This chapter examines the incentives for future energy production from nuclear (carbon free) power generation in general. The potential economic incentives for the continued operation of current generation plant are also considered. These depend on whether the costs of maintaining and renewing the plant licence (which will in general increase with life) and other generation costs remain acceptable, compared with the revenue earned by the plant and perhaps other economic factors. Other broader incentives, e. g. environmental benefits are common to both continued operation of existing plant and the building of new plant. These are considered in more detail below.

World energy supply is dominated by fossil fuels (Table 2.1). It is generally accepted around the world that there is a need to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from the


Percentage (%)

Present trends



Building of more fossil fuel plants





Short-term — greater burning of oil, coal and gas resulting in more CO2







Greater energy efficiency — increased renewable sources of energy: geothermal, wind, solar, bio-mass

Data from Blix (1998).

burning of fossil fuels. These can be reduced somewhat by increased dependence on renewables and by energy savings, but a continued or possibly increased dependence on nuclear power is likely to be the only credible option to achieve the limitations in greenhouse emissions that are thought to be necessary.

There is general agreement that there will be an increase in the world’s requirement for electricity over the next few decades. The World Energy Council (WEC) (Blix, 1998) predicts that the expansion will increase by 50-70% between 1990 and 2020. The drivers are increase in world population, expansion of industry and improvements in standard of living particularly in the developing countries, e. g. Asia.

The present trend towards meeting this demand includes the building of fossil fuel plants, particularly combined cycle gas fired (CCGF) plants. There are at present no orders for new nuclear reactors in Europe or North America (Finland may place an order in the near future). There is some limited completion of plants in Eastern Europe. There are still a number of new reactors under construction in Eastern Asia. The consequences of this ‘little or no nuclear build’ strategy are increasingly greater emissions of carbon gases, together with other gases associated with the burning of fossil fuels (e. g. sulphur oxides).

The spiralling increase in greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in the setting of targets for many of the individual industrialised countries and international bodies concerned with nuclear energy. Although sound in principle, this approach has met with only limited success. Targets were set in Toronto (1988) to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20% by 2005, in Rio (1992) to return to 1990 levels by 2000, by the UN General Assembly (1998) to achieve a 15% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2010 compared with 1990; a means of achieving constraints was put forward at the Kyoto conference (1997). In practice, however, emissions have significantly increased. From 1988 to 1998, carbon dioxide emissions have increased globally by about 16%. IAEA predict that emissions will be 36-50% higher by 2010 compared with 1990. Figure 2.1 (Energy Visions 2030 for Finland, 2003) shows past and projected carbon emissions in the industrialised and


Figure 2.1. Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions. Source: Energy Visions 2030 for Finland (2003).

developing countries for a future scenario based on a relatively robust market development with a fossil fuel-based economy. The Kyoto protocol limit (indicated by a dotted line and applied here to the CO2 from fossil fuels only) is also shown.

Ways have been proposed to reduce these increases by directly reducing the quantity of greenhouse gases produced, by such means as increased efficiency, via national economic constraints or by the setting of global limits that define national quotas, etc. Renewable sources of energy should not be ignored but there are technical limitations on the scales of operation that might be required, e. g. the size of wind farms. There are also issues of reliability and transmission; the wind does not blow every day and the power may be generated in remote areas or out at sea. Finally, new technologies have been proposed to convert harmful flue gases such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides to ammonium salts, by adding ammonia to flue gases and then irradiating with an electron beam produced by a nuclear accelerator. These techniques though do not apply to the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Other long-term solutions, e. g. hydrogen and fusion do not provide viable alternatives on a timescale of the next few decades.

Many commentators, therefore, feel that the only viable alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear energy to reduce the rate of increase of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide.

Another incentive for nuclear power is to maintain diversity of supply. A national strategy limited to one particular form of energy (fuel) will be vulnerable to reductions of other fuel costs.

There are differences in view on the economic competitiveness of nuclear electricity compared with other fuels. Clearly, there are significant uncertainties in future costs, looking forward over a timescale of the life of a plant (at least several decades).

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