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International Energy Agency cuts nuclear forecast

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its 'World Energy Outlook 2013' report on November 12.[1,2,3]

The IEA expects global demand for electricity to grow over 70% by 2035, with over half of this growth in China and India. The report notes that coal "remains the backbone of generation globally, particularly outside the OECD, but its share of the mix is eroded from two-fifths to one-third" by 2035.

Renewables are set "become the world's second-largest source of power generation by 2015 and close in on coal as the primary source by 2035," with renewables' share of electricity generation to grow from 20% in 2010 to 31% by 2035. China is expected to see the biggest absolute increase in generation from renewables, more than the gains in the European Union, United States and Japan combined.

The IEA predicts that global nuclear generating capacity will reach 580 gigawatts (GWe) in 2035, a 56% increase compared to current capacity of 372 GWe. The 580 GWe figure is 10% less than the IEA forecast a year ago. China, South Korea, India, and Russia are expected to lead the growth in nuclear capacity.

As reported in the September 27 issue of the Nuclear Monitor [4], the World Nuclear Association's latest projections for nuclear growth are "significantly lower" than the projections in the Association's 2011 report, and the IAEA has also scaled back its nuclear growth projections.

The nuclear growth projections of these three organisations − the IEA, WNA and IAEA − are still implausibly high even after downward revisions. For example it is difficult to envisage anything other than marginal growth in South Korea in the wake of the corruption scandals engulfing the industry there; growth in China is certain but sustained annual growth in the range of 6 GW is unlikely; Russia has recently sharply reduced its nuclear growth projections; and India has a track record of making absurd nuclear growth projections and failing spectacularly to meet them.

Dr Ian Fairlie has recently compiled a list of over 40 examples of governments, banks, utilities and energy companies around the world withdrawing from nuclear projects since 2011.[5]

How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing

In the US, it is difficult to see current capacity of 99 GW − over one-quarter of the world total − being maintained let alone expanded. All the more so since a large majority of the US reactor fleet (and the global reactor fleet) will be well and truly into old age by 2035.

Peter Bradford, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, explained the problem in a Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article earlier this year, titled 'How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing'.[6]

Bradford writes: "The United States is on course to all but exit the commercial nuclear power industry even if the country awakens to the dangers of climate change and adopts measures to favor low-carbon energy sources. Nuclear power had been in economic decline for more than three decades when the Bush administration launched a program that aimed to spark a nuclear power renaissance through subsidies and a reformed reactor licensing process. But Wall Street was already leery of the historically high costs of nuclear power. An abundance of natural gas, lower energy demand induced by the 2008 recession, increased energy-efficiency measures, nuclear's rising cost estimates, and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station further diminished prospects for private investment in new US nuclear plants. Without additional and significant governmental preferences for new nuclear construction, market forces will all but phase out the US nuclear fleet by midcentury."

In the latest setback for the US nuclear industry, Mitsubishi has announced it will slow down work to obtain design certification for Advanced Pressurized Water Reactors (APWR), and in response Luminant has suspended its application to build two APWRs at the Comanche Peak plant in Texas.[7]

In the past year, US utilities have closed or announced plans to close five reactors in addition to cancelled plans for new reactors and uprates. Those five are Vermont Yankee, Vermont; San Onofre, California; Kewaunee, Wisconsin; Crystal River, Florida; and Oyster Creek, New Jersey.[8]

On November 7, Forbes published a list of six nuclear plants in the US that could be the next to shut down − in addition to plants that are offline and may never reopen (e.g. Fort Calhoun in Nebraska) and plants already scheduled for closure (e.g. Exelon's Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey). The six plants that could be the next to shut down are: Indian Point, New York; Ginna, New York; James A. Fitzpatrick, New York; Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania; and Davis Besse, Ohio.[8]

[1] International Energy Agency, 'World Energy Outlook 2013',
[2] WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'IEA cuts nuclear power growth forecast',
[3] Karel Beckman, 14 Nov 2013, 'Exclusive interview IEA-Director Maria van der Hoeven',
[4] 'World Nuclear Association scales back projections', Nuclear Monitor #768, 27 Sept 2013,
[5] Ian Fairlie, 11 Nov 2013, 'Nuclear Pull-outs and Withdrawals Since 2011',
[6] Peter A. Bradford, 'How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2013, vol.69 no.2, pp12-21,
[7] WNN, 12 Nov 2013, 'Mitsubishi delays certification of APWR',
[8] 7 Nov 2013, '6 Nuclear Plants That Could Be Next To Shut Down',