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Report Paints Bleak Future for Nuclear Power

The globe’s nuclear power industry is aging, plagued with high costs and construction delays, and generally on the decline.

That’s the conclusion of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report released Tuesday, an annual assessment of the trends in nuclear power production and the state of nuclear reactors worldwide.

Isar nuclear power plant in Germany. Credit: Bjoern Schwarz/flickr

While nuclear power is seen by some of the most prominent climate scientists in the U.S. as a necessary means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation to combat climate change, most growth in low-carbon electricity generation is in wind and solar.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report, written by independent consultants in London and Paris with support from the German Green Party and the anti-nuclear Rocky Mountain Institute based in Colorado, shows that nuclear power’s share in global energy production declined to 10.8 percent in 2013, down from 17.6 percent at its peak in 1996.

“The industry has been in decline for a long time. It’s nothing new,” report lead author Mycle Schneider told Climate Central on Wednesday. “For the production of nuclear electricity, peak was reached in 2006. For the number of nuclear reactors, peak was reached in 2002. For the share of nuclear power in global electricity generation, (peak) was reached in the middle of the 1990s. We’re talking about a 20-year decline of the role of nuclear power.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration doesn’t see nuclear power generation either growing or declining much in the next 25 years.

The EIA’s latest projections show nuclear power production remaining relatively flat through 2040, growing by 0.2 percent each year. Nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of total U.S electricity generation.

But the new report paints a grim picture of the nuclear industry globally.

The industry, whose reactors average 28.5 years old, is trying to expand, but construction is fraught with delays, the report says. Of the 69 reactors being built worldwide, at least 49 of them, mostly in China, have encountered construction delays, some longer than a year.

Nuclear power plant operating costs are also increasing, with nuclear power generating costs jumping 16 percent over the last three years in France. Five U.S. nuclear reactors in Vermont, California, Wisconsin and Florida have been or are scheduled to be shut down in part because of high operating costs, the report says, with 38 other U.S. nuclear reactors in danger of closure for economic reasons.

Nuclear plant operating costs have increased worldwide to shore up reactors considered at risk following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster after the 2011 tsunami in Japan, according to the report.

Meanwhile, solar and wind power, meanwhile, continue to gain on fossil fuels and traditional power sources.

China had more solar power capacity installed — 18 gigawatts — than nuclear power capacity in 2013, while Spain generated more power from wind than any other source, marking the first time in history that wind has become the largest source of electricity over the course of a year for any country, the report says.

The nuclear power industry is assailing the report as biased against it and overly pessimistic about nuclear’s future in a changing climate.

Indian Point Energy Center nuclear power plant along the Hudson River north of New York City. Credit: Bobby Magill

David Hess, an analyst with the London-based World Nuclear Association, a lobbying group, told Climate Central that he expects nuclear power to grow in Asia in the coming years, primarily in China, India, Russia and South Korea.

Nuclear power is essential if the world wants to get serious about addressing climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Hess said.

Thomas Kauffman, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, in Washington, D.C., said more nuclear reactors are under construction today than at any point since 1989, including five in the U.S., while U.S. nuclear power production has increased this year.

“Does that sound like an industry in decline?” Kauffman told Climate Central. “Of the 30 countries that already use nuclear power, all but a handful are either building new reactors or planning to build new ones. We encourage Mr. Schneider to continue his tally in the years to come, so he can document the world’s increased use of energy to generate reliable, affordable, carbon-free electricity.”

Schneider said one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation isn’t to build new nuclear reactors, but to make buildings more energy efficient.

“It’s the lowest-hanging fruit there is,” he said.

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Comments

By John Jones
on July 30th, 2014

So, basically, this report talks about a small change in total output, but ignores the fact that today there are more plants under construction in the world than at ANY time in history? 

What waste of paper this report is.  China will have 600 (yes you read that right) reactors online by 2045.  That’s more than are in the ENTIRE WORLD today.  The UK is replacing all theirs, Korea is going 70% Nuclear, etc.

Waste of an article.

Reply to this comment

By Bob Wallace
on July 30th, 2014

“Spain generated more power from wind than any other source, marking the first time in history that wind has become the largest source of electricity over the course of a year for any country, the report says.”

Actually China generated more electricity with wind than with nuclear in 2012 and then widened the gap in 2013.

Reply to this comment

By Bob Wallace
on July 31st, 2014

Thomas Kauffman ... said more nuclear reactors are under construction today than at any point since 1989, including five in the U.S. .....”

We closed four in 2013 and scheduled another one for closing.  That’s a net gain of zero.

We’ve got a couple dozen more reactors in financial trouble.  Exelon has six reactors in Illinois which have lost money for the last five years.  And they got turned down for capacity subsidies.  We may go negative before the year is out and almost certainly negative before the Vogtle plants can come on line.

“Does that sound like an industry in decline?” Kauffman told Climate Central. “Of the 30 countries that already use nuclear power, all but a handful are either building new reactors or planning to build new ones.”

Let’s stick with building.  Many are planned but never move past the ‘considered’ stage.

The Nuclear Energy Institute lists 72 reactors under construction. 

Now let’s look at closures and likely closures….

Japan has just closed 54.  Some may come back on line but public resistance is growing.
Germany has just closed/is closing 17.
The US has closed/announced 5 closures.
Exelon is likely closing 3 this year and possibly 6.
Belgium will close 3 reactors by 2015 and 4 more by 2025.
The Philippines is converting 1 reactor to natural gas.
Switzerland will close 1 reactor in 2019 and their other 4 by 2035.

That’s 97 reactors closing.  Even if Japan brings a few back on line and you discount closures past 2025 the number of reactors worldwide looks to be sagging.  It looks like the nuclear count will continue its downward slide.  And with the rapidly falling price of wind and solar it’s going to be hard to turn that count around.

Reply to this comment

By Mark Heinicke (Ruckersville VA 22968)
on July 31st, 2014

Reality check:  Germany is proving what happens when you close nuclear plants while planning to close them all, and place more and more of your energy eggs in the renewable basket.  What happens is that you burn more coal, natural gas,  and biomass, and increase CO2 emissions.  Germany’s atmospheric CO2 emissions per capita from coal and natural gas is more than twice that of France, and its electricity is more expensive.  This is why Germany’s economics minister Sigmar Gabriel recently (April 26) admitted that the highly touted Energiewende is foundering economically and in need of a massive overhaul. 

The reason that demand for nuclear power plants is flat in some countries has little to do with economics or reducing CO2 emissions, and everything to do with public ignorance exacerbated by the anti-nuclear propaganda machine—of which the WNI Status Report is another instrument of disinformation.

 

 

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