Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s

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Literature Review: Nuclear Problems for the 2020s

Nuclear power rebounds and increases 2% in 2021, reversing only half of the decline in output that took place in 2020. Seven new reactors came online in the second half of 2020 and Q1 2021, more than offsetting the three reactors retired over the same period. Up to ten more new reactors could be connected to the grid worldwide by the end of 2021, including four in China. Despite the increase in operational capacity over the course of the year, global nuclear power in 2021 remains slightly below the 2019 level [1].

The EU and its Member States have developed and established a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure the safety of nuclear installations, in line with international requirements and recommendations for enhancing regulatory systems for the control of nuclear installations throughout their lifetime. The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the Taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation [2].

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident reinforced the importance of having adequate national and international safety standards and guidelines in place so that nuclear power and technology remain safe and continue to provide reliable low carbon energy globally. Following the accident, through a review of relevant standards, including the IAEA safety standard on design safety, experts found that a higher level of safety could be incorporated into existing nuclear power plants by adhering to more demanding requirements for protection against external natural hazards and by enhancing the independence of safety levels so that, even if one layer fails, another layer is unimpacted and stops an accident from happening [3].

The Biden administration took office in January 2021 faced with daunting challenges, domestic and foreign. Although the agenda is crowded, avoiding the cataclysmic risk of nuclear weapons use must be a top priority. The administration’s review of U.S. nuclear policies and posture is taking place against the backdrop of increasing tensions among nuclear-armed states. In addition, the arms control framework that has been integral to managing nuclear competition for decades has eroded, and new technologies and evolving threats add complexity to the challenge of rebuilding it [4].

Nuclear energy is often viewed as linked exclusively to electrical power generation. However, the applications for nuclear energy are significantly greater than only electricity, and include cogeneration, district heating and cooling, high-temperature process heating, hydrogen and alternative fuel production, transportation and desalination. These additional applications expand the prospects for nuclear energy notably, and enhance the benefits that can be derived from it, such as reduced environmental impact and climate change mitigation. Interest in non-electric applications of nuclear energy is growing for environmental, economic, security and other reasons [5].

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. cost, 
  2. climate change,
  3. fission,
  4. fusion,
  5. waste,
  6. security,
  7. proliferation,
  8. accidents,
  9. applications,
  10. outer space.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.


[1] L. Cozzi et al., “Global Energy Review 2021”, April 2021, International Energy Agency, online at

[2] Joint Research Centre, “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‘do no significant harm’ criteria of Regulation (EU) 2020/852 (‘Taxonomy Regulation’)”, March 2021, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Petten, JRC124193, online at

[3] Office of Public Information and Communication of the International Atomic Energy Agency, “A Decade of Progress after Fukushima Daiichi”, March 2021, International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA Bulletin, vol. 62-1, online at

[4] E.J. Moniz et al., “U.S. Nuclear Policies for a Safer World”, June 2021, The Nuclear Threat Initiative, online at

[5] M.A. Rosen, “Nuclear Energy: Non-Electric Applications”, 2021, European Journal of Sustainable Development Research, 5(1), em0147, online at

“Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2020; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page (Nuclear Problems)

booklet updated on 20 Jul 2021, now on sale as version 1.1