International global nuclear capacity has grown to more than 346 GW since the mid-1950s, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported May 17.
More than 30 nations now have nuclear power programs, meaning that atomic energy has come a long way since the first experimental power reactor was developed in 1951.
It appears this EIA review did not attempt to weigh the impact the March 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan had on the international nuclear industry. EIA said it plans a post-Fukushima look later.
Japan has essentially ceased its nuclear operations and has increasingly looked to fossil fuels to make up the difference, sources have said.
Over the long haul, however, nuclear power has grown into a major source of baseload power generation.
From the early 1970s to the early 1990s, nuclear power steadily grew around the world with brief periods of relatively slow growth following the accidents at Three Mile Island (North America, 1979) and Chernobyl (Former Soviet Union, 1986), as the nuclear industry absorbed the lessons learned from both accidents, EEI said.
Most North American nuclear development has occurred in the United States with most of the nuclear construction occurring between 1970 and 1995. The first fully commercial nuclear power plant was built in the United States; Dresden unit 1 (250 MW) operated from 1960 to 1978. Today’s Dresden station is owned by Exelon (NYSE: EXC). Canada soon followed with its first reactor in 1962.
Europe followed a similar timeline. France, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom commissioned nuclear power plants in the 1960s.
Since 1995, capacity in North America and Europe has remained relatively stable. Addition of new capacity through construction of new nuclear power plants has often been offset by nuclear power plant retirements. Plans to add new nuclear capacity in North America and Europe are relatively small in comparison to those in such countries as China, Korea and India.