Excluding nuclear from the energy mix dramatically increases the cost of decarbonising the power system, according to a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The study, which was launched this week in London, concludes that as the rate of carbon reduction accelerates the costs of relying on non-nuclear technologies increases.
At the launch, study co-chair Jacopo Buongiorno of MIT, said the main cost of relying on other low carbon sources is the storage required to cope with fluctuating generation levels from intermittent low carbon sources generation.
He said: “If you exclude nuclear, you end up having to build a lot more capacity for the renewable sources.”
The extra costs of relying on nuclear were “much stronger” in China than in the US, the countries used for the study’s two regional case studies, because nuclear power stations can be delivered much more cheaply, he explained.
Professor Buongiorno said: “The business opportunity for nuclear becomes dramatically larger if its capital cost comes down.
“If you rely exclusively on wind and solar solutions your average cost of electricity is going to go up.”
The study shows that the lowest-cost low carbon portfolios include an important share for nuclear.
Buongiorno said that the costs for renewable and storage took into account projections that both will fall in price by the middle of the century.
However the study says that while other generation technologies have become cheaper in recent decades, the cost of new nuclear plants has increased, undermining the potential contribution of this source of energy and increasing the cost of achieving deep decarbonisation.
The study recommends an increased focus on using proven project management practices, such as completing greater portions of the detailed design prior to construction, to increase the chances of successfully executing and delivering new nuclear power plants.
It also backs a shift to more serial manufacturing of standardised plants together with funding programmes to test prototypes and commercially deploy advanced reactor designs.
Governments should use their decarbonisation policies to create a level playing field between all low-carbon generation technologies and establish reactor sites where companies can deploy prototype reactors for testing prior to being licensed, the study highlighted.