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World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In the last issue of the Nuclear Monitor we wrote about the World Nuclear Association's lamentable attempt to undermine the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) with the production of its own report, called the World Nuclear Performance Report. Since then, the latest version of the annual WNISR has been released.

As with previous editions, WNISR-2016 provides a detailed global overview of nuclear power, as well as a comparison between the trajectory of nuclear versus renewables. This year's edition also details the economic problems facing nuclear utilities.

Special chapters are devoted to the aftermath of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. A comparison of the two disasters concludes: "Under practically all criteria, the Chernobyl accident appears to be more severe than the Fukushima disaster: 7 times more cesium-137 and 12 times more iodine-131 released, 50 times larger land surface significantly contaminated, 7–10 times higher collective doses and 12 times more clean-up workers."

Here we reprint some of the key findings of WNISR 2016.

2015 in a nutshell:

  • Nuclear power generation in the world increased by 1.3% in 2015, entirely due to China.

Early closures, phase-outs and construction delays:

  • Early closure decisions for eight reactors taken in 2015 in Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the U.S.
  • Nuclear phase-out announcements in California and Taiwan.
  • In nine of the 14 countries building reactors, all projects are delayed, mostly by several years. Six projects have been listed for over a decade, three of them for over 30 years. China is no exception, at least 10 of 21 units under construction are delayed.
  • With the exception of UAE and Belarus, all potential newcomer countries delayed construction decisions. Chile suspended and Indonesia abandoned nuclear plans.

Reactor operation:

  • 31 countries operate a total of 402 reactors ‒ an increase of 11 units compared to mid-2015, but four less than in 1987 and 36 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438.
  • Total installed nuclear capacity increased over the past year by 3.3% to reach 348 gigawatts (GW), comparable to levels in 2000. Installed capacity peaked in 2006 at 368 GW.
  • Annual nuclear electricity generation reached 2,441 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2015 ‒ a 1.3% increase over the previous year, but 8.2% below the historic peak in 2006. The 2015 global increase of 31 TWh is entirely due to production in China where nuclear generation increased by 30% or 37 TWh.

Share in energy mix:

  • The nuclear share of the world's power generation ‒ 10.7% in 2015 ‒ has remained stable over the past four years, after declining steadily from a historic peak of 17.6% in 1996.
  • Nuclear power's share of global commercial primary energy consumption also remained stable at 4.4%.

Reactor age: The average age of the world operating nuclear reactor fleet continues to rise, and by mid-2016 stood at 29 years. Over half of the total, or 215 units, have operated for more than 30 years, including 59 that have run for over 40 years, of which 37 are in the U.S.

Construction starts, delays, time, cancellations:

  • Ten reactors started up in 2015 ‒ more than in any other year since 1990 ‒ of which eight were in China.
  • As in recent years, 14 countries are currently building nuclear power plants. As of July 2016, 58 reactors were under construction ‒ 9 fewer than in 2013 ‒ of which 21 are in China.
  • All of the reactors under construction in 9 out of 14 countries have experienced delays, mostly year-long. At least two thirds (38) of all construction projects are delayed. Most of the 21 remaining units under construction, of which eleven are in China, were begun within the past three years or have not yet reached projected start-up dates, making it difficult to assess whether or not they are on schedule.
  • Between 1977 and 2016, a total of 92 (one in eight) of all construction sites were abandoned or suspended in 17 countries in various stages of advancement.
  • The number of reactors under construction is declining for the third year in a row, from 67 reactors at the end of 2013 to 58 by mid-2016.
  • In 2015, construction began on 8 reactors, of which 6 were in China and one each were in Pakistan and the UAE. This compares to 15 construction starts in 2010 and 10 in 2013. Construction starts in the world peaked in 1976 at 44. Between 1 January 2012 and 1 July 2016, first concrete was poured for 28 new plants worldwide ‒ fewer than in a single year in the 1970s. No construction starts in the world in the first half of 2016.
  • The average construction time of the latest 46 reactors in ten countries that started up since 2006 was 10.4 years with a very large range from 4 to 43.6 years. The average construction time increased by one year compared to the WNISR-2015 assessment.

Newcomer program delays / cancellations:

  • Only two newcomer countries are actually building reactors ‒ Belarus and 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.
  • Chile and Lithuania shelved their new-build projects, whereas Indonesia abandoned plans for a nuclear program altogether for the foreseeable future.

Nuclear utilities in crisis:

  • Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables.
  • In Europe, energy giants EDF, Engie (France), E.ON, RWE (Germany) and Vattenfall (Sweden), as well as utilities TVO (Finland) and CEZ (Czech Republic), have all been downgraded by credit rating agencies over the past year. All of the utilities registered severe losses on the stock market.
  • French utility AREVA has accumulated €10 billion (US$10.9 billion) in losses over the past five years. Share value 95% below 2007 peak value. Standard & Poor's downgraded AREVA shares to BB+ ('junk') in November 2014 and again to BB- in March 2015. The company is to be broken up, with French-state-controlled utility EDF taking a majority stake in the reactor building and maintenance subsidiary AREVA NP will then be opened up to foreign investment. The rescue scheme has not been approved by the European Commission.
  • The AREVA rescue scheme could turn out to be highly problematic for EDF as its risk profile expands. EDF struggles with US$41.5 billion debt, downgraded by S&P, shares lost over half of their value in less than a year and 87% compared to their peak value in 2007.
  • RWE shares went down by 54% in 2015.
  • In Asia, the share value of the largest Japanese utilities TEPCO and Kansai was wiped out in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster and never recovered. Chinese utility CGN (EDF partner for Hinkley Point C), listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange since December 2014, has lost 60% of its share value since June 2015. The only exception to this trend is the Korean utility KEPCO that operates as a virtual monopoly in a regulated market.
  • In the U.S., the largest nuclear operator Exelon has lost about 60% of its share value compared to its peak value in 2008.

Nuclear power vs. renewable energy deployment:

  • Global investment in renewable energy reached an all-time record of US$286 billion in 2015, exceeding the 2011 previous peak by 2.7%.
  • Since 2000, countries have added 417 GW of wind energy and 229 GW of solar energy to power grids around the world. Taking into account the fact that 37 GW are currently in long-term outage, operational nuclear capacity meanwhile fell by 8 GW.
  • Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K. ‒ 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.
  • In 2015, annual growth for global generation from solar was over 33%, for wind power over 17%, and for nuclear power 1.3%, exclusively due to China.
  • Compared to 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was signed, in 2015 an additional 829 TWh of wind power was produced globally and 252 TWh of solar photovoltaics electricity, compared to nuclear's additional 178 TWh.
  • In China, as in the previous three years, in 2015, electricity production from wind alone (185 TWh), exceeded that from nuclear (161 TWh). China spent over US$100 billion on renewables in 2015, while investment decisions for six nuclear reactors amounted to US$18 billion.
  • In India, wind power (41 TWh) outpaced nuclear (35 TWh) for the fourth year in a row.
  • Of all U.S. electricity, 8% was generated by non-hydro renewables in 2015, up from 2.7% in 2007.
  • In the European Union from 1997–2014, wind produced an additional 303 TWh and solar 109 TWh, while nuclear power generation declined by 65 TWh.

The WNISR authors summarize: "In short, the 2015 data shows that renewable energy based power generation is enjoying continuous rapid growth, while nuclear power production, excluding China, is shrinking globally. Small unit size and lower capacity factors of renewable power plants continue to be more than compensated for by their short lead times, easy manufacturability and installation, and rapidly scalable mass production. Their high acceptance level and rapidly falling system costs will further accelerate their development."

Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 2016, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016, or direct download: