Nuclear Advocates Say More Reactors Will Aid Renewables

Source: By Dieter Holger, Wall Street Journal • Posted: Monday, November 8, 2021

Critics say solar and wind are cheaper and less risky; nuclear supporters point to its reliability

Nuclear companies say more reactors would complement wind and solar by providing electricity that isn’t weather dependent. Photo: BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

The head of the United Nations’ atomic energy watchdog touted nuclear power’s virtues as a complement to wind and solar—energy sources that are getting more airtime at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the recent energy price spike in Europe, the result of short gas supplies and low wind energy output, bolsters the case for nuclear.

“The volatility of prices is quite a recurring phenomenon when it comes to fossil fuels, which is not the case for nuclear,” he said at a COP26 event on Thursday.


The International Energy Agency estimates that global nuclear power output will need to double by 2050 for the world to reach net-zero emissions. Countries including the U.S. and China voiced support for nuclear power ahead of the conference.

The Paris Agreement doesn’t say how countries should decarbonize. Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which helps oversee international climate talks, said countries must weigh nuclear’s emissions benefits against the risk of an accident like the one at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke at COP26. Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/Zuma Press

“There are many positive examples, but we know there are risks, like we saw with the incident of Fukushima, which actually pushed some countries to rethink their commitment to nuclear power,” Ms. Espinosa said in a statement before COP26. “In contrast, there are many renewable sources of energy which are competitive, less expensive and easier to install.”

Mr. Grossi said nuclear and renewables aren’t in a “beauty contest.”

“Take nuclear out of the equation, what is going to be the net result? Of course, emissions will skyrocket and the whole thing becomes unmanageable,” he said.

Many more events devoted to wind and solar are happening at COP26, including a program organized by the International Renewable Energy Agency. By contrast, a nuclear association said pronuclear groups were excluded. In August, the World Nuclear Association said all applications from nuclear groups to exhibit in the Green Zone, a part of the conference run by the host nation where promotional events are held, were rejected.

A COP26 spokesperson said the U.K. is committed to COP26 being inclusive and said businesses working on nuclear energy are represented in the Green Zone.

A review of more than 100 Green Zone exhibitors turned up two nuclear companies—Tokamak Energy Ltd. and First Light Fusion Ltd.—which are working on nuclear fusion, a technology that is unproven commercially.

“We are pleased with representation in the Blue Zone, including the support by the U.K. in hosting an event,” a World Nuclear Association spokesperson said. Access to the U.N.-run Blue Zone is more restricted.

“To be excluded from the public-facing part is pretty crazy,” said Arun Khuttan, 29, a nuclear engineer who is representing the Nuclear Institute Young Generation Network. Still, nuclear energy has received a better reception than in previous years, he said.

“What we’re really pushing for is that really public statement from world leaders for the necessity of nuclear to net-zero,” he said.

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Nuclear is the second-largest low-carbon electricity source after hydroelectricity, according to the IEA. It says replacing nuclear with renewables could push up electricity prices.

“Nuclear power really is the nexus between a reliable electricity grid and climate-change mitigation,” said Marilyn Kray, vice president of strategy and development at U.S. nuclear power supplier Exelon Corp. “Nuclear power can provide this enabling foundation for renewables.”

The world’s fleet of nuclear power plants is aging and most plants typically have a design lifespan of 30 to 40 years, though they can safely operate for longer if properly managed, according to the IAEA. Exelon runs 21 reactors at 12 sites in the U.S., with most having gone online in the 1970s and 1980s, and has extended licenses for two to run up to 80 years. Ms. Kray said the company could extend other plants, depending on government and market support.

Critics say nuclear plants are costly to install and run and take too long to develop, in part because fears of a meltdown make it difficult for people to accept having a reactor nearby.


Write to Dieter Holger at