Revisiting Nuclear Technology Toward Greater EfficiencyBy Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Thu, 09/02/2021 - 18:57
It is time to revisit the potential of nuclear energy technologies as Mexico attempts to reconfigure its energy generation infrastructure to move away from fossil fuel dependency.
“It is not only about how many renewables you use but how many you do not use. Closing nuclear plants with no carbon emissions while leaving carbon plants operating will not help in the fight against climate change,” says Manuel Fernández Ordoñez, Radioactive Waste Director at Tecnatom.
The Spanish company focused on nuclear technology solutions, management and optimization technologies works on over 250 projects a year through 10 international subsidiaries. It starts its analysis with the Kaya Identity, which calculates the expected carbon emission of a country based on four main variables: population, GDP per capita, energy intensity and carbon intensity.
Mexico currently has 127.6 million people and is expected to reach 137 million by 2030 according to demographic forecasting from Euromonitor international. The country’s GDP has steadily grown 33 percent since 1990 and Our World Data, indicates that the country’s energy consumption has decreased in tandem with technological advances, highlighting breakthroughs in more efficient energy consumption despite higher demand. Lastly, Mexico’s carbon intensity is on par with the global average, remaining relatively stable for the past thirty years. Collectively, these variables indicate that Mexico has a growing population, a growing economy, refined energy consumption and a stable carbon emission rate. Going forward, Mexico stands to reduce carbon emissions through the holistic application of different renewable energy technologies, but it still needs to address inefficiencies in its energy sector, which produces the most carbon emissions.
It is widely known that Mexico has a salient overreliance on natural gas, as it compromises 80 percent of energy production. “To better understand the implications of relying too heavily on natural gas, we point to a comparative study between France with over 40 GW of nuclear energy and Germany with less than 15 GW of nuclear energy. Unsurprisingly, nuclear technology has allowed France to cut carbon emissions significantly. As of September 2021, the country had a carbon intensity of 44g. Meanwhile, even though it has installed significant renewable generation plants, it has also phased out less polluting options, leading to a carbon intensity marker of 399g,” said Fernández.
“In light of these revelations, it may make more sense to redirect investments toward an energy mix that ensures energy security and both economic and environmental sustainability,” said Fernández. “Nuclear is a key contender in this transformation.” Mexico already produces 4 percent of its electricity through a nuclear plant in Laguna Verde, which also represents 14 percent of its clean energy. Fernández highlights that the operation factor has only increased at both of Laguna Verde’s units, delivering 141TWh and 127TWh since they came into operation, respectively.
Toward the future, Mexico considers a strong nuclear plan that will represent 11,509MW by 2050 according to CENACE’s revised PAMRNT (2021-2035) document. However, the technology to be used in these new developments is still unknown, with different alternatives available including SMR, fast and thorium reactors. Regardless, “nuclear technology is in constant evolution and the future looks very promising for this energy source,” said Fernández.