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The Nuclear Renaissance - How to Face Future Challenges


SMiRT 20 Nuclear Power Technology Conference at Otaniemi, August 10–14, 2009

Estimates show that at the current rate the world’s energy needs will almost double by 2050. Mitigating climate change, on the other hand, requires the world to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to half the 2000 level by 2050 in order to limit global warming to two degrees. In VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and several international estimates, an advanced and new generation of nuclear power technology is considered to be a viable alternative in solving our energy and climate problems. More than 400 Finnish and international experts and practitioners will be meeting at Otaniemi in Espoo on August 10 - 14 to discuss the challenges of nuclear power technology.

The two major long-term global challenges that we face today are climate change and a huge growth in energy consumption. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that world consumption of electricity alone will double by 2050.

While energy demand is growing, the world’s oil and gas resources are rapidly dwindling. Simply put, this means that the world’s energy system – more than 80% of which is currently based on fossil fuels – will have to be altered radically by 2050 to ensure sufficient energy while acting to curb climate change.

“In the scenarios outlined for curbing climate change recently published by VTT in the book Energy Visions 2050, nuclear power plays a key role in electricity generation, particularly in the scenario where global warming is limited to two degrees. The nuclear power issue is highly topical now that decisions need to be taken regarding the fulfilment of future electricity consumption needs worldwide. VTT sees nuclear power not only as a research challenge but also as an opportunity. Research and development will enable a nuclear renaissance, making nuclear power a truly viable alternative for future energy production and, at the same time, a means for curbing climate change,” said Erkki KM Leppävuori, Director General of VTT, in his greeting to the delegates at the SMiRT 20 conference.

At present, electricity production is responsible for about one fourth of all carbon dioxide emissions caused by humans, and is the most rapidly growing source of greenhouse gases. That is why, in electricity production in particular, efforts must be made to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – the aim should be to produce electricity with no emissions at all. This can be achieved efficiently, for example, by using nuclear power to generate electricity.

In its scenarios for curbing climate change, VTT has evaluated which electricity production technologies will be the most important worldwide by the middle of this century. They are: wind power, existing fission-based nuclear power, carbon capture and storage (CCS) from the 2020s or 2030s onwards, and advanced combined production and co-combustion technologies using recycled fuels and biofuels.

Estimates indicate that advanced nuclear power technologies will be accounting for an increasing percentage of the world’s electricity production towards the end of the century. These advanced technologies include new fission-based nuclear power plant concepts that make more efficient use of uranium resources, and early-stage fusion technology.

In addition to mitigating climate change, a significant future challenge for governments, and a prime motivator in energy technology development, will be securing the energy supply. The energy supply must be secured for both industry and society at large by making use of all available energy sources, including waste. This will create needs and opportunities for clean and cost-efficient energy technologies. It is also important for energy-intensive industries to have energy available at a predictable price.

The nuclear renaissance has also been fuelled by demands for continuous improvement in nuclear safety. International cooperation has increasingly been the mode adopted for safety improvements, as, for example, with the drawing up of safety requirements for materials, structures, components and systems.

Practitioners in various countries have worked together to develop reactor materials and structures, other technical safety measures and the design of entire power plants. New nuclear power plants will be better able to withstand natural disasters, for example.

There is also an internationally acknowledged need for universities to increase the amount of basic nuclear technology training and further training of experts.

On August 10–14, over 400 international nuclear power researchers and practitioners from more than 30 countries will meet at Otaniemi in Espoo for the 20th Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology conference (SMiRT 20).

The themes at SMiRT include material, structure and system design in new reactors and particularly their modelling and simulation in various situations of usage and disruption. At the conference, new technology solutions will be presented thanks to which nuclear power will become an increasingly safer and viable alternative for energy production and a means for mitigating climate change.

VTT is in charge of hosting the SMiRT conference together with Helsinki University of Technology, and with the support of Finnish nuclear power operators. The conference is a biennial event organized by the International Association for Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology (IASMiRT). The SMiRT conference now being held in Finland is the 20th conference of its kind and the first to be organized in the Nordic countries.