The push for nuclear energy as climate solution


11:35 AM

1 min read
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What’s in today’s article?

● Why in News?

● What is Nuclear Energy Summit?

● The case for nuclear energy

● What explains the poor uptake of nuclear energy?

● COP and nuclear Energy

● What is India’s position on nuclear energy?

Why in News?

Brussels held a unique Nuclear Energy Summit, considered the biggest international gathering on nuclear energy.

Representatives from 30 countries, including some heads of state, attended. This meeting is part of recent efforts to promote nuclear energy as a solution to climate change and energy security.

What is Nuclear Energy Summit?

  • About
    • This Summit is an initiative in collaboration with the IAEA’s ‘Atoms4Netzero’ programme.
  • Atoms4NetZero is an IAEA initiative that supports efforts by Member States to harness the power of nuclear energy in the transition to net zero.
  • Launched during COP27, this initiative provides decision makers with data-driven energy scenario modelling.
    • It is part of the multilateral approach to decarbonisation.
  • Outcome
    • The meeting was not meant to produce any decisions or finalise any agreement.
    • It aimed to boost support for nuclear energy, which many countries are unsure about, especially after the Fukushima accident in 2011.
    • Concerns grew further due to the crisis at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine amid armed conflict.

The case for nuclear energy

  • Possible substitute for fossil fuels
    • It is a clean source of energy with a minimal carbon footprint. There is negligible release of emissions during the electricity generation process.
    • Even when the entire life cycle is considered, greenhouse gas emissions are only in the range of 5 to 6 grams per kilowatt hour, according to IAEA.
  • Entire life cycle includes activities like reactor construction, uranium mining and enrichment, waste disposal and storage, and other processes.
    • This is more than 100 times lower than coal-fired electricity, and about half the average of solar and wind generation.
  • Perennial availability
    • The other great advantage of nuclear is its perennial availability, unlike wind or solar which are season or time-dependent.
    • It is thus suitable for baseload electricity generation that solar or wind projects are unable to do unless breakthroughs in battery storage technologies come along.
  • Endorsed by many international institutions/reports
    • Nuclear energy features prominently in most of the decarbonisation pathways suggested by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and others.
    • IAEA says nuclear energy is already contributing very significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    • Nuclear power generation results in avoiding emissions of more than 1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year, according to IAEA.

What explains the poor uptake of nuclear energy?

  • Current status
    • Only 31 countries in the world use nuclear energy for generating electricity. And barely seven more are working towards joining this club.
    • As per IAEA, the number of operational nuclear reactors has actually come down in the last 20 years, from 437 in 2003 to 411 now.
    • The total installed electricity generation capacity has shown only a marginal increase during this period, from about 360 GW in 2003 to 371 GW now.
    • Nuclear energy accounts for less than 10 per cent of global commercial electricity generation, and its share has been declining for almost three decades now.
  • Reasons
    • Safety concerns are one of the main reasons for the poor uptake of nuclear energy in recent years, particularly after the Fukushima accident.
    • Nuclear power also happens to be the costliest electricity right now.
    • Nuclear reactors require high investments and technology base, take years to build, and have to operate under a variety of regulations and constraints.
      • This makes them unattractive for countries wanting to quickly ramp up their electricity generation in an affordable manner.
    • The kind of technology breakthroughs that have driven down the costs of solar and wind in the last decade, have not happened in the nuclear sector.
      • The much-discussed technology of small modular reactors is far from being mature.

Also, Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and private investors have not made any significant contribution to the nuclear industry.

COP and nuclear Energy

  • Tripling declaration at COP28 in Dubai
    • In 2023, representatives from 22 countries committed themselves to working together to achieve a tripling of global nuclear energy installed capacity by 2050 from 2020 levels.
      • Interestingly, India skipped the tripling declaration at COP28 in Dubai.
      • It was not the only nuclear power-producing country to do so, several others also did not sign up.
  • Nuclear energy formed part of outcome declaration
    • The final outcome from Dubai (COP 28) formally acknowledged nuclear energy as one of the zero, or low-emission technologies, that needed to be accelerated to achieve rapid and deep decarbonisation.
    • This was the first time that nuclear energy was mentioned in any COP outcome.

What is India’s position on nuclear energy?

  • India, which currently has 23 operational nuclear reactors, does acknowledge the role of nuclear energy in its decarbonisation plan.
  • Installed capacity
    • The currently operational reactors have a combined installed electricity generating capacity of 7,480 MW (about 7.5 GW).
    • At least ten more reactors are under construction, and the capacity is supposed to triple to 22,480 MW by 2031-32.
  •  Share of nuclear energy in total electricity generation
    • The share of nuclear energy in total electricity generation capacity is just about 3.1 per cent, among the lowest in countries that do use nuclear energy.
    • Only Brazil and Iran have a lower share of nuclear energy in their electricity generation mix.
    • Even after expansion, this share is not expected to go beyond 5 per cent.