A report by Lloyds, “Lloyd’s Register Technology Radar – The Nuclear Perspective”, published on 9 February, says Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest options for power generation when lifecycle costs are taken into account and will continue be part of the solution to climate change long into the future. It is based on the "insights and opinions of leaders across the sector", as well as the views of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers.It noted that, in an atmosphere in which governments are committed to lowering their dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear is a key low-carbon option for baseload power generation. Although public acceptance remains a challenge in some countries, nuclear is likely to contribute to the energy mix “for the foreseeable future”.
The potential contribution of small modular reactors (SMRs) is unclear, the report says, although it will most likely apply to smaller grids and isolated markets. However, the underlying modularisation technology is expected to have a major impact on the sector. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are now reaching cost parity with their fossil fuel-based alternatives, but intermittency is a challenge that has yet to be solved, the report says. “While oversupply can to some extent be traded through regional grids, baseload power is still needed for when the wind fails to blow or the sun fails to shine.”
The report also looks materials science, where it says developments are likely have a profound impact on the nuclear sector. It says: "Both reactors and reactor cores could look drastically different in the future thanks to new materials such as metallic fuel or silicon carbide, which will boost their strength, working life and resilience.".
As to nuclear waste management strategies, the report says there is "plenty of room for improvement", noting that they have not changed significantly since the 1950s. It notes that "nuclear waste disposal innovation, for example, would have a considerable impact and a good likelihood of implementation - but would have to appear in the longer term”. Moreover, many of the latest reactor designs can achieve more efficient burn-up of nuclear fuel resulting in a smaller and shorter-lived waste stream. "What is currently unusable and designated as waste may one day be usable as fuel” and could be stored “in a location that is easier to access than traditional geological disposal solutions," it adds.
On the deployment of new reactors, the report says: "Predictable pricing and scheduling of nuclear projects have long been seen as key non-technical challenges. The executives we polled for this study agree, with deployment topping the list as a critical issue for the sector today; it was selected by 17% of nuclear respondents." However, deployment appears to be "less of a challenge” for Asian respondents, with only 7% highlighting it as a major barrier compared with 18% in Europe and 21% in North America. This could be as a result of the economies of scale that have been built up in key Asian markets in recent years.