Kirill Komarov the First Deputy Director-General for Corporate Development and International Business, ROSATOM, the State Nuclear Energy Corporation of Russia. In a conversation with The 24th World Energy Congress Preview, he explains his views on challenges and opportunities of nuclear energy in the contemporary world. The Edited Excerpts:
WEC Preview: What are the major challenges that the energy sector is facing today?
Kirill Komarov: The energy industry is facing a major challenge: to provide universal access to electricity and to decarbonise that electricity. The first task is of paramount importance, as roughly one billion people around the world still live without basic human needs covered. Nevertheless, however important, the first task should be solved in a sustainable manner. The climate catastrophe we are living through does not leave us an option of simply burning more coal. According to the latest IEA assessment, power-related CO2 emissions worldwide rose by 2.5% in 2018, after several years of decline. Nuclear is irreplaceable in achieving decarbonization since existing nuclear power plants (NPPs) currently prevent about 2 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually. The fact remains: coal, diesel and gas emit 820 kg, 792 kg and 490 kg of CO2 per MWh, respectively. Nuclear, however, only emits 12 kg of CO2 per MWh of indirect emissions during the whole fuel cycle, similar to wind energy. Sadly, the overall share of low-carbon technologies in the global energy mix showed a minuscule growth of under 1 percent. Nevertheless, the fact that nuclear demonstrated an increase in power generation proves that its popularity is growing but there is always room for improvement.
WEC Preview: What is the role of nuclear energy in the transition to a low-carbon system? Is it evolving?
Kirill Komarov: Given the challenges the energy sector is facing, the role of nuclear is straightforward: provide affordable and clean electricity. However, as we witness more and more new renewables capacity, the role of nuclear is evolving. The role of nuclear in the so-called green square of wind, solar PV, hydro and nuclear low-carbon sources is to be a baseload energy source. It is a necessity for any country concerned with electricity security, as nuclear plants are able to adjust their operations following supply and demand shifts, unlike wind and solar generation. Nuclear is fundamental for keeping power grids stable today and, as the share of renewables in the energy mix will inevitably grow, the need for such a service provided by nuclear will also increase. Thus, its role is both evolving and taking centre-stage in the transition to a low-carbon system.
WEC Preview: What does the plausible future for the nuclear energy industry look like for the next few decades, at a global level?
Kirill Komarov: I am confident that nuclear energy has a bright future. Last year was the best year for the industry since 1990, with over 10 GW of new capacity plus five restarted units in Japan. Hence, one can see that we are on track with the World Nuclear Association Harmony goal of adding 10 GW of nuclear a year before 2020. My positive outlook is supported by the latest forecasts by McKinsey & Company and BP. I am confident that the goal of supplying 25 percent of the world's electricity using nuclear by 2050 is achievable. Nuclear is here to stay because the clean energy transition would be borderline impossible without it. According to the latest IEA study, in the absence of nuclear, cumulative CO2 emissions would rise by 4 billion tones by 2040, and around USD 1.6 trillion in additional investment in the electricity sector would be required in the same period.
Yes, of course, it is an undeniable fact that the geography of construction of large-scale NPPs is changing. There is a shift in the geography of new builds to the MENA region and Asia. However, countries like Hungary, Finland and Turkey are currently building large-scale NPPs as well. Overall, this transformation coincides with the changes in the Rosatom's foreign portfolio, as we always try to be ahead of the curve.
WEC Preview: What could slow down nuclear energy industry development? What can be done to accelerate and promote nuclear power around the world?
Kirill Komarov: The obstacles on the way to a low- carbon future powered by nuclear could be divided into three groups: economic, political and social. Any large infrastructure projects - if accomplished via a "learning by doing" approach - are prone to delay and cost overrun. Rosatom is the only vendor in the world engaged in serial implementation of generation III+ nuclear power units. Thanks to the benefits of standardisation and economies of scale, we are able to deliver our projects on time and at a lower cost. Then there is the issue of a lack of proper policy solutions. Let me give you an example. Rosatom is a recognised international industrial leader. The technology is there and it is amazing: safer and more efficient than ever. However, nuclear power projects are always about three sides: vendor, customer and national nuclear authorities. We need to find a compromise between an absolute priority of safety and overregulation in order to accelerate the development of the industry.
I cannot stress enough that safety is our main concern but we need to strive for a universal international approach to it. Rosatom has to work in an environment where our standardised power solutions are being evaluated differently in different countries. That is what is slowing down the industry. Of course, countries ought to recognise nuclear power on a national level, as a low-carbon energy source with environmental and energy security benefits, and support it financially accordingly. Finally, there is an important aspect of public acceptance of nuclear power. The growing number of newcomer countries is a testament to the huge interest in the topic of nuclear energy, and the industry absolutely must meet this demand in an open and transparent manner. Russian nuclear technologies today are as reliable as they have ever been and we ought to tell people about it, to debunk myths and dispel fears because clean and affordable nuclear power is the key to our future.
WEC Preview: What are your expectations from the 24th World Energy Congress 2019? (the main theme is 'Energy for Prosperity')
Kirill Komarov: I believe that the choice of the main theme is spot on, given the scale of challenge humanity is facing. Obviously, the role and place of the nuclear industry in overcoming those challenges deserves more attention, so I hope that the Congress will become a turning point in helping people realise that nuclear power plays a key role in bringing prosperity to people around the world. Indeed, besides being an environmentally-friendly and reliable source of energy, nuclear power makes a significant contribution to solving the issue of climate change. Nuclear technologies also advance the development of science, education, medicine and agriculture. Therefore, the widespread use of atomic technology is an important factor in achieving sustainable development goals. The longer we hesitate with the new nuclear build, the more difficult it becomes to save the Earth.
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DISCLAIMER: Except for the headline and minor editing, this write-up has been published from 'The 24th World Energy Congress Preview'. Devdiscourse is Media Partner of World Road Congress 2019 being organized in Abu Dhabi on 9-12 September 2019.