Nuclear Power: Will It Be Part of the 21st-Century Sustainable Energy Transition?

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Nuclear power provided just 4.3% of global energy use in 2019. However, due to its low life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, many have called for it to play a much more prominent role in the electricity mix. At the same time, nuclear power is one of the most controversial energy sources, owing to its risk of catastrophic accident and nuclear weapons proliferation, high cost and the unsolved problem of radioactive waste disposal. This chapter takes a neutral position on the future of nuclear power. Both a top-down scenario modeling approach and a bottom-up assessment of national nuclear expansion plans will be discussed to determine the likely future of nuclear power. Based on both approaches, it is found that nuclear power is highly unlikely to expand very much and contribute to a sustainable energy transition, at least not before 2040. In the most likely scenario, the majority of future nuclear power generating capacity will be due to life extensions of existing plants rather than new builds. Moreover, new builds are currently planned in fewer than 20 countries, mainly China and India. Thus, because of the significant lead time required to introduce large-scale changes in the electric utility sector, I conclude that nuclear power will not be part of a sustainable energy transition, at least through the middle of the 21st century.

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Handbook of Energy and Environment in the 21st Century: Technology and Policy Dynamics


[9781040016749, 9781032715421]