May 12 Eureka
The first commercial nuclear power stations
started operation in the 1950s.
There are over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors
operable in 31 countries, with over 390,000 MWe of total
capacity. About 60 more reactors are under construction.
They provide over 11% of the world's electricity as
continuous, reliable base-load power, without carbon dioxide
55 countries operate a total of about 245
research reactors, and a further 180 nuclear reactors power
some 140 ships and submarines.
Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the
atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s,
and during the Second World War to 1945 research initially
focussed on producing bombs which released great energy by
splitting the atoms of particular isotopes of either uranium or
In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful purposes of
nuclear fission, notably for power generation. Today, the world
produces as much electricity from nuclear energy as it did from
all sources combined in the early years of nuclear power. Civil
nuclear power can now boast over 16,800 reactor years of
experience and supplies almost 11.5% of global electricity
needs, from reactors in 31 countries. In fact, through regional
transmission grids, many more than those countries depend on
Many countries have also built research reactors to provide a
source of neutron beams for scientific research and the
production of medical and industrial isotopes.
Today, only eight countries are known to have a nuclear weapons
capability. By contrast, 55 countries operate about 245 civil
research reactors, over one-third of these in developing
countries. Now 31 countries host some 447 commercial nuclear
power reactors with a total installed capacity of over 390,000
MWe (see linked table for
up to date figures). This is more than three times the total
generating capacity of France or Germany from all sources. About
60 further nuclear power reactors are under construction,
equivalent to 16% of existing capacity, while over 160 are
firmly planned, equivalent to nearly half of present capacity.
Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter
of their electricity. France gets around three-quarters of its
power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Czech Republic,
Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and
Ukraine get one-third or more. South Korea and Bulgaria normally
get more than 30% of their power from nuclear energy, while in
the USA, UK, Spain, Romania and Russia almost one-fifth is from
nuclear. Japan is used to relying on nuclear power for more than
one-quarter of its electricity and is expected to return to that
level. Among countries which do not host nuclear power plants,
Italy and Denmark get almost 10% of their power from nuclear.
In electricity demand, the need for low-cost continuous,
reliable supply can be distinguished from peak demand occurring
over few hours daily and able to command higher prices. Supply
needs to match demand instantly and reliably over time. There
are number of characteristics of nuclear power which make it
particularly valuable apart from its actual generation cost per
unit – MWh or kWh. Fuel is a low proportion of power cost,
giving power price stability, and is stored onsite (not
depending on continuous delivery). The power from nuclear plants
is dispatchable on demand, it can be fairly quickly ramped-up,
it contributes to clean air and low-CO2 objectives, it gives
good voltage support for grid stability. Reactors can be made to
load-follow. These attributes are mostly not monetised in
merchant markets, but have great value which is increasingly
recognised where dependence on intermittent sources has grown.
There is a clear need for new generating capacity around
the world, both to replace old fossil fuel units, especially
coal-fired ones, which contribute a lot of CO2 emissions, and to
meet increased expectations for electricity in many countries.
There are about 127,000 generating units worldwide, 96.5% of
these of 300 MWe or less, and one-quarter of the fossil fuel
plants are over 30 years old. There is scope for both large new
plants and small ones to replace existing units 1:1, all with
near-zero CO2 emissions.
World Nuclear Association projections made in 2016
suggest a 26.7% increase to 494 GWe in operation in 2030 and
overall 40% increase to 546 GWe in 2035. (Low and high
projections are 368 and 631 GWe for 2030, and 365 and 719 GWe
Improved performance from existing nuclear reactors
As nuclear power plant construction returns to the levels
reached during the 1970s and 1980s, those plants now operating
are producing more electricity. In 2011, production was 2518
billion kWh. The increase over the six years to 2006 (210 TWh)
was equal to the output from 30 large new nuclear power plants.
Yet between 2000 and 2006 there was no net increase in reactor
numbers (and only 15 GWe in capacity). The rest of the
improvement was due to better performance from existing units.
In a longer perspective, from 1990 to 2010, world capacity rose
by 57 GWe (17.75%, due both to net addition of new plants and
uprating some established ones) and electricity production rose
755 billion kWh (40%). The relative contributions to this
increase were: new construction 36%, uprating 7% and
availability increase 57%. In 2011 and 2012 both capacity and
output diminished due to cutbacks in Germany and Japan following
the Fukushima accident.
Considering 400 power reactors over 150 MWe for which data are
available: over 1980 to 2000 world median capacity factor
increased from 68% to 86%, and since then it has maintained
around 85%. Actual load factors are slightly lower: 80% average
in 2012 (excluding Japan), due to reactors being operated below
their full capacity for various reasons. One-quarter of the
world's reactors have load factors of more than 90%, and nearly
two-thirds do better than 75%, compared with only about a
quarter of them over 75% in 1990. The USA now dominates the top
25 positions, followed by South Korea, but six other countries
are also represented there. Four of the top ten reactors for
lifetime load factors are South Korean.
US nuclear power plant performance has shown a steady
improvement over the past 20 years, and the average load factor
in 2012 was 81%, up from 66% in 1990 and 56% in 1980. US average
capacity factors have been over 90% in most years since 2000 -
92.7% in 2015. This places the USA as the performance leader
with nearly half of the top 50 reactors, the 50th achieving 94%
in 2015-16 (albeit without China and South Korea in those
figures). The USA accounts for nearly one-third of the world's
In 2015-16, twelve countries with four or more units averaged
better than 80% load factor, to which China and South Korea
should probably be added, and French reactors averaged 83%,
despite many being run in load-following mode, rather than
purely for base-load power.
