Nuclear power

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

🕐 Last updated Wednesday, 23 May 2018

More efforts needed

In 2017, new nuclear power capacity dropped sharply to only 3.6 GW. Construction starts, a proxy for final investment decisions, remained low. Declining investment, announced phase-out policies and planned retirements, combined with only 56 GW of nuclear capacity under construction in 2017, suggest that meeting the goal of 185 GW of net increase needed by 2030 will be very challenging. Looming construction decisions by China, India and Russia in 2018-2020 will play a major role in whether nuclear power will meet the SDS targets in 2030 and beyond.


Current nuclear capacity and future additions

Decisions on planned nuclear construction over the next several years will be crucial.

	SDS Targets	Current fleet with 60 Year Operating Life	Without additional construction	With planned construction
2000		384		
2001		387		
2002		391		
2003		392		
2004		397		
2005		398		
2006		397		
2007		399		
2008		399		
2009		399		
2010		401		
2011		394		
2012		396		
2013		394		
2014		398		
2015		404		
2016		413		
2017		419		
2018		424		
2019		436		
2020		443		
2021		441		
2022		439	439	440
2023			437	440
2024			434	457
2025	491		429	478
2026			427	494
2027			427	509
2028			426	
2029			423	
2030	586		421	
2031			418	
2032			413	
2033			406	
2034			395	
2035	661		387	
2036			376	
2037			370	
2038			358	
2039			352	
2040	720		337	
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Nuclear capacity additions declined significantly in 2017, falling to just 3.6 GW, down from 10 GW in 2016. Over the past five years, 33 GW of capacity was connected to the grid, with China accounting for two-thirds of that total. Meanwhile 18 GW has been shut down permanently, including 7.3 GW in Japan and 4.9 GW in the United States.

Recent constructions have been mostly in Asia. China, India, and Korea alone accounted for half, or 31 GW, of the reactors currently under construction. Construction starts have been low in China in the past two years – 2.3 GW in 2016 and a 600 MW fast reactor in 2017. But China seems poised to begin construction on several new reactors, with as many as eight approvals expected in 2018. China has climbed from 3% of global capacity in 2010 to 9% in 2017. This is consistent with the SDS, which projects that all the net growth to 2030 comes from non-OECD countries.

In 2017, France announced that its target of reducing the nuclear share of electricity generation from 75% to 50% by 2025 was unrealistic, and changed to 2030 to 2035 instead. A public referendum in Switzerland on new energy strategy law formalised a ban on new construction, but it also defeated an effort to limit the operational lifetimes of its existing nuclear plants.

In Korea, a “citizen’s jury” rejected President Moon Jae In’s plan to immediately abandon construction of Shin Kori units 5 & 6 but agreed with the president’s position that the country should forego new construction and begin to phase out its nuclear plants, retiring over one-third (8 GW) before 2030.


Global construction and connection trends

Nuclear capacity additions fell from 10 GW in 2016 to just 3.6 GW in 2017

	Construction Start	First Grid Connection
2006	4	2
2007	8	3
2008	10	0
2009	12	2
2010	16	5
2011	4	7
2012	7	3
2013	8	4
2014	3	5
2015	8	10
2016	3	10
2017	3	4
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Investment

In 2017, investment estimations based on nuclear projects connected to the grid declined to USD 9 billion, nearly 70% lower than in 2016. Construction starts, a proxy for final investment decisions, remained low at 4 GW. Most investments in new nuclear plants are driven by the availability of long-term regulated electricity prices or contracts, and generally require finance from a financially strong developer. Meanwhile, investments in upgrades for extended operation of existing plants, mostly in OECD countries, rose to around USD 8 billion in 2017.


Tracking progress

Nuclear power is likely to be on track for the 2020 SDS target of 438 GW installed capacity, as construction of 40 GW is completed. However, it will be increasingly unlikely that nuclear power will be on track for the 2025 target of 490 GW installed capacity, as phase-outs counter any progress.

Since it takes more than five years to build a nuclear plant, new construction starting today will not be online before 2023. While this helps making near-term projections, looking beyond 2025 is challenging because nuclear policies are uncertain.

Current phase-out policies in Belgium, Germany, Korea and Chinese Taipei will lead to the retirement by 2025 of 25 GW out of 414 GW currently installed. Closure of an additional 5 GW in the United States and Europe has been announced for various financial reasons, including government policies and taxes.

Without additional license extensions, a total of over 55 GW would be retired by 2030, which would make it even more challenging to reach the target of a 185 GW net increase in world capacity by 2030.

These retirements increase to almost 200 GW by 2040 under current licenses and policies but would reach only 2.6 GW if 80-year operation were possible for all existing reactors.

