All credible models show that nuclear energy has an important role to play in global climate change mitigation (e.g. IEA, 2021; BNEF, 2021; IIASA, 2021). As highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report, climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying. The sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to meet Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets are not occurring at the required speed. Global emissions are expected to increase by 2030, rather than undergoing the steep reductions estimate by scientists to avoid the worst climate impacts.
The window for action is rapidly narrowing. Carbon emissions must peak within the next decade and reach net zero by 2050. This will require comprehensive policy changes globally; substantial investments in innovation and infrastructure; and the large-scale deployment of non-emitting energy resources. Electricity grids must be decarbonised; vehicle fleets must be electrified or transitioned to non-emitting fuels; and industries must be transformed across sectors, including off-grid mining, buildings, and the production of chemicals, iron, steel and cement.
Current emissions are likely to eclipse targets arising from the 1.5⁰ scenario. A significant shift in direction is required for countries to meet their climate objectives.
The nuclear sector supports climate change mitigation in many different ways. Existing large-scale global installed nuclear capacity already plays an important role, and the LTO will continue to contribute for decades, displacing 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year - a cumulative 66 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide since 1971 (NEA, 2020). Even more will be required to meet climate action imperatives. In a special report published in 2018, the IPCC considered 90 pathways consistent with a 1.5°C scenario i.e. pathways with emissions reductions sufficient to limit average global warming to less than 1.5°C. The IPCC found that, on average, the pathways for the 1.5°C scenario require nuclear energy to reach 1160 gigawatts of electricity by 2050, up from 394 gigawatts in 2020.
This is an ambitious target for nuclear energy, but not beyond reach. It can be achieved through a combination of LTO, large-scale new builds, and the deployment of SMRs, as shown in the figure below.
The NEA continues to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological, and legal bases required for a safe, environmentally sound, and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This includes a focus on everything from assessments of new supply chain needs and promoting an inclusive new generation of the nuclear workforce, to encouraging adequate regulation that accounts for the safe use of innovative reactor designs, advanced materials, and new accident-tolerant fuels.
Roadmaps to New Nuclear. NEA and the Ministry of Energy Transition of France co-hosted the first government-industry conference on Roadmaps to New Nuclear at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris, France on 28-29 September 2023. The conference convened energy ministers and heads of delegations of 20 countries, as well as over 30 CEOs from industry to pinpoint solutions to deliver new nuclear construction at the scale and pace required for these countries to meet their energy needs. Outcomes of the event included two joint high-level communiqués, from energy ministers and from industry representatives. The NEA plans to build from the momentum of the Ministerial event to deliver work in the areas of the supply chain, financing, and workforce skills in the run-up to the Second Roadmaps to New Nuclear Conference in September 2024.
Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero. NEA launched a new Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero initiative at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 30 November – 12 December, 2023. Accelerating SMRs for Net Zero leverages NEA’s network of industry leaders, government officials, researchers, and experts to establish a practical, solutions-oriented platform with a defined plan of work for collaboration and knowledge exchange to support decision makers in maximising the full potential of SMRs. As a component of this effort, the NEA will bring together senior government officials and private sector executives to address key sector needs.
The goal of the Committee for Technical and Economic Studies on Nuclear Energy Development and the Fuel Cycle is to provide authoritative, reliable information on nuclear technologies, economics, strategies and resources to governments for use in policy analyses and decision-making.