28 September 2020

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 (HTML)


Mycle Schneider

Independent Consultant, Paris, France

Project Coordinator and Lead Author

Antony Froggatt

Independent Consultant, London, U.K.

Lead Author


Julie Hazemann

Director of EnerWebWatch, Paris, France

Documentary Research, Modelling and Datavisualization

Ali Ahmad

Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom

and International Security Program (ISP),

Harvard Kennedy School, U.S.

Contributing Author

Tadahiro Katsuta

Professor, School of Law, Meiji University,

Tokyo, Japan

Contributing Author

M.V. Ramana

Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security with the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia,

Vancouver, Canada

Contributing Author

Ben Wealer

Research Associate, Workgroup for Economic and Infrastructure Policy, Berlin University of Technology (TU Berlin), Germany

Contributing Author

Agnès Stienne

Artist, Graphic Designer, Cartographer,

Le Mans, France

Graphic Design & Layout

Friedhelm Meinass

Visual Artist, Painter, Rodgau, Germany

Cover-page Design, Painting and Layout

Foreword by

Jungmin Kang

Former Chair, Nuclear Safety & Security Commission, South Korea

Frank von Hippel

Professor Emeritus, Princeton University, U.S.

Paris, September 2020 © A Mycle Schneider Consulting Project


A difficult year. For so many people around the globe. Everything seems to be slower, needing more effort, as our attention and energy is often deviated towards statistics on COVID-19 cases, deaths and combat strategies. Behind the numbers are people. It is not only that the many human lives were lost, it is also many people that contracted the illness that have to cope with long-term health effects. Not to talk about the devastating social effects, many of which are yet to unfold.

The project coordinator is therefore particularly thankful to everyone who made the production of this year’s report possible, the authors and data-manager, the designers and artists, the webmaster and all the supporters.

As for so many years now, a big thank you to Antony Froggatt for his conceptual ideas, his contributions, his reactivity and his friendship.

At the core of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) is its database, designed and maintained by data manager and information engineer Julie Hazemann, who also develops most of the drafts for the graphical illustrations and manages much of the cooperation with designer and webmaster. She expanded her contribution significantly over the past two years. As ever, no WNISR without her. Thanks so much.

The WNISR project can solidly count on the regular, reliable, professional and insightful contributions from M.V. Ramana, Tadahiro Katsuta and Ben Wealer. Many thanks to all of you.

WNISR2020 greatly profits from a wonderful new contributing author, Ali Ahmad. We are very grateful for his excellent input.

We were lucky to have two outstanding top nuclear policy experts, Frank von Hippel and Jungmin Kang, providing a generous, lucid foreword that puts the WNISR work into broader context. Thanks a million.

Many other people have contributed pieces of work to make this project possible and to bring it to the current standard. In particular Shaun Burnie, whose multiple contributions again have been invaluable and are highly appreciated. Thank you also to Caroline Peachey, Nuclear Engineering International, for providing the load factor figures quoted throughout the report.

Artist and graphic designer Agnès Stienne created the redesigned layout in 2017 and is constantly improving our graphic illustrations that get a lot of praise around the world. Thank you.

Nina Schneider put her meticulous proof-reading and production skills to work again and added some helpful research.
Thanks so much.

A big thank-you to Arnaud Martin for his continuous, highly reactive and reliable work on the website, dedicated to the WNISR: www.WorldNuclearReport.org.

For the second time, we owe the idea, design, and realization of the cover to renowned German painter Friedhelm Meinass, and designer Constantin E. Breuer, (“who congenially implements his ideas”) and who have also contributed the acclaimed original artwork for the WNISR2019 cover. Thanks so much for this brilliant, thoughtful and very generous contribution.

This work has greatly benefitted from additional proofreading by Walt Patterson, partial proof-reading, editing suggestions, comments or other input by Pinar Demircan, Anton Eberhard, Jan Haverkamp, Christian von Hirschhausen, Gregory Jaczko, Daul Jang, Lutz Mez, Olexi Pasyuk, Steve Thomas, and others. Thank you all.

