Nuclear Energy’s Role in a Post COVID-19 Economy

Nuclear Power might have an essential role in the era of coronavirus. Earlier today, July 10th, Sama Bilbao y Leon, head of the Nuclear Technology Development and Economics at OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, gave a virtual speech via webinar concerning the impact nuclear energy could have on a recovering global economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In an address entitled “Building low-carbon resilient electricity infrastructures with nuclear energy in the post-COVID-19 era,” Bilbao y Leon highlighted four main structural levels where nuclear energy could potentially provide resilient, low-carbon infrastructures to aid the economic recovery from COVID-19: Technology Design, Organizational, System, and Socioeconomic levels. These four levels, she explained, were derived from the OECD’s definition of the word resilience: “The capacity to withstand and bounce back from major disruptions. Resilient systems are planned to prevent, avoid, withstand and absorb any and all threats, and to recover and adapt in the aftermath of disruption”.

Resilient electrical systems routinely carry three main dimensions: the physical availability of generating capacity, the smooth operation of the electricity system, and the contribution of generation capacity to the stable economic conditions of the system. The latter ensures prices are involatile enough to render accurate predictions. From here, it is quite easy to discern that the resiliency and security of our electrical systems will be dependent upon adequate long-term planning.

It follows, then, what form would such planning take? Let’s consider the aforementioned four structural levels:

  1. Technological DesignOn this level, prevention, protection, and mitigation take precedent. These principles are enacted by a series of high safety measures (including instrumentation features designed to respond quickly and efficiently in critical applications), and operational flexibility in terms of redundant, independent, and diversified systems.
  2. Organizational This level deals with the internal structure of the plant from the top down. Emergency preparedness, the importance of fostering a safety culture, continuous innovation of safety procedures, and national/global cooperation are all paramount in the success of this level.
  3. SystemThis where the electrical grid receives particularly close attention. Significant agency is expected of the network in terms of dispatchability and flexibility, general grid stability (for inertia, reactive capacity, frequency control, etc.), the simplicity inherent in a centralized system, as well as the efficiency of on-site fuel stockpiles.
  4. SocioeconomicFinally, we have the overarching factor of market pricing, the stability of investments, localized jobs, and economic spill-over. With more than 100 reactors worldwide operating over 40 years, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that nuclear plants are a reliable source for both the electrical grids they contribute to, as well as the communities they serve by providing high-paying jobs to the area and regions beyond.

 As a long time supplier to the nuclear industry, both here in the U.S. and abroad, OTEK recognizes the vital role nuclear energy has to play in the post-COVID-19 era, and we stand ready to assist with innovative and efficient technologies.