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Nuclear power is a vital component of future energy transition

Along with our recent piece on the increasing opportunities around wind energy, nuclear will play a crucial role in how we tackle the energy needs of tomorrow, particularly as energy security becomes critical in an ever volatile geopolitical environment. Nuclear energy offers some of the most viable solutions that can help reduce the use of fossil fuels in the medium to long term. This is crucial for national grids that are already under the strain of increasing domestic energy demands.

 

The need for sustainable transition

A recent report by the International Energy Agency found that the global demand for electricity is continuing to rise. 2021 saw a 5% increase in global electricity demand, following a 1% decrease the previous year, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. If energy supplies are to be future-proofed, solutions for sustainable energy production need to be delivered.

 

The potential for growth

Nuclear power has a chequered reputation in the public eye. However, it’s historically accepted that the strict regulations and international standards mean that nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy production today. Notability, nuclear energy emits no carbon emissions and is therefore key to achieving  global net zero objectives.

In the next two years, it’s predicted that over £70 billion will be spent on nuclear power projects worldwide. This is evident in densely populated countries like China and India. In total, 19 countries are increasing their nuclear investments to improve the global capacity of electricity created from nuclear energy by 54 gigawatts.

The UK is planning on increasing its nuclear power capacity by building 8 new reactors to help achieve its plan to lower reliance upon foreign energy imports. Additionally, countries like Bangladesh, the UAE, and Turkey are entering the nuclear industry for the first time.  This indicates growth in the sector in the coming years, driven by significant innovation to make nuclear core to the global energy transition, providing round the clock baseload power in all weather conditions to complement wind and solar.

Small Modular Reactors

These nuclear reactors generally generate 300 MWe equivalent or less. This is equivalent to around a third of a traditional reactor but is still enough to power around 230,000 homes for a year. Small Nuclear Reactors can be located in much smaller areas that might not otherwise be suitable for a traditional nuclear power station. They’re designed with modular technology using module factory fabrication, pursuing better cost effectiveness through economies of series production and short construction times. Rolls Royce is on the front end of this development, using its pedigree in developing nuclear-powered submarines to create small-scale reactors for use in the public grid.

 

Additionally, other providers like NuScale, X-energy, and GE Hitcachi are advancing rapidly in their roll-out of this generation of technology. Exciting projects at varying development stages, but nonetheless well on their way towards implementation, come in the form of VOYGR, Xe-100, and BWRX-300. Nuscale are looking to deploy VOYGR in the USA within the next decade, whilst X-energy and GE Hitachi are developing their designs in the Canadian market.

 

Generation IV Reactors

Generation IV nuclear reactor technology with fast neutron reactors is currently in development. This generation will see sustainability, economics, safety, reliability, and proliferation-resistance improvements compared with their Generation III counterparts. These new reactors will produce an energy yield that is between 100 and 300 times greater than traditional Light-water Reactors (LWRs) with the same amount of fuel. This new generation will also operate toward a “closed cycle” system where waste is reprocessed into fuel removing the need for future generations to deal with the storage and disposal of nuclear waste that might remain radioactive for millennia.  Europe is pushing ahead with three of the fast reactor designs currently in progress.

 

Fusion

Nuclear fusion is different from traditional fission, which runs many operational nuclear power plants today. If the fusion concept is finally realised and executed, the implications are huge, allowing for astronomically better efficiencies. While fusion as part of an existing energy mix might still be some way off, the increase in research funding for this technology has increased by 139% since 2021 to some $4.8bn. In the UK, Tokamak Energy is developing a spherical tokamak and hopes to commercialise this by 2030 for fusion purposes.

How nuclear power can complement wind

The breadth of global wind farm projects previously discussed is something to get excited about. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only part of the mosaic that will create our energy future.

Wind is sustainable and becoming an important part of our energy supply, but isn’t yet capable of meeting global demands. This is why using nuclear power sources has to be considered as part of the future energy transition.

The wind doesn't always blow and the sun is not always shining so nuclear power has the potential to provide a base level of electricity to meet normal levels of demand throughout the year. Other options can also be brought into the mix through the use of offshore and onshore wind farms as well as hydrogen power.

In the UK, nuclear power is seen by the government as a cornerstone of the country’s energy future, with nuclear power set to provide 25% of the country’s projected demand. On a global scale, oil and coal make up 31.2% and 27.3% of primary energy sources, meaning that the opportunity for nuclear to take up the share over a transitional period is enormous.

Considering the carbon footprint of nuclear

Energy consumption has made people a lot more environmentally conscious. The carbon impact must be considered for new projects that will help to meet growing worldwide energy needs. While the likes of wind and nuclear don’t release carbon into the atmosphere, the production of the infrastructure that supports them does impact the environment. Think about the creation and movement of both the raw materials and specialised equipment to build a wind farm or nuclear power station. There is an initial carbon footprint to get the facilities up and running in the first place. However, this is negated by the low-carbon impact of their subsequent functionality when compared with traditional gas and coal energy sources, as evidenced in the graphic below.

The opportunity to support the energy transition

As we discussed in our piece about wind power, the concept of energy transition requires a significant amount of planning and investment. If the world is moving towards a future where nuclear power helps meet overall energy demands, the necessary systems need to be installed to make this a reality.

Brit is here to support the future of energy

These are exciting times where right now, people are working across the globe to ensure there are projects in place to meet the growing demands of energy. On a national and global scale, advancements in the capacity of nuclear power have a significant role to play in building our future effectively.

If you are involved with clients who are helping us to realise our nuclear future, then you can rest assured knowing that Brit have the knowledge and expertise to write the future across some of the nuclear power projects that will be used to meet the energy demands of tomorrow.

If you want to find out more about how we can help you, please contact Michele Chiamenti