The authors wish to thank in particular Matthew McKinzie, Eva van de Rakt, Tanja Gaudian, Rainer Griesshammer, Andrea Droste, Rebecca Harms, Jutta Paulus and Simon Banholzer for their enthusiastic and lasting support of this project.

And everybody involved is grateful to the MacArthur Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Greens-EFA Group in the European Parliament, Elektrizitätswerke Schönau, Foundation Zukunftserbe and the Swiss Renewable Energy Foundation for their generous support.


This report contains a very large amount of factual and numerical data. While we do our utmost to verify and double-check, nobody is perfect. The authors are always grateful for corrections and suggested improvements.

Lead Authors’ Contact Information

Mycle Schneider
45, Allée des deux cèdres
91210 Draveil (Paris)
Ph: +33-1-69 83 23 79

Antony Froggatt
53a Neville Road
London N16 8SW
United Kingdom
Ph: +44-79 68 80 52 99

Table of Figures

Figure 1 · Nuclear Electricity Generation in the World... and China

Figure 2 · Nuclear Electricity Generation and Share in Global Power Generation

Figure 3 · Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Closures in the World

Figure 4 · Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Closures – The Slowing China Effect

Figure 5 · World Nuclear Reactor Fleet, 1954–2020

Figure 6 · Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” in the World (as of 1 July 2020)

Figure 7 · Average Annual Construction Times in the World

Figure 8 · Delays for Units Started Up 2018–2019

Figure 9 · Construction Starts in the World

Figure 10 · Construction Starts in the World/China

Figure 11 · Cancelled or Suspended Reactor Constructions

Figure 12 · Age Distribution of Operating Reactors in the World

Figure 13 · Reactor-Fleet Age of Top 5 Nuclear Generators

Figure 14 · Age Distribution of Closed Nuclear Power Reactors

Figure 15 · Nuclear Reactor Closure Age 1963–1 July 2020

Figure 16 · The 40-Year Lifetime Projection

Figure 17 · The PLEX Projection (not including LTOs)

Figure 18 · Forty-Year Lifetime Projection versus PLEX Projection

Figure 19 · “All Necessary Measures”? — No masks.

Figure 20 · Rosatom’s DG Presenting a Weekly Overview of COVID-19 Cases at Rosatom

Figure 21 · Canteens at Hinkley Point C – Before and After Social Distancing

Figure 22 · Travel Trailers at the Cook Nuclear Plant—Just in Case

Figure 23 · Overview of the Status of Nuclear Power Programs in the Middle East

Figure 24 · Timelines of Nuclear Power Reactors in the Middle East

Figure 25 · Evolution of Solar PV and CSP Prices in the UAE During the Construction of the Barakah Project

Figure 26 · Public Opinion in Turkey on Nuclear Power

Figure 27 · Comparative Cost of Electricity in Jordan

Figure 28 · Iran’s 2019 Nominal Electricity Generating Capacity (by Source)

Figure 29 · Share of Natural gas in Power Generation in Selected Regional Countries in 2019

Figure 30 · Comparative Costs of Nuclear and Solar PV Projects in the Middle East

Figure 31 · Egypt’s Electricity Generation Mix Projections for 2022 and 2035

Figure 32 · Operating Fleet and Capacity in France (as of 1 July 2020)

Figure 33 · Startups and Closures in France

Figure 34 · Reactor Outages in France in 2019 (in number of units and GWe)

Figure 35 · Forced and Planned Unavailability of Nuclear Reactors in France in 2019

Figure 36 · Scheduled vs. Realized Unavailability of Nuclear Reactors in France in 2019

Figure 37 · Age Distribution of the French Nuclear Fleet (by Decade)

Figure 38 · Rise and Fall of the Japanese Nuclear Program

Figure 39 · Status of the Japanese Reactor Fleet

Figure 40 · Age Distribution of the Japanese Nuclear Fleet

Figure 41 · Age Distribution of the U.K. Nuclear Fleet

Figure 42 · The Hinkley Point C Construction Site

Figure 43 · Age Distribution of the U.S. Nuclear Fleet

Figure 44 · Timelines of Early Retirement in the United States

Figure 45 · Receiving and Sorting Facility and Soil Storage Facility, Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture

