The news coming from COP28 is alarming, but not surprising. The notion of tripling the nuclear energy capacity that exists today to complete the decarbonization process by 2050 had already been put forward by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its latest World Energy Outlook 2023 report. To be precise, that document spoke about a figure 2-2.5 times greater than current capacity, but which would still represent the same percentage of the market in 2050 as it does today, no more than 10 percent on the global scale.
But the part of the report that’s not being talked about now is the fact that the IEA projects that this additional nuclear energy generation will be located almost exclusively in the countries of the Pacific region (China, India and Japan), which would go from 750 terawatt hours of nuclear generation to 2,500, while in Europe the increase is projected to be very small: it would go from 750 terawatt hours to 970 (only 30 percent more).
So this isn’t Europe’s problem, nor is it Italy’s – thankfully, given the problems our country is facing with regard to waste storage and technologies that need to be imported from abroad. It’s not surprising that the COP28 declaration on nuclear power goals and collaborating to meet them doesn’t include China and Russia among its signatories, because their know-how means they have an advantage over other countries. However, this is an alarming problem on the financing front, because nuclear power is a technology that must reckon with its high costs, getting even higher over time, and long construction schedules. In terms of the price of energy produced and the cost of construction, for nuclear power these both grow as the size increases.
The IEA projects that even by 2050, the cost of nuclear will still remain higher than the cost of solar: as much as $110 per megawatt-hour versus $35. So the only surprise – which is really no surprise at all – is the fact that the declaration signed by 20 countries at COP28 emphasizes the need to decisively increase funding for nuclear power – which will mean taking funding away from renewables, the only real agent of a committed and plausible decarbonization process.
But what has become truly insufferable is all the lecturing from the Italian government about “technological neutrality” versus the “ideological approach”. If by technological neutrality we mean a non-discriminatory approach to regulating the use of technologies, leaving the market free to decide on the optimal combination, we cannot overlook the fact that today the market is ruled over by the oil and gas industry, which will systematically oppose everything it doesn’t like, in line with its own business plans.
A market that is not actually free to let people choose the best available technologies is the same thing as refusing to look to the future and missing out on a development opportunity for our country. Accordingly, there are calls for COP28 to force the oil industry to address the energy transition with major investments (at least 50 percent of its profits, according to the IEA). So we would like to ask the government: what is more “ideological” than the fact that such a course of action would be inconceivable in our country?