This difference shows that extending the operational lives of nuclear reactors could have a huge impact in the near-term, though 80-year operation probably will not be adopted broadly. In the United States, where over 100 GW is installed, the regulator is already preparing guidance for license applications to operate 80 years.


Nuclear capacity under construction

Most of the reactors under construction at the end of 2017 are in Asia

	Capacity under construction
China	21.1
Korea	5.7
United Arab Emirates	5.6
Russia	4.7
India	4.3
United States	2.5
Belarus	2.4
Pakistan	2.2
Ukraine	2.2
Finland	1.7
France	1.7
Bangladesh	1.2
Slovakia	0.9
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Against the global background of phase-outs, certain countries – namely China and Korea – have demonstrated the ability to build multiple reactors with predictable costs and schedules. The construction project in the United Arab Emirates also appears to be progressing well. The four units are being built by a Korean-led consortium and the first unit is expected to start up in 2019.

In March 2018, China’s National Energy Administration released an “Energy Work Guidance Opinion” that projects five reactors to come online and an additional six to eight to start construction in 2018. This is mostly in line with the government’s latest five-year plan for nuclear power development released in 2016, which envisioned 58 GW installed – the amount currently operational or under construction – plus another 30 GW under construction by 2020.

If China executes to its five-year plan and India executes its plan for 63 GW by 2032, the SDS targets will be within reach.

In addition, the Russian state-owned corporation Rosatom signed more than ten agreements in 2017 alone. Many of these are exploratory studies, but some appear to represent more advanced discussions and firmer progress towards actual construction.


Innovation

Several major efforts in the nuclear field aim to reduce barriers to increased deployment by reducing investment risk, expanding potential applications to smaller grids or non-electricity products, or increasing safety features.

Five small modular reactor (SMR) units are under construction around the word and at least ten designs are ready for near-term deployment, according to the World Nuclear Association. SMR is a generic name for reactors with an output of 300 MW or less. They offer a greater degree of factory fabrication, a better fit for smaller grid application and lower upfront investment. In addition to the five plants under construction, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have recently taken steps towards deploying at least one such reactor as a demonstration project.

Accident-tolerant fuels could also make a major contribution to meeting the SDS targets. These fuels would provide more robust performance under accident conditions, and might help extend the lifetime of existing reactors. Most fuel vendors are developing such fuels. Global Nuclear Fuels recently inserted its first assembly using advanced fuel cladding materials into a commercial reactor in the United States.

The IEA’s new Innovation Tracking Framework identifies key long-term “technology innovation gaps” across the energy mix that need to be filled in order to meet long-term clean energy transition goals. Each innovation gap highlights where R&D investment and other efforts need improvement.

Explore the technology innovation gaps identified for nuclear below:

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Required rates for nuclear plant construction could be reduced by life extensions of existing plants. To reach the SDS goals, many plants will need to undergo refurbishment and life extensions. However, there are key R&D gaps to reduce the costs, impact and increase the feasibility of repurposing and extending reactor lifetimes.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

  • Explore new materials and retrofitting technologies for life extensions.
  • Nuclear materials aging and degradation including providing data and methods to assess performance of systems, structures, and components essential to safe and sustained nuclear power plant operation. Improve the scientific knowledge basis for understanding and predicting fundamental nuclear fuel and cladding performance in nuclear power plants. Apply this information to the development of high-performance, high-burnup fuels with improved safety, cladding, integrity, and economics.
  • Design and develop heat recovery steam generators and boilers for flexible operation.
  • Holistic layup methods for durations of several days.

Key initiatives

Overall 670 million USD earmarked in IEA RD&D budgets broadly attributable to nuclear life extensions, including nuclear waste disposal and site assessment.

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Small modular reactors open up possibilities for small scale nuclear power in new countries and niche markets.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Develop improved materials and fuels for advanced SMR designs; direct R&D towards manufacturing processes to compete with economies of scale in large-scale reactors.

Key initiatives

  • US DOE $30 million funding programme for advanced nuclear technologies including SMRs using LWR and fast reactor designs.
  • UK SMR programme making 56m GBP available for SMR to assess potential designs and accelerate development.

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

Nuclear energy is also a low-carbon source for heat and can play a relevant role in decarbonising other parts of the energy system.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Explore extraction technologies and processes for district heating of buildings, seawater desalination, industrial production processes and fuel synthesis.

Key initiatives

Around 74 power plants using some form of heat extraction for district or desalination heat, mostly older technologies (e.g. Halden in Norway or Goesgen in Switzerland).

Explore all 100+ innovation gaps across 38 key technologies and sectors here.