A Nuclear Status and Trend Overview

The world’s nuclear power generation capacity is slated to grow between 17% and 94% through 2030, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) forecasts in its 2013 Annual Report, released this July. However, it notes, those figures are slightly lower than projections made in 2012, owing to the continuing impact of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the low price of natural gas, and the increasing use of renewable energy.

Outlining the world’s nuclear power status and trends, the autonomous international organization notes that 434 nuclear power reactors were in operation worldwide with a total generating capacity of 371.7 GWe at the end of 2013. Last year, four reactors were connected to the grid and construction began on 10 new reactors. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates poured the first concrete for the second unit at the Barakah site, and Belarus began construction of the first unit at the Ostrovets site, becoming the second country in the past three decades to start building its first nuclear power plant (Figure 4).

4. A nuclear novelty. Belarus began construction of the first unit at the Ostrovets site in November 2013. This image was taken in May 2014. Courtesy: Polish National Atomic Energy Agency

While it suggests that the outlook for nuclear power appears foggy, the IAEA points out that in total, 72 reactors were under construction at the end of last year—the highest number since 1989. Of these, 48 are in Asia. And of the 30 countries currently planning to use nuclear power, 25 were either expanding or planning to expand their fleet at the end of last year, the IAEA reported.

At the same time, several nuclear newcomers reportedly made significant progress on their first nuclear power plants last year. Bangladesh began site preparation work for its two-unit Rooppur plant, and Jordan selected Atomstroyexport as a preferred vendor for its first plant. Turkey signed two cooperation agreements with Japan for the Sinop plant, while Vietnam prepared feasibility studies of two sites in Ninh Thuan province.

At the end of 2013, more than 80% of the currently operating nuclear power plants worldwide had been in service for 20 years or more, and many countries had given high priority to licensing their nuclear power plants to operate for terms beyond the 30 to 40 years originally anticipated, the IAEA says.

On the nuclear fuel back end, the first geological disposal facility was expected to be operational in 2022, and it will be “several decades” until such facilities are commonly available in countries with nuclear power programs, the report notes. One trend that is apparent on the fuel front is that “some reactor owners have expressed concern over the assurance of a long-term supply of reactor fuel,” says the IAEA. “One potential mitigating strategy is to use fuel from more than one supplier. However, due to differences in design and material, use of fuel from different suppliers in the same reactor core can present both technical and regulatory challenges.”

Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)