World nuclear power generation picks up pace, China leads growth

The worldwide nuclear power generation has registered a growth pattern overcoming the anxiety caused by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011, the 2017 World Nuclear Performance Report said while portraying an optimistic scenario for the growth of nuclear power across the globe. According to the latest data of the World Nuclear Association, 9 GWe of new nuclear energy capacity came online in the year 2016.

The annual report released by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), international organization that represents the global nuclear industry, says that the growth is being led by China and the pattern is likely to continue for the years to come.

“Nuclear generation worldwide has continued its recent growth. This growth is being led by China, where five of the ten reactors grid connected in 2016 are sited. This pattern is likely to continue in the coming years, with around a third of reactors currently under construction being located in China,” Agneta Rising, Director General of World Nuclear Association, said in the report.

Since 1996 the nuclear generation share in the global energy matrix has slumped from around 17 percent to just over 10 percent. The plummeting has been attributed to the general increase in the global electricity supply and partly to the decline in nuclear generation, particularly in 2011 and 2012, following the Fukushima accident.

However, according to the performance report more than 9 GWe of new nuclear energy capacity came online in the year 2016, “the largest annual increase for over 25 years”. The 2016 year end saw a total of 448 reactors around the world, up from 441 at the start of the year. Ten reactors started to supply electricity and three were closed down, resulting in a net increase in nuclear capacity of just over 8GWe.

“The amount of electricity supplied by nuclear globally increased by 35 TWh to 2476 TWh. This increased generation is the result of both additional generation from new reactors coming online and continued performance improvements from the existing fleet,” the report avers.

Over 60 nuclear reactors are presently under construction by the end of the year 2016. There has been a pause in the construction of new nuclear reactors in China for some time; however, the first concrete was poured for Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant 6 in September 2016 marking the resumption of reactor construction.

Experts see a lot of challenges in achieving the Harmony goal to have 1000 GWe of new nuclear build by 2050, taking the share of nuclear energy in the world’s electricity to 25 percent. Director of Heysham Nuclear Power Station-2 in England John Munro suggests that the nuclear power industry is also facing the information wars from other electricity markets.

“Most electricity markets are distorted and do not recognise the full costs of different forms of electricity generation. Even when carbon pricing is included they do not represent the true long-term costs of climate change,” Munro is quoted in the report.

The Harmony goal intends to reduce dependence on fossil fuel generation as much as possible whilst meeting the electricity needs of the world’s growing population. He suggests, in order to achieve the aim the countries need to ramp up nuclear construction. As per the estimates about 10 GWe of nuclear capacity needs to be grid connected each year until 2020 and an average 25 GWe then needs to be connected each year from 2021 to 2025, and an average 33 GWe from 2026 to 2050.

Impediments in way of nuclear energy progress

The report also takes note of the raging debate around nuclear energy in the world, especially Australia that has not considered a nuclear energy program since the 1970s, even though it has been a major producer of Uranium. No country of the economic size of Australia has been without nuclear energy. There have been suggestions for long that the country should build nuclear power stations. However, large resource pool of coal and widely held belief against the safety of nuclear technologies meant that Australia stayed away from nuclear energy as an alternative source of energy to contain rising carbon emissions.

Now the proponents of nuclear power has become more vocal. In 2006 the Australian government commissioned Dr. Ziggy Switkowski to assess feasibility of nuclear power generation in the country and its report concluded that the ‘challenge to contain and reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be considerably eased by investment in nuclear plants’ and that the ‘greenhouse gas emission reductions from nuclear power could reach 8 to 17 per cent of national emissions in 2050′.

“A citizens’ jury – set up by the South Australian government to gauge public sentiment towards the idea (of building nuclear reactor) – rejected the proposal by a significant two thirds majority in November 2016. However, the government continues to support the commission’s proposal and following the result announced plans for a state-wide referendum on the issue,” the report reads.

Japan leaves behind shadow of Fukushima Reactor accident

The world’s third largest economy Japan has put behind the shadow of the 2011 Fukushima meltdown behind as it has restarted its nuclear reactors a victory of the government’s pro-atomic push. The total number of running reactors in Japan is five now. The road for restarting the reactors have been paved by the court that put aside safety concerns in this regard.

The report agreed that the restart of reactors in Japan took “longer than expected” and attributed the delay to “onerous” process of gaining regulatory approval and support from local authorities. “Nevertheless we can expect more reactors to resume generation over the coming months and years, as many have carried out upgrades in accordance with the new regulations and have applied for restart,” the report observed.

Future seems bright for nuclear power generation

In 2016 nuclear generation was higher in all regions except West and Central Europe, compared to the average annual generation in the preceding five years. But, nuclear output rose markedly in Asia, with generation 72 TWh higher than the 2011-2015 average.

The nuclear power industry continues to perform at high levels in 2016 with an average capacity factor of 80.5 percent. According to the World Nuclear Association, the industry has maintained high capacity factors of around 80 percent for the last 20 years, a substantial increase on around 50 percent achieved in the 1970s.

The report does note the efforts required to establish supply chains and developing local expertise in the country building nuclear reactors for the first time or seeking to build first-of-a-kind reactors. It calls for a ‘critical mass’ of construction in these regions to gain benefits from series build and construction experience.