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World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015' (WNISR) has been released. These annual reports provide a vast amount of useful information about the global nuclear industry and useful summaries of the development of renewable energy. Here we summarise some key findings.


Startups and shutdowns. In 2014, five reactors started up (three in China, one in Argentina, one in Russia) and one was shut down (Vermont Yankee in the US). In the first half of 2015, four reactors started up in China and one in South Korea, while two were shut down (Doel-1 in Belgium and Grafenrheinfeld in Germany).
Reactor operation. There are 31 countries operating nuclear power plants. A total of 391 reactors (three more than a year ago) have a combined installed capacity of 337 GW (5 GW more than a year ago). Not a single unit generated power in Japan in 2014, and WNISR classifies 40 Japanese reactors as being in Long-Term Outage (LTO). Besides the Japanese reactors, one Swedish reactor meets the LTO criteria.

Industry in decline: The 391 operating reactors − excluding LTOs − are 47 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438, while the total installed capacity peaked in 2010 at 367 GW before declining by 8% to 337 GW, which is comparable to levels last seen two decades ago. Annual nuclear electricity generation reached 2,410 terrawatt-hours (TWh) in 2014 − a 2.2% increase over the previous year, but 9.4% below the historic peak in 2006.

Share in power mix. The nuclear share of the world's power generation remained stable over the past three years, with 10.8% in 2014 after declining steadily from a historic peak of 17.6% in 1996. Nuclear power's share of global commercial primary energy production also remained stable at 4.4%, the lowest level since 1984.

Reactor age. In the absence of major new-build programs apart from China, the mean age of the world operating nuclear reactor fleet continues to rise, and by mid-2015 stood at 28.8 years (the mean age of the 41 reactors classified as LTO is 26.4 years). Over half of the total, or 199 reactors, have operated for more than 30 years, including 54 that have run for over 40 years. One third (33) of the US reactors have operated for more than 40 years.

Lifetime projections. If all currently operating reactors were shut down at the end of a 40-year lifetime, by 2020 the number of reactors would be 19 below the number at the end of 2014. In the following decade to 2030, 188 units (178 GW) would have to be replaced − five times the number of startups achieved over the past decade.

Construction delays. As in previous years, 14 countries are currently building nuclear power plants. As of July 2015, 62 reactors were under construction. Almost 40% of the projects (24) are in China. All of the reactors under construction in 10 out of 14 countries have experienced delays, mostly year-long. At least three-quarters (47) of all reactors under construction worldwide are delayed. Five reactors have been listed as "under construction" for more than 30 years.

Construction times. The average construction time of the latest 40 reactors (in nine countries) that started up since 2005 − all but one (in Argentina) in Asia or Eastern Europe − was 9.4 years with a large range from 4 to 36 years.

Construction starts. In 2014, construction began on three reactors, one each in Argentina, Belarus, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This compares to 15 construction starts − of which 10 were in China alone − in 2010 and 10 in 2013. China did not start a single new construction in 2014, but started two in the first half of 2015 − so far the world's only starts in 2015. Historic analysis shows that construction starts in the world peaked in 1976 at 44. In the 4.5 years from 1 January 2011 and 1 July 2015, first concrete was poured for 26 new plants worldwide − fewer than in a single year in the 1970s.

Construction cancellations. Between 1977 and 2015, a total of 92 (one in eight) of all construction sites were abandoned or suspended in 18 countries in various stages of advancement.

Newcomer program delays. Only two newcomer countries are actually building reactors − Belarus and the UAE. Further delays have occurred over the year in the development of nuclear programs for most of the more or less advanced potential newcomer countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Vietnam.

Generation III Delays. Twenty-nine years after the Chernobyl disaster, none of the next-generation or so-called Generation III+ reactors has entered service, with construction projects in Finland and France many years behind schedule. Of 18 reactors of Generation III+ design (eight Westinghouse AP1000, six Rosatom AES-2006, four AREVA EPR), 16 are delayed by between two and nine years. A number of causes for delays have been assessed: design issues, shortage of skilled labor, quality control issues, supply chain issues, poor planning, and shortage of finance. Standardization did not take place, and the introduction of modularized design seems to have simply shifted the quality issues from construction sites to module factories. Serious defects found in several French pressure-vessel forgings could scuttle the entire EPR enterprise.

Operating cost increases. In some countries (including Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, and the US), historically low inflation-adjusted operating costs have escalated so rapidly that the average reactor's operating cost is barely below, or even exceeds, the normal band of wholesale power prices. This has led to a number of responses from nuclear operators.

Nuclear power vs. renewable energy deployment. After two years of decline, global investment in renewable energy increased to US$270 billion (+17%) in 2014, close to the all-time record of $278 billion in 2011, and four times the 2004 total. Global investment decisions on new nuclear power plants remained an order of magnitude below renewables investments.

Installed capacity. In 2014 almost half (49%) of the added electricity generating capacity was new renewables (excluding large hydro), including 49 GW for new wind power and 46 GW of solar photovoltaics. Since 2000, wind added 355 GW and solar 179 GW − respectively 18 and 9 times more than nuclear with 20 GW.

Electricity generation. Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Spain − a list that includes three of the world's four largest economies − now all generate more electricity from non-hydro renewables than from nuclear power. These eight countries represent more than three billion people or 45% of the world's population.

There is much more of interest in the WNISR report, including chapters on new reactors types (especially small modular reactors) and the Fukushima disaster.

Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., July 2015, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015',