclear energy have been hampered because the large size of nuclear plants makes them unsuitable for lower capacity electricity grids. For this reason the IAEA has maintained a focus on the potential for innovative small and medium sized reactor design, and a few projects are moving toward implementation," he said.

This month, ministers and senior experts from 30 countries are examining the future role of nuclear energy at a conference in Paris, 21-22 March, organised by the IAEA in cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. See Story Resources for more information.