IEA head tells US-sponsored conference that nuclear is important for climate mitigation

4 October 2021

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) told the US-sponsored Partnership for Transatlantic Energy and Climate Cooperation’s (P-TECC’s) third ministerial conference in Warsaw, that nuclear power is important to support an emerging new global clean energy economy. However, global reactor capacity would need to increase threefold by 2050 to meet global net-zero emission targets.

This would require the construction of 30GW of new nuclear power capacity every year. While renewables comprised more than 90% of new installed power capacity globally over the last two years, the integration of intermittent generation poses some problems.

Birol said the share of nuclear power generation in Europe could fall from about 20% to about 5% without policy changes. He said: “If nuclear goes down, how are we in Europe going to balance the markets, secure electricity, and keep energy prices at affordable levels?”

Nuclear’s long construction times and high upfront capital costs are obstacles to capacity expansion, but more industrial and regulatory standardisation could help improve conditions, he added. Birol also said IEA is optimistic about small modular reactors, which could be cheaper and faster to build, and could be flexibly used to provide industrial heat and help produce hydrogen.

He also advocated long-term operation of existing nuclear reactor units through lifetime extensions as one of the cheapest way to cut down on CO2 emissions.

The US Department of Energy’s Office of International Affairs coordinates P-TECC, which it describes as “an international platform designed to provide policymakers and civil-society stakeholders within Eastern and Central Europe with the resources and technical tools to build secure, resilient, climate-conscious energy systems”. 

Countries and organisations participating in P-TECC include: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, the European Union, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and the USA.

P-TECC projects include:

  • Creating a winter action plan for Moldova to help the country diversify its supplies and reduce its needs for Russian natural gas during its most vulnerable season.
  • Cybersecurity workshops conducted with Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, focusing on enhancing the ability of energy sector operators to prepare for a cyberattack on equipment.
  • Electric grid vulnerability assessment for Montenegro as part of a larger aim at energy resilience technical support.

DOE says the Office of International Affairs supports priorities of the Secretary of Energy and DOE. “It focuses on enhancing global energy security through countering malign influence, diversifying supplies, and increasing energy access. At the same time the office is committed to increasing US energy exports and trade to enhance growth.”

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