What does the future hold for nuclear power?
Published: 14 August, 2019
There is a large focus on the falling perception of nuclear power while renewable energy rises in prominence, meaning the industry has had a difficult time recently. However, is there actually any truth in this negative perception of the industry? Alongside HTL Group, suppliers of hydraulic torque wrenches, we look at the current performance within the sector.
The current state of nuclear
In recent years, there has been a higher reliance on nuclear power. According to the World Nuclear Performance Report 2017, created by the World Nuclear Association, the world’s new nuclear capacity experienced its largest annual increase in 25 years back in 2016, as more than 9 GWe of new nuclear capacity was made available. The number of reactors increased globally, from 441 at the start of 2016 to 448 at the turn of 2017.
Fifteen nuclear reactors provided just over a fifth of the UK's electricity demand in 2017. The reactors have a combined capacity of 9.5 GWe. Despite this, there are plans for half of this capacity to be retired by 2025, largely a result of aging reactors. New generation plants will be created in their place and are expected to come online by 2025. By 2030, the government aims to have 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity in operation.
In 2016, the use of nuclear power globally rose again to 2441 TWh. Asia’s share of nuclear output rose most significantly in 2016 — 72 TWh higher than the average growth across the previous five years.
By April 2017, 60 new nuclear power plants were put under construction across 15 nations. Of the 10 reactors that were connected to the grid in 2016, half were constructed in China. India, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the USA each connected one reactor.
In terms of build efficiency, China lead the way. Five of the six reactors built in the shortest timeframe were done so in China.
In 2011, a magnitude nine earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan causing three nuclear reactors in Fukushima Daiichi to go into melt-down. The event naturally shocked the world, triggering many governments — not just Japan’s — to rethink their attitudes to nuclear power.
Before this, the 442 reactors that were across the globe produced 14% of the world's electricity. In the aftermath of the event in 2012, 15 reactors exited service and electricity production fell to 11%.
This disaster caused the nuclear industry to go into melt-down, with Germany, Japan, and Switzerland all questioning their own nuclear strategies. Switzerland even vowed to phase out its nuclear production by 2034. To this day, many are still not convinced about the potential offered by nuclear power, due to safety concerns around meltdowns and how waste is disposed of.
However, this wasn’t the reaction across the board. With their determination unwavering, France and the USA all endeavoured to continue their reliance on the power source. Likewise, by 2050, India aims to supply 25% and Russia 45% of their electricity from nuclear power. In addition, Brazil plans on building five new nuclear reactors by 2030, while China plans to operate 20 nuclear reactors by 2020.
Confronting the problem
There is obviously a divide in the current levels of support for nuclear power. However, before the sector can move forward, considerations must be made to address its existing drawbacks. The time it takes to build a nuclear power plant compared to a wind farm is certainly stark. Nuclear power plants can take between five and 20 years to build — or sometimes more. In contrast, a large wind farm (50 MW) can be constructed in just six months. We need to bridge this construction time gap without compromising on safety, or at the very least, get to a point where nuclear power stations are built at such a rate that they’re able to better support the UK’s energy use.
Nuclear’s contribution to reducing carbon emissions is a key benefit. However, for the UK to get the greatest benefit from emissions reductions, we need to make a decision around how we can best make use of nuclear power. Only then can nuclear power sway its critics and help us move forward.