Nuclear Power in Mexico’s Energy MixWed, 02/19/2014 - 15:45
Q: What role can nuclear energy play in a diversified energy mix, and what are the main arguments for increasing Mexico’s nuclear energy capacity?
A: Uranium resources are distributed among politically stable countries in several regions of the world. Furthermore, uranium reserves, proven and estimated, guarantee a fuel supply for more than 100 years. These estimates do not consider new reactor technologies, such as breeder reactors which are capable of generating more fissile material than they consume. This makes nuclear production capacity predictable in the long run in contrast with fossil fuels’ future availability. Another strong argument is the price. The cost of uranium has always been stable and is expected to experience little fluctuation in the mid-term, which provides stability for nuclear energy.
Mexico is producing electricity from fossil resources, mostly with conventional thermoelectric techniques. Nuclear energy would allow the diversification away from fossil resources by acting as a base load power source that complements intermittent renewable energies. The last point is that the law limits Mexico’s future CO2 emissions, and as a consequence, the proportion of energy generated from fossil resources. From what has been calculated, Mexico cannot currently reach the targets established by the General Climate Change Law, and nuclear energy seems to be the only energy source that can allow us to satisfy future demand while meeting legally binding emission targets.
Q: What is the role of the nuclear division of SENER in facilitating the development of nuclear energy?
A: The Constitution establishes that the use of radioactive minerals and power generation by nuclear means can only be done by the Mexican government. This responsibility is attributed to SENER and the office in charge of overseeing the nuclear sector belongs to the Undersecretariat of Electricity. Our work is not limited to nuclear power generation, but also includes waste management and the transportation of nuclear fuel. We work closely with CNSNS, the nuclear regulator, which is responsible for overseeing the proper use of radioactive resources, ensuring high security levels that meet international standards. Another important theme is human capital. We are facing a generation gap in the nuclear sector, so we are designing strategies to bridge this gap. Right now, the nuclear industry does face a human capital shortage, but if Mexico decides to install additional nuclear capacity then this would require of new qualified workforce.
Q: Does Mexico have the technological capacity to correctly manage its radioactive waste?
A: The management of radioactive waste is a crucial part of ensuring the sustainability of nuclear energy. The waste created from nuclear power generation can be confined with virtually no problems. Mexico has the capacity to manage its waste, but radioactive waste is not only produced in power generation processes. The health sector, industries, and even research projects also produce nuclear waste.
Q: How can information about the nuclear sector be better communicated in order to change public perceptions?
A: The perception of risk is a very sensitive subject for nuclear energy. Public opinion around the world shows skepticism about nuclear energy, but when you inform people of what nuclear energy really is, explaining its benefits and risks, they start to view it in a more objective way. The nuclear energy discussion plays on perceptions, not arguments. Most of the perceptions about nuclear energy and radioactive waste are mistaken. What we have to do is make the information at our disposal crystal clear, and there is room to improve public opinion about nuclear energy in Mexico.
Q: The Energy Reform and the National Energy Strategy have a strong focus on natural gas. What does this mean for nuclear energy in the country?
A: There is no competition. Mexico has the huge advantage of having a diversified energy mix and all resources are useful. Nuclear energy should not be seen as competition for natural gas, and the development of natural gas does not reduce the need for nuclear energy in Mexico. Natural gas and nuclear energy can both be seen as transition fuels. The difference between them is environmental; although natural gas has low emissions, nuclear has none at all.