IEA: The world needs nuclear

Nuclear towerA global backlash against nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima crisis would lead to higher prices, less energy security and higher carbon emissions, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency.

Birol was speaking as part of the FT’s weekly energy podcast, and told us that if countries around the world scaled back their nuclear ambitions, it would be highly damaging.

He said:

Lower nuclear growth would mean higher energy prices, more risks for energy security and higher carbon emissions: three sorts of bad news.

The IEA will publish its annual global energy outlook in November, which will include a “lower nuclear case” mapping what would happen if the world added only 180 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 2035, rather than the 360 predicted in the last outlook.

It found three consequences:

  1. The world will make up for the shortfall with gas, renewables and coal (coal and gas in China, gas and renewables in Europe and the US). That would put pressure on gas and coal prices, which would in turn make electricity generation more expensive.
  2. There will be less diversification of the energy mix, which is bad news for energy security.
  3. There might be about half a gigatonne more CO2 in the atmosphere, making climate targets much more difficult to achieve.

But, it should be added that 60-70 per cent of nuclear growth in the next few years is set to come from non-OECD countries, especially China, India and Russia. These countries, said Birol, are far less likely to scale back their nuclear plans than places like France or Germany, which are facing significant public opposition.

For now, it seems unlikely that the lower nuclear case will be all that is built before 2035. But the fact that the IEA is considering it at all shows it is not beyond the realms of possibility.

The podcast will be available to download from Wednesday afternoon.

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