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Nuclear energy has been an important contributor in several countries for decades to ensure energy security while being a key source of zero-emissions generation.

However, the future of nuclear energy is facing growing challenges, increased competition with renewables and gas and in some cases, public opposition.

With the aim of identifying the key issues and exploring the future of nuclear power, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently held a high-level meeting in Paris titled Nuclear Energy: Today and Tomorrow.

The event also brought together ministers and senior government officials from IEA member countries, CEOs and experts to examine the role of nuclear energy in mature power markets and the challenges and future for nuclear energy for energy security, the economy and the environment.

“Nuclear power is continuing to play an important role in electricity security along with other conventional  generating technologies,” said IEA executive director, Dr Fatih Birol, in his opening remarks.

“Despite this, with current policies there is little prospect for significant growth for nuclear power in developed economies on the horizon – although there are new efforts to spur innovations that could change this picture.”

Nuclear technologies

The workshop focused on three themes – the challenges of meeting nuclear-specific policy targets while balancing overall economic, environmental and energy security goals, the position of nuclear power in mature power markets, and the potential of nuclear technologies to address future power flexibility challenges and emissions reduction targets.

Dan Brouillette, the US deputy secretary of energy highlighted the importance of innovation in nuclear energy during a keynote address.

“In the United States, we are committed to reviving, revitalising, and ultimately expanding the use of nuclear energy because we know its benefits,” said Brouillette.

He added: “We are just starting to see the potential of nuclear power in meeting our energy security needs and our clean energy goals. The advanced reactors, the advanced fuels, and the advanced materials being developed in the US, France, and around the world all offer the promise of lessened emissions and increased reliability.”

The sessions highlighted how under current policy frameworks, and with limited investment in new plants, the contribution of nuclear to the power mix in mature markets is set to decline significantly. Read more: EDF, Veolia to co-develop solutions to dismantle nuclear facilities

In the IEA’s World Energy Outlook New Policies Scenario, nuclear power production grows with two countries, China and India, responsible for over 90% of net growth to 2040.

By contrast, outside of Japan nuclear power generation in developed economies is set to decline 20% by 2040.