Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 5/2020

Nuclear power: The year 2019

The development of nuclear energy continues to be characterised by a significant geographical shift in its expansion from its countries of origin in the USA and Europe to the new players in Asia. By the mid-2020s, China alone will have commissioned almost 60 new nuclear power plant units within two decades – including the latest types from Europe and the USA, such as the EPR, currently the most powerful reactor in the world with a gross output of 1,750 MW, the further Generation III+ reactor AP1000 and the high-temperature reactor according to the German development line “pebble-bed reactor”, and a similar expansion is planned in India and South Korea. In Japan, where the reactors in operation were shut down after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and the resulting accidents at the Fukushima plants, nuclear power plants are being recommissioned due to the urgent need for electricity. Currently, 9 units are supplying electricity again. However, further safety precautions are also being implemented here, especially with regard to external impacts from floods. Safety against the effects of earthquakes was largely ensured even before 2011. In the long term, Japan is planning further recommissioning and new build. In order to cover the short- and medium-term electricity demand, 22 hard coal-fired power plants are to be added in Japan. All in all, the country’s energy supply strategy provides for unrestricted consideration of all energy sources. The same also applies to the cited China and India. In China, around 700,000 MW of coal-fired power plant capacity has been newly commissioned over the past two decades, but also 200,000 MW of wind power plants. India has connected around 150,000 MW of coal-fired power plants to the grid since 2000, more than doubled its hydropower capacity from 20,000 MW in 2000 to around 45,000 MW in 2019, and added around 75,000 MW of wind energy.

At the end of 2019, 448 nuclear power plants were in operation in 31 countries, three units less than a year earlier. With 451 nuclear power plant units, the number of plants in operation worldwide in 2018 was higher than at any time since the first purely commercial nuclear power plant, Calder-Hall 1 in the United Kingdom, went into operation in 1956.

Specifically, four units have become critical and were synchronized with the power grid for the first time: two units in China: Taishan 2 (EPR) and Yangjiang 6, one unit in South Korea: Shin-Kori 4 and one unit in Russia: Novovoronezh 2-2. Seven nuclear power plant units ceased operation: In Germany, Philippsburg 2 nuclear power plant after 33 years of successful operation; in Japan, Genkai 2 unit; in Russia, the pilot plant for electricity and heat generation in remote regions, Bilibinsk 1; in Switzerland, Mühleberg nuclear power plant; in Taiwan, Qinshan 2 unit; and in the USA, the two units Pilgrim 1 and Three Mile Island 1.

In terms of electricity generation capacities, the gross output of nuclear power worldwide was 425,569 MWe, well above the 400,000 MWe mark, and even slightly higher than the previous year’s 424,074 MWe due to the high output of new plants.

Nuclear power also recorded another good result in electricity generation. With net generation of over 2,650 TWh, this was around 4.0 % higher than in the previous year with 2,543 TWh. However, due to the fact that 29 nuclear power plants in Japan have not been in operation since 2011, this is still lower than before the tsunami and the accident in Fukushima.

The share of total global electricity production remained at 11 %; the share of nuclear energy in total global energy supply was around 4.5 % – these are two figures that are certainly remarkable: The 419 nuclear power stations currently in operation are capable of supplying electricity to one in ten people worldwide, or one in twenty people worldwide meets all their energy needs with nuclear power. Regionally and in the individual countries using nuclear energy, the share of nuclear energy in electricity generation varies from 6 % in China – a doubling within 5 years – to almost 71 % in France. 13 countries cover more than 30 % of their electricity generation with nuclear power. With 180 reactors, Europe remains the most important region using nuclear energy. In this region, about every fourth kilowatt hour of electricity consumed is generated in nuclear power plants, accounting for about 27 % of the total.

Five new projects have been launched for 2019: In China, construction work began on the Changjiang 3 and Changjiang 4 units and Zhangzhou 1. Iran is continuing the Busher 2-2 project with Russian technology. In Russia, unit 2-2 is being built at the Kursk site, a pressurized water reactor of the most modern series, which will replace the pressure-tube reactors still in operation there. As a result, 54 nuclear power plant units with a gross capacity of 58,627 MWe and a net capacity of 54,752 MWe were under construction worldwide, one less than a year earlier due to the new start-ups. In addition, there are around 125 new-build projects that are in the concrete planning stage. In addition, many of these projects are planned in countries that want to enter the nuclear energy market. Preliminary plans exist for a further 100 nuclear power plant units.