Technological Learning in the Energy Sector

Technological Learning in the Energy Sector

Lessons for Policy, Industry and Science

Edited by Martin Junginger, Wilfried van Sark and André Faaij

Technological learning is a key driver behind the improvement of energy technologies and subsequent reduction of production costs. Understanding how and why production costs for energy technologies decline, and whether they will continue to do so in the future, is of crucial importance for policy makers, industrial stakeholders and scientists alike. This timely and informative book therefore provides a comprehensive review of technological development and cost reductions for renewable energy, clean fossil fuel and energy-efficient demand-side technologies.

Chapter 14: Nuclear Power

Paul Lako, Aliki van Heek and Geoffrey Rothwell

Subjects: economics and finance, energy economics, environment, energy policy and regulation, innovation and technology, technology and ict


Paul Lako, Aliki van Heek and Geoffrey Rothwell 14.1 INTRODUCTION Nuclear power has been used for 50 years for base-load power generation. In June 2009, on a global scale 436 nuclear power plants were in operation, with a total capacity of 372 GWe (WNA, 2009a). These power plants represent a cumulative experience of over 13 000 reactor years and provide about 15 per cent of the world’s electricity (see Figure 14.1) (WNA, 2009b). Another 47 nuclear power plants with a combined capacity of 42 GWe are under construction.1 One of the main issues for the further deployment of nuclear energy is the history of its investment costs. There have been a number of studies on learning effects with regard to nuclear power. These studies have some limitations, for example, they are generally related to the development of nuclear power in a single country. Also, successive generations of nuclear power plants have incorporated more and more (passive or engineered) safety systems. Therefore, learning effects may have been less visible than for fossil-fuelled power plants or renewable power technologies, for which safety is less of a concern. Most nuclear power plants in operation today are based on the fission of enriched uranium, with water as coolant and moderator. The term ‘moderator’ denotes that only part of the energy potential of uranium is used, namely without effectively using the potential of ‘fast’ neutrons to breed heavier isotopes from U238 (by a wide margin, the most common isotope of natural uranium) and subsequently use...

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