Figure 46 · Overview of Completed Reactor Decommissioning Projects, 1953–2020

Figure 47 · Progress and Status of Reactor Decommissioning

Figure 48 · Global Investment Decisions in Renewables and Nuclear Power, 2004–2019

Figure 49 · Regional Breakdown of Nuclear and Renewable Energy Investment Decisions 2010–2019

Figure 50 · The Declining Costs of Renewables vs. Traditional Power Sources

Figure 51 · Variation of Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the World

Figure 52 · Net Added Electricity Generation by Power Source 2009–2019

Figure 53 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in the World

Figure 54 · Non-Hydro Renewables and Nuclear Electricity Production in the World

Figure 55 · Nuclear vs Non-Hydro Renewables in China 2000–2019

Figure 56 · Installed Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in China 2000–2019

Figure 57 · Renewable Energy and Nuclear Power Generation in the EU28, 2010–2019

Figure 58 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the EU28 (Developments)

Figure 59 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the EU28 (Absolute Numbers)

Figure 60 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in India

Figure 61 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in the U.S

Figure 62 · Nuclear Reactors Startups and Closures in the EU27 1959–1 July 2020

Figure 63 · Nuclear Reactors and Net Operating Capacity in the EU27

Figure 64 · Age Distribution of the EU27 Reactor Fleet

Figure 65 · Age Distribution of the Western European Reactor Fleet (incl. Switzerland and the U.K.)

Figure 66 · Main Developments of the German Power System Between 2010 and 2019

Figure 67 · Age Distribution of the Swiss Nuclear Fleet

Figure 68 · Age Distribution of the Russian Nuclear Fleet

Table of tables

Table 1 · Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 2 · Duration from Construction Start to Grid Connection 2010–2019

Table 3 · Typology of Nuclear Power Programs in the Middle East

Table 4 · Nuclear Technology Suppliers in the Middle East

Table 5 · Overview of the costs of nuclear power projects in the Middle East and economic indicators

Table 6 · Jordan’s SMR agreements (as of May 2020)

Table 7 · Official Reactor Closures Post-3/11 in Japan (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 8 · Status of Nuclear Reactor Fleet in South Korea (with scheduled closure dates)

Table 9 · 15 Early-Retirements for U.S. Reactors 2009–2025

Table 10 · U.S. State Emission Credits for Uneconomic Nuclear Reactors 2016–2019 (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 11 · Fukushima Decommissioning: Evolution of the Medium- and Long-Term Roadmap

Table 12 · Status of Reactor Decommissioning in the U.S. (as of May 2020)

Table 13 · Overview of Outsourcing of U.S. Decommissioning Projects

Table 14 · Status of Reactor Decommissioning in France (as of May 2020)

Table 15 · Status of Reactor Decommissioning in Germany (as of May 2020)

Table 16 · Overview of reactor decommissioning in 11 selected countries (as of May 2020)

Table 17 · Vendor Design Review Service Agreements in Force Between Vendors and the CNSC

Table 18 · Vendor Design Review Service Agreement Between Vendors and the CNSC Under Development

Table 19 · Scheduled Closure Dates for Nuclear Reactors in Taiwan 2018–2025

Table 20 · Status of Belgian Nuclear Fleet (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 21 · Legal Closure Dates for German Nuclear Reactors 2011–2022

Table 22 · Status of Canadian Nuclear Fleet - PLEX and Expected Closure

Table 23 · Status of Japanese Nuclear Reactor Fleet (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 24 · Status of Nuclear Power in the World (as of 1 July 2020)

Table 25 · Nuclear Reactors in the World “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2020)


By Frank von Hippel & Jungmin Kang1

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) has become an invaluable resource for those interested in trends in nuclear power globally and in a more detailed understanding of developments in particular countries.

As this report makes clear, globally, nuclear power continues to be in stasis. In Western Europe and the United States (U.S.), the rate of retirements is increasing while the few new construction projects have had catastrophic cost overruns and schedule slippages.

