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Interactive Map: All the World’s Nuclear Reactors

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By David Kroodsma

To better understand the state of the nuclear power industry, Climate Central has built the following interactive map of nuclear facilities as reported by the World Nuclear Association. This map shows every nuclear reactor that has ever been connected to the electric grid, as well as a number of plants (though not all) that are planned. The table beneath the map — which will fill in once you press “play” — shows how many power plants have been built during each decade.

 
 
How To Use This Map:

Toggle the different categories of power plants (operating, shut down, etc.) on and off by using the check boxes at the bottom right. Multiple reactors are typically co-located, so you might not see them unless you deselect other categories. To learn more about a reactor, click on it to see its vital statistics, as well as a link to the World Nuclear Association, where you can find more facts about each. 

Click “Play” to watch how the global nuclear power industry has changed over time, with reactor startups and retired reactor shutdowns. Note that while the timeline is playing, you cannot check or uncheck the boxes. 

This data was last updated prior to the nuclear crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Since then a number of power plants have been shut down in Japan, and a few in Germany are also temporarily closed. 

How Much Carbon Dioxide Pollution Have Nuclear Power Plants Avoided?

If the few hundred nuclear reactors on the map had not been built, other power plants would likely have been constructed, the majority of which would have been powered by fossil fuels. How much carbon dioxide (CO2) would these plants have emitted?

We can’t know for sure, but by using data from the map and making a few basic assumptions, we can get a rough estimate. The data includes the lifetime and generating capacity of every nuclear power plant that has ever been built. 

Today, nuclear power plants worldwide operate on average about 80 percent of the time. In earlier years, they were shut down for longer periods, with closer to a 55 percent in service rate. Given these operating percentages, let’s assume for estimation purposes that nuclear power plants throughout their entire history have operated on average at 70 percent of their capacity. In that case, the nuclear power industry globally has produced about 60 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity.

If these power plants had not been built, let’s assume the electricity would have been generated instead from a mix of coal, natural gas, and hydropower in the proportions that these are used today (roughly 2:1:1). Given how much CO2 these sources emit on average per kilowatt hour (natural gas: 590 grams of CO2; coal: 907 grams; hydropower: 0 grams), we can estimate that each kilowatt-hour of nuclear power avoided about 600 grams of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. 

That means that the nuclear industry has avoided emissions of about 38 billion tons of CO2. That is one third more CO2 than humans put into the atmosphere every year from burning fossil fuels. It is also about one-twelfth of the cumulative CO2 people have added to the atmosphere during the past 160 years from burning coal, natural gas, and petroleum. This is a rough estimate, yet it shows that nuclear power has played a major role in lowering CO2 emissions. 

The clear question for society — and one that is highly debated — is whether the risks and costs of nuclear power outweigh the industry’s significant potential to offset fossil fuels. 

Map Data and Disclaimer

The data was obtained from the World Nuclear Association’s online database, which can be accessed from their website. Many countries have “planned” reactors that are not shown on this map. Furthermore, the location of some planned reactors, especially in China, is only approximate.

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Comments

By Lou Grinzo
on April 25th, 2011

Coal and NG both emit the same amount of CO2 per kWh?  Not according to the provided link—the coal number should be around 950, not 590, roughly.  Looks like a typo.

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By Davidkroodsma
on April 25th, 2011

Lou:

Thanks for catching the typo. I used the correct number in the calculation. Here is the estimate:

Assuming that coal, natural gas, and hydropower are used in a ration of 2:1:1, you get a carbon intensity of about 600 g CO2 per kilowatt hour.

( 63 trillion kilowatt hours ) * (600 g CO2 / kilowatt hour) =  38 billion tons

Reply to this comment

By David (Hamilton, ON)
on April 26th, 2011

According to the map, Cernavoda units 1 and 2 (Romania) are located right next to the bruce units in Ontario.

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By Jim Bowey (Corvallis/OR/97330)
on April 26th, 2011

Nice map, but you missed the reactor at Oregon State University.

Reply to this comment

By Davidkroodsma
on April 26th, 2011

David: Thank you much for catching that. There was a slight error in the code that resulted in that mix-up and we’ve fixed it.

Jim: This map shows only commercial reactors that are connected to the electrical grid. For instance, the first reactor on the timeline is in Russia in 1954, and not the world’s first nuclear reactor, EBR-I, which the United States built in Idaho. However, EBR-II in Idaho is on the map, as it was a more powerful plant that was connected to the grid. All that said, please do let us know if you see other reactors that are missing.

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By Richard Sumpter (Kansas City, KS 66101)
on April 28th, 2011

You show the reactor in Brownsville, NE as shut down.  I don’t believe that’s the case - unless you mean down for refueling or some such.

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By Richard Sumpter (Kansas City, KS 66101)
on April 28th, 2011

I stand corrected.  It. not the one at Brownville, but Lincol, NE.  Must be a university reactor.

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By Joel Carlinsky
on March 9th, 2012

The amount of carbon-based fuel needed to mine, refine, and transport the nuclear fuel and to build the nuclear plant and later to decommission it, plus the added amount needed in manufacture of the much more complex and exacting componants of a reactor, as compared with a coal-fired plant, should be calculated and deducted from the total of carbon prevented to know how much is really involved.

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By Jonathan Cobb (London)
on May 5th, 2014

Joel, full lifecycle analyses of many forms of generation have been done and the additional emissions (beyond combustion emissions) are much greater for fossil fuels than for nuclear or renewables. For most studies lifecycle emissions for nuclear are between 1-5% the total emissions from coal - renewables have similarly low lifecycle emissions.

We produced a review of recent emissions studies showing the data.
http://world-nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publications/Working_Group_Reports/comparison_of_lifecycle.pdf

Since then the IPCC have published their fifth assessment report, which includes lifecycle emissions data. Their figures are in line with our report and they’ve actually revised down their estimate of lifecycle emissions from nuclear.

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By Jack
on May 22nd, 2014

Hey I am doing a website on nuclear power and I think that this is a great map and am wondering if you could post a link.

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By Lindsay Harmon
on May 23rd, 2014

Hey Jack,

Not quite sure what you are looking for. Might embedding the map on your website be helpful? If so, you can find the code at the bottom of the map or below here:

<iframe height=‘900’ scrolling=‘NO’ src=‘http://climatecentral.org/wgts/nukes/np.htm’ width=‘650’></iframe>

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