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Size of global nuclear fleet reaches 30-year low, new report shows

06 October 2020

A new report has said the number of operating reactors in the world has dropped by nine over the past year and is now below the level reached in 1988. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 published on September 25 says that as of mid-2020, there are 408 reactors operating, 30 units lower than the historic peak of 438 in 2002.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The WNISR2020 assesses the status and trends of the international nuclear industry and analyses the additional challenges nuclear power is facing in the age of COVID-19. Seven interdisciplinary experts from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Lebanon/US and the UK contributed to the report.

As of July 2020, 408 nuclear reactors were in operation in 31 countries with the rate of new plants coming online being slowed by a lack of investment and construction delays. Of the 52 new plants being constructed, at least 33 are behind schedule and no new plants came online during the first half of 2020.  

The WNISR2020 says that one reason for projects failing to attract investment is competition from renewable. The report says that for the first time in history, non-hydro renewables like solar, wind and biomass generated more electricity than nuclear power plants in 2019. Reported investment decisions for building new nuclear plants stood at around $31 billion in 2019, around 10% that of wind and solar.

Of the 63 reactors that came online globally between 2010-2019, the average construction time was 10 years. Even in China, where the average construction time is amongst the lower in the world, delays were common and construction times were often double the initial expectation, the report says.

Although the overall number of reactors worldwide is much lower than the record number, the combined electricity generation for 2019 was 2,657 terawatt-hours, just three terawatt-hours below the all-time peak in 2006. China, Russia, and the US all reached individual records for total electricity production from nuclear energy.

The report also says that China continues to be the main driver of new nuclear energy, however there are indications that the rate of new projects is slowing.

The WNISR2020 also discusses the impact of the COVD-19 pandemic which has resulted in electricity consumption dropping considerably in some regions as countries went into lockdown. The report says that consumption of electricity is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels for many months, if not years, and that this would impact operator’s finances. The extent to which new power plants are built could depend on government stimulus packages, the report adds.

Read the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 in full, by clicking here.


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