The nuclear industry lags behind other industries in terms of technological innovation over recent decades, the director general of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency has said.

William D Magwood IV told a reception organised by New Nuclear Watch at the House of Lords on Wednesday evening (5 September) that the nuclear industry innovation deficit vis-à-vis other sectors like aerospace is “really embarrassing” over the last 25 years.

He said: “It’s the Dark Ages: you could take a nuclear plant operator who retired in 1980 and he would know exactly what to do, there are very few industries you can say that about.”

Magwood also said the industry in developed countries is “light years away” from getting costs down to the levels required to develop nuclear plants without support from subsidy mechanisms like contracts for difference or a “dramatic” increase in carbon taxes.

He added that he had “a hard time” seeing how delivery of nuclear plants could fit with the existing markets.

“This is going to be a very difficult period not just for nuclear but energy in general. Energy is so highly politicised that it’s almost impossible to get the facts out,” he said.

Keisuke Sadamori, director of the office for energy markets and security at the International Energy Agency, said that lack of growth in nuclear output was one of the reasons why low carbon’s share of total generation had not increased during the current decade.

Despite the growth of renewable energy sources, he said a combination of growing demand for electricity and a “higher” level of nuclear output meant that low carbon’s share of the worldwide generation mix was 35 per cent in 2017, the same as in 2010.

Sadamori said that the growth in world nuclear output is “mainly” in China and to a “lesser extent” in India.

He said that replacing nuclear with other power sources, based on the average fuel mix of generation, would lead to a 4.4 per cent increase in CO2 emissions, equivalent to that from all aeroplanes and ships.