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Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, 50 under construction

Staff Writer |
Today there are about 450 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries plus Taiwan, with a combined capacity of about 400 GWe.

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In 2017 these provided 2506 billion kWh, about 11% of the world's electricity. About 50 power reactors are currently being constructed in 13 countries, notably China, India, UAE and Russia. Each year, the OECD's International Energy Agency (IEA) sets out the present situation as well as reference and other – particularly carbon reduction – scenarios.

In the 2017 edition of its World Energy Outlook report, the IEA's 'New Policies Scenario' sees installed nuclear capacity growth of over 25% from 2015 (about 404 GWe) to 2040 (about 516 GWe).

The scenario envisages a total generating capacity of 11,960 GWe by 2040, with the increase concentrated heavily in Asia, and in particular China (33% of the total).

In this scenario nuclear's contribution to global power generation increases to about 14% of the total. The IEA's New Policies Scenario is based on a review of policy announcements and plans, reflecting the way governments see their energy sectors evolving over the coming decades.

The IEA estimates that the cumulative impact of the new policies would result in steady growth in global CO2 emissions from the power sector through to 2040.

The IEA has produced a low-carbon ‘Sustainable Development Scenario’ that is consistent with limiting the average global temperature increase in 2100 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In the Sustainable Development Scenario, nuclear capacity increases to 720 GWe by 2040, providing about 15% of electricity generation.The report states: "In the Sustainable Development Scenario, low-carbon sources double their share in the energy mix to 40% in 2040, all avenues to improve efficiency are pursued, coal demand goes into an immediate decline and oil consumption peaks soon thereafter.

Power generation is all but decarbonised, relying by 2040 on generation from renewables (over 60%), nuclear power (15%) as well as a contribution from carbon capture and storage (6%) – a technology that plays an equally significant role in cutting emissions from the industry sector."It is noteworthy that in the 1980s, 218 power reactors started up, an average of one every 17 days.

These included 47 in the USA, 42 in France and 18 in Japan.

These were fairly large – the average rated power was 923.5 MWe.

With China and India's nuclear sectors growing, it is not hard to imagine a similar rate of reactor construction in the years ahead. In all, about 150 power reactors with a total gross capacity of about 160,000 MWe are on order or planned, and about 300 more are proposed.

Most reactors currently planned are in the Asian region, with fast-growing economies and rapidly-rising electricity demand.Many countries with existing nuclear power programmes either have plans to, or are building, new power reactors.

Every country worldwide that has operating nuclear power plants, or plants under construction, has a dedicated country profile in the Information Library.

About 30 countries are considering, planning or starting nuclear power programmes.

Increased nuclear capacity in some countries is resulting from the uprating of existing plants.

This is a highly cost-effective way of bringing on new capacity.

Numerous power reactors in the USA, Switzerland, Spain, Finland, and Sweden, for example, have had their generating capacity increased.

In the USA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved more than 140 uprates totalling over 6500 MWe since 1977, a few of them 'extended uprates' of up to 20%. In Switzerland, all operating reactors have had uprates, increasing capacity by 13.4%.Spain has had a programme to add 810 MWe (11%) to its nuclear capacity through upgrading its nine reactors by up to 13%.

Most of the increase is already in place.

For instance, the Almarez nuclear plant was boosted by 7.4% at a cost of $50 million. Finland boosted the capacity of the original Olkiluoto plant by 29% to 1700 MWe.

This plant started with two 660 MWe Swedish BWRs commissioned in 1978 and 1980.

The Loviisa plant, with two VVER-440 reactors, has been uprated by 90 MWe (18%).Sweden's utilities have uprated three plants.

The Ringhals plant was uprated by about 305 MWe over 2006-14.

Oskarshamn 3 was uprated by 21% to 1450 MWe at a cost of €313 million.

Forsmark 2 had a 120 MWe uprate (12%) to 2013. Most nuclear power plants originally had a nominal design lifetime of 25 to 40 years, but engineering assessments have established that many can operate longer.

There are plans to take reactor lifetimes out to 60 years, involving substantial expenditure. The Russian government is extending the operating lifetimes of most of the country's reactors from their original 30 years, for 15 years, or for 30 years in the case of the newer VVER-1000 units, with significant upgrades.The technical and economic feasibility of replacing major reactor components, such as steam generators in PWRs, and pressure tubes in CANDU heavy water reactors, has been demonstrated.

The possibility of component replacement and licence renewals extending the lifetimes of existing plants is very attractive to utilities, especially in view of the public acceptance difficulties involved in constructing replacement nuclear capacity.On the other hand, economic, regulatory and political considerations have led to the premature closure of some power reactors, particularly in the USA, where reactor numbers have fallen from a high of 110 to 99, as well as in parts of Europe and likely in Japan.It should not be assumed that a reactor will close when its existing licence is due to expire, since licence renewal is now common.

However, new units coming online have more or less been balanced by the retirement of old units in recent years.

Over 1996-2015, 75 reactors were retired as 80 started operation.

There are no firm projections for retirements over the next two decades, but the World Nuclear Association estimates that at least 80 of those now operating will close by 2035.

The 2017 edition of the Association's Nuclear Fuel Report has 140 reactors closing by 2035 in its reference scenario, using very conservative assumptions about licence renewal, and 224 coming online, including many in China.

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