Nuclear power has come a long way since its inception in the 1950s, evolving from its early association with military applications to becoming a vital component of global electricity generation. As of November 2023, here is an overview of the state of nuclear power around the world.
Global Nuclear Energy Landscape
Nuclear energy now accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the world’s electricity supply, generated by approximately 440 operational power reactors. This contribution plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change, with nuclear power delivering around one-quarter of the world’s low-carbon electricity.
In 2020, nuclear power stood as the world’s second-largest source of low-carbon energy, representing 26 per cent of the total. Additionally, more than 50 countries employ nuclear energy in approximately 220 research reactors. These reactors serve diverse purposes, including medical and industrial isotope production and training.
Operational Reactors, Under Construction, and Shutdowns
As of now, there are 436 operable reactors worldwide, with a combined capacity of 391,694 MWe. Moreover, 62 reactors, with a total capacity of 65,232 MWe, are currently under construction, indicating ongoing global investment in nuclear energy infrastructure. However, 213 reactors with a total capacity of 105,334 MWe have been permanently shut down, reflecting changes in energy policy and economic factors.
The Evolution of Nuclear Technology
Nuclear technology harnesses the energy released by splitting the atoms of specific elements, a field that originated in the 1940s. Initially developed during World War II for military purposes, the focus shifted in the 1950s toward peaceful applications and power generation.
Today, the nuclear industry is characterized by international collaboration. Components for reactors under construction in various countries often come from multiple sources, fostering a global network of expertise. Uranium, the fuel for these reactors, may undergo conversion, enrichment, deconversion, and fabrication in different nations before reaching its final destination.
Nuclear technology extends beyond power generation, with applications spanning various sectors. It aids in disease control, facilitates medical diagnoses and treatments, and drives space exploration missions. These versatile uses position nuclear technologies at the forefront of global efforts to achieve sustainable development.
In 2022, nuclear power plants supplied 2,545 TWh of electricity, a slight decrease from 2021’s 2,653 TWh. Thirteen countries relied on nuclear energy for at least a quarter of their electricity needs. Notably, France, with nearly 70 per cent of its electricity sourced from nuclear power, leads the way in this regard.
Need for New Generating Capacity
The need for additional generating capacity is evident worldwide, primarily to replace aging fossil fuel units and meet growing electricity demand. In 2020, fossil fuels still accounted for 61 per cent of global electricity generation, highlighting the urgency of transitioning to low-carbon alternatives.
Efforts to combat climate change have led to ambitious targets, such as the ‘Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario.’ This scenario envisions nuclear capacity reaching 916 GWe by 2050, signifying the pivotal role nuclear power plays in achieving sustainable energy goals.
Around the world, countries have diverse nuclear power profiles, reflecting their energy needs and policies:
North America: The United States, with 93 operational reactors, leads the region, generating 18.2 per cent of its electricity from nuclear sources.South America: Argentina and Brazil operate nuclear reactors, contributing to their electricity grids.West & Central Europe: France, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have active nuclear programs, with varying degrees of nuclear dependence.Central and East Europe, Russia: Russia dominates this region, with 37 operational reactors and ambitious plans for expansion. Other nations, including Hungary and Slovakia, also rely on nuclear power significantly.Asia: China stands out with 55 operational reactors and an extensive pipeline of new projects. India, Japan, South Korea, and Pakistan continue to operate and expand their nuclear fleets.Africa: Egypt and South Africa are prominent players in African nuclear energy, with construction and expansion projects underway.Middle East: Iran and the United Arab Emirates have operational reactors, with more units under construction.Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries: Bangladesh, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates are among those constructing their first nuclear power plants.Performance and Future
Nuclear reactor performance has improved over the years, with a growing proportion achieving high capacity factors. This upward trend suggests the resilience and efficiency of nuclear power generation.
Beyond electricity generation, research reactors, marine propulsion, and various applications underscore the adaptability and versatility of nuclear technology in addressing contemporary challenges.
In conclusion, nuclear power remains a critical pillar of the global energy landscape, contributing to sustainable development, reducing carbon emissions, and meeting the world’s growing energy needs. The future of nuclear energy is shaped by international cooperation, innovation, and a commitment to a low-carbon future.