IEA Examines Future of Nuclear Power in OECD; Identifies Challenges Facing Member Countries

(Paris) — 23 April 2001

Nuclear power generation is a controversial issue among OECD Member countries. Some have renounced nuclear energy altogether; some plan to phase out nuclear power; others have maintained or are expanding their nuclear energy capacity. In an effort to inform this continuing debate, the International Energy Agency published today a book entitled Nuclear Power in the OECD. "The Agency does not take sides here," said Robert Priddle, the IEAs Executive Director. "What we do, rather, is to record the pros and the cons and analyse them in depth, with a view to making the debate more rigorous and factual."

The book, which was more than two years in the making, describes in detail the history of nuclear energy use, the current stances and future plans of OECD Member countries and the prospects for nuclear power in the years to come. It points out that nuclear power is an important feature in todays energy supply, providing nearly a quarter of OECD electricity. It is also an important element in energy security. It is a mature, established technology, with 40 years of successful operation behind it. Existing nuclear plants, the study says, appear ready to meet the challenges of electricity market competition. The industry has improved its technical and economic performance.

One major advantage of nuclear power is that it produces none of the airborne pollutants or carbon dioxide that fossil-fuelled plants emit. Nonetheless, new nuclear plants face formidable competition from fossil fuel generation, given nuclear powers high capital cost and todays fossil fuel prices. And almost half of OECD countries have declared their intention not to build new nuclear power plants. Disposal facilities for high-level wastes are under development, but face technical and political hurdles before they can become operational. This review is, therefore, sure to evoke diverse reactions. It does not avoid the prickly facts on economics, environment, wastes or safety. Rather, it seeks to identify clearly the challenges facing governments as they consider nuclear power within the context of overall energy supply.

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