Balancing energy requirements for continued social and economic progress against the potential resulting environmental and socio-political impacts is widely acknowledged to be a significant global challenge in the 21st century. By 2050, global electricity demand is expected to have increased by about a factor of 2.5.
The first civil nuclear power plants were built in the • 1950s. Major expansion in the worldwide nuclear industry took place in the 1970s and 1980s. • Rapid growth ended following the accidents at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), and the collapse in fossil fuel prices in 1986.
Programmes and Government Policies
Initially, governments were intimately involved in the advancement of nuclear energy, owning the organisations developing the technology and sometimes those commercially exploiting it for power production. With the liberalisation of electricity markets and the privatisation of the generating assets in a number of countries, the pattern is now more mixed. Today, the structures of ownership vary considerably around the world, with liberalisation diluting government control and responsibility for the development and deployment of civil nuclear technology in several countries. However, all governments are facing one or more of the pressures of ensuring security of energy supply, rising fossil fuel prices and the need to constrain the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Regardless of the degree of control that individual governments have on the mix of generation sources in their electricity markets, many governments and political parties are re-evaluating the role that nuclear power could or should play.
Projections to 2050
Access to adequate economic energy supplies has played and will continue to play a principal role in promoting economic growth and improving human well-being. Meeting future energy requirements in order to ensure continuing social and economic progress, while avoiding serious environmental damage, is one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century. In particular, environmentally sound energy supply and use will be imperative to control atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
Environmental Impacts of Energy Use and Power Production
Basic human well-being depends on the availability of energy for domestic heating and cooking. In addition, industrialisation of society has depended on access to large supplies of energy for manufacturing, transport and intensive agriculture. Industrial growth has also been accompanied by population growth, primarily due to increasing longevity and the enhanced ability of an industrial society to provide for a larger population, although the population of industrialised countries tends to stabilise when birth rates fall in response to decreased infant mortality. Nevertheless, population growth and industrialisation have together driven dramatic increases in energy demand.
Uranium Resources and Security of Supply
Security of energy supply has economic, social and political dimensions. It first became a major concern for governments in the early 1970s. Since then, successive oil crises, socio-political conflicts, volatility of hydrocarbon prices (including abuse of monopolistic powers), terrorist risks and natural disasters, have all increased global concerns about this issue. For example, the increased reliance on generating electricity from natural gas imported from relatively politically unstable regions or unreliable trading partners increases the risk of supply interruptions and price volatility.
Providing Electricity at Stable and Affordable Costs
Economics is key in decision making for the power sector. The beginning of the 21st century has been characterised by a significant increase in the competitive margin of nuclear energy compared with gas-fired power plants as a result of enhanced performance of nuclear units and drastic gas price escalation. While this evolution has not led investors to move from their "rush to gas" to massive orders of new nuclear units, it has triggered renewed interest among policy makers in the nuclear option.
Nuclear Safety and Regulation
The safety performance of nuclear power plants and other • nuclear facilities in OECD countries continues to be excellent, as reflected in a number of published performance indicators. Protection of public health and the environment from radiation hazards is ensured at nuclear facilities by a complex array of mutually reinforcing factors, ranging from engineered design features and robust operating procedures to the presence of a strong and effective nuclear safety regulator. Over the past two decades, advances in regulation, safety management, nuclear technology, and the implementation of the ALARA principle by the nuclear industry have led to a considerable decrease of releases and radiation exposure to workers in nuclear power plants. This high nuclear safety performance is expected to continue.
Radioactive Waste Management and Decommissioning
Radioactive waste is generated at each stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, which comprises mining and milling of uranium ore, uranium conversion and enrichment, fuel fabrication, the operation of nuclear reactors, the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (where this is undertaken), the decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the associated fuel cycle facilities, and the clean-up of sites. The great majority of the radioactivity produced during the nuclear fuel cycle is contained in the spent fuel.
Non-proliferation and Security
The peaceful uses of nuclear energy provide significant benefits at both national and international levels. Yet preventing weapons proliferation while allowing for the development of civil nuclear power programmes has always presented a challenge to the international community. The desire to prevent weapons proliferation is obvious in light of their destructive potential, but as long as a link between civilian and military uses of nuclear technology cannot be effectively and permanently severed and given the anticipated expansion of nuclear power generation in the near and medium terms, nuclear weapons proliferation will likely remain a key issue.
Legal frameworks in the nuclear field are sets of special, legally binding rules created to regulate the conduct of entities engaged in nuclear activities. Nuclear activities are those which relate to fissionable materials, ionising radiation and exposure to natural sources of radiation. The rules aim to ensure the protection of persons, property and the environment from the hazards associated with nuclear activities. Today, virtually all activities involved in the nuclear fuel cycle are subject to national and international legal frameworks to some degree. At the national level, a legal framework is normally founded on legislation (including regulations), while at the international level it is comprised of one or more legally binding international instruments such as treaties, conventions and agreements.
The reduced number of nuclear power plants constructed • worldwide since the 1980s has led to a significant consolidation of the NPP construction industry with two major consequences: a current limited capacity to construct new NPPs and a focus on pressurised water reactors. It is likely to take several years to redevelop the capability to build significant numbers of NPPs simultaneously around the world, while maintaining the necessary high standards and the ability to keep projects on time and to cost. There is evidence that this redevelopment of capability has already started.
Several factors are currently having an effect on • public perceptions of nuclear energy: 1) the increasing political pressure to ensure security of energy supply; 2) the urgent need to address climate change concerns by reducing greenhouse gas emissions; 3) the economics of energy; 4) the strong, steady safety performance of nuclear power plants in recent years; and 5) the development of good governance in the nuclear energy arena, inter alia by strengthening legal frameworks, improving public communication and encouraging greater public participation. These factors will continue to have considerable influence over the way nuclear energy will be considered by society in the coming years.
Advanced reactors are those in Generations III, III+ and IV. To explain what this means, this chapter first classifies nuclear reactors by generation, then presents an overview of the Generation III and III+ systems (some of which are already operational or under construction) that are expected to be the cornerstone of nuclear electricity production for the next 50 years. There is extensive international co-operation to develop Generation IV systems, expected to be available from 2030, to enable expanded use of carbon-free nuclear energy, while strengthening physical protection and proliferation resistance. These initiatives are discussed in Section 13.4.
Advanced Fuel Cycles
This chapter outlines currently deployed nuclear fuel cycles and the additional fuel resources that can be obtained from these cycles, before describing advanced fuel cycle options. The status of nuclear fuel cycle facilities worldwide is given in Chapter 1, and natural uranium resources are described in Chapter 5.
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