• The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s in the Soviet Union.
• There are over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with over 375 000 MWe of total capacity. About 70 more reactors are under construction.
• They provide over 11% of the world’s electricity as continuous, reliable base-load power, without carbon dioxide emissions.
• 56 countries operate a total of about 240 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines.
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 third 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 (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 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.
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 between 2002 and2014, 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 include a 500 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor. This will take India’s ambitious thorium programme to stage 2, and set the scene for eventual utilisation 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 programme, 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 utilisation of US nuclear power plants, with the increased output corresponding to 19 new 1000 MW plants being built.
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 reactor designs.
South East Asia
Vietnam intends to have it first nuclear power plant operating around 2023 with Russian help, and a second soon after with Japanese input. Indonesia and Thailand are planning nuclear power programmes.
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 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 the first three of four 1450 MWe South Korean reactors at a cost of over US$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.
In September 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expected seven newcomer countries to launch nuclear programmes 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.
WNA, data to publication date.
Nuclear Engineering International, June 2014 (load factors)