Nuclear industry warns that planned closures could derail global net-zero transition
Key groups representing the global nuclear industry have penned an open letter to world leaders warning that the proposed retirement of existing nuclear plants could derail the net-zero transition, calling for the technology to have the same access to climate finance as renewables.
The Canadian Nuclear Association, FORATOM, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Nuclear Industry Association and the World Nuclear Association have jointly called on countries to accelerate nuclear investment as part of the net-zero movement.
The groups warn that planned retirements of nuclear plants represent “the single greatest loss of clean power in world history” and that without additional capacity and investment into the sector, the need to reach net-zero could be derailed. The groups estimate that more than 100GW of nuclear capacity will retire globally within 20 years.
Specifically, the letter calls for equal access to climate finance for nuclear technologies alongside low-carbon and renewables and for new nuclear plants to replace retiring capacity to maintain current generation levels.
The groups are also calling for nuclear to be included in national emission reduction plans in the build-up to COP26.
The Nuclear Industry Association’s chief executive Tom Greatrex said: “Nuclear is absolutely vital if we are to hit net zero as a planet. Nuclear delivers reliable clean power, new opportunities for industrial decarbonisation and good, well-paying jobs for a green economy. The retirements of existing stations right across the world mean we need to act today, or we will lose jobs and see higher emissions. We are calling on policymakers to make the right choices.”
The UK currently generates about 20% of its electricity from nuclear, which has helped low-carbon sources account for the majority of the UK’s energy mix.
However, almost half of the UK’s nuclear capacity is set to be retired by 2025. Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Heysham I and Hartlepool nuclear power stations are all scheduled to retire by the end of 2024, representing more than 4GW of nominal generating capacity. Another two large facilities are planning to come offline by 2030.
The Energy Networks Association - the industry body representing all major energy network operators in the UK – notes that nuclear is crucial to the UK’s net-zero target.
Indeed, the Government’s Ten-point plan includes a £525m package for the sector – some of which is expected to go to Rolls Royce, for its work to develop 16 mini modular reactors across the UK. But the UK Government has been accused of failing to support nuclear at an appropriate scale, and of failing to plan ahead for the impending ‘nuclear gap’.
Elsewhere, Atkins predicts that the power share in 2050 will consist of nuclear (11%); wind and solar (58%); combined cycle gas turbines with carbon capture storage (22%); and bioenergy with carbon capture storage (6%). To accommodate nuclear’s share, the organisation claims that six nuclear power stations will be required for a net-zero UK.
The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recommendations on the sixth carbon budget, designed to deliver a 78% reduction in absolute national emissions by 2035 against a 1990 baseline, include measures to build enough new nuclear to replace the current fleet as a minimum.
But critics of nuclear power say that more must be done to minimise risks associated with radioactive waste releases and to prevent weapons proliferation.
There are also arguments around the costs associated with nuclear power. While some facilities are coming offline as they reach the end of their working life, others have closed prematurely, citing financial reasons. BEIS estimates that Levelized costs for nuclear projects commissioning in 2025 will average £95m per MWH, compared to £63m for large-scale solar and £61m for large-scale onshore wind.