May 12 Eureka
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
focused on producing bombs by splitting the atoms of particular
isotopes of either uranium or plutonium.
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 16,000 reactor years of
experience and supplies almost 11.5% of global electricity
needs, from reactors in 31 countries. In fact, through regional
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, 56 operate about 240 civil research
reactors, over one thrid of these in developing countries. Now
31 countries host over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors
with a total installed capacity of over 375,000 MWe. This is
more than three times the total generating capacity of France or
Germany from all sources. About 70 further nuclear power
reactors are under construction, equivalent to 20% of existing
capacity, while over 160 are firmly planned, equivalent to 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, its fuel is on site (not depending
on continuous delivery), it is dispatchable on demand, it has
fairly quick ramp-up, it contributes to clean air and low-CO2
objectives, it gives good voltage support for grid stability.
These attributes are mostly not monetised in merchant markets,
but have great value which is increasingly recognised where
dependence on intermittent sources has grown.
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 is 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 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 twenty years, and the average load
factor in 2012 was 81%, up from 66% in 1990 and 56% in 1980. US
capacity factors have been over 90% in five of the seven years
to 2013. This places the USA as the performance leader with
nearly half of the top 50 reactors, the 50th achieving more than
94% in 2012. The USA accounts for nearly one third of the
world's nuclear electricity.
In 2012, ten countries with four or more units averaged better
than 80% load factor, while French reactors averaged 73.6%,
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 2020.
China has completed construction and commenced operation of 20
new nuclear power reactors over 2002-14, and some 30 new
reactors are either under construction or likely to be so by
mid-2015. 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 21 on line, six power reactors are
under construction, of both indigenous and foreign design, and
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 has started up, the country's second, and
development proceeds on others, aiming for significant exports.
An initial floating power plant is under construction, with
delivery due in 2016. Russia is active in 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 has abandoned its plans to prematurely decommission its
nuclear power, and is now investing 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.
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 Russian reactor, and a second
is due to follow.
In the USA, there are five reactors under construction, four of
them 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
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 plans or placed orders for 12 new nuclear power
reactors. It is also involved in intense research on future
Vietnam intends to have it first nuclear power plant operating
about 2023 with Russian help and a second soon after with
Japanese input. Indonesia and Thailand are planning nuclear
Bangladesh has approved a Russian proposal to build its first
nuclear power plant. Pakistan with Chinese help is building
three small reactors and preparing to build two large ones near
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 the first three of 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
Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are also moving towards employing
nuclear energy for power and desalination.
South Africa is committed to plans for further conventional
nuclear power reactors.
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.
Other nuclear reactors
In addition to commercial nuclear power plants, there are about
in 56 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 which are more civil
than military. It is also completing a floating nuclear power
plant with two 40 MWe reactors for use in remote regions.
Note: Taipower used nuclear energy to generate 16% of
electricity on the island of Taiwan in 2012.