Let’s not ignore the resilience of the nuclear energy industry
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the entire global energy sector, the nuclear power industry has remained mostly unchanged and uninterrupted. In many countries, operations in different parts of the nuclear industry have continued, proving its inherent resilience against other sources of power generation.
This is not to say that the nuclear industry has been completely spared from the pandemic. Depending on the location, the extent of the spread and the state of health of the employees, operations not vital to ensure the continued operation of nuclear power plants may have been stopped. Due to worker health conditions and a shrinking workforce, a reduction in uranium production has occurred in Kazakhstan, Canada, and Namibia; the schedule for new reactor construction was also delayed for a short time in China, France, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. But uranium production cuts are having a positive impact on prices since uranium demand has not suffered as much as oil demand during the pandemic. On the contrary, the price of uranium has risen 33% from its lowest point recorded in mid-March 2020 and crossed the $30 level for the first time since 2016. Meanwhile, it does not would take a few years to 2025 to return to the accelerated level. of the construction of a new reactor as registered during the pre-pandemic phase.
Nuclear energy covers around 10% of the world’s carbon-free electricity consumption, produced in more than 30 countries. During the pandemic, particularly in 2020, global nuclear consumption fell by 4.1%, with the largest declines in the European Union (-11%), Japan (-33%) and the United States ( -2%) largely due to lower electricity demand, temporary shutdowns for maintenance and permanent shutdowns. At the same time, nuclear increased in China (5%) and Russia (3%), with new units commissioned during the pandemic. In Belarus and the United Arab Emirates, the first nuclear reactor has entered commercial operation, and other units are currently under construction. Nuclear power has rebounded and increased by 2% in 2021, reversing half of the drop in production in one year. In addition, seven new reactors were commissioned in 2020-2021.
Although nuclear power generation in 2021 is 2% below 2019 levels, “nuclear remains the largest single source of low-carbon generation,” a resilient and cost-effective energy system in major economies during Covid-19. Additionally, no nuclear reactor forced shutdowns have been undertaken due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workforce or supply chains. How has the nuclear industry handled the pandemic situation when all other sectors could not withstand supply chain disruptions, changing consumer preferences and the outright blocking of many interactions economic?
In fact, the nuclear industry has already established a strong safety culture worldwide. Before it became a global pandemic, nuclear operators around the world executed business continuity plans and took the necessary measures to deal with the impact of the virus. Plant operators have stepped up precautionary measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In many countries, nuclear employees have been identified as among the key workers who are essential to maintaining important infrastructure during the pandemic. Other precautionary measures such as reducing staff, self-isolating or quarantining the workforce, limiting non-essential business travel plans, and holding business meetings online , remote management of work if possible to maintain social distance, etc. have been strengthened, which has helped the nuclear industry. to deal with the risks induced by the pandemic. Overseas nuclear power plant construction projects by nuclear giants like Rosatom remain uninterrupted by strictly following the recommendations and guidelines of Russia’s disease control services, as well as host country measures.
While combating the virus threat within the plant and its own workforce, the nuclear industry has proven helpful in combating the spread of the disease by providing diagnostic kits, equipment and a training in nuclear-derived detection techniques supported by the IAEA to countries seeking such assistance. In Russia, irradiation facilities had sterilized 7,853,480 medical masks (as of April 2020), as well as 151,000 portable laboratory kits for testing Covid-19. Keeping the reactor running, the production and use of vital medical isotopes continued for the diagnosis and treatment of other diseases.
The pandemic may have affected the nuclear industry but could not derail it primarily for its internal resilience and enduring industrial base. Although the accelerated construction of new reactors is not on the cards before 2025, the next two years will be crucial in securing the future of nuclear energy as the world adjusts to a post-pandemic environment. It is high time to become aware of the sustainability of nuclear energy vis-à-vis other sources, which has been amply proven during the pandemic.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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