WNA Nuclear Century Outlook

Published in 2008, the WNA’s Nuclear Century Outlook examined the potential for nuclear growth in the 21st Century and the contribution it could make to meeting global energy and environmental needs. WNA's current assessment of the future development of nuclear generation is the WNA Global Nuclear Fuel Market Report, which remains the leading industry assessment of future demand for nuclear energy.

Although the projections in the NCO have been superseded, the central challenge of decarbonising energy outlined in the Nuclear Century Outlook remains.

The Central Challenge: Decarbonising Energy

The current energy path is unsustainable.  The UN panel composed of the world’s leading Earth scientists (IPCC) warns that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must, by 2050, be cut by 70% to avert catastrophic change in our planet’s climate system.  Achieving emissions cuts on this scale will require sweeping technological change in the world economy.

Emissions-reduction strategy must be comprehensive, embracing conservation and efficiency, plus pervasive changes in industrial processes, farming and forestry.  But the central task must be a global transformation in energy - because most GHG’s come from the use of fossil fuels.  The crucial challenge in GHG curtailment is to decarbonise an ever-expanding worldwide energy system. 

Components of a Clean-Energy Future

Fundamental questions remain about future clean-energy technologies:

  • Future Transport: What will be the comparative efficacy of advanced batteries vs. hydrogen fuel cells?
  • Clean Fossil Fuel: Will large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) prove feasible, affordable and sustainable?
  • Renewables Technology: Can New Renewables (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, tidal) overcome obstacles of cost and intermittency to contribute on a major scale?

Despite these technological unknowns, the essential components of a global clean-energy economy are already well understood:

1. More and Cleaner Electricity:

  • Full transformation of electricity to emissions-free technologies
  • Greater use of electricity in industrial processes and heating
  • Electrification of transport (trains & battery-powered cars).

2. New Elements (using clean electricity or clean heat):

  • Direct use of heat output of zero-emission plants for industrial process and heating.
  • Desalination of sea water to meet an intensifying world water crisis
  • Hydrogen production for fuel cells.