An appetite of nuclear proportions

30 November 2001

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US government's main energy forecasting agency, has raised its 20-year projection of domestic energy consumption and global oil demand, despite the current economic slowdown. The reference case scenario of the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2002 includes an upward revision of its previous forecast for nuclear generating capacity in 2020.

The EIA follows previous forecasts in continuing to predict no new nuclear build in the USA by 2020. However, the EIA now predicts that, of 98GWe of nuclear capacity available in 2000, 88GWe will still be available in 2020 — an increase of just over 22% on last year's estimate. The main reasons given for the revised figure are the lower assumed costs for continued operation of existing plants and the likelihood of higher gas prices.

The forecast is based on advanced nuclear reactor designs other than the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which supporters believe is more cost-effective (see page 47).

The EIA also predicted that, for the reference case scenario: • Total US energy consumption will increase by 1.4% annually up to 2020 - from 99.3 to 130.9 quadrillion BTUs (quads), nearly 4 quads higher than predicted last year.

• Electricity demand will grow by 1.8% per year.

• Carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion will reach 2088 million metric tonnes carbon equivalent (MMTCe) by 2020, some 54% higher than in 1990. The forecast is 2% higher than predicted last year.

In another EIA report, estimated emissions of carbon dioxide in the USA and its territories, which account for 80% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, increased by 3.1% in 2000, rising from 1536MMTCe in 1999 to 1583MMTCe in 2000. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, which account for 98% of total carbon dioxide emissions, stood at 1547MMTCe. Gross domestic product increased by 4.1% over the period.

Meanwhile, Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve Chairman of the USA, has warned that oil and natural gas reserves are being strained and suggested greater use be made of nuclear power.

In an address at Houston's Rice University, Greenspan said: "Given the steps that have been taken over the years to make nuclear energy safer and the obvious environmental advantages it has in terms of reducing emissions, the time may have come to consider whether we can overcome the impediments to tapping its potential more fully." He acknowledged there were concerns over the risk of terrorist attacks, and that the issue of disposal of radioactive waste had to be resolved.

Greenspan emphasised that safeguarding the country's energy supplies has now become one of the factors that policymakers need to consider along with interest rates when seeking to alter the economy. "As economic policymakers understandably focus on the impact of the tragedy of September 11 and the further weakening of the economy that followed, it is essential we do not lose sight of the policies needed to ensure long-term economic growth," he said, adding: "One of the most important objectives of those policies should be an assured availability of energy." Energy issues should "be addressed in a manner that, to the greatest extent possible, does not distort or stifle the meaningful functioning of our markets." Greenspan added: "The notion that people have that monetary policy changes one little notch and the economy goes up clearly has never been the case and indeed is not the case today." Middle East tensions underlined the importance of ensuring the USA has ample energy, and energy market developments were the key to the economy's long-term health.

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