World Nuclear Association comments on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2023

Issued 26 October 2023

The International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2023 (WEO), published this week, shows an increased recognition for nuclear energy in their Net Zero Emissions by 2050 (NZE) scenario, the most ambitious aiming to limit global warming to 1.5°C. At the same time, this trajectory to keep the goals of the Paris Agreement within reach, still underestimates the potential of nuclear energy to meet climate, energy security and sustainable development goals.

Commenting on the report, Dr Sama Bilbao y León, Director General, World Nuclear Association, said:

“While we are encouraged by the growing role of nuclear in the IEA NZE scenario to more than double today’s capacity, this still does not reflect the opportunities 24/7 carbon-free nuclear energy offers to decarbonize electricity systems and the entire economy. In the lead up to COP28, through our Net Zero Nuclear initiative, the global nuclear industry is calling for the tripling of the global nuclear capacity by 2050 as a key pillar to meet net-zero goals.”

The WEO report recognizes that the prospects for nuclear power have improved in leading markets, with support for lifetime extensions of existing nuclear units and for new nuclear projects. The report also highlights the important role nuclear has, with other baseload low-emissions technologies, for ensuring affordability, electricity security and the resilience of clean energy systems. The NZE scenario projects more than a doubling of global nuclear capacity from 417 GW, increasing to 916 GW, up from 871 GW in the 2022 edition, by 2050. Large-scale reactors remain the dominant form of nuclear power in all scenarios, including advanced reactor designs, but the development of and growing interest in small modular reactors (SMRs) increases the potential for nuclear power. The report also notes the rising number of countries that have announced plans to support new nuclear investment.

In response to the report, Sama Bilbao y León added,

“We welcome the IEA’s continued recognition of the important contribution nuclear energy makes today and for several decades, and as a proven, cost-effective, scalable technology to address decarbonization together with other options. We also strongly agree with the need to accelerate deployment of proven technology, scale up clean energy investment in emerging markets and developing economies, and find ways for governments to work together.

While we are encouraged by the increased role of nuclear in the 2023 IEA NZE scenario to more than double today’s capacity, this still represents only 8% of global electric generation, unchanged since the 2021 IEA NZE scenario. It also disregards the contributions of nuclear to decarbonize hard to abate sectors, such as the petrochemical industry, heating and cooling of buildings, transport, and shipping. The Upper Scenario published in our recent Nuclear Fuel Report (Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2023-2040), has 931 GWe of nuclear capacity already by 2040, other scenarios by IPCC, UNECE or NGFS project at least a tripling of nuclear capacity by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

We are happy to strengthen our collaboration with the IEA, providing them with access to our comprehensive and up-to-date global databases on nuclear, so that the IEA energy scenario models consider the significant learning achieved in recent nuclear projects in terms of construction times and costs, use suitable weighted average cost of capital (WACC) for nuclear investment and recognize the use of nuclear beyond electricity generation.

Nuclear energy is a proven and reliable clean energy technology that has already been deployed at scale and is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity generation worldwide. Nuclear reactors are dependable and resilient, operating 24/7 regardless of the season, the weather, the time of day, with some of the highest capacity factors of all generating sources. The nuclear industry offers high-skilled, well-paid stable employment, and investment in local communities. Nuclear reactors also occupy a small land footprint, make optimum use of fuel and raw materials, and can be sited where needed, partnering well with renewable energy sources, and providing additional opportunities that support decarbonization beyond the power sector, including hard-to-abate industrial sectors.