Can Nuclear Power Be Flexible?
Laurent POURET + William J. NUTTALL
Judge Business School, University of Cambridge,
Trumpington Street, Cambridge, CB2 1AG, UK
EPRG Draft Working Paper prepublication text please do not cite or
circulate without the approval of the authors.
This paper raises the issue of whether nuclear power can play a flexible role within an
electricity system. It does not deal with the issue of whether nuclear power should play such a
role, but it does examine why in most cases it does not. We introduce the basics of nuclear
physics and reactor designs sufficient to cover the technical issues of relevance. We then
identify the key technical issues that must be tackled in order to load-follow with nuclear
power. We assess the flexibility and load-following ability of current and future promising
reactors. We confirm that modern Generation III and III+ are technically capable of flexible
operation. To explain why nuclear power is almost exclusively used as baseload generation,
we look at power market economics. As a result, we conclude that despite some technical
abilities, nuclear power plants are preferentially used for baseload generation for economic
reasons and will continue to be used in this way for the foreseeable future.