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Update on Global Nuclear Capacity Additions

As of July 31, 2015, there were 436 nuclear reactors operating in 32 countries with a combined capacity of 379 GWe. In 2014, these reactors produced 11% of all electricity generated globally; down from a peak of 18% in 1996. According to a recent report released by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), global nuclear capacity is expected to rise 45% to 552 GWe by 2035 under its reference scenario. The report also provided lower and upper scenarios for future nuclear capacity. The lower scenario saw global nuclear capacity stagnating until 2030 before declining, with several shutdowns, prior to 2035. The upper scenario saw global nuclear capacity growing to 720 GWe (an 89% increase) by 2035.

The projections in the WNA’s reference and upper scenarios are in line with a report published earlier this year by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that also developed several scenarios for future nuclear capacity additions. Under the IEA report, projected nuclear capacity in 2030 was 542 GWe (an increase of 43%) under its “Bridge Scenario,” which is based on several factors, including proven technologies, a continuation of the same level of development and economic growth that underlies energy sector policies, and climate pledges made by individual countries in advance of the 21st UN Conference of the Parties scheduled for December 2015. Under the IEA’s “450 Scenario,” the projected nuclear capacity increased to 660 GWe (an increase of 75%) by 2030.

While there is a significant amount of projected new nuclear capacity additions, the WNA projects that at least 60 reactors that are currently in operation, primarily smaller reactors, will close by 2030.

Key Details

  • IEA’s “450 Scenario” is an outcome-based scenario that projects the required actions of the energy sector to meet the internationally adopted goal of limiting the rise in long-term, average global temperature to 2° C by limiting the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2
  • According to Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear electricity output is set to increase at a faster rate over the next five years than we have seen for more than two decades.” As a point of reference, 218 reactors were placed into service in the 1980s, the equivalent of one reactor every 17 days
  • There are currently 67 reactors with a combined capacity of 70 GWe under construction (i.e., first concrete for reactor poured, or major refurbishment under way), 166 reactors with a combined capacity of 187 GWe planned (i.e., approvals, funding, or major commitment in place and expected to be in operation within 8-10 years), and 322 reactors with planned capacity of 365 GWe proposed (i.e., specific program or site proposals with expected operation within 15 years). Of these reactors that are in various stages of construction, development, or planning, 58% will be located in China (204 reactors), India (63 reactors), and Russia (58 reactors)

The image below shows the 10 countries that, based on current projects, will add the most nuclear generating capacity by 2030.

Key Implications

  • Many believe that expanding nuclear capacity will be essential to achieve international climate objectives and comply with domestic limits on carbon emissions (i.e., Clean Power Plan)
  • Additional nuclear capacity will increase the global demand for uranium to fuel the reactors. While world uranium output fell in 2014, it is projected that known uranium reserves and secondary supplies (i.e., commercial stockpiles, nuclear weapons stockpiles, recycled plutonium, and uranium from reprocessing used fuel, etc.) are sufficient to meet demand requirements through 2025. However, beyond 2025, growth in demand (particularly in China, India, and Russia), coupled with the projected limited future contribution of secondary supplies, would result in the need for additional mined uranium

More Information

World Nuclear Association: Plans For New Reactors Worldwide and New study shows nuclear generation to grow but more must be done

International Energy Agency: World Energy Outlook Special Report 2015: Energy and Climate Change

Mining Weekly: Global nuclear power capacity may grow by more than 45% in next 20 years

This report is part of the Nuclear Minute series. To view all featured Minutes, please click here.

Contributing Author: Eric Hanson

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