Worldwatch finds nuclear capacity increased internationally 1.1%

The Worldwatch Institute said Oct. 9 that international nuclear capacity increased 4.2 GW or 1.1% to 373.3 GW over the past year.

This is part of the Worldwatch Vital Signs Online, posted on the Worldwatch website.

The number of operational reactors also increased by two units to a total of 437 nuclear reactors worldwide last year, Worldwatch said. The increases are net figures, taking into account new plants, decommissioned reactors, and units returned to service after having been offline for a certain period.

Expansion of nuclear power generating capacity has slowed considerably-just 75 GW were added, compared with 296 GW during the preceding quarter century. Nuclear power’s share of the world’s primary energy supply actually fell from 6.4% in 2002 to just 4.5% 10 years later, Worldwatch said.

Although nuclear power is dispersed widely across the globe, it is most heavily used in industrialized countries. Of the 10 nations with the highest nuclear power production, eight are industrialized countries, with China and South Korea being the other two. China has led the world in capacity additions in recent years, and its 3.1 GW of new capacity accounted for 45 % of global starts in 2012.

With 102.1 GW capacity and 104 reactors, the United States remains the world’s leading producer of nuclear power. In France, however, the share of nuclear in overall power production is higher-its 58 reactors contribute 75% of the country’s electricity supply, compared with 19% in the United States.

Worldwide, construction began on seven new reactors during 2012, with total planned capacity of 6.9 GW, well short of the 15.8 GW of capacity that went online in 2010, when start-ups surged. Worldwide, some 67 nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 64.3 GW are currently being built. However, 7 of these have now been under construction for more than 20 years, suggesting that their completion is doubtful.

“Three key factors account for the stagnancy of nuclear power,” said Alexander Ochs, Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Director and one of the trend’s co-authors. The factors are costs, safety concerns and unsolved questions about handling spent nuclear fuel, the Worldwatch official said.

Further highlights from the report:

  • Europe is the most reactor-saturated continent, with 170 plants-some 39% of the global total.
  • In Asia, China anticipates continued growth in its nuclear sector; it has 17 plants in operation, 29 under construction, and 38 in the planning phase.
  • French president Francois Hollande recently declared his intention to reduce the reliance on nuclear power from 75% of electricity generation to 50% by 2025, with continued nuclear phaseouts in Germany and Switzerland.
  • Prior to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan generated 30% of its electricity from nuclear power – a share that was expected to increase to 40% by 2017. Instead, all reactors are currently offline.