Despite some powerful drivers, nuclear power faces too many barriers compared to other means of generating electricity, and that means that a significant expansion of nuclear power is unlikely to occur before 2030, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a Canadian think tank, said in a report on Thursday.

The report from the Ontario-based group titled “Nuclear Energy and Global Governance to 2030” (PDF) finds that new reactor construction could be held back by a series of economic, security, and waste disposal issues. The report stems from a 3½-year combined study of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation around the world, and it seeks to provide a five-point action plan for policymakers around the world.

The report finds that while the amount of nuclear-generated electricity globally may rise, the percentage of total electricity it contributes is likely to fall. Although the number of nuclear reactors will probably rise from the current number, this will likely be offset by the retirement of older plants, despite life extensions to some of them. “For the vast majority of states, nuclear power will be as elusive as ever,” it says.

It argues that this is because of several constraints that exist on the plans of both existing and aspiring nuclear energy nations. Among these are:

(1) Unfavorable economics compared to other sources of energy, (2) Fewer subsidies from governments, (3) Nuclear energy is too slow to address climate change and to compete with cheaper alternative means of tackling it, (4) Demands for energy efficiency are leading to fundamental rethinking of how electricity is generated and distributed, (5) Long-term decline of the nuclear sector is resulting in industrial bottlenecks and personnel shortages, (6) The nuclear waste issue remains unresolved with no country currently implementing a sustainable solution, (7) Growing fears about safety, security and nuclear weapons remain in public consciousness and (8) Developing countries face additional constraints, including inadequate infrastructure, poor governance, deficient regulatory systems, and finance.

“Despite potential synergies, the existing regimes have emerged piecemeal and in uncoordinated fashion, reacting to rather than anticipating threats and crises. They are all underfunded, under-resourced and often lacking in transparency,” CIGI said in a statement last week. “Each faces its own particular set of challenges.”

The think tank recommends that improved coordination is needed within the civilian nuclear industry, which is often leery of close involvement with governments and international organizations, especially in the security and nonproliferation realms. For their part, governments and international organizations often fail to consult industrial and other stakeholders, the report finds.

The report concludes with a proposed bargain. “The deal for aspiring states should be: if you want civilian nuclear power, you have to agree to the highest international standards for avoiding nuclear accidents, nuclear terrorism and diversion of materials to nuclear weapons,” CIGI said. “The deal for existing advanced nuclear states should be: if you want the newcomers to comply with a newly strengthened global regime that was not in place when you first acquired nuclear energy, you have to multilateralize the fuel cycle and disarm yourselves of nuclear weapons.”

The study was conducted in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance (CCTC) at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Source: CIGI