The world nuclear performance report 2016 by the World Nuclear Association has given an updated account on the nuclear energy for sustainable development while critically evaluating the recent industry highlights; the history of global nuclear industry has been recorded with missed outcomes. This is a fact that the industry is mounting, albeit too gradual and leisurely, the number of reactors are increasing in Asia and especially in China. The number of reactors currently under construction is at one of the highest points of the past two decades but in the United States and Europe premature reactor retirements are outstripping the rate of capacity addition.
According to the report by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), there were 66 power reactors under construction across world last year, and another 158 planned. Of those being built, 24 were in mainland China. In what it promises will be an annual update of industry’s progress, WNA presents a rosy picture of the future of industry, which it hopes will produce ever-increasing amounts of world’s power.
The number of reactors is increasing instead of reducing in number. The report recounts addition of reactor each year, particularly in 2016 report, an addition of 3 reactors is seen as compared to the 2015 report. It is acknowledged that in the start of 2015 there were 436 reactors around the world that were operable and by the end of year there were 439. Despite of the fact that seven units of reactor were given up from working, this increase in reactor numbers is seen even then.
Since the last 25 years, a vast amount of increase is observed in the construction and implementation of nuclear power reactors industry. Additionally, the 10 new reactors that are in line, is a record breaker from the past 25 years. 2015 demonstrated improving new build performance all round. The existing global fleet generated roughly 10% of the world’s electricity, making up around one-third of the world’s low-carbon electricity supply. Currently, the industry provides 10% of the world’s electricity, but its target is to supply 25% by 2050 – requiring a massive new build program. The plan is to open 10 new reactors a year until 2020, another 25 a year to 2030, and more than 30 a year until 2050.
On the other hand, the situation facing the nuclear industry globally is challenging. The World Nuclear Association’s vision for the future global electricity system consists of a diverse mix of low-carbon technologies – where renewable, nuclear and a greatly reduced level of fossil fuels (preferably with carbon capture and storage) work together in harmony to ensure a reliable, affordable and clean energy supply, by the report. Despite its optimism, the WNA admits that the situation globally for the industry is “challenging”, particularly in Europe and the US, where low electricity prices are making nuclear power uneconomic.
The brightest prospect is China, where nuclear power is shielded from market forces. Eight new reactors were connected to the grid in 2015, with many more scheduled for construction as part of China’s bid to phase out coal and improve air quality. This mix must find the optimal balance between the need for human development and the protection of the natural environment. To achieve this, the role of nuclear energy must be expanded.
The key metrics launched in the report on the nuclear power plant performance and reviewing recent developments in the global nuclear industry includes: 1) More nuclear reactors are under construction and more reactors came on line last year than at any time in the last 25 years, 2) Nuclear reactor performance has improved steadily over last 35 years. Importantly, reactor performance is not fundamentally affected by reactor age; older plants operate as well as younger plants, 3) Construction times for new reactors have improved over last 15 years, with reactors coming on line in 2015 having an average construction time of around six years.
The cotemporary years have been some of the most challenging for global nuclear power plant fleet, but major new build programs, new technology developments, reactor restarts in Japan and strengthening public support mean prospects for years ahead are brighter. Even though new build levels are at a 25 year high, rate of new grid connections will have to increase significantly to support global economic growth, alleviate energy poverty and provide enough clean energy to meet agreed climate change targets. The WNAconsiders that there should be 1000 GWe of new nuclear build by 2050, with nuclear generation supplying 25% of global electricity demand.
— The writer works for Strategic Vision Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.