Real potential, real uncertainty
From a technical perspective, it is clear that nuclear power can play a substantial role in meeting climate objectives. Our studies indicate that, given strong political support, nuclear power could grow globally by up to 70 percent by 2030. In so doing, it could make an important contribution to the fight against climate change: about 5 percent of the necessary reductions, roughly the same amount that we can expect solar power or carbon capture and storage to be able to contribute. Studies by the International Energy Agency are even more optimistic about the potential of nuclear.
Strong political support is, however, not a given. And it is absolutely essential if nuclear is to play a major role. Acceptance across different societies varies greatly -- even within Europe, countries have taken very different approaches, some developing nuclear while their neighbors choose not to.
Unfortunately these policies have also varied with the political mood, and this uncertainty makes long-term decisions about nuclear power development difficult for industry. Other societal challenges - particularly local permitting processes and risks of lawsuits - can further complicate the picture for investors. It is unrealistic to expect nuclear to develop rapidly under extreme uncertainty.
There is no universal solution for these issues, but over the long term societal acceptance of nuclear power can be boosted by strong safety records and a careful handling of the entire fuel cycle, including both storage and proliferation concerns. Just as important is the way in which the power industry and governments engage with stakeholders, to ensure that permitting and legal issues are handled in a way that is both effective and sustainable.
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