The future is changing29 November 2000
The Energy Information Administration's "International Energy Outlook 2002" report presents international energy projections through 2020. In the reference case, world nuclear capacity is expected to rise from 350GWe in 2000 to 363GWe in 2010 before falling to 359GWe in 2020.
Previous editions of "International Energy Outlook", prepared by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), have predicted declines in nuclear electricity consumption. However, due to new plant construction and licence extensions for existing plants, the 2002 report has revised these expectations. The "International Energy Outlook 2002" (IEO2002) reference case forecasts world net nuclear generated capacity at 359GWe in 2020, or 9GWe more than projected in the "International Energy Outlook 2001" (IEO2001) reference case.
Projected US nuclear capacity in 2020 is 16GWe higher in the IEO2002 forecast as a result of an expectation that the owners of most of the nuclear power plants now operating in the USA will seek relicensing and will continue operating the plants. The IEO2002 forecast projects 3GWe fewer retirements in 2020 overseas (i.e. outside the USA), but also projects fewer new builds overseas than did the IEO2001 forecast. Nevertheless, a significant number of plant retirements are expected, and nuclear power capacity is projected to fall considerably. By 2020, nuclear power is projected to account for 12% of the world's total electricity supply, down from 16% in 1999.
There are currently 33 reactors under construction around the globe, half of which are being built in developing Asia — eight in China, four in South Korea, and two each in India and Taiwan. A total of 32GWe of nuclear capacity is projected to be added by 2020 to the 23GWe operating in 2000 in developing Asia. Of this, China is expected to account for 14GWe (see Table). There are no new plants currently under construction or on order in North America, South America, or Western Europe.
The story so far
Nuclear power first became a major source of electricity production in the 1970s. Nuclear power consumption worldwide grew from 188TWh in 1973 to 1843TWh in 1989. By the 1990s, however, the growth of nuclear power consumption had begun to slow, and it is expected to level off by 2010. No lasting orders for new plants have occurred in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Switzerland, or the USA since 1973. Thus far, however, only Germany, Lithuania, Sweden, and Ukraine have committed to the early retirement of some if not all of their nuclear power plants. All other nations seeking to reduce their reliance on nuclear power intend to do so through attrition and by not building any new nuclear plants. Still, many nations may find that viable alternatives to nuclear power are more difficult to develop than anticipated.
In 2000, nuclear power plants generated electricity in 30 countries. A total of 438 nuclear power plants were registered as in operation around the world, including 104 in the United States, 59 in France, and 53 in Japan. Six new reactors came online in 2000, and two were shut down. The new reactors included Angra 2 (in Brazil), Temelin 1 (Czech Republic), Rajasthan 3 and 4 and Kaiga 1 (India), and Chasnupp 1 (Pakistan) for a total of 3056MWe of capacity. The country with the largest share of electricity generated by nuclear power was France, at 76%. Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, South Korea, and Ukraine depended on nuclear power for at least 40% of their electricity generation.
Recent turn of events
The 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC gave rise to new concerns over the safety of the nuclear power plants now operating in the USA. Uncertainties about whether nuclear plants and nuclear fuel storage facilities were at risk from a similar terrorist attack resulted in heightened security measures at all nuclear facilities around the country. Although a containment tower had in the past survived a head-on test crash of a military jet without major damage, it remains uncertain whether the same could be said of a head-on crash with a large commercial aircraft loaded with jet fuel. Containment vessels typically have 4 feet of steel-reinforced concrete along with a steel liner. Fuel storage facilities may be more prone to damage in the event of a head-on crash, in that they are not nearly so well protected.
After the 11 September attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration banned commercial airplanes from flying within 10 nautical miles of any nuclear facility. In many States, National Guard troops were deployed to protect power plants from possible terrorist attacks. It is uncertain what lasting impact these recent developments will have on the prospects for nuclear power either in the United States or overseas; the IEO2002 forecast has not been adjusted to take into account any policy changes resulting from the events of 11 September, 2001.
One argument that may favour nuclear power is that continued or increased use of nuclear power for electricity generation would lessen US dependence on energy imports and thus provide greater national security. The "improved national security" argument can be taken only so far, however, given that the only imported fuel that competes significantly with nuclear power is natural gas, and almost all US natural gas imports come from Canada. In other countries, nuclear power may well be considered a more secure form of electricity production, particularly by those nations heavily dependent on energy imports for electricity production. For instance, Japan relies on imported oil and natural gas for 38% of its electricity production, and 79% of its oil imports, and 20% of its natural gas imports come from the Middle East.
Western Europe relied on nuclear power for 35% of its electricity in 1999. Nuclear's share of the Western European electricity market is expected to fall to 24% by 2020. Currently, among European countries, only France and Finland have shown any intent to expand their nuclear power industries. Most of the other nations of Western Europe have decided either to curtail further development of nuclear power or to abandon it entirely. Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland have made past commitments to gradual phaseouts of their nuclear power programmes, although those commitments have been difficult to carry through.
