Interviewee: Nina Ivanova
Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 11. 2022
Energy Review: With nuclear power having gained substantial attention in the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26), can you elaborate on certain nuclear issues that are at stake at the upcoming Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP 27)?
Dr. Ivanova: In order to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, many countries use and intend to use nuclear science and technology to meet their development objectives in all areas. Nuclear energy is a proven low emission energy source that will contribute to the fulfilment of the goals of the energy transition. Energy policymakers should give more serious consideration to the option of accelerated turn on of the nuclear power in the plans for clean energy production and supply at affordable prices.
Nuclear energy has the potential to contribute to all of the SDGs, but has the most direct relevance to SDG7 - ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy. Nuclear energy has the rare characteristic among low-carbon energy options of being able to supply both electricity and heat and to have other applications. The European Union (EU) aims to be a global leader in the fight against climate change and therefore is striving to achieve the targets set in Paris Agreement reached by the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change while simultaneously ensuring clean energy across the Union. Green energy has no alternative, but the energy transition cannot happen with renewable energy sources alone. The focus should be on system security and regarding these nuclear plants and hydrogen have an important role.
ER: With nations undergoing a transition to achieve their net-zero goals, in what way are the nuclear energy technologies proving to be cost-effective in complementing the renewables to achieve clean and stable power supplies?
Dr. Ivanova: The pathways by which may choose to introduce nuclear energy or nuclear newbuild are multiplying, with many new reactor technology options rapidly becoming available and new nuclear energy applications opening up. These developments are exciting and promise to increase the efficiency and flexibility of nuclear technology while also, potentially, driving down costs further.
Nuclear power plants are capital-intensive in the construction phase, but thereafter their operating costs are relatively low and, most importantly, predictable. This is due to the technological specifics of nuclear facilities during their operation – usually the fuel component has a stable price over time, unlike other main energy resources such as oil, coal and natural gas. On this basis, it can be stated that cost planning throughout the life cycle of nuclear plants is predictable and sustainable.
The comparison of different energy technologies such as RES and NPP is inadequate, because they perform different functions in the energy system. Regarding system costs, nuclear plants give much greater stability to the power system combined with low system costs. The short-term intermittency of wind and solar power plants puts great demands on the dispatchable providers of residual demand to vary substantial portions of their load in very short time frames. The ability to follow load will become an increasingly important criterion to choose between different technologies.
All power generation technologies cause system costs on a different scale. Being connected to the same physical grid and delivering into the same market, they exert impacts on each other as well as on the total load available to satisfy demand at any time. The interdependencies are heightened by the fact that only small amounts of cost-efficient storage are available, which means that any buffers for supply and demand coordination are insufficient.
ER: As per the recent World Nuclear Industry Status Report, Russia dominates the international nuclear energy markets, with around 20 units under construction worldwide. In this light, how has the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war affected the investments and deployment of nuclear energy across countries?
Dr. Ivanova: The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has disrupted global and European energy markets. In the conditions of uncertainty and geopolitical instability, there is no way the investments and deployment of nuclear energy across countries to not be affected. Russia dominates international cooperation between countries related to nuclear power plant construction, reactor and fuel supply, decommissioning and waste so future sanctions could impact existing and planned nuclear power plants.
In the above-mentioned environment, there is no way to make long-term forecasts. Countries with planned or under-construction nuclear power plants may decide to cancel their plans or the current crisis could lead to a shift in suppliers of nuclear technologies.