Nuclear Power

Not on track
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In this report

In 2019, 5.5 GW of additional nuclear capacity were connected to the grid and 9.4 GW were permanently shut down, bringing global capacity to 443 GW. New projects were launched (about 5.2 GW), and refurbishments are under way in many countries to ensure the long-term operations of the existing fleet. Nevertheless, while the existing nuclear fleet remains the world’s second most important low-carbon source of electricity, new nuclear construction is not on track with the SDS. According to current trends, nuclear capacity in 2040 will amount to 455 GW – well below the SDS level of 601 GW. Additional lifetime extensions and a doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions are therefore required.

Global nuclear capacity by scenario, 2000-2040

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Tracking progress

In 2019, 5.5 GW of new nuclear capacity was brought online. This is a sharp decrease from 2018, when 11.2 GW were connected to the grid – the highest capacity addition since 1989. China and Russia remain the leading countries in terms of new grid connections and construction launches. In fact, 20% of the nuclear reactors under construction globally are in China.

Although 60.5 GW of new nuclear capacity were under construction at the end of 2019, the rate at which new projects are completed remains half that required under the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS). New nuclear capacity of 15 GWe on average annually between 2020 and 2040 is required to meet the SDS.

In 2019, 13 nuclear reactors were permanently shut down in Japan (5 units), the United-States (2 units), Switzerland, Germany, Korea, Russia, Sweden and Taiwan (1 unit each) for a total of 9.4 GW. Six of these plants were more than 40 years, but most of the reactors were retired to conform with national nuclear policy measures, including post-Fukushima measures in Japan. Several were also retired as a result of adverse market conditions (United States).

Nuclear power construction starts and first grid connections, 2007-2019, compared to Sustainable Development Scenario

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Only 5.2 GW of construction was launched in 2019, with one reactor each in China, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom. The 60.5 GW of nuclear capacity under construction were primarily in OECD countries (20 GW), China (10 GW) and Russia (4.9 GW). The two OECD countries with the most capacity under construction are Korea (6 GW) and the United Kingdom (3.4 GW). Out of the 25 GW of capacity under construction in the rest of the world, the leading countries are India (5.3 GW) and the United Arab Emirates (5.6 GW).

Construction in the United Arab Emirates is progressing according to schedule, and fuel-loading of the first unit took place in March 2020. In OECD countries, Hinkley Point C is the largest ongoing new-build project and the first project for the United Kingdom since 1995. Construction of the two units is on schedule, with the unit-one nuclear island raft completed in May 2019.

Other new-build projects are in the preparation phase in Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. These are typically large reactor projects (>1 GW), and judging from current policies and ongoing projects this could mean new additions of approximately 35 GW.

China began construction on only one new nuclear reactor in 2019, the first since 2016, but in the next several years it is expected to launch several new projects, including inland reactors, to reach a total capacity of as much as 110 GW by 2030. This plan will capitalise on the 2018‑19 commissioning of some of the first Gen-III reactor designs (EPR, AP1000) as well as completion of the first Hualong One reactor, a domestic Gen-III design, in 2020. 

In addition to new-build projects, refurbishments are ongoing in several countries to extend the service lifetimes of their nuclear fleets.

Canada’s Darlington and Bruce nuclear units in Ontario are undergoing a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar refurbishment that will allow the plants to operate well beyond mid-century. Both projects are advancing according to plan, with the first refurbished unit (Darlington-2) to be reconnected to the grid in 2020. The Darlington refurbishment project should to be completed by 2026 and the Bruce project by 2033.

In France, the utility EDF is continuing its long-term operation programme to extend the lifetime of the French nuclear fleet beyond 40 years and expects generic regulatory approval for the 900 series in 2020. In the meantime, Tricastin-1 was the first unit completed under the programme in late 2019. Similar refurbishments will be applied to 21 additional 900‑MWe units before 2025.

Argentina completed refurbishment of its Embalse NPP, which was reconnected to the grid in January 2019 and was operating at 100% capacity by October 2019.

In the United States, 88 of the 98 operating units have been granted a licence to operate for 60 years in total, and 6 applications for a second 20-year extension (subsequent licence renewals) have been submitted. Of these six, four have been approved and approvals of the remaining two are expected in 2020. Five additional applications are expected before 2022.