Sweden and Germany have adopted the most aggressive plans to end their nuclear power programmes. In 1980, Sweden committed to a scheduled 40-year phaseout of nuclear power, and in November 1997 the Swedish parliament approved a plan to shut down two of the nation's twelve nuclear reactors, Barsebäck 1 and Barsebäck 2, which accounted for 12% of Sweden's nuclear generation capacity. Barsebäck 1, a 615MWe reactor that began commercial operation in 1975, was shut down in November 1999, more than a year after the scheduled closing date of July 1998. Barsebäck 2, completed in 1977, was initially scheduled to be closed in July 2001, but in August 2000 the Swedish government announced that the Barsebäck 2 closure would also be delayed until 2003, and then only if secure sources of electricity could be obtained. After closing Barsebäck 1, Sweden replaced the lost electricity generation with imported power from a coal-fired plant in Denmark, causing an increase in Western Europe's total carbon dioxide emissions.
In June 2000, Germany's electricity industry agreed to phase out its nuclear power plants ahead of schedule. The plan calls for the shutdown of all of Germany's reactors after they have operated for 32 years. Accordingly, the final plant closure would occur in the mid-2020s. Germany's ruling government minority coalition partner, the environmentalist Green Party, had favoured a 10-year phaseout. The Social Democratic German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, initially favoured a 20-year phaseout but reached a compromise with the electric utility industry. The German government also decided eventually to stop the foreign reprocessing of its spent nuclear fuels, but that decision was rescinded in early 2001, ending a three-year moratorium on spent fuel shipments to foreign reprocessing plants.
There has been some recent apparent backtracking on the move away from dependence on nuclear power as a source of electricity. In Italy, the interim head of the nation's Environmental Protection Agency (Anpa) stated that there was "wide support within the country's scientific community for review of a possible re-emergence of nuclear energy in Italy". Similarly, the European director general for energy François Lamoureux, stated that the use of nuclear is "unavoidable in aiding security of supply and tackling climate change". Martin Villa, the chairman of the Spanish Electricity Company Endesa, called for a reopening of the debate on new plant construction. The Tony Blair government in the UK initially stated that it did not want an expansion of nuclear power; however, for some time the Blair government has left open the possibility that it would reverse that stance.
The Japanese government and electricity industry remain committed to building new commercial nuclear power reactors in the future, despite some public concern over operational safety. The IEO2002 reference case projects that the nuclear share of Japan's total electricity generation will remain stable at about one-third through 2020.
Alone among world regions, developing Asia is expected to see rapid growth in nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are currently in operation in China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan and, in the IEO2002 reference case, developing Asia is expected to more than double its nuclear capacity by 2020. Consumption of energy from nuclear power plants in developing Asia is projected to increase from 160TWh in 1999 to 425TWh in 2020. Increases in nuclear generating capacity are expected for all the developing Asian nations that currently have nuclear power plants in operation. By 2020, developing Asia is projected to account for 15% of the world's nuclear power capacity, up from 6% in 1999.
China and India are expected to show the most rapid growth in nuclear power capacity over the forecast period. China, which had 2177MWe of capacity in 2000, is expected to increase its capacity to 16,607MWe by 2020. India is also expected to show a marked increase in nuclear power capacity. India, which currently has two nuclear power plants under construction, is expected to increase its capacity from 2301MWe in 2000 to 6451MWe by 2020.
IEO2002 expects substantial additional nuclear capacity to be added to the South Korean nuclear power sector over the forecast period. The additions projected are only slightly less than those forecast by the South Korean government or the state-owned national utility, Kepco. In 1999, the South Korean nuclear power industry had 12,990MWe of capacity. By 2020, South Korea's nuclear power capacity is expected to rise to 22,125MWe.
North America: USA
The USA is expected to reduce its reliance on nuclear power significantly over the forecast period, from 20% of total electricity generation in 1999 to less than 15% in 2020. Only a few years ago it seemed likely that there would be numerous early closures of nuclear power plants in the USA; however, several companies have recently applied to the NRC for extensions of reactor operating licences, and as many as 90% of all operating plants could eventually be relicensed. Reductions in operating costs over the past decade have made nuclear plants more competitive, even as electricity markets are increasingly being deregulated.
The Bush Administration's National Energy Policy favours expanding the role of nuclear power by - according to the report of the National Energy Policy Development Group - "encouraging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to facilitate efforts by utilities to expand nuclear energy in the United States by uprating existing power plants safely" and by encouraging "the NRC to relicense existing nuclear plants" by directing the DoE and EPA to "assess the potential of nuclear to improve air quality…to increase resources as necessary for the nuclear safety enforcement in light of the potential increase in generation…to use the best science to provide a deep geologic repository for nuclear waste…to support legislation clarifying that qualified funds set aside by plant owners for eventual decommissioning will not be taxed as part of the transaction…to support legislation to extend the Price Anderson Act". In 2001, the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology solicited proposals from the civilian nuclear electricity industry to conduct scoping studies "of potential sites for the deployment of new nuclear power plants".
