Overview of Operation, Power Generation, Age Distribution
There have been two major waves of grid connections since the beginning of the commercial nuclear age in the mid-1950s.15 (See Figure 1.) A first wave peaked in 1974, with 26 reactor startups. The second wave occurred in 1984 and 1985, the years preceding the 1986 Chernobyl accident, reaching the historical record of 33 grid connections in each year. By the end of the 1980s, the uninterrupted net increase of operating units had ceased, and in 1990 for the first time the number of reactor shutdowns outweighed the number of startups.
As of April 1, 2011, a total of 437 nuclear reactors were operating in 30 countries, down eight from the historical maximum of 444 in 2002. Since then, 25 units were started up and 32 were disconnected from the grid, including six units at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
These are very conservative numbers since it is unlikely that the seven units that have been “provisionally” shut down in Germany following the Fukushima events will ever start up again.
Figure 1. Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns, 1956–2011 Zoom (+) Figure 1. Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Shutdowns
The current world reactor fleet has a total nominal capacity of about 370 gigawatts (GW or thousand megawatts).16 (See Figure 2 and Annex 2 for details.)
The world installed nuclear capacity has decreased only three times since the beginning of the commercial application of nuclear fission—in 1998, 2008, and 2009; in 2010, it increased by 5.5 GW. Despite seven fewer units operating in 2011 compared to 2002, the capacity is still about 8 GW higher. This is a combined effect of larger units replacing smaller ones and, mainly, technical alterations at existing plants, a process known as “uprating.” At least 1.8 GW of the capacity increase in 2010 is due to uprating.
In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved 135 uprates since 1977. These included, in 2009–10, 10 minor uprates between 1.4 and 1.6 percent and five “extended uprates” of 15–20 percent. The cumulative additional approved uprates in the United States alone total 5.8 GW. Most of these already have been implemented, and applications for an additional 4.4 GW in increases at 13 units are pending.17
Figure 2. World Nuclear Reactor Fleet, 1954–2011 Zoom (+) Figure 2. World Nuclear Reactor Fleet, 1954–2011
A similar trend of uprates and lifetime extensions of existing reactors can be seen in Europe.
The capacity of the global nuclear fleet increased by about 3 GW annually between 2000 and 2004, much of it through uprating. Between 2004 and 2007, however, this dropped to 2 GW annually, and in 2008 and 2009 uprates were offset by plant closures, resulting in net declines in world nuclear capacity of about 650 MW and 860 MW, respectively.
The use of nuclear energy has been limited to a small number of countries, with only 30 countries, or 16 percent of the 192 members of the United Nations, operating nuclear power plants in 2009.18 (See Figure 3.)
Half of the world’s nuclear countries are located in the European Union (EU), and they account for nearly half of the world’s nuclear production. France alone generates half of the EU’s nuclear production.
As previously noted, there was no growth in nuclear electricity generation in 2009. The 2,558 TWh of nuclear energy produced corresponded to about 13 percent of the world’s commercial electricity.
Figure 3. Nuclear Power Generation by Country, 2009 Zoom (+) Figure 3. Nuclear Power Generation by Country, 2009
Overview of Current New Build
Currently, 14 countries are building nuclear power plants, and nearly all of the sites are accumulating substantial and costly delays. As of April 1, 2011, the IAEA listed 64 reactors as “under construction,” nine more than at the end of 2009. This compares with 120 units under construction at the end of 1987, and a peak of 233 such units—totaling more than 200 GW—in 1979.19 (See Figure 4.) The year 2004, with 26 units under construction, marked a record low for construction since the beginning of the nuclear age in the 1950s.
The total capacity of units now under construction is about 62.5 GW, with an average unit size of around 980 MW. (See Annex 3 for details.) A closer look at currently listed projects illustrates the level of uncertainty associated with reactor building:
- Twelve reactors have been listed as “under construction” for more than 20 years. The U.S. Watts Bar-2 project in Tennessee holds the record, with an original construction start in December 1972 (subsequently frozen), followed by the Iranian Bushehr plant, which was originally started by German company Siemens in May 1975 and is now slated to be finished by the Russian nuclear industry. Other long-term construction projects include three Russian units, the two Belene units in Bulgaria, two Mochovce units in Slovakia, and two Khmelnitski units in Ukraine. In addition, two Taiwanese units at Lungmen have been listed for 10 years.
- Thirty-five projects do not have an official (IAEA) planned start-up date, including six of the 11 Russian projects, the two Bulgarian reactors, and 24 of the 27 Chinese units under construction.
- Many of the units listed by the IAEA as “under construction” have encountered construction delays, most of them significant. The remaining units were started within the last five years and have not reached projected start-up dates yet. This makes it difficult or impossible to assess whether they are running on schedule.
- Nearly three-quarters (47) of the units under construction are located in just four countries: China, India, Russia, and South Korea. None of these countries has historically been very transparent about the status of their construction sites.
Figure 4. Number of Nuclear Reactors under Construction
The geographical distribution of nuclear power plant projects is concentrated in Asia and Eastern Europe, extending a trend from earlier years. Between 2009 and April 1, 2011, a total of nine units were started up, all in these two regions.
Lead times for nuclear plants include not only construction times but also long-term planning, lengthy licensing procedures in most countries, complex financing negotiations, and site preparation. In most cases the grid system also has to be upgraded—often using new high-voltage power lines, which bring their own planning and licensing difficulties. In some cases, public opposition is significantly higher for the long-distance power lines that move the electricity than for the nuclear generating station itself. Projected completion times should be viewed skeptically, and past nuclear planning estimates have rarely turned out to be accurate.
[to be continued ... p.12]
15 Figure 1 from IAEA-PRIS, op. cit. note X, and from Mycle Schneider Consulting.
16 Figure 2 from ibid.
17 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), “Approved Applications for Power Uprates,” 3 November 2010, at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/status-power-apps/approved-applications.html; NRC, “Pending Applications for Power Uprates,” 3 November 2010, at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/status-power-apps/pending-applications.html .
18 Figure 3 from IAEA-PRIS, op. cit. note X, and from Mycle Schneider Consulting.
19 Figure 4 from ibid.
20 CEA, Elecnuc – Nuclear Power Plants in the World (XXX: 2002).
21 Figures 5 and 6 from IAEA-PRIS, op. cit. note X, and from Mycle Schneider Consulting.
22 We have used a projection by Öko-Institute for individual reactor shutdown dates. xxref
23 Figure 7 from IAEA-PRIS, op. cit. note X, from World Nuclear Association, various documents, and from Mycle Schneider Consulting.
24 See, for example, “Maintain Nuclear Perspective, China Told,” WNN, 11 January 2011.
25 Figure 8 from the following sources: IAEA-PRIS, op. cit. note X; U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; World Nuclear Association, various documents; Mycle Schneider Consulting.
26 Figure 9 from IAEA-PRIS, op. cite note X, from US-NRC, op. cit. note X, and from Mycle Schneider Consulting.