In the U.S., Westinghouse – once the world’s leading designer of nuclear power plants – went bankrupt in 2017 as a result of the huge cost overruns and schedule delays that resulted in the termination of construction on two AP1000 reactors in South Carolina and a continuing controversy over the construction of another two in Georgia. These fiascos have foreclosed for the foreseeable future construction of new conventional 1000+ MWe nuclear power plants in the United States.

After providing loan guarantees totaling US$12 billion for the Georgia plant, the U.S. Department of Energy, has pivoted to support the development of a variety of “small modular reactors” (SMRs) with individual unit outputs ranging from tens to hundreds of megawatts. A few may be bought by the government to provide power to large government installations such as army and navy bases and national nuclear laboratories but, as WNISR2020 concludes, “there is no need to wait with bated breath for SMRs to be deployed” on a large scale.

In Japan, almost a decade after the Fukushima accident, nuclear utilities continue to struggle to meet the new regulatory requirements – typically pouring more than one billion dollars into safety upgrades per reactor while struggling to reassure host communities and prefectures.

China continues to grow its nuclear capacity but at a slowing rate and Russia’s government continues to finance Rosatom’s aggressive export of nuclear power plants to new nuclear countries.

In South Korea, as in China, the cost of constructing new nuclear power plants has been kept under better control than in West Europe and the United States. The Fukushima accidents and falsification of safety certificates in South Korea’s nuclear industry turned a large fraction of the population against nuclear power, however, and the Moon Administration banned the construction of new nuclear power plants after Shin Kori-6.2 New nuclear power plant construction could find a more sympathetic ear in the Blue House3, however, if the conservatives come back to power in the presidential election of 2022.

Under a US$20 billion deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), four South Korean-designed APR1400 reactors are being built at Barakah by a consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation. The project has not gone smoothly, however. Barakah-1 began feeding power into UAE’s grid in August 2020, three years later than originally projected and concrete “voids” and “cracks” were found in the containment buildings of Unit 2 and Unit 3 in 2018.4 As described in WNISR2020, similar faults of containment buildings have raised significant safety issues for a number of nuclear power plants in South Korea. In part, these defects reflect inadequate inspections by safety regulators when the containments were built. China, which is still developing its nuclear regulatory regime, should take note.

UAE’s long-term energy plan does not include any additional nuclear capacity, at least before 2050. South Korea is cooperating on nuclear energy with Saudi Arabia but, will not be able to sell APR1400s there unless Saudi Arabia concludes a so-called 123 Agreement for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy with the United States.

Overall, in terms of the cost of power, new nuclear is clearly losing to wind and photovoltaics. As WNISR2020 shows, investment in new nuclear is about one tenth that in wind and photovoltaics (Figure 49). The high capital cost of nuclear power plants requires that they operate almost continually to bring down the capital charge per kilowatt-hour. They must therefore compete directly with renewables most of the time or store their output to be used during cloudy, windless periods. Storage does not relieve the competition with wind and solar, however, because, as renewables expand and storage costs come down, they too will have increasing incentives to store their excess output.

The biggest social argument for nuclear powerplants is that their carbon emissions are low. Currently, existing nuclear power plants are usefully producing a little less than one third of global low-carbon-emission electric power. Increasingly, therefore, the issue is not one of nuclear new-builds but nuclear life extension. Even there, however, nuclear is struggling. As WNISR2020 makes convincingly evident, in some major countries such as the United States, even 30-year-old plants whose capital costs have been paid off cannot compete economically with new renewable power plants, whose capital costs have been declining. The operating costs of nuclear plants are high in part because one to two hundred workers and guards are required on site per reactor at all times in case of accident or terrorist attack. Subsidies justified by their low carbon emissions have become critical to the continued operation of many U.S. nuclear power plants.

