Nuclear Technology Review 2021 – International Atomic Energy Agency

Full report here

The Agency’s 2020 projections remained largely in line with the previous year’s
projections. In the high case, global nuclear electricity generating capacity was
projected to increase by 82% to 715 gigawatts (electrical) (GW(e)) by 2050,
corresponding to 11% of global electricity generation, versus around 10% in
2019. The low case projected a decrease of 7% to 363 GW(e), representing a
6% share of global electricity generation.

At the end of 2020, the world’s total nuclear power capacity was 392.6 GW(e),
generated by 442 operational nuclear power reactors in 32 countries. The
nuclear sector adapted to national guidelines with regard to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic by taking effective measures. At the outset of the
pandemic in early 2020, the Agency established the COVID-19 Nuclear Power
Plant Operating Experience Network to help share information on measures
taken to mitigate the pandemic and its impact on the operation of nuclear power
plants (NPPs). None of the 32 countries with operating nuclear power plants
reported any impact on safe and reliable NPP operation due to the pandemic.

As a clean, reliable, sustainable and modern energy source, nuclear power makes
a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide,
while fulfilling the world’s increasing energy demands and supporting sustainable
development and post COVID-19 pandemic recovery. Nuclear power supplied
2553.2 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2020, accounting for nearly a third of the
world’s low carbon electricity production. It is widely recognized that, to address
the challenges of a clean energy transition, nuclear power will have to play a
significant role.

Some 5.5 GW(e) of new nuclear capacity was connected to the grid, from five
new pressurized water reactors in Belarus, China, the Russian Federation and the
United Arab Emirates. The start-up of Belarusian-1 in Belarus and of Barakah-1
in the UAE marked the first nuclear electricity generation in these two countries.
Global activities on the technology development of small, medium sized or
modular reactors (SMRs) for near term deployment made tangible progress. The
world’s first advanced SMR and only floating NPP, Akademik Lomonosov, started
commercial operation in the Russian Federation. There were more than 70 SMR
designs of major technology lines under development for different applications
worldwide.

Long term operation and ageing management programmes were under way for
an increasing number of nuclear power reactors globally, especially in North
America and Europe. In the United States of America, the operational licences
for Peach Bottom-2 and -3 nuclear power units were renewed, extending safe
and secure operation from 60 to 80 years.

A total of 27 Member States were at various stages of preparing their national
infrastructure for a new nuclear power programme, with 10 to 12 newcomers
expected to introduce nuclear power by 2035, adding an estimated 26 GW(e) of
global generating capacity.

The fusion community celebrated the start of ITER assembly and integration after
more than ten years of complex construction phases. Once in operation, ITER
will provide much of the scientific and technological basis for the development
and design of future fusion reactors for energy production.
As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, several major uranium producers
suspended operations or significantly reduced production. Overall, primary
uranium supply was lower in 2020, putting pressure on secondary uranium
supplies to fill the demand for uranium as nuclear fuel.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, research reactors producing medical
radioisotopes for global supply were declared as providing essential services to
minimize the effect of pandemic related restrictions.
While there is considerable and growing interest in SMRs, advanced large water
cooled reactors were expected to make up the bulk of new capacity additions
over the next three decades. To achieve the Agency’s high case projection, a
yearly grid connection rate of 16 GW(e) or more would be required up to 2050.
However, a number of challenges would need to be addressed to facilitate
new build projects, including cost reductions and enhanced standardization to
improve competitiveness, and access to financing on a level playing field with
other low carbon energy sources.

The use of nuclear energy beyond electricity production is gaining more traction
in the nuclear energy sector due to the increasing share of variable renewables
connected to the grid. A total of 64 operating nuclear power reactors were used
to generate 3396.4 gigawatt-hours of electrical equivalent heat for non-electric
applications: 56 reactors supported district heating and industrial process heat
applications and 8 supported desalination. In addition to its role in decarbonizing
end-use sectors, such as transport, industry or the residential sector, nuclear
cogeneration was increasingly seen as an opportunity to build an economic case
against the early retirement of some non-profitable NPPs. Interest in nuclear
hydrogen production using low temperature water cooled reactors was expected
to continue towards the commercial stage.

Major advancements were observed with regard to deep geological disposal
facilities needed for high level waste and spent fuel declared as waste. The
Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority announced that Finland intends
to begin the final disposal of used nuclear fuel in the mid-2020s. In Sweden,
the municipal council of Östhammar voted in favour of a planned repository for
spent nuclear fuel at Forsmark.

While in previous decades deferred dismantling was the dominant
decommissioning strategy adopted by facility owners, an immediate dismantling
approach has been gaining favour. Timeframes for beginning final dismantling
of retired plants were increasingly brought forward, driven by a desire to reduce
uncertainties over decommissioning costs.
Global interest in research reactors continued to grow. Many countries took
advantage of opportunities to access existing research reactors, including
through the Agency’s regional research reactor schools for capacity building and
through the IAEA-designated International Centre based on Research Reactor
(ICERR) scheme. In 2020, the Institute for Nuclear Research, Pitesti in Romania
was newly designated, while the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy
Commission was re-designated as ICERR for a period of five years.

During food production, chemicals such as veterinary drugs and pesticides
are used to prevent and treat animal and plant pests and diseases. Remnants
of these chemicals in food may present public health and trade concerns and
are, therefore, regulated by prescribing the highest concentrations of residues
allowed in/on food. Radiolabelled compounds play a crucial role, as they
allow for the tracing and studying of all chemical residues in various tissues.
Those studies are critical for the establishment of acceptable standards. With
increasing production of new drugs and chemicals the demand to regulate them
using innovative, cost-effective analytical techniques has been rising.
Microdosimetry is the subfield of radiation physics dealing with the systematic
study of the spatial distribution of the absorbed energy in microscopic
structures within irradiated matter. Although it originated more than 60 years
ago, microdosimetry continues to attract scientific interest in radiation medicine,
radiation protection, radiation biology and other fields such as space research.
In the field of radiation medicine, microdosimetry is particularly relevant for ion
beam therapy, an advanced technique that uses proton and carbon ion beams
to cure a number of tumours, minimizing the damage to healthy tissue.
Infectious diseases are a threat to human populations. Scientific disciplines
are focusing their efforts to better understand such diseases with advanced
technologies using radiopharmaceuticals. Novel radiopharmaceuticals prepared
with microorganism-specific monoclonal antibodies are at a stage where noninvasive visualization of the cellular and biochemical processes is becoming
possible, improving the diagnosis and potential therapeutic approaches for infectious diseases.

The rapid rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide,
methane and nitrous oxide, since the late 19th century, has contributed to
global warming. Ocean and vegetated coastal ecosystems have notable organic
carbon sequestration potential, as they can capture and store carbon dioxide
away from the atmosphere, thereby reducing the rate of global warming. The
organic carbon captured and stored by the ocean is known as blue carbon.
Nuclear and derived techniques are instrumental in the assessment of the role of
carbonate and macroalgae in the blue carbon cycle, the determination of carbon
provenance, understanding factors that influence sequestration in blue carbon
ecosystems and their corresponding budgets, and management actions that
promote blue carbon strategies.

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