In the USA, some utilities have come out in favour of building new units and perhaps resurrecting units already shut down. In March 2001, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began reconsidering the restarting of Browns Ferry nuclear plant, which was shut down in 1985. In December 2001, the TVA announced that a "preferred option" is to extend the operation of all three Browns Ferry units. Exelon, the largest producer of nuclear power in the USA, has been discussing with the NRC the construction of new nuclear plants. Recently, the NRC has approved three new versions of reactors that are deemed both safer and more economical (the Westinghouse AP600 design, General Electric's Advanced Boiling-Water Reactor, and Combustion Engineering Systems 80+ model). To date, however, no firm plans for either constructing a new unit or restarting a mothballed unit have been announced.
North America: Canada
Nuclear power accounted for 14% of Canada's electricity generation in 1999, but its share is expected to drop slightly, to 13%, by the end of the forecast period. In late 1997 and early 1998, Ontario Power Generation (formerly Ontario Hydro) shut down seven of its older nuclear power plants, or 17% (4300MWe) of its operating capacity. Canada still has 14 nuclear power plants currently in operation. In July 2000, Ontario Power Generation announced its planned lease of the operation of eight of its Bruce reactors, four of which were shut down in 1998, to British Energy. In January 2001, Canada's nuclear safety commission scheduled two hearings for licences to resume operation of three of the closed units. On 2 October, 2001, the Canadian Nuclear Power Safety Commission approved an environmental review procedure that is expected to result in the reopening of Ontario's Bruce 3 and 4 nuclear power plants, with a total of 1500MWe of capacity, by 2003 and 2004, respectively. In November 2001, the Commission gave provisional approval for the restart of the Pickering A power plant.
Among African nations, South Africa is currently the only country with nuclear electricity generation capacity and the only nation expected to produce electricity from nuclear power over the forecast period. South Africa has two 921MWe reactors, Koeberg 1 and 2, now in operation, and nuclear power accounted for 7% of its electricity generation in 1999. South Africa's state-owned utility, Eskom, has been experimenting with pebble bed modular reactor technology since 1993 and had proposed the construction of a 110MWe demonstration reactor beginning in mid-2001, although the most recent phase calls for units in the 120-130MWe range. In November 2001, the proposed construction start time for the pebble bed modular reactor was delayed for up to 12 months upon completion of a feasibility study. The IEO2002 forecast does not expect the reactor to come online until late in the forecast period.
Eastern Europe &
Former Soviet Union
Nuclear power capacity in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (EE/FSU) is expected to decline over the forecast period, primarily as a result of the retirement of plants in the FSU that have been the subject of safety concerns. By 2020, the region is expected to have 37,000MWe of capacity, compared with 44,000MWe in 1999.
The EE/FSU region has 59 reactors operating at 18 nuclear energy sites. Twenty-five are considered to be operating at standards below those acceptable in the West. A major goal of Western efforts has been to shut down the least safe nuclear reactors operating in the EE/FSU countries.
In 1992, the International Atomic Energy Agency began a review of safety practices at Soviet-designed RBMK-type reactors. Six of the 15 RBMK plants currently in operation are "first generation", because they were built in the early to mid-1970s. They are considered less safe than those built later. In total, the Soviets built 17 RBMK units (including the 4 units at Chernobyl), of which 13 are still active. Eleven RBMK reactors are operating in Russia and two in Lithuania, and one is currently under construction.
Lithuania was promised E200 million (about $180 million) from the European Commission and twelve other nations in grants to help ease the financial burden of shutting down its RBMK Ignalina plant before 2005. Similar efforts are being undertaken to close down Bulgaria's Kozloduy plant and Slovakia's Bohunice plant. Bulgaria intends to close Kozloduy units 1 and 2 in 2002 or 2003. Bulgaria has agreed to close Kozloduy units 1-4 "at the earliest possible date." The European Union (EU) committed E200 million to help Bulgaria close Kozloduy units 1 and 2, and in February 2001 Westinghouse announced that it will modernise Kozloduy units 5 and 6. Both Lithuania's and Slovakia's future entry into the EU has been jeopardised by the concerns associated with their nuclear power industries. In December 1995, the Group of Seven and Ukraine reached an agreement to shut down all units at Chernobyl by 2000. Under the agreement, unit 1 was shut down in 1996, and Ukraine shut down the last of the four reactors, Chernobyl 3, in December 2000.
In October 2000, the first of the Czech Republic's two Temelin nuclear power reactors was brought online after a long-running dispute with Austria and Germany. Construction on the VVER-1000 units, which began in 1987, was delayed for financial and technical reasons. Westinghouse was brought in to upgrade the Temelin plant to Western standards.
TablesHistorical and projected operable nuclear capacities by region, 2000-2020 (Net GWe)