A recent event in South Korea has, however, raised concerns about sudden shutdowns in nuclear power plants as a result of the extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change. On 3 September 2020, South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission announced that four reactors at Kori Nuclear Power Plant had shut down automatically early that morning because of typhoon impacts on their power transmission lines. Prior to the shutdown, the four reactors had been providing about 7 percent of the country’s total power generation. Experts are concerned that, under different circumstances, the sudden shutdowns could destabilize South Korea’s grid and cause large-scale blackouts.5

What about the arguments for phasing out fission faster than will happen naturally as retirements exceed new builds? From our perspective, the most important consideration is nuclear-weapon proliferation. Nuclear war remains an existential danger to civilization, comparable to the destabilizing dangers of climate change. The difference is that, while we can see climate change happening gradually, nuclear war could come upon us suddenly, by surprise, as a result of some terrible mistake, hacking or a deranged leader. The proliferation of nuclear weapons to more countries increases the probability of such events.

Historically, the nuclear energy community’s early infatuation with plutonium breeder reactors facilitated nuclear weapon programs in France, India, Israel and the United Kingdom. Military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan started down the same track but were delayed by external pressure long enough for anti-nuclear-weapon democratic Governments to take over.

Thanks to the “invisible hand” of economics, the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism from plutonium separation have receded. The capital costs of sodium-cooled plutonium “breeder” reactors are higher than those of light water reactors (LWRs) and using plutonium as fuel in LWRs costs ten times as much as low-enriched uranium fuel. Yet breeder advocates in China, France, India, Japan and Russia still succeed in persuading their gullible Governments to keep plutonium programs alive and, in South Korea and the United States, are even promoting new programs.

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) has been campaigning for decades for South Korea’s “right” to reprocess, like Japan. During the renegotiation of the U.S.-ROK Agreement on Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the United States managed put the issue off with a 10-year joint “feasibility study”, but that study is to be completed in 2021 and KAERI is starting to press again.

KAERI’s advocacy has centered on its claim that reprocessing will solve the problem of the accumulation of spent fuel in the pools of South Korea’s nuclear power plants. On-site dry-cask storage has dealt with this problem at the Wolsong nuclear power plant whose heavy water reactors filled their pools years ago. Majorities in local communities and nuclear-energy opponents strongly oppose on-site dry-cask storage at other nuclear power plants, however, fearing that the power plants will become permanent storage sites for spent fuel.

Some Government officials and members of the National Assembly also argue that reprocessing could provide a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea’s nuclear threats. Those voices are much less significant in the Moon Administration than in the opposition but, in politics, nothing is permanent.

In the case of uranium enrichment, the invisible hand has been facilitating proliferation. Enrichment is required by most current-generation nuclear power plants. The advent of low-cost gas centrifuge enrichment plants made small enrichment plants affordable to Brazil, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. All four sought those plants in order to produce highly enriched uranium for bombs. Fortunately, Brazil and Iran changed their minds, but they could change their minds again and other countries could easily go down the same track.

The only answer to the spread of national enrichment plants is to put enrichment under multinational or international control. The success of URENCO, jointly owned by Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom and owner of 30 percent of global enrichment capacity, shows that multinational enrichment is feasible. The global overcapacity of enrichment – with a resulting price for enrichment services insufficient to pay back the capital costs of new investments even in large plants – shows that there is no economic justification for new national enrichment plants. Hopefully, future issues of WNISR will include discussions of developments relating to reprocessing and enrichment.

The second argument for accelerating the phaseout of nuclear power is nuclear accidents. Unlike nuclear war, these are not civilization-destroying events but, as the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents have shown, they have long-term consequences that are highly traumatic for society. Witnessing those ordeals was enough to convince Germany and Taiwan to accelerate the phase-outs of their nuclear power capacity and many other countries to cut back or cancel decisions to build new nuclear plants.

We congratulate the authors and editors of WNISR for their objective and in-depth coverage of a very controversial subject. We hope this effort will continue. The nuclear industry will be with us for decades to come. How it evolves will impact the future of international security as well as the future energy supply. It needs watching and we are grateful that WNISR is doing so.

Key Insights

Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19


COVID-19 is the first pandemic directly, significantly impacting the nuclear industry.

Large Outbreaks

Russia’s Rosatom reported about 4,500 infections, France’s EDF about 600 cases. In the U.S., a single reactor site undergoing refueling reported 200–300 infections, and the only nuclear construction site in the country had over 800 cases. Most operators/regulators have not released precise numbers.

Degraded Safety and Security

Many testing, maintenance and repair activities have been canceled or suspended or carried out under improper conditions with social distancing rules in place. The effects of these will only become evident in the months and years to come.

Critical Staff Issues

Particular groups of staff highly trained for a given specific facility (control-room operators, security staff) are difficult to replace. They remain at risk of infection.

Staff Shortages

EDF, for example, put two thirds of its nuclear staff on remote work. Subcontractors complained about lack of onsite oversight, leading to accidental injuries at least in one documented case.

Long Work Hours

The U.S. nuclear regulator, for example, granted operators permission to impose up to 16 work hours in any 24-hour period, up to 86 work hours in any 7-day period and 12-hour shifts up to 14 consecutive days.

Onsite Inspections

by safety authorities were suspended for weeks in several countries.

Economic Crash

Nuclear utilities have been hard hit economically as operational costs went up, while bulk prices dropped as electricity consumption plunged.

World Operating Fleet at 30-Year Low

As of 1 July 2020,

31 countries operated 408 nuclear reactors, a decline of 9 units compared to mid-2019—10 less than in 1989 and 30 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438.

In total, 31 reactors—including 24 in Japan—are in Long-Term Outage (LTO).

3 units closed, not a single unit started up in the first half of 2020.

The total operating nuclear capacity declined by 2.2 percent from one year earlier to reach 362 GW as of mid-2020.

The mean age of the world’s nuclear fleet has increased steadily since 1984 and now stands at about 31 years with 20 percent reaching 41 years or more.

Nuclear energy’s share of global gross electricity generation marked a break in its slow but steady decline from a peak of 17.5 percent in 1996, with a 0.2 percentage-point increase over the 10.15 percent in 2018 to 10.35 percent in 2019.

Russia Drives Global Constructions

Six reactors started up in 2019, three in Russia, two in China, one in South Korea, yet seven less than scheduled at the beginning of the year. Five units were closed.

Russia is involved in 15 of the 52 construction projects in 8 of the 17 countries building.

China Short-Term Driver, Long-Term Enigma

In 2019, nuclear power generation in the world increased by 3.7 percent of which half due to a 19 percent increase in China.

Three units were closed, not a single unit started up in the first half of 2020, including in China.

After declining for 5 years, the number of units under construction increased by 6 to 52 as of mid-2020 (incl. 15 in China) but remains well below the 69 units at the end of 2013.

In 2019, construction began on 6 reactors (incl. 4 in China), and on one in the first half of 2020 (in Turkey).

China will miss its Five-Year-Plan 2020 nuclear targets of 58 GW installed and 30 GW under construction.

China still leads renewable energy investments with US$83 billion.

Global Construction Delays Worsen

At least 33 of the 52 units under construction are behind schedule; 12 have reported increased delays and 4 have had documented delays for the first time over the past year.

In 8 cases (15 percent), first construction starts date back 10 years or more, including two units that had construction starts 35 years ago and one unit that goes back 44 years.

Middle East Focus

Six countries with nuclear power interests: Iran, UAE, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan (by order of program advancement). Natural gas dominates power generation.

One operating reactor (in Iran) generating less than 2 percent of electricity in the country. In addition, Barakah-1 (UAE) started up in August 2020, first reactor in the Arab world.

Six units are under construction, in UAE (3), in Turkey (2) and Iran (1). Five are behind schedule and one just started. At the most, one other construction start could happen over the year in the region (in Egypt).

Comparisons between nuclear and solar options show a large and widening gap. For example, a contract for 1.2 GW of solar power at US$24.2/MWh, signed in 2017 and connected to the grid in 2019, is 5–8 times cheaper than the international cost estimate for nuclear of US$118–192/MWh.

Renewables Continue to Thrive

A new record 184 GW (+20 GW) of non-hydro renewables were added to the world’s power grids in 2019. Wind added 59.2 GW and solar-photovoltaics (PV) 98 GW. These numbers compare to a net 2.4 GW increase for nuclear power.

