China is still increasing the amount of electricity it generates from nuclear power plants. However, when all other countries are considered together, nuclear power generation declined somewhat in 2017.
Two cooling towers do not make a nuclear power renaissance: Doel nuclear power plant Photo: dpa
The global renaissance of nuclear power that the nuclear industry likes to construct is not taking place – as long as China is left out as a special case. Looking at all the other countries in the world together, nuclear power generation declined slightly in 2017. Only because China increased by 18 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year did the global balance show a 1 percent increase in the amount of nuclear power generated.
That’s the finding of the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report, unveiled Tuesday in London. Authors are Paris-based nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider and his team. The report, which was first published in 1992, is the most comprehensive annual collection of data and analysis of the global nuclear industry.
China is still building vigorously, but in the medium term the curve is likely to flatten there as well. China has not started a new commercial reactor since December 2016, according to the report.
Globally, the number of nuclear power plants under construction has been falling for several years: at the end of 2013, there were 68 nuclear reactors under construction, but by mid-2018 there were only 50. And of these, at least 33 are now behind schedule. Massive delays are also known from the few new builds in Europe: the Flamanville project in France and Olkiluoto in Finland are now many years behind schedule.
Despite the current boom in China – 3 new reactors went online there in 2017 – global nuclear power generation in 2017 was still 6 percent below its historic 2006 peak.
The global development of nuclear power generation, meanwhile, depends above all on the operating lives of the old reactors. On average, the world’s operating reactors are now 30 years old, and almost one in five has already passed the 40-year mark. If the old reactors are taken off the grid only hesitantly, the amount of nuclear power generated globally could still increase slightly in the next few years due to the completion of the power plants still under construction. Nevertheless, the trend shows that the share of nuclear power in the global electricity mix continues to decline. In 1996, it peaked at 17.5 percent; in 2017, it was 10.3 percent.
The boom in renewable energies is also contributing to this: Wind power generation increased by 17 percent worldwide in 2017 compared with the previous year, and solar power generation by 35 percent. The report sees the expansion of wind and solar power as the reason for China’s nuclear power slowdown. China invested a total of $126 billion in renewable energy in 2017 alone, he said. At the same time, electricity demand growth is slowing, while nuclear safety requirements and costs of new technologies are rising. These are all obstacles to nuclear power that policymakers and decision-makers in China cannot ignore.