Nuclear Electricity Production Edging Up

The IAEA Reports on Nuclear Power Status and Trends

Thirty countries are using nuclear power for electricity generation. (Photo: D. Thompson/PhotoDisc)

Countries that rely on nuclear power for electricity generation are reporting positive signs. Worldwide, nuclear production is edging up, performance keeps improving, and slow but steady growth is projected in the coming years.

Based on data reported to the IAEA's Power Reactor Information System (PRIS), altogether 438 nuclear plants with a combined capacity of 353,000 megawatts produce electricity in 30 countries. Together they generated nearly 2544 terawatt-hours of electrical power in 2001, or about 4% more than in 2000.

Production remains uneven, however, heavily concentrated in industrialized countries, where four of every five operating nuclear plants are located. Eighteen countries rely on nuclear power for one-fifth or more of their electricity needs. Nuclear's share of total electricity production ranges from about 20% in the Czech Republic and United States to nearly 78% in France and Lithuania. Worldwide, nuclear's share stands at about 16% ot total electricity production.

"Nuclear power remains an important part of the energy mix in many countries," said Mr. Victor Mourogov, IAEA Deputy Director General for Nuclear Energy. "Worldwide, we're seeing that operational experience is continuing to build and that plant performance is improving. These are positive signs in view of the pressing needs around the world for electricity."

Plant Performance Improving

For the world's fleet of operating nuclear plants, a key positive trend is the steady increase in efficiency and performance. Nuclear plant performance has improved about 11% since 1990, from a factor of 72.9% in 1990 up to 84% in 2001. Major reasons why include better operational practices, plant management, and engineering support that, in turn, have contributed to better overall efficiency of operations and lower production costs. In short, nuclear power has more than held its own in the new and more competitive environment of privatized and deregulated electricity markets, Mr. Mourogov said.

"The improving performance of nuclear plants basically means they're producing more electricity more of the time," explained Mr. Mourogov. "In effect, today's nuclear plants are generating electrical power that otherwise would have to be met from new plants -- in this case, as many as 33 plants, based on the improvements reported since 1990."

New Plants on the Horizon

When it comes to new nuclear plants, ten countries had 32 reactors under construction in 2001, with all but one of them in Asia or in Central and Eastern Europe. Countries building nuclear plants are China (8), Republic of Korea (4), Ukraine (4), Japan (3), India (2), Iran (2), Russia (2), Slovakia (2), Argentina (1), Czech Republic (1), and Romania (1). Two units additionally are being built in Taiwan, China.

Expansion of nuclear power capacity is projected to be slow, steady, and limited over the near term, based on data reported to the IAEA. Scenarios based on different sets of energy and economic growth assumptions estimate nuclear capacity to reach between 367,000 and 377,000 megawatts by 2005 and between 378,000 and 406,000 megawatts by the year 2010. That represents a growth rate of between 4%-to-7% by 2005 and between 7%-to-15% by 2010 compared to 2001 capacity figures. Most of the projected growth is in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.

In other parts of the world, little growth is foreseen in nuclear generating capacity until the turn of the decade. In Western Europe and the United States, where most nuclear plants now are operating, signs are mixed. The Finnish Government has approved the proposed construction of a fifth reactor by 2010. In Western Europe, no new nuclear plants currently are being built, and Belgium, Germany and Sweden have taken decisions to phase out nuclear power. The last new reactor in the region was connected to the grid in 1999, in France (Civaux-2). In the United States, a new government-industry collaboration has been announced that intends to bring a new US nuclear plant online by the end of the decade. No new nuclear plant has been ordered in the USA since 1978, though seven units that were out of service for extended periods have been restarted since 1998.

See the "InfoGraphic" for charts and tables on nuclear production status and trends. Also visit the IAEA's Web pages on the Power Reactor Information System and the Reference Data Series No. 1 for detailed national and international listings.

Last update: 12 November 2014