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Nuclear power is essential for energy, environment and the economy

Full text of speech given to Energy Commission Members, Bulgarian Parliament on 25 January 2018

Electrification has brought warmth, cooling, light and intelligence to our homes. It runs the devices that entertain us, that enable us to communicate with each other, the appliances that save us time so we can spend more of it with our children. It powers business and industry and drives economic growth.

Even with improvements with energy efficiency, global demand for electricity continues to rise as countries seek to provide enough power to allow their economies to prosper and meet the needs of their people. In Bulgaria last year, electricity demand rose by 5%.

But our energy infrastructure, which has brought us so many benefits, is still largely reliant on fossil fuels. And now we know that burning coal, gas and oil is having a devastating effect, not only on our long term climate, but producing deadly air pollution today. Asia, one of the regions most seriously affected by air pollution, is seeking to clear its skies of this fossil pollution by expanding nuclear energy rapidly, with generation from nuclear growing by 35% between 2012 and 2016.

If we are going to be serious about climate change we need to be serious about our energy choices. We need to take a good look at nuclear.The Paris Agreement committed the international community to taking real action on climate change. Parties agreed to limit the global temperature rise due to emissions caused by human activities climate change to below 2 degrees Celsius, and to aim for a 1.5 degrees Celsius target. Governments also came forward with plans on how they would tackle climate change.These commitments and plans made just two years ago are to be welcomed.

But the plain fact is that the measures governments have laid out so far is not enough and further reductions are required. The international community needs to have much greater ambition if we are to combat climate change effectively, while at the same time delivering the electricity required to the world’s development needs and ambitions.

Thankfully there are alternatives. Leading countries have deployed nuclear energy as part of a low carbon electricity generation system. In France, Switzerland and Sweden, in the province of Ontario in Canada, nuclear generation is a major part of a low carbon generation mix that also draws on renewables such as hydro. These examples demonstrate that countries can and have decarbonised their generation mix, but only when including nuclear.

Today nearly 450 operable nuclear reactors supply 10% of the world’s electricity, avoiding the emission of around two and a half billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, compared to baseload coal. Nuclear generation has increased every year since 2012. There are fifty eight reactors under construction.10 GW of new nuclear capacity came on line each year in 2015 and 2016. This is more than double the average for the preceding 25 years. In 2017 there were four reactors, just above 3 GW, coming on line. Of the ten reactors that came on line in 2016 and the four reactors in 2017, eight reactors were built in China. Others were built in India, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. China is now the largest generator of nuclear electricity in Asia.In 2018, we are expecting 15 GW of new nuclear capacity to be added globally. This comprises 14 new reactors in six different countries, including one newcomer country, UAE. In 2017 we saw another newcomer country start construction of their first reactor, Bangladesh.

Nuclear innovation continues to bring advances, with LWR design evolution, building on decades of operational experience, as well as the potential for SMRs to enable nuclear technologies to be used in new locations and in new applications.

Nuclear plants operate with very high efficiency, with a global average capacity factor of 80.5%. Nuclear power plants deliver electricity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, irrespective of weather and seasons. As well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear generation helps reduce air pollution, responsible for 6.5 million deaths globally each year.

New nuclear build remains competitive with other generation options when compared on a Levelized Cost of Electricity, LCOE, basis, especially when the economic value of low emissions and of high availability are included. According to the IEA World Energy Outlook 2016, the cost per unit of electricity produced from wind or solar PV is stated to be 22-40% higher than that from nuclear generation, even without counting the additional costs of adapting the grid and providing the backup generation required to compensate for their intermittent supply.

New nuclear build projects also bring benefits to local communities, generating billions of Euros of investment and creating thousands of jobs.

Nuclear generation is growing, but there are barriers that are preventing it from making the full contribution that is needed if we are going to meet our environmental and development objectives. To meet the growing demand for reliable, affordable and clean electricity we will need all low-carbon energy sources to work together as part of a diverse 24/7 mix. The nuclear industry has set a Harmony goal to supply 25% of global electricity using nuclear energy by 2050, resulting in a tripling of nuclear generation from its present level. This would require the construction of around 1000 GW of new nuclear capacity.

The Harmony goal is developed from the International Energy Agency two degrees scenario which sets out a pathway that avoids the most dangerous consequences of climate change and requires a large increase in all low carbon sources. But there are currently several barriers standing in the way of achieving the Harmony goal.

Most electricity markets are failing and not recognising all benefits and the full costs of different forms of electricity generation. Even when carbon pricing is included it does not represent the true long term costs of climate change. There are also significant system effects and costs associated with unpredictable and intermittent renewable generation that are not reflected in the market price. Also reliable and dispatchable energy, such as nuclear, is not valued by many liberalised markets, resulting in early retirement of nuclear plants and not enough investment in new nuclear build.

All forms of electricity generation need to be held accountable for the waste they produce. The volumes of such wastes are often substantial, presenting a much greater challenge than the relatively small volumes of wastes produced from nuclear generation. Our industry has shown that nuclear wastes can be managed and disposed of safely. The current nuclear regulatory regime has provided a high level of safety. However, development of nuclear regulations and standards remains fragmented and has not benefited from international harmonisation and standardisation, limiting global civil nuclear investment and efficient project delivery.

Misconception of nuclear energy in some countries is restricting its development, despite its very good safety record. The current energy system fails to consider safety from a holistic society perspective. The health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear energy are not valued on an equitable basis with alternative energy sources. The nuclear debate cannot focus on nuclear safety alone, but must include other factors such as economics, social impacts, public health and the environment.

The global nuclear industry supply chain stands ready to step up construction and meet the fuel cycle requirements of an expanded nuclear fleet. We in the nuclear industry are keen to support governments to meet their energy policy objectives and solving the environmental challenges. And governments will be key in removing barriers to fully benefit from the proven 24 /7 low carbon contribution that nuclear is ready to make.

Three objectives are key to achieving the Harmony goal; Firstly, there should be a level playing field for all low carbon energy technologies, valuing not only health and environmental qualities but also reliability and grid system costs. The IEA has stated that there should be clear and consistent policy support for existing and new capacity that includes nuclear power in clean energy incentive schemes and that encourages nuclear energy development in addition to other clean forms of energy. Secondly, we need to ensure harmonized regulatory processes to provide a more internationally consistent, efficient and predictable nuclear licensing regime, to facilitate significant growth of nuclear capacity without compromising safety and security We look to regulators to help achieve these goals. Regulators, governments and industry must increase their efforts to develop a coherent roadmap leading to a more internationally consistent regulatory system. Thirdly, we should create an effective safety paradigm, where the health, environmental and safety benefits of nuclear are valued when compared with other energy sources by focusing on increasing genuine public wellbeing. We look to governments to drive the nuclear debate on factors that the public care about - economic, social, public health and the environment.

Bulgaria has long recognised the benefits nuclear brings for these key issues. It has a long-standing positive policy towards nuclear energy. But, for various reasons, recent efforts to expand Bulgaria’s nuclear capacity have not progressed. However, the efforts made to start these projects in the past will give Bulgaria a head start in moving them to timely completion.

Expanding nuclear generation in Bulgaria will bring great benefits for its economy, for the environment and the communities hosting new build. And once operating, new nuclear generation will provide reliable low carbon generation, and support hundreds of highly skilled jobs. Global demand for nuclear is growing, but the need for nuclear is growing even faster. The time is right for Bulgaria to take the lead and make a strong commitment to a new nuclear build programme.


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