Other countries with long-term operation projects include Armenia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

France revised its energy planning in November 2018 and made public its strategy for carbon neutrality in 2050. This strategy relies on closing the remaining fossil fuel-fired power plants; extending the lifetimes of some existing reactors while spreading out the closures of others to ensure a smooth decommissioning schedule; and developing renewable energy. Nuclear will remain the backbone of the French energy strategy with a 50% share in the 2035 power mix, with the remaining half coming from renewable energy sources. To be able to rely on nuclear beyond 2035 and retain it as a viable option, the French government has announced a work programme with the nuclear industry to draw up a plan by mid-2021 for a possible nuclear new-build programme.

Japan has confirmed its objective to raise the share of nuclear power to 20-22% by 2030, but the process to restart the reactors shut down after the Fukushima Daiichi accident remains slow. As of January 2020, reviews of the 15 reactors had been successfully completed and 9 of them had returned to operation. The remaining 18 operable reactors are at various stages of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) review process, and several may be forced to shut down temporarily for not meeting NRA deadlines to construct back-up control centres or other facilities required by the new regulations.

Belgium plans to phase out all its nuclear capacity by 2025, which accounts for around half of the electricity production (46.3% in 2019). The government is introducing a capacity remuneration mechanism to encourage the investments required to maintain system adequacy. Several new gas-fired power plants are planned by utilities.

Switzerland has confirmed its current policy of not extending the lifetimes of existing nuclear facilities, and it permanently shut down the first of its five reactors in December 2019.

In November 2019, Poland published its draft energy policy to 2040, reaffirming its plans to develop 6 GW to 9 GW of nuclear energy as part of a diverse energy portfolio, making the country less heavily dependent on coal and imported gas. Poland’s first nuclear power plant could come online in 2033, with another five expected to follow by 2043.

Outside of OECD countries, China’s 13th Five-Year Plan has been the core stimulus of its national nuclear programme, connecting more than 30 GWe of nuclear capacity to the grid in the past decade. This means the country is likely to come close to meeting its ambitious target of 58 GWe of installed nuclear capacity by the end of 2020. Furthermore, its 15th Five-Year Plan in 2021 is expected to inject the domestic nuclear programme with renewed momentum, with mid-term plans to construct 120 to 150 GWe by 2030.

In India, new-build activity has been limited during the last few years, but the country aims to construct 21 new nuclear power plants by 2030 relying on both domestic and international technologies.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) continue to attract interest in both established nuclear countries, such as Canada and the United States, and in newcomer countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. RD&D and investment in SMRs and other advanced reactors are being encouraged through public-private partnerships.

In the United States, congress passed a bill on nuclear innovation that encourages public-private partnerships to test and demonstrate advanced reactor concepts, and to enhance public research laboratories’ simulation and experimental capabilities. In February 2019, the US DOE announced plans to build a Versatile Test Reactor, or VTR. This new research reactor will help accelerate the testing of advanced nuclear fuels and materials required to develop Gen-IV reactor systems.

Design certification of SMRs by nuclear safety authorities is progressing. The NuScale SMR design is in the final stage of design certification by the US NRC, with the process expected to be completed in 2020. Plans to construct the first modules of a new plant in Idaho have advanced with the manufacturers having been chosen and further support confirmed by the US DOE. In March 2020, Oklo submitted the first combined licence application for an advanced reactor technology to the NRC. Oklo is developing a 1.5‑MW micro-reactor to supply energy at remote sites.

The Canadian government released its SMR roadmap in December 2018 and encouraged SMR vendors to take advantage of the opportunities offered to build and demonstrate their technologies. The CNSC (Canada’s federal regulator) is currently reviewing ten SMR designs and received an application to build a micro modular reactor in 2019.

In August 2019, the CNSC and the US NRC signed a memorandum of co‑operation to collaboratively develop the infrastructure needed to share and evaluate advanced reactor and SMR designs.

In September 2019, a French consortium (the CEA, EDF, Technicatome and Naval Group) announced the development of a 170‑MWe light-water reactor SMR design at the IAEA General Conference. The 340‑MWe plant (two units per plant) is designed to replace mid-range fossil fuel-fired power plants in countries with small or poorly interconnected grids.

In addition, Russia connected its floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov to the grid in late 2019, and several countries such as Argentina, China, France and Korea are also developing SMR technologies.

Newcomer countries such as Poland, Indonesia and Jordan continue to design feasibility studies for the development of high-temperature reactors, the latter two in co‑operation with China. Saudi Arabia is also carrying out studies on nuclear desalination using SMRs.

