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New IAEA report sees "possible shrinking role" for nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its latest projections for the future of nuclear power.1 For the first time in many years, perhaps ever, the IAEA is up-front about the grim prospects for nuclear power. The article promoting the new report is titled: 'New IAEA Energy Projections See Possible Shrinking Role for Nuclear Power'.2

Comparable IAEA reports in September 2016 and August 2017 were headlined 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Growing Through 2030'3 and 'Long-Term Potential of Nuclear Power Remains High'.4

The recent IAEA article states:2

"Nuclear power's electricity generating capacity risks shrinking in the coming decades as ageing reactors are retired and the industry struggles with reduced competitiveness …

"Over the short term, the low price of natural gas, the impact of renewable energy sources on electricity prices, and national nuclear policies in several countries following the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 are expected to continue weighing on nuclear power's growth prospects, according to the report. In addition, the nuclear power industry faces increased construction times and costs due to heightened safety requirements, challenges in deploying advanced technologies and other factors."

The IAEA report presents low and high projections. The high projection is best ignored: the IAEA has previously assessed its own performance and found that even its low projections tend to be too high!5,6

The IAEA report notes that in its latest low projection, nuclear generating capacity falls by more than 10% from 392 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2017 to 352 GW in 2030. The high projection of 511 GW in 2030 is 45 GW less than that predicted by the IAEA just a year ago.

The IAEA has sharply reduced its low and high projections since the Fukushima disaster, so much so that its current high projection for 2030 is 35 GW lower than its 2010 low projection for 2030:






Low estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GW)




‒194 GW

High estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GW)




‒292 GW

Actual nuclear capacity (including idled reactors) (GW)




Actual nuclear capacity (excluding idled reactors) (GW)

375 (approx.)



According to the IAEA report, nuclear's share of global electricity generation in 2017 remained at about 10.3% while the share of renewables (including hydropower) was 25.1%.1 In the IAEA's low projection, nuclear's share will fall to 7.9% in 2030.1

The IAEA report notes the high degree of uncertainty about reactor retirements: in its low projection, 139 GW of nuclear capacity is retired by 2030 compared to 55 GW in the high projection.

The average age of the reactor fleet has been steadily rising and reached 30 years in mid-2018 according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR).8

The WNISR doesn't make projections about the future of nuclear power, but it includes calculations based on assumptions about reactor lifespans. WNISR-2018 notes that if one assumes a 40-year reactor lifespan (and ignoring 81 reactors already past that lifespan, and also ignoring 32 reactors in long-term outage), 216 reactors will enter the post-operational phase by 2030.8

WNISR-2018 states: "If all currently operating reactors were shut down at the end of a 40-year lifetime ‒ with the exception of the 81 that are already operating for more than 40 years ‒ by 2020 the number of operating units would be 12 below the total at the end of 2017, even if all reactors currently under active construction were completed, with the installed capacity declining by 2 GW. In the following decade to 2030, 190 units (168.5 GW) would have to be replaced ‒ three and a half times the number of startups achieved over the past decade."8

Here are the IAEA's regional low projections:2

  • Northern America: Nuclear capacity decreases by almost one-third by 2030.
  • Latin America & the Caribbean: Increase by 2030 but nuclear's role will remain small.
  • Northern, Western and Southern Europe: Decrease by as much as 30%.
  • Eastern Europe: Maintain current levels.
  • Africa: Remain at current low levels.
  • Western Asia: Significant increase.
  • Southern Asia: Continued growth.
  • Central and Eastern Asia: Significant increase.


1. International Atomic Energy Agency, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

2. IAEA, 10 Sept 2018, 'New IAEA Energy Projections See Possible Shrinking Role for Nuclear Power',

3. IAEA, 23 Sept 2016, 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Growing Through 2030',

4. Irena Chatzis / IAEA, 7 Aug 2017, 'Long-Term Potential of Nuclear Power Remains High: IAEA Report',

5. IAEA, 2007, Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power: Developments and Projections − 25 Years Past and Future', tables 33 and 34, p.56,

6. Nuclear Monitor #811, 23 Sept 2015, 'Fanciful growth projections from the World Nuclear Association and the IAEA',

7. IAEA series: 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates',

8. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',