Rapid nuclear decommissioning threatens climate targets, says IEA

Decommissioning nuclear plants in Europe and North America from 2020 threatens global plans to cut carbon emissions unless governments build new nuclear plants or expand the use of renewables, a top International Energy Agency official said.

Nuclear is now the largest low-carbon power source in Europe and the United States, about three times bigger than wind and solar combined, according to IEA data. But most reactors were built in the 1970s and early 80s, and will reach the end of their life around 2020.

With the average nuclear plant running for 8,000 hours a year versus 1,500-2,000 hours for a solar plant, governments must expand renewable investments to replace old nuclear plants if they are to meet decarbonization targets, IEA Chief Economist Laszlo Varro told Reuters.

“The ageing of the nuclear fleet is a considerable challenge for energy security and decarbonization objectives,” he said on the sidelines of the Eurelectric utilities conference in Portugal.

Renewables have grown rapidly in the past decade but about 20 percent of new low-carbon capacity has been lost from the decommissioning of nuclear plants in the same period, he said.

“This is just a taste of thing to come,” Varro said.

Russia and India were building new plants, while China was bringing a new plant online every quarter, Varro said.

However, he said future projects in Japan were uncertain after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, while there was less appetite for new nuclear projects in Europe and the United States.

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