Industry status

Four takeaways from the State of the World Nuclear Industry 2021 Report

The sixth reactor at the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China entered commercial service in June 2021. Credit: China National Nuclear Corporation / Facebook

Although there are 23 fewer nuclear reactors in the world today than at the 2002 peak of 438, the last year saw a slight increase in the number of reactors in operation worldwide and a corresponding increase in the number of reactors in operation. net operating capacity of the global fleet.

It’s a data point in the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021, the latest in a series of annual industry reports compiled by an international team of independent experts led by Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based consultant. The 409-page report, released this week, is chock-full of information on global and country-specific trends, but several findings stand out that do not bode well for the nuclear power industry.

First, although nuclear capacity is increasing, nuclear power generation is declining.

By mid-2021, there were 415 nuclear reactors in operation in 33 countries, seven more reactors than a year earlier. Their total capacity was 1.9% higher than the previous year. But in 2020, the world’s nuclear fleet produced 3.9% less electricity than the previous year. It was the first drop in production since 2012, when many reactors were shut down following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Without China, where most new construction takes place, the drop in production would appear even more significant. In 2020, China produced more nuclear electricity for the first time than France, which relies heavily on nuclear power. Only the United States produced more.

The share of nuclear energy in global electricity production also continued to decline steadily, from a peak of 17.5% in 1996 to 10.1% in 2020.

Although net nuclear capacity increased last year, the 0.4 gigawatt increase was miniscule compared to the gains made by renewables. “Nuclear is not relevant in the current market for the construction of new electrical capacities,” concludes the industry report.

Second, the report casts cold water on the prospects for small modular reactors. These reactors enjoy extensive media coverage and some public funding “but so far are not commercially available and will not be for 10 to 15 years, if ever.” The pilot projects in Argentina, China and Russia have been disappointing, ”according to the authors.

Third, the report warned that nuclear power is less resilient than renewables in the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. While there is no indication that the COVID-19 pandemic has compromised the safety of nuclear power plants, the pandemic has not only reduced nuclear power consumption, but has also affected some reactor commissioning and charging schedules. combustible.

And finally, the 2021 report for the first time devoted an entire chapter to how crime affects the industry. “There is a real question about the exposure of the nuclear energy sector to criminal activity, including bribes and corruption, counterfeiting and other forgery, as well as infiltration by organized crime. The report says.

The report cites three major corruption cases involving US nuclear power companies in 2020. In a case involving the construction of two new reactors, the South Carolina US prosecutor has charged two Westinghouse officials with multiple crimes.

“Fraudulent and criminal activities in the nuclear industry have significant potential and real consequences for the public,” the report warns. These activities can affect the safety and security of nuclear power plants and increase the cost of nuclear power.