During a virtual meeting held under the presidency of Saudi Arabia on 27-28 September 2020, the Group of Twenty (G20) Energy Ministers acknowledged the role of nuclear energy in providing clean energy and enhancing energy security.
NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV participated in the meeting to present the NEA’s analysis of the role of nuclear energy in a circular carbon economy. The NEA report Reduce: Nuclear prepared as part of the Guide to the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) was published as part of a series co-ordinated by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre (KAPSARC) within the context of Saudi Arabia's 2020 G20 Presidency.
At the end of the two-day meeting, the ministers issued a communique endorsing the CCE Platform, noting that the “CCE approach is a holistic, integrated, inclusive, and pragmatic approach to managing emissions that can be applied reflecting country’s priorities and circumstances.”
The role of nuclear power in the circular carbon economy
The circular carbon economy (CCE) approach applies the circular economy model and its “3Rs” framework of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle to mitigating carbon emissions. The concept of the CCE also incorporates a fourth element, Remove. The reports that form the CCE Guide series provide detailed insights into each of these elements.
Nuclear energy is incorporated within the "Reduce" element of the CCE framework, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by adding strategies to a core circular economy such as energy efficiency and low-carbon energy generation.
Over the last 70 years nuclear energy has played an essential role as a competitive source of reliable and sustainable energy in many countries. Today, with 400 GW of installed capacity and supplying about 10% of the world’s electricity, nuclear energy is the first source of low-carbon electricity in advanced countries and the second in the world after hydropower.
While the existing nuclear fleet remains the world’s second largest low-carbon source of electricity after hydro, nuclear energy is not on track with the International Energy Agency (IEA) Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS), which requires an annual average of 15 GW of new nuclear capacity between 2020 and 2040. Additional lifetime extensions and a doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions are therefore required to meet the SDS.
The NEA report in the CCE Guide highlights the potential role of nuclear in contributing to the circular carbon economy not only as a low-carbon source of electricity, but also as a source of heat and system integration services. Nuclear energy offers unique opportunities to deliver valuable non-electric applications, ranging from district and industrial heat applications, desalination, and large-scale hydrogen production, which are often neglected in policy debates.
The report further highlights the essential role played by the existing nuclear reactor fleet in supporting the resilience of the electricity system through the COVID-19 crisis, and the significant role that the nuclear sector can play in post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. As G20 countries recover from the COVID-19 crisis, governments should take advantage of the economic recovery stimulus to accelerate the energy transition towards meeting their climate objectives.
As with all low-carbon technologies, policy support is indispensable for enabling nuclear power to play its full role in the circular carbon economy. Based on the analysis outlined in this report, the NEA developed a set of key policy recommendations that the G20 countries could adapt both individually and collectively.
G20 actions for nuclear new build and existing reactor fleets
- Include nuclear in post-COVID-19 economic recovery plans.
- Capitalise on lessons learnt from recent Generation III construction projects.
- Foster electricity market reforms.
- Support emerging nuclear technologies.
- Include nuclear in sustainable finance initiatives.
G20 actions for non-electric nuclear applications
- Support nuclear cogeneration demonstration plans.
- Prioritise low carbon hydrogen production.
- Include non-electric nuclear applications in decarbonisation pathways.