GE has produced a Positioning Paper that discusses GE’s view on the critical role nuclear energy plays as the world transitions to a carbon-free future with a focus on:
- Nuclear power’s role in the world’s climate challenge
- Maximising the lifetime output of the existing installed fleet
- Innovating the next generation of nuclear power technology
- Accelerating new large-scale nuclear power plant projects
- Recommending policies to achieve CO2 reduction targets.
As the world strives to attain net-zero, producing dependable, cleaner power is a global priority, GE says. “As the most dependable source of carbon-free power generation providing around-the-clock energy supply without interruption, nuclear energy is an important part of the power generation landscape, and it is a critical pillar in the transformation to a carbon-free future.” With the urgency of the climate challenge, “decision makers should ensure nuclear energy is included in the discussion”.
GE connected its first nuclear reactor to the commercial electricity grid in 1957 and has constructed more than 65 reactors in 10 countries. “We believe best-in-class technology, continued innovation and optimisation, as well as a strong regulatory framework are critical to securing a carbon-free future with nuclear energy.” This should follow two parallel paths:
- Maximising the lifetime output of the existing installed fleet. As new technologies come online, it is critical to maintain existing carbon-free nuclear power generation as part of the cleaner energy mix. With some 450 nuclear reactors in the world, one of the most effective and economical solutions will be to extend operating licences. “Market recognition of nuclear power as an emissions-free generation source is key to extending these licences and keeping nuclear plants operating.” Streamlining regulatory requirements and increasing investment to incorporate new technologies, including digital solutions, will further support efforts to reach carbon-free energy sector goals. GE estimates increasing the thermal power rating and retrofitting a typical steam turbine and generator can achieve up to 20% or more additional gross power output.
- Building new nuclear plants with best-in-class technology, with a focus on innovating the next generation of nuclear technology and accelerating new large-scale projects. Continued innovation across the industry is expected to deliver world-class technology to reduce construction costs and schedule, as well as ensure operational reliability and safety. Small modular reactors (SMRs) have the potential to drive down investment cost/MW. SMR deployment can be accelerated with government support.
GE forecasts about 10 GW a year of demand for new NPPs over the coming decade in line with the International EnergyAgency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) forecast. Beyond 2030, nuclear deployment is only expected to accelerate in an increasingly carbon-constrained world. IEA’s NZE forecasts an average increase of over 20 GW a year in net nuclear capacity between 2030 and 2040.
A range of technologies are needed to meet the Paris Agreement targets and achieve the CO2 reduction commitments by country. Each country faces a unique set of circumstances and constraints that could be historical, geographical, or political in nature. “GE believes policymakers must address highly-emission intensive power systems by urgently requiring action from technologies that can be deployed today.” Countries must consider both existing low-carbon and emissions-free technologies and innovative new solutions to ensure a cleaner energy transition. “Governments must consider nuclear power as a dependable emissions-free generation option, while planning for the transition and their future energy systems.
To maintain the nuclear power generation option, GE supports policies that:
- Value low-carbon and emissions-free energy sources, such as nuclear power generation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- Embrace the important role of existing (and future) NPPs in the energy mix to provide reliable base-load electricity;
- Fund research, development, and demonstration projects to encourage early adoption of cleaner technologies, such as advanced reactors and SMRs;
- Create financing frameworks that facilitate access to capital for new and existing nuclear plants at a cost aligned with the risk profile and lead-time of nuclear projects;
- Educate the public about nuclear power as a dependable and safe emissions-free technology;
- Protect and develop a well-trained workforce to sustain and build the next generation of NPPs;
- Ensure the licensing process enables safe operations and does not cause unnecessary cost increases or delays;
- Promote the commercial application of nuclear power technologies beyond electricity generation, including industrial heat, district heating, water desalination, and electrolysis to produce cleaner hydrogen.
Decarbonising the energy sector and attaining net-zero will require cooperation across national boundaries, sectors of the economy and the political spectrum, GE notes. “Nuclear power, as the largest source of carbon-free electricity generation, today, should continue to be a pillar in the energy transition to a carbon-free future and in helping countries achieve energy security.” GE recommends the following steps for the power generation industry:
- Invest urgently in a combination of nuclear, renewables, energy storage, combined cycle gas turbines with carbon capture, and hydrogen.
- Advocate for policies aligned with the Paris Agreement and its goals to reduce CO2 emissions while ensuring safe, affordable, and reliable sources of electricity.
- Increase funding in research, development, and deployment to innovate and adopt cleaner energy technologies.
- Promote international cooperation and free flow of goods and services aligned with the World Trade Organisation.
- Encourage cross-sectoral cooperation to reduce CO2 emissions, including providing hydrogen produced from emissions-free energy.