Energy security bolstered by more nuclear generation, better performance: report

26 July 2022

Nuclear generation bounced back from the pandemic-related decline seen in 2020, increasing by 100 TWh to reach 2653 TWh in 2021, according to World Nuclear Association's latest performance report which has just been published.

World Nuclear Performance Report 2022 provides an up-to-date picture of the nuclear power sector, building on data collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, for reactors in operation today and those that are currently under construction. It provides the definitive assessment of nuclear's contribution to energy supply worldwide, World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León said.

"Every additional megawatt-hour of nuclear generation helps in the fight against climate change and every reactor helps provide secure and reliable electricity," she said. But this achievement must be put into the context of the much broader political, environmental and energy challenges facing the world today, she said.

"The fragility of the fossil fuel supply chain has been made plain. Fossil gas prices have sky-rocketed, and with them so have electricity prices," she said. Short-term actions in response to crisis conditions - such as re-starting coal plants - are unsustainable and many governments are now realising that nuclear energy can propel the drive to net-zero emissions and be the foundation of a more secure energy system. However, despite the increase in nuclear generation in 2021, there has been a decline in global nuclear capacity over the last two years.

"To reverse this trend, two things need to happen," Bilbao y León said. "First, reactors that are operating successfully today need to operate for longer. Too many of the reactor closures of the last few years have been motivated by political reasons or by dysfunctional markets. Long-term operation of nuclear reactors is the lowest cost form of additional low-carbon generation and helps reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

"Second, the pace of new nuclear construction must increase. In 2021, first concrete was poured for ten new reactors. Although that is better than in recent years, we still need to see 20, 30 or more new reactor construction starts per year soon, to ensure that nuclear energy plays the role it should in delivering a secure and sustainable net-zero future."

Extending the operation of nuclear power plants is one of the lowest cost forms of additional low-carbon generation, World Nuclear Association Senior Communications Manager Jonathan Cobb said. "Operating the existing fleet of nuclear reactors for longer could make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, thereby tackling climate change. Therefore, it is vital to understand how reactors perform as they get older," he said.

The report found that there is no age-related decline in nuclear reactor performance, he said. Improvements in average global capacity factors have been achieved in reactors of all ages, not just in newer reactors of more advanced design. This strengthens the case for extending the operations of the current nuclear fleet, Cobb said.

Mean-capacity-factor-2017-2021-by-age-of-reactor-(WNA-2020-Performance-Report).jpgMean capacity factor 2017-2021 by age of reactor (Source: World Nuclear Association, IAEA PRIS)

"Our existing nuclear fleet can continue to make a massive contribution to energy security and climate change mitigation," Bilbao y León said as the report was published today. "But establishing the net-zero economy that will be needed to avoid the worst impacts of global climate change - and so many governments have set targets to achieve - will require a total transformation of our energy system, including a far greater contribution of nuclear energy."

Recent months have seen announcements of plans for new reactors - large and small - from new and existing nuclear countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Egypt, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and the UK, she added. "It is essential that these plans are delivered on in full and expanded upon so the pace and scale of new nuclear construction accelerates worldwide.

"We need to lay down human, physical, commercial and institutional infrastructures that will allow the global nuclear sector to truly scale up fast to meet the urgent and massive decarbonisation needs. Only if this is achieved will everyone have equitable access to the secure and reliable energy and electricity supplies they need to live well, and be able to preserve an environment fit to live in."

In addition to extensive performance summaries, the report contains country-by-country updates presenting key data and detailing recent developments, as well as case studies on large and small reactor construction projects in China, the UK and the United Arab Emirates.

The report - and World Nuclear Association's launch video - can accessed here.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News