The Generation IV International Forum, an international R&D initiative that assembles the most advanced nuclear countries, is strengthening its engagement with various private sector companies.

Overall, global investments in nuclear capacity continue to be insufficient, as testified by the small number of new projects being launched. According to the World Energy Outlook, USD 1.42 trillion in investment would be required between 2019 and 2040 to get on track with the SDS – 30% more than under the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS).

In 2018, investments in nuclear remained stable from 2017 at USD 50 billion and include similar proportions of long-term operational and new-build investments. This demonstrates that LTO investments are attractive despite policy and market uncertainties. 

Nuclear policy uncertainty in a number of countries is preventing the nuclear industry from making investment decisions. This is partly the result of inconsistencies between stated policy goals – such as climate change mitigation – and policy actions.

Forthright recognition by governments and international organisations of the value of nuclear energy’s attributes and its contribution to decarbonising the world’s energy systems would encourage policy makers to explicitly include nuclear in their long-term energy plans and NDCs under the Paris Agreement.

While some countries maintain they can meet decarbonisation objectives while phasing out nuclear (Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland) or reducing its share (France), others continue to recognise the need to increase nuclear reliance: China, Russia, India, Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.

In late 2018, the EU long-term energy strategy clearly stated that nuclear power – together with renewables – will form the backbone of the EU power system in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. At the same time, ongoing EU Sustainable Financing taxonomy discussions regarding the eligibility of nuclear power generation for sustainability funding highlight the difficulties in recognising the contribution that nuclear energy makes to climate change mitigation.

Electricity market uncertainty makes it difficult for investors to predict the amount of revenue a nuclear power plant could generate over several decades.

Regulators could reduce this uncertainty by improving electricity market designs to assign an appropriate value to the clean, dispatchable energy nuclear power plants provide. It is particularly important to develop long-term contracts schemes to reduce the exposure of long-lived nuclear assets to short-term market risks.

Electricity market reforms are also needed to address the impacts of greater integration of variable renewables and their associated system costs. In general terms, policy makers need to recognise and equitably allocate system costs to the responsible technologies. Fostering competitive short-term markets and ensuring adequate capacity and flexibility, as well as transmission and distribution infrastructure, are key policy measures to support the internalisation of system costs.

By building on lessons learnt from recent Gen-III first-of-a-kind projects, policy makers could support rapid reduction in construction costs by making timely decisions on new-build projects. Taking these decisions as soon as possible would put nuclear back on track with the SDS and would also provide considerable economic stimulus in the short term through job creation.

The overall governance of new-build nuclear projects will remain critical for the effective allocation and mitigation of construction- and market-related risks. Considering the impact of the cost of capital on the levelised cost, and the positive externalities associated with nuclear power, there is clear rationale for governments to support financing directly or indirectly – especially to address risk perception and build-up capabilities when nuclear programmes are initiated.

Regulatory approaches that have been used successfully for other infrastructure projects – such as the Regulatory Asset Base (RAB) model in the United Kingdom – are gaining renewed interest from policy makers to finance future nuclear new-build projects with a lower cost of capital.

Given the long-lasting and deep structural impacts of a nuclear programme on a country’s economy and its electricity system, governments must consider nuclear projects as national infrastructure projects of strategic importance. This type of strategic decision may be particularly critical in the post-COVID‑19 period to galvanise national economic recovery efforts. This translates into clear government responsibility in terms of leadership as well as in uniting various stakeholders, including the public at large.

These actions will therefore require a concerted effort by governments and industry, as illustrated by the UK government’s 2018 Nuclear Sector Deal that aims to reduce the cost of new builds by 30% by 2030.

No regional or global licensing framework exists for nuclear power technologies, which means vendors have to repeat the certification process and adapt to national codes and standards in every country, lengthening the duration of projects and raising costs and uncertainty.

More efforts to harmonise regulatory requirements and promote design standardisation are therefore needed. This could be achieved through information- and experience-sharing among regulators, including for the more novel designs, and through more effective global industry initiatives to harmonise engineering standards. It is critical that governments enable these efforts, building on recent bilateral and multilateral initiatives.

Resources
Acknowledgements

Henri Paillère and Saied Dardour, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Benoit Lepouzé, Electricité de France (EDF)

Brent Wanner, International Energy Agency (IEA)

This section was authored by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Division of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics (NTE).