Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 5/2018

Nuclear power: Facts and figures 2017

During the last decades the development of nuclear energy was marked in direction of high-efficient and increasingly standardised light water reactors. Light water reactors, prevailed themselves in the 1950s and 1960s as economically and technically competitive reactor type against new developments in that time. Today’s plants are actively on the market with a performance of up to 1,600 MWe. Besides a wide range of operational qualifications, such as e.g. faster load cycling capability with greater load gradients as well as base load operation with higher availability, provide reactors in terms of safety a maximum prevention. Not only the probability of possible events has been minimised, but reactors also provide far-reaching and extensive protection the environment in the area of beyond design basis accidents through minimising and limiting emission measures. It is considerable, that such development is not only limited to new plants, but in case of retrofitting also applicable to existing nuclear power plants.

With 449 nuclear power plants one unit less were in operation than at the end of the previous year. In particular, four units became critical and/or were synchronised for the first time with the grid: two units in China, Fuqing-4 and Tianwan-3, one unit in Pakistan, Chasnupp-4, and one unit in Russia, Rostov-4. Five units stopped operation in 2017 and were finally shutdown: in Germany, after 33 years of successful operation, the Gundremmingen-B NPP was shutdown; in Japan, the prototype fast breeder reactor Monju ceased operation; in Sweden the Oskarshamn-1 unit and in Spain, after five years of waiting for an application for further operation, the Santa Maria de Garona plant stopped electricity production.

For electricity generation capacities, the global nuclear energy gross capacity of 420,383 MWe exceeded the 400,000-MW-mark again and the capacity was quasi on the same level as in 2016 with 420,534 MWe due to high capacities of the new reactors. Even, the net capacity increased from 397,003 MWe in 2016 up to 397,193 MWe with a plus of 190 MWe.

A further increase can also be registered for electricity generation. The net production of 2,490 TWh is about 1 % higher compared to last year with 2,477 TWh. Due to the 35 non-operating nuclear power plants in Japan in 2017 this is considerably lower than before the Fuku-shima incident in 2011. However, two nuclear power units, Takahama-3 and Takahama-4, were reconnected to the grid in Japan in 2017. This means that a total of seven plants have been put back into operation in Japan since 2011. In addition, in many regions of the world nuclear power plants are increasingly strengthening grid stability due to their excellent load change behaviour – no other power plant can supply comparable load gradients – but are regulated accordingly in times of high feed-in by other energy sources and thus produce less electricity.

Thus, the nuclear power share to the overall energy production remains at 11 %, the share of nuclear energy in the entire global energy supply at about 4.5 % – these are certainly two remarkable figures: The currently 414 active nuclear power plants are able to provide electricity to every tenth person worldwide or every twentieth person worldwide covers its energy needs with nuclear power ... as mentioned: Regionally and in each single nuclear energy using countries the share of nuclear power in the electricity production differs with a range of 4 % in China – which means a doubling in the past 5five years – up to almost 28 % in France. 13 states cover more than 30 % of its electricity generation with nuclear. With 182 reactors Europe remains the most important region using nuclear energy. With a share of about 27 % almost every fourth kilowatt-hour of electricity spent in European is generated in nuclear power plants.

Regarding newly started projects in 2017, three projects were implemented: In Bangladesh the Rooppur project started; India started its third project at the Kudankulam site and in the Republic of Korea the project Shin-Kori-5 was initiated. Thus globally 55 nuclear power plant units with a 59,872 MWe gross – and 56,642 MWe net capacity were under construction; due to commissioning two less than in the previous year. Furthermore around 125 new build projects were registered, which are currently in a specific planning stage. Besides many projects are planned in countries, which plan to enter the nuclear sector. For another 100 nuclear power plant units exist already preliminary plans.

These nuclear figures reflect a rather unspectacular development of global nuclear energy with a constant or rather slight decreasing share. A glance at the details, both globally and from each single country show, that nuclear energy can definitely expand its important role in the global energy supply. On the one hand, this can be explained by the advised operations times of existing reactors. Today, 60 years of operating time are technically and economically reality and 80 years are under preparation, safety-related feasible without any compromises and thus for many today’s older plants already in preparation or realisation phase.

Thus, the nuclear “age pyramid” with many plants in the range of 25 to 40 operating years, will have a rather small influence during the next decades. The regulatory and political environment shows, that these strategies are accepted or even receive, as in Belgium, Sweden, the USA and other countries, support through arguments such as conserving resources, climate protection, favourable and stable costs as well as supply reliability.