Published by innovation agency Energy Systems Catapult, the analysis says the costs of nuclear power need to fall significantly if the technology is to fulfil its long term potential.
The report also strengthens the case that a small modular light water reactor (SMR) programme should proceed, similarly focused on the potential for cost-reduction. SMR designs that can deliver cogeneration of heat and power are worth particular attention.
While wind, in particular offshore wind, now looks the key technology for decarbonising power in the coming decades, trying to meet net zero without any new nuclear would put the target at risk unnecessarily and potentially make the shift to a low carbon economy more expensive, the report found.
The analysis found carbon capture and storage (CCS) is also an important technology, partly because of its ability to be used in multiple applications – including hydrogen production, while bioenergy with CCS could counter the residual emissions from aviation and livestock.
The Nuclear for Net Zero report looks at the potential roles and contribution of nuclear energy in supporting a range of decarbonisation pathways modelled in the recent Innovating to Net Zero report, including:
“Achieving net zero without nuclear is possible but targeting such a system looks unnecessarily risky, to the point of being unlikely to achieve the end result; and potentially expensive.
“There are no easy paths to get the entire UK economy to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but there is a credible path available to realise significant nuclear cost reduction delivering potentially lower costs and risks associated with achieving UK Net Zero.
“Firstly, a commitment to a programme of capacity rather than individual unconnected projects.
“Secondly, capitalising on the benefits from deploying units in an uninterrupted construction sequence, with multiple units on the same site where possible.
“Provided that costs reduce in line with the analysis we have reported, the deployment decision regarding new large nuclear is not whether to start, but when to stop.”
The potential policy approach for nuclear suggested by this new analysis includes: