3 August 2013

Renewables International (Germany): The future of nuclear ‑ facts and forecasts

Energy mix

The future of nuclear – facts and forecasts

Renewables International — The Magazine, 3 August 2013

The latest edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 was published last month. It sees nuclear on a clear decline for that year, but various forecasts see nuclear growing, both in absolute terms and as a share of total energy supply.

It is the twentieth birthday of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, the best place for reliable independent information about the sector. 2011 was, of course, disastrous for nuclear, with Japan shutting down all of its more than 50 nuclear reactors as they came due for refueling. Then, German Chancellor Merkel shut down 8 of the reactors in her country. Suddenly, some 20% of the world’s reactors were in jeopardy.

But as the report for 2012 shows, things have gotten even worse since: “Only three reactors started up in 2012, while six were shut down, and in 2013 up to 1 July, only one started up, while four shutdown decisions — all in the U.S.— were taken in the first half of 2013.” So the world has lost an additional six reactors since. Admittedly, the future of Japan’s reactors remains unclear; the study points out that they were briefly categorized as being in “long-term shutdown” but were later reassessed as “in operation.” Schneider considers these inactive Japanese reactors to be in operation in his estimate of 427 reactors worldwide as of 1 July 2013.

Overall, global nuclear power production dropped by around 100 TWh in 2012 than in 2000, whereas solar power grew by roughly that amount during the same time frame, with wind power growing by some 500 TWh.

What’s the forecast? Schneider and his team only make an implicit one: the average plant is 28 years old and has a commission of 40 years, so we face a wave of shutdowns in twelve years far exceeding the meager expansion plans at present. Two things could change that. First, plants could have their service live extended, for instance by 20 years. The demise of nuclear would then shift from the mid-2020s to the mid-2040s. Second, decision-makers could find nuclear to be an inexpensive option (or otherwise attractive) and plan to build far more reactors. But as the study points out, the latest shutdowns in the US are the results of high costs, an indication that nuclear cannot compete on the market after half a century of development.

Practically all other reports see a bright future for nuclear. In a report published just last week, the US EIA find nuclear and renewables to be the fastest growing sources of energy (not just electricity) consumption (PDF), with nuclear rising from 5% to 7% by 2040. And last year, the IEA forecast a doubling of nuclear power by 2035. (Craig Morris)