Consultant: World will realize nuclear power is best carbon-free path

Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio.
Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Ohio. | Courtesy of FirstEnergy

As concerns about carbon emissions continue to solidify globally, more stakeholders will openly endorse nuclear power, Nuclear Economics Consulting Group CEO Edward Kee said.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that carbon emissions are a global problem,"

Kee recently told Power News Wire. "Nuclear power is a key part of moving to an electricity-generation sector without carbon emissions."

Currently, roughly a third of carbon emissions come from electricity generation, and Kee said many stakeholders think 2050 carbon targets can only be met if electricity generation moves to zero carbon emissions.

“Nuclear power is the only large-scale generation source that is carbon-free," Kee said. "No credible scenarios show the possibility of a zero-carbon electricity sector without nuclear power."

In fact, the issue was among many critical topics raised during the recent 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as the COP-21 meetings, held in Paris, where a global agreement on climate-change mitigation measures was reached by a consensus of the 196 participating countries.

“COP-21, for the first time, put nuclear power in play as a means of decarbonizing the electricity sector,” Kee said.

Even environmentalists may have to think outside the box about the problem. Though Kee finds it hard to generalize, he said there are some people with a focus on environmental issues who have concerns about carbon emissions, but they also oppose nuclear power.

“Environmentalists are becoming aware of the high level of nuclear safety in the current and planned large light-water reactors and the even higher levels of nuclear safety in multiple advanced reactor designs that are being designed and developed,” Kee said.

Kee said another concern involves spent nuclear fuel, but this also is increasingly being seen as technically resolved, though still politically difficult.

“Wisconsin’s debate about removing a ban on new nuclear development is an example,” Kee said.

Looking ahead, Kee said several things are likely to happen in 2016, such as the restarting of more Japanese nuclear power plants. Kee also predicts China’s large and successful nuclear power program will move ahead, perhaps with a large export deal being signed. He also said more U.S. merchant nuclear power plants will be retired early.

Kee said the potential exists for the United Kingdom's Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor project – a plan to meet about a third of the U.K.’s winter electricity demand – could be derailed by both the cash-strapped Electricite de France (EDF), which is seeking more investors for the project, and the trademarked EPR water pressure nuclear reactors being built in France and Finland that have defects that now threaten those projects.

Kee said low oil prices slowly will force a move to nuclear power in Saudi Arabia, and nuclear construction projects by the United Arab Emirates will continue.

In addition, Kee said that in the U.S., there will be little effort by the federal government to save the nuclear power industry at this critical time because everyone is focused on the presidential elections.

Kee also said he has seen minimal input from any of the leading presidential candidates on nuclear power.

“I do not see any of them doing anything to stop the decline of the U.S. nuclear power industry,” Kee said.