The Global Nuclear Renaissance will be Slowed, not Stopped

June 24, 2011

The global nuclear renaissance will be slowed, not stopped, by events in Japan.  That was one of the messages in a presentation delivered in Ottawa on June 24 by World Energy Congress Secretary General Christoph Frei.

Nuclear Shift

According to Secretary General Frei, two-thirds of the world’s reactors under construction are in three countries – China, Korea and Russia – that show no sign of changing their building plans in response to Fukushima.  If anything, he said, Fukushima could accelerate a shift of the nuclear industry out of the developed democracies and toward emerging economies.

Frei opined that the expansion of shale gas output is likely a greater challenge to the nuclear renaissance than events in Japan, and that oil shale also has enormous potential in energy supply.

Contextualizing Clean Energy

While there is currently massive investment in clean energy sources, Frei noted, this needs to be put into longer-term context.  Because the existing base for most new energy technologies is so small, even very rapid growth may take many years to transform the world’s capital stock.  As a result, the future impact of green energy is probably being overestimated in the short- and medium-term – but, for the same reasons, will be underestimated in the long term, if high growth rates continue to prevail when the sector is more mature.

Development vs. Sustainability

Finally, he observed, it is legitimate for poorer countries to put development ahead of sustainability.  The world needs to offer them “a development framework with climate mechanisms, not a climate framework with development mechanisms.”

Christoph Frei, an engineer and econometrician, has headed the WEC Secretariat since 2009.  He was previously with the World Economic Forum and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  CNA was part of a select group of energy policy stakeholders who met with Frei in an event organized by the Energy Council of Canada and hosted by the Canadian Gas Association.

My logo