Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 5/2021

Numbers abour nuclear power: 2020

The use and expansion of nuclear energy continues to be characterised on the one hand by a geographically clearly shifted trend in its expansion from its regions of origin, North America and Europe, to the new players in Asia. On the other hand, it can be seen that both China and Russia are entering the global nuclear energy market as exporters of complete concepts. The target countries for these activities are not only countries with operating nuclear power plants, but also the so-called newcomers. The particular challenge here is that, in addition to the construction of the first nuclear power plants, a suitable infrastructure must also be installed. This concerns the technical sector for the future operation of the nuclear power plants, as far as it is required on site, as well as the regulatory environment. These national activities are supported internationally above all by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has initiated a whole series of support and development programmes for these topics.

Certainly impressive in this context is the commissioning of the first nuclear power plant unit in the Arab World, Unit 1 at the Barakah site in the United Arab Emirates. The country’s electricity supply is based almost exclusively on natural gas, supplied from domestic sources, with currently around 30,000 MW capacity. Since the Gulf States are also planning and implementing a diversification of their economy and (energy) infrastructure with a long-term view to the future, an official review of the nuclear energy option took place in 2008. A year later, in December 2009, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) was founded and in the same month a consortium led by the Korea Elektric Power Corporation (KEPCO) won the tender for the construction of four APR-1400 nuclear power plant units with a total capacity of 5,600 MW. The official groundbreaking ceremony was then held on 14 March 2011. On 31 July 2020, Unit 1 of the Barakah nuclear power plant reached first-criticality and was synchronised with the grid on 19 August. Commercial commissioning took place recently, on 1 April 2021, with the other three units scheduled to be commissioned about a year apart. Overall, the United Arab Emirates and the operating company ENEC attach great importance to a lot of know-how and very well-trained personnel in their own country.

With the commissioning of the first nuclear power plant exported to Belarus – two VVER V-491 units with a capacity of 1,194 MW each are currently planned – Russia has demonstrated how an infrastructure implemented with significant support from the supplier promotes the operation of nuclear power plants and that a nuclear power plant can be built quickly even in a newcomer environment. Construction of the Belarusian-1 unit started in November 2013, and initial criticality was achieved on 11 October 2020. With 442 nuclear power plants worldwide, there was one unit less in operation in 33 countries at the end of 2020 than a year before. At 451 nuclear power units, the number of plants in operation in 2018 was the highest since the first purely commercial nuclear power plant, Calder-Hall 1 in the UK, went into operation in 1956.

Specifically, five units went critical and were synchronised with the grid for the first time: two units in China: Fuqing 5 and Tianwan-5, one unit in Russia: Leningrad-2-2, one unit in the United Arab Emirates: Barakah-1 and one unit in Belarus: Belarusian-1. Six nuclear power plant units ceased operation: In France, after 43 years of successful operation, the nuclear power plant units Fessenheim-1 and -2; in Russia, the RBMK unit Leningrad-2; in Sweden, the Ringhals-1 plant; and in the USA, the two units Duane Arnold-1 and Indian Point-2.

In terms of electricity generation capacities, the gross output of nuclear power worldwide was 419,035 MWe, well above the 400,000 MWe mark.

Nuclear energy can also report another good result in electricity generation. With a net generation of over 2,555 TWh, this was slightly lower than in the previous year with 2,567 TWh. However, due to 29 nuclear power plants in Japan still not in operation since 2011, this is even lower than before the tsunami and accident in Fukushima.

The share of total global electricity production remained at 11 %; the share of nuclear energy in total global energy supply at around 4.5 % - these are certainly two remarkable figures: The 417 currently active nuclear power plants are capable of supplying one in ten people worldwide with electricity or one in twenty people worldwide cover their energy needs entirely with nuclear energy. Regionally and in the individual countries using nuclear energy, the share of nuclear energy in electricity generation varies, ranging 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 179 reactors, Europe continues to be the most important region using nuclear energy. With a share of about 26 %, approximately every fourth kilowatt hour of electricity consumed is generated in nuclear power plants.

Among the newly started projects, there are five projects for 2020: In China, construction work began on the four units Sanaocun 1 (new site), Shidaowan 2, Taipingling 2 and Zhangzhou 2; in Turkey, construction of the second unit at the Akkuyu site began.

Thus, 54 nuclear power plant units with 58,712 MWe gross and 54,803 MWe net capacity were under construction worldwide; one less than a year earlier due to the new commissionings. In addition, there are around 135 new construction projects that are in the extended planning stage.