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Interactive Maps: Worldwide Nuclear Power

By David Kroodsma, Climate Central

As the world continues to watch the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant unfold, many are asking what the repercussions will be for the future of nuclear power. First, though, we must understand the current state of the nuclear industry: Where are the world’s nuclear power plants located? How much electricity do these plants produce? How much more nuclear generating capacity is planned, and for where?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that about 16 percent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and that given pre-Fukushima plans, this percentage would stay roughly constant over the next two decades, barring any major changes in policy.

The maps below, which come courtesy of Katherine Marvel, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, show where the world’s nuclear reactors are presently located and how many more are planned. (Roll over the maps to see the values).

Number of Nuclear Reactors


Percent of Electricity from Nuclear Power



Before Fukushima, there were 443 functioning nuclear power plants in the world. About 62 were under construction, and another 324 were in various stages of planning. (This data comes from the World Nuclear Association, a nuclear power advocacy organization).

The world’s nuclear power is concentrated in a handful of countries: Of the world’s 192 countries, only 30 have nuclear power plants, and 75 perc...


Weekly Climate Science Roundup: March 8-14

By David Kroodsma, Climate Central

The Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Credit: istockphoto

Noteworthy climate science papers published in the past week include an analysis of the history of El Niño events, a study of the climate of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, and a look into the costs and benefits of charging plug-in vehicles using electricity generated by wind turbines. The journal Nature ran an interesting news piece on what scientists do and don’t know about ocean acidification. Also, one paper analyzed New York City’s climate adaptation strategies, focusing on the coastal city's vulnerability to sea level rise.

One of the publications that came out last week concerns “cumulative emissions” of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2). This report, from the National Academy of Sciences, isn’t exactly new (see our article on it from last summer), but it does distill a complex topic into a more easily understood framework.

Scientific Studies Published Between March 8th to 14th:


Paper Title: Carbon emission limits required to satisfy future representative concentration pathways of greenhouse gases
Journal: Geophysical Research Letters
Authors: V. K. Arora, and seven others.

The Gist: One of the challenges involved with predicting climate change is that some of the CO2 we put in the atmosphere is removed by natural processes — it is absorbed by the ocean and biosphere — but these natural processes themselves will change as the temperature warm...


Are America’s Nukes Safe?

The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, on the California coast near San Luis Obispo, had a defective backup cooling system for 18 months, and nobody noticed. Credit: dsearls/flickr.

Even before a powerful earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science and technology watchdog group that says it's neither pro- nor anti-nuclear, had been planning to release a report on how good a job the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) did in 2010 in maintaining the safety of America's nukes -- or how poorly a job it did, as it turns out.

The New York Times does a great job of explaining what's in that report overall, but the bottom line is that there were plenty of lapses. Among them, says the San Francisco Chronicle: a faulty pumping system at the Diablo Canyon reactor near San Luis Obispo, California, would have made it harder to cool the reactor in the case of an accident. The system was out of commission for 18 months, and nobody noticed—and Diablo Canyon is located in a fault zone

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, prepared long before the current crisis in Japan, is eerily timely. Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists.

There's plenty more in the 

report, which is available for download.

In prepared testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, UCS Senior Scientist Edward Lyman reminded Senators on Wednesday that the U.S. did a major re-evaluation and upgrade of safety regulations after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, but that no comparable upgrade happened after the much more serious Chernobyl accident in 1986, on the grounds that the Soviet plant was so badly designed that no U.S. plant could experience that kind of disaster....


Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Explained: A Sampler

The crippled Fukushima nuclear plant as of March 15, 2011. Credit: daveeza/flickr

Difficult though it is to believe, the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan happened less than a week ago. It would have been even harder to believe, when the first damage reports began rolling in, that the quake and tsunami would have taken a backseat in the headlines to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, whose 25th anniversary is coming next month. In fact, there's still a distinct possibility that the Fukushima disaster will surpass Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to become the worst nuclear disaster in history (if you discount Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of course).

Getting a handle on exactly what's happening at Fukushima is difficult, for a couple of reasons. First, nobody can actually get inside the plants to inspect the damage close-up. It's simply too dangerous. Second, Japanese officials haven't been very good at providing what information they do have. And third, the situation keeps changing, day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. 

Nevertheless, a number of news and other organizations have quickly put together some useful resources that can help us understand something of what's happening at Fukushima, and what could happen next. 

For an up-to-date timeline of the disaster, for example, check out this Wikipedia page.

The New York Times has, as always, compiled a wealth of information. They've posted a graphic showing how a plume of radioactivity released from the plant is likely to spread (this graphic does NO...


Exploring Earthquake Risks to US Nuclear Power Plants

By David Kroodsma, Climate Central

This clickable map shows the 104 active nuclear reactors in the Lower-48 states, overlaid with both recent earthquakes and the 15 strongest earthquakes in the region's history. Note that the most powerful earthquake on record, estimated to have measured magnitude 9.0, shook the Pacific Northwest back in 1700. You can click on each power plant to obtain more information about it, including the type of reactor design.

The second (static) map shows the earthquake risk as measured by “Peak Ground Acceleration” or PGA. During an earthquake, the ground shakes back and forth, and the damage is roughly proportional to the ground’s maximum acceleration. The map shows the two percent likelihood that the PGA will exceed the shown values in the next 50 years. 

Explore the maps, and read on for additional details below.






Thanksgiving Warming Projections The cool days of late November will turn warmer on average in the coming decades.

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