Climate change, Covid-19, the war in Ukraine and rising energy prices are boosting the importance of nuclear power for electricity supply, to the point where it could account for as much as 14% of total production by 2050, according to estimates by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"These factors are contributing to governments announcing a greater role for nuclear power in their energy and climate strategies," says the IAEA in an analysis published today on estimates of energy consumption and production up to 2050.
In this document, the IAEA, the UN's nuclear agency, points out that with the new situation,electricity production in 2050 could be 10% more than estimated so far, taking into account the most optimistic scenario.
In this case, the electricity production capacity of nuclear energy will be 873 gigawatts that year, more than double that of 2021.
If this estimate is met, nuclear would account for 14% of total global electricity production in three decades, four points more than today.
This is the second consecutive time that the IAEA has revised upwards its outlook for a potential increase in nuclear power production since the 2011 accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, which prompted many countries to announce reactor closures.
According to the IAEA, this reflects "a shift in the global debate on energy and the environment, amid growing concerns about energy security and climate change."
"There is growing recognition of the role of nuclear power as a key factor in energy supply security to avoid future supply and price crises," the IAEA notes in its analysis.
To achieve such a scenario, the IAEA recognizes that legal changes, advances in nuclear waste management, and issues of financing and improving the supply chain for the construction of new reactors in some regions will be necessary.
The IAEA also refers to technological developments, such as those related to new modular, small and medium-sized reactors that are cheaper, more flexible and safer.
However, the IAEA considers another much more conservative scenario, in which the current trend would continue, without major legal changes or changes in energy policies, for example related to climate change.
In this case, nuclear capacity would not change substantially over the next 30 years and would account for 7% of global electricity production in 2050.
The IAEA stresses the role that nuclear energy can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change.
In fact, the IAEA states that the use of nuclear energy has avoided the emission of 70 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere in the last half century, approximately double the record amount released into the atmosphere in 2021.