What is Nuclear Power Booster? War and climate change

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Still controversial, nuclear energy has steadily declined in importance, providing 10% of the world’s electricity today compared to 18% at its peak in the mid-1990s. While a few countries, notably China and the India’s increased capacity, concerns over reactor safety have led most advanced economies to move in the opposite direction. In recent years, however, the climate crisis has restored the appeal of this decarbonized energy source. Today, fuel supply insecurities caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine are making nuclear power even more attractive to policymakers as a way to keep the light on.

1. Who reinvests in nuclear energy?

The UK and France lead the pack. The UK, which used nuclear power to generate 16% of its electricity in 2020, aims to increase that figure to 25% by 2050, in part by building eight large reactors. France plans to build six and extend the life of all existing reactors where it is safe to do so. France already produces 70% of its electricity with nuclear power. Both countries are also among those investing in so-called small modular reactors, although it will be several years before they are used.

2. Why extend the lifetime of a reactor?

Many reactors in advanced economies are approaching their initial lifespan, which is typically 40 years. The average age of nuclear power plants is 38 years in Europe and 36 years in North America; in India it is 15 years and in China only five years. The longevity of a reactor can be extended, but only with significant investments in renovation. Belgium decided in March to make this investment for two of its reactors. In Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. has spent about 1.16 trillion yen ($8.6 billion) to upgrade its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, a plant whose oldest reactor is nearly 40 years old.

3. What are other advanced economies doing?

• As part of its efforts to combat climate change, the US government is providing $6 billion over four years to bail out nuclear power plants at risk of premature shutdown for economic reasons. California Governor Gavin Newsom has encouraged the operator of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility to apply for the funds, saying, in a reversal, he wants the plant to continue operating given power shortages potential in the years to come.

• The national government of Canada, in collaboration with several provinces, aims to be a world leader in advanced reactor technology. Its plan for the development and deployment of SMRs, at home and abroad, provides for the commissioning of the first units at the end of this decade.

• The Japanese government is pushing to speed up the restart of about two dozen reactors that remain closed after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when three reactors melted at a power plant in northern Japan following an earthquake and of a tsunami.

• South Korea has announced the construction of four other nuclear reactors by 2030 and the extension of 10 older units.

• Germany, which decided after Fukushima to close its 17 nuclear power plants, may reverse the decision, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying extending the life of the country’s nuclear power plants could make sense in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the threat that reduced Russian gas flows could lead to a winter fuel crisis. There has still been no formal decision to continue operating the country’s three remaining reactors after 2022.

• Russia, the world’s largest exporter of reactors and nuclear fuel, is building new power plants in Egypt and Turkey, while adding business from Myanmar to Uganda potentially worth billions of dollars.

• Elsewhere in Europe, Belgium has asked Engie SA to extend the life of its Tihange 2 nuclear power plant to ensure energy supply this winter. The Netherlands is considering two new reactors. Poland is exploring its first. The Czech Republic and Hungary plan to build new large units. In July, European Union lawmakers voted to allow nuclear power to be labeled as green investments, removing the last major barrier to billions of euros in funding from environmental investors.

4. What about China and India?

Of the 10 reactors worldwide whose construction began in 2021, China had six, followed by India with two. (Turkey and Russia had one each.) In total, China has 23 reactors under construction, with the government aiming to increase capacity by almost a third over the next three years from current levels. Beijing has also sold its Hualong reactors to Pakistan and is finalizing a contract to build a reactor in Argentina. India plans to start building ten additional new reactors between 2023 and 2025.

5. What are the arguments against nuclear power?

Opponents of nuclear power say Fukushima is just the most recent accident to demonstrate that reactors are too dangerous. Reactor calamities also released radiation at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 and at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union seven years later. Critics cite the significant cost overruns that have plagued new reactor projects in the United States and Europe, as well as the expense and environmental risks associated with disposing of nuclear waste. But the biggest problem is time: large new nuclear power plants take at least a decade to build while Western economies need to halve greenhouse gas pollution by the end of this decade to reach climate goals. Opponents argue that cleaner, safer forms of energy such as solar and wind power should instead be deployed more quickly.

6. What are the arguments in favor of nuclear energy?

Proponents of nuclear energy claim that accidents like Fukushima are rare, that fossil fuels are responsible for more deaths from coal mining accidents and pollution, and that the smaller and more advanced reactors of the future will be even safer. The choice, they argue, is not between nuclear power and renewables, but rather between nuclear power combined with renewables and climate catastrophe. Low-carbon sources accounted for about 40% of the world’s electricity supply share in 2021 – only about 4 percentage points higher than 20 years earlier because, as renewables increased, nuclear power was decreasing. The need to replace fossil fuels quickly enough to avoid extreme global warming, say proponents of nuclear power, makes it no longer an option, but a necessity.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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