Total investment in new-renewable electricity exceeded

US$300 billion, ten times the reported global investment decisions for nuclear power.

Over the past decade, levelized cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 89 percent, wind by 70 percent, while nuclear increased by 26 percent.

Executive Summary and Conclusions

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 (WNISR2020) provides a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on age, operation, production, and construction of reactors. A new focus chapter in this year’s report is Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19 that assesses the safety and security implications of operating nuclear facilities in a pandemic and provides a country-by-country overview of available information on staff infections, impacts and measures. Another special focus is the chapter on Nuclear Power in the Middle East that analyses the significance of the first operating nuclear power plant in the Arab world and the status of nuclear programs in five other countries in the region.

The WNISR assesses the status of new-build programs in the 31 nuclear countries (as of mid-2020) as well as in potential newcomer countries. WNISR2020 includes sections on seven Focus Countries representing about two-thirds of the global fleet. The Fukushima Status Report looks at onsite and offsite impacts of the catastrophe that began in 2011. The Decommissioning Status Report provides an overview of the current state of nuclear reactors that have been permanently closed. The chapter on Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy offers comparative data on investment, capacity, and generation from nuclear, wind and solar energy around the world. Finally, Annex 1 presents overviews of nuclear power in the countries not covered in the Focus Countries sections.

Reactor Startups & Closures

Startups. At the beginning of 2019, 13 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; only six made it, three in Russia, two in China and one in South Korea. No new reactor started up worldwide in the first half of 2020, including in China.6

Closures. Five units were closed in 2019, of which two in the U.S., and one each in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. Eight additional reactors were officially closed in Japan (5), Russia (1), South Korea (1) and Taiwan (1); most of these had not generated power in years.7 In the first half of 2020, three additional units were closed, two in France and one in the U.S.

Operation & Construction Data8

Reactor Operation and Production. As of 1 July 2020, 31 countries operating 408 nuclear reactors—excluding Long-Term Outages (LTOs)—a decline of nine units compared to WNISR20199—10 less than in 1989 and 30 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438. Of the 28 reactors in LTO as of mid-2019, one was restarted, and one was closed; with five units entering the LTO category, there is, as of mid-2020, a total of 31 units in LTO as of mid-2020,10 all considered operating by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These include 24 reactors in Japan (no change), three in the U.K., two in South Korea, and one each in China and India.

The total operating capacity declined by 2.1 percent from one year earlier to reach 362 GW as of mid-2020.11

Annual nuclear electricity generation reached 2,657 net terawatt-hours (TWh or billion kilowatt-hours) in 2019, a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year—half of which is due to China’s nuclear output increasing by over 19 percent—and only 3 TWh below the historic peak in 2006.

The “big five” nuclear generating countries—by rank, the United States, France, China, Russia and South Korea—again generated 70 percent of all nuclear electricity in the world in 2019. Two countries, the U.S. and France, accounted for 45 percent of 2019 global nuclear production, that is 2 percentage points lower than in the previous year, as France’s output shrank by 3.5 percent.

Share in Electricity/Energy Mix. Nuclear energy’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation has marked a break in its slow but steady decline from a peak of 17.5 percent in 1996, with a small 0.2 percentage-point increase over the 10.15 percent in 2018 to 10.35 percent in 2019.

Nuclear power’s share of global commercial primary energy consumption has remained stable since 2014 at around 4.3 percent.

Reactor Age. In the absence of major new-build programs apart from China, the average age of the world operating nuclear reactor fleet continues to rise, and by mid-2020 reached 30.7 years. The mean age of the world’s fleet has been increasing since 1984, when it stagnated.

A total of 270 reactors, two-thirds of the world’s operating fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 81 (20 percent of the total) that have operated for 41 years or more.

Lifetime Projections. If all currently operating reactors remained on the grid until the end of their licensed lifetime, including many that already hold authorized lifetime extensions (PLEX Projection), and all units under construction scheduled to have started up, an additional 135 reactors or 105 GW (compared to the end-of-2019 status) would have to be started up or restarted prior to the end of 2030 in