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IAEA Releases Projections on Global Nuclear Power Capacity Through 2050

Construction works at the Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant units 6 (left) and 5, both Hualong One type reactors. As of October 2017, the People’s Republic of China has 38 nuclear power reactors in operation and 19 under construction. (Photo: Fuqing Nuclear Power Plant/CNNC)

The IAEA’s annual publication on energy and electricity projections show that nuclear power’s global potential up to 2050 remains high, although its expansion is expected to slow in coming years.

The newly released 37th edition of Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050 (Reference Data Series No. 1 (RDS-1)) documents these trends in detail by region. Projections are presented as low and high estimates, reflecting different driving factors that have an impact on nuclear power deployment.

Interest in nuclear power remains particularly strong in the developing world, the publication highlights. However, compared with the 2016 projections for 2030, the 2017 projections were reduced by 45 GW(e)[1] by 2030 in both high and low cases.

Over the short term, the low price of natural gas, the impact of renewable energy sources on electricity prices, and national nuclear policies in several countries following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 are expected to affect nuclear growth prospects. Yet, commitments agreed to at the 21st session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) could have a positive impact on nuclear energy development in the future.

The high projections indicate an increase from 2016 levels by 42% in 2030, by 83% in 2040 and by 123% in 2050. The low projections, on the other hand, indicate a decline in capacity by 12% in 2030 and 15% in 2040, before rebounding to present levels by 2050.

The wide range in these projections is also due to the considerable number of reactors scheduled to be retired around 2030 and beyond, particularly in North America and Europe, and whether new nuclear capacity would be built to replace these retirements.

The leading influential factors that might affect the future of nuclear power are discussed in detail in the recent IAEA report on International Status and Prospects for Nuclear Power 2017.

Regional Trends


Northern America: In both low and high cases, nuclear electricity production is expected to change significantly in this region over the next two decades.

Latin America & the Caribbean: Nuclear electricity production is projected to increase in both low and high cases, but its role will remain small in the coming decades.

Northern, Western and Southern Europe: Several countries in these regions have announced a phase-out of nuclear power. The regions’ nuclear power capacity will therefore change significantly in the coming years.

Eastern Europe: Nuclear electricity production is projected to continue to grow in both low and high cases, albeit at different rates.

Africa: In the low case, nuclear electrical generating capacity is projected to stay at the present level of 2 GW(e) until 2030 and to increase to 7 GW(e) by 2050. The development of nuclear power is expected to face uncertainty.

Western Asia: Although the single nuclear power reactor in the region provided only 2 TW∙h in 2016, nuclear electricity production is expected to increase significantly in both the low and high cases.

Southern Asia: The existing nuclear power reactors in the Southern Asia region are relatively young, and the majority are expected to remain in operation until the middle of the century. Nuclear electricity production is projected to continue to grow in both the low and high cases.

Central and Eastern Asia: Nuclear electrical generating capacity is projected to increase significantly in both low and high cases.

South-eastern Asia: Nuclear electricity will appear in the electricity production mix of this region only after 2030.

The world nuclear electrical generating capacity is projected to increase to 554 GW(e) by 2030 and to 874 GW(e) by 2050 in the high case. This represents a 42% increase over current levels by 2030 and a doubling of capacity by 2050. In the low case, the world nuclear electrical generating capacity is projected to gradually decline until 2040 and then rebound to about today’s level by 2050.

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[1] The projections consist of both available capacity (currently supplying electricity to the grid) and installed nominal capacity (available, but not currently supplying electricity to the grid).