Nuclear power is frequently overlooked in discussions about energy transition. Nuclear fission can provide a dependable source of low-cost energy, but the high cost of building nuclear plants makes nuclear a difficult market to enter.
While nuclear energy emits no direct greenhouse gases, nuclear waste is a distinct issue. Despite the fact that modern practises and international standards keep these risks to a minimum, public perceptions of nuclear power make it a contentious energy source.
The US has a total installed nuclear capacity of 91.5GW, which is generated by 93 reactors spread across 30 states. In 2019, the country used these to generate 843 TWh, accounting for more than 30% of global nuclear energy production.
As the United States relies more on natural gas and coal for power generation, this accounts for 20% of total electricity consumption.
As part of the Vogtle project, two more reactors are being built in the state of Georgia. These are expected to be operational in 2022, following delays caused by safety violations in the design of the first reactor. In 2020, two old reactors, Indian Point 2 and Duane Arnold, with a combined capacity of 1.5GW, were decommissioned.
France generates more than two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear sources than any other country. This concentration of nuclear expertise has helped to reduce nuclear costs in the country, allowing it to generate approximately 17% of its electricity from recycled nuclear fuel.
France can export more nuclear-generated electricity than any other country due to its connections to the European grid.
The country currently has 56 operational reactors, which generated a total of 338.7TWh in 2020. The French government has pledged to build more reactors in order to decarbonize the country’s power generation by 2050. At the same time, it plans to reduce the share of nuclear energy in its mix to less than 50% by 2035 by increasing renewable generation.
China is the world’s third largest nuclear energy producer, with a net installed capacity of 50.8GW. China has 51 nuclear reactors, despite the fact that nuclear energy plays a minor role in China’s massive energy system. In 2019, nuclear power generated only 5% of China’s electricity. Total nuclear power production reached 330TWh in the same year. The Chinese power system is rapidly expanding, with 18 reactors currently under construction. These would add 17.2GW of generation capacity to the country’s power grid. Furthermore, the construction of 39 nuclear reactors with a total gross capacity of 43GW is planned. Chinese engineers celebrated the start of operations at the country’s first third-generation pressurised water reactor in January 2021.
Japan currently operates 33 nuclear reactors with a total installed capacity of 31.7 GW, with two reactors (Ohma 1 and Shimane 3) under construction with a total capacity of 2.6GW. Prior to the Fukushima Daiichi plant meltdown in March 2011, Japan derived approximately 30% of its power requirements from nuclear energy. Japan would have ranked third on this list at the time. Following the incident, the Japanese government suspended all nuclear power generation for two years. A new national nuclear regulator took over plant monitoring and implemented new checks and practises to prevent future disasters. During this period, decreased nuclear generation resulted in an increase in coal power and imports.
Russia currently operates 38 reactors with a total net capacity of 29.6GW. At the same time, as part of the Kursk II project, two more reactors with a combined net capacity of 2.3GW are being built. Russia generated 195.5TWh of nuclear energy in 2019, accounting for approximately 19.7 percent of total electricity generated. Prior to the establishment of modern Russia, the USSR was a pioneer in nuclear technology. Engineers built Soviet-designed reactors throughout much of Eastern Europe, and Russia is still the world leader in fast neutron reactor technology today.