Some of these figures suggest near-maximum utilisation, given
that most reactors have to shut down every 18-24 months for fuel
change and routine maintenance. In the USA this used to take
over 100 days on average but in the last decade it has averaged
about 40 days. Another performance measure is unplanned
capability loss, which in the USA has for the last few years
been below 2%.
All parts of the world are involved in nuclear power
development, and a few examples follow.
The Chinese government plans to increase nuclear generating
capacity to 58 GWe with 30 GWe more under construction by 2021.
China has completed construction and commenced operation of over
30 new nuclear power reactors since 2002, and some 20 new
reactors are under construction. These include the world's first
four Westinghouse AP1000 units and a demonstration
high-temperature gas-cooled reactor plant. Many more are
planned, with construction due to start within about three
years. China is commencing export marketing of a largely
indigenous reactor design. R&D on nuclear reactor technology in
China is second to none.
India’s target is to have 14.5 GWe nuclear capacity on line by
2020 as part of its national energy policy. These reactors
include light- and heavy water reactors as well as fast
reactors. In addition to the 22 online, of both indigenous and
foreign design, five power reactors are under construction,
including a 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor. This will
take India's ambitious thorium programme to stage 2, and set the
scene for eventual utilization of the country's abundant thorium
to fuel reactors.
Russia plans to increase its nuclear capacity to 30.5 GWe by
2020, using its world-class light water reactors. A large fast
breeder unit, the country's second, is producing power and
development proceeds on others. An initial floating power plant
is under construction, with delivery due in 2018. Russia leads
the world in nuclear reactor exports, building and financing new
nuclear power plants in several countries.
Finland and France are both expanding their fleets of nuclear
power plants with the 1650 MWe EPR from Areva, two of which are
also being built in China. Several countries in Eastern Europe
are currently constructing or have firm plans to build new
nuclear power plants (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary,
Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey).
A UK government energy paper in mid-2006 endorsed the
replacement of the country’s ageing fleet of nuclear reactors
with new nuclear build, and four 1600 MWe French units are
planned for operation by 2023. The government aims to have 16
GWe of new nuclear capacity operating by 2030.
Sweden is closing down some older reactors, and has invested
heavily in life extensions and uprates. Hungary, Slovakia and
Spain are all implementing or planning for life extensions on
existing plants. Germany agreed to extend the operating lives of
its nuclear plants, reversing an earlier intention to shut them
down, but has again reversed policy following the Fukushima
accident and is phasing out nuclear generation by about 2023.
Poland is developing a nuclear program, with 6000 MWe planned.
Estonia and Latvia are involved in a joint project with
established nuclear power producer Lithuania. Belarus has
started construction of its first two Russian reactors.
In the USA, there are four reactors under construction, all new
AP1000 designs. One of the reasons for the hiatus in new build
in the USA to date has been the extremely successful evolution
in maintenance strategies. Over the last 15 years, changes have
increased utilization of US nuclear power plants, with the
increased output corresponding to 19 new 1000 MW plants being
Argentina and Brazil both have commercial nuclear reactors
generating electricity, and additional reactors are under
construction. Chile has a research reactor in operation and has
the infrastructure and intention to build commercial reactors.
South Korea has three new reactors under construction
domestically as well as four in the UAE. It plans for eight
more. It is also involved in intense research on future reactor
Vietnam intends to have it first nuclear power plant operating
about 2028 with Russian help and a second soon after with
Japanese input. Indonesia and Thailand are planning nuclear
Bangladesh has contracted with Russia to build its first nuclear
power plant. Pakistan with Chinese help is building three small
reactors inland and two large ones near Karachi.
Kazakhstan with its abundance of uranium is working closely with
Russia in planning development of small new reactors for its own
use and export.
The United Arab Emirates is building four 1450 MWe South Korean
reactors at a cost of over $20 billion and is collaborating
closely with IAEA and experienced international firms. Iran’s
first power reactor is in operation, and more are planned.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are also moving towards employing
nuclear energy for power and desalination.
South Africa is committed to plans for 9600 MWe of further
nuclear power capacity.
Nigeria has sought the support of the International Atomic
Energy Agency to develop plans for two 1000 MWe reactors.
In September 2012 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
expected seven newcomer countries to launch nuclear programs in
the near term. It did not name these, but Lithuania, UAE,
Turkey, Belarus, Vietnam, Poland, and Bangladesh appear likely
candidates. Others had stepped back from commitment, needed more
time to set up infrastructure, or did not have credible finance.
See also WNA paper Emerging
Nuclear Energy Countries.
Other nuclear reactors
In addition to commercial nuclear power plants, there are about
in 55 countries, with more under construction. These have many
uses including research and the production of medical and
industrial isotopes, as well as for training.
The use of reactors for marine
mostly confined to the major navies where it has played an
important role for five decades, providing power for submarines
and large surface vessels. At least 140 ships, mostly
submarines, are propelled by some 180 nuclear reactors and over
13,000 reactor-years of experience has been gained with marine
reactors. Russia and the USA have decommissioned many of their
nuclear submarines from the Cold War era.
Russia also operates a fleet of six large nuclear-powered
icebreakers and a 62,000 tonne cargo ship. It is also completing
a floating nuclear power plant with two 40 MWe reactors for use
in remote regions.
Taipower used nuclear energy to generate 16% of electricity on
the island of Taiwan in 2014.