Nuclear power is a significant competitor to renewables generated electricity in many countries. Conventional nuclear power (fission) is growing rapidly and fusion sill holds promise for the future (as the resource is effectively limitless).
In much of the world nuclear generated electricity is already competitive with fossil fuels and less costly than wind or solar energy. Nuclear energy is expected to replace a modest proportion of fossil fuel generated electricity in many large economies during the first half of this century. Prominent amongst these are China and India.
For example, the Republic of (South) Korea produced 343 TWh of electricity in 2004 of which 63 per cent came from conventional thermal sources, mainly coal, 36 per cent came from nuclear power, and a small amount came from hydro-power stations. But nuclear power is planned to steadily increase its share of the country’s net electricity generation. Korea already has four operating nuclear power stations containing a total of 20 nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 17,716 MWe. This exceeds the total electricity generation capacity in NSW.
Six additional reactors are under construction and a further six scheduled for completion by 2021 (total 14,800 MWe capacity). As a result, Korean manufacturers have developed proprietary IP and are beginning to market reactors internationally (with a target of 80 reactors exported by 2030). Similarly another major NSW coal customer Taiwan has two new 1,350 MWe reactors due to come on line this year.
A carbon mitigation strategy that attempts to achieve a zero increase in CO2emissions worldwide by 2030 (while not constraining economic growth) would need to achieve a very much faster growth in renewables than is presently the case (or is achievable in practice).
Implicit in the EIA projected worldwide growth in coal and gas consumption is the assumption that many new thermal power stations will be built. Many existing thermal power stations worldwide will also need replacement in this time frame.
Worldwide, the only practical and available alternative in a 20 year time-frame may be a very much faster growth in nuclear energy. If reliable, proven designs are adopted, allowing approvals to be streamlined, nuclear stations could have similar lead times to thermal stations.
A relatively modest threefold increase in present nuclear generation worldwide would meet the entire projected world electricity growth to 2030 and together with projected growth in renewables, return World fossil fuel consumption for electricity generation to 2006 levels.
World Electricity Projections to 2030 Present and with 300% Nuclear
Source: IEA ibid; and the author
Simply replacing conventional thermal stations with nuclear stations as they retire may obviate the need to use the marginal renewables such as wind and solar when they are uneconomic without subsidy.
The dominance of coal and uranium are immediately apparent, as is the very small contribution presently made by renewables. The total of the carbon in the coal, gas and oil represents the Australian contribution to worldwide CO2 emissions.
The domesticity consumed component of this is so small that the domestic achievement of 20% renewables would be overwhelmed by a fractional increase in coal exports, as a result of the growing world demand for coal-fired thermal electricity.
A cessation of Australian coal exports might make a greater contribution to reduced world CO2 release. This would result in an increase in the world coal price, followed by accelerated development of coal projects in other countries to meet the growing demand.
This may be marginally effective as a higher coal price could be expected to accelerate the adoption of nuclear power, particularly by major NSW coal customers; all of which have a high and growing nuclear capacity. But such a policy would have a serious short to medium term impact on the Australian economy (particularly in NSW and Qld). Correspondingly, a relatively small increase in the export of uranium oxide would achieve greater reduction worldwide carbon emissions than can be achieved by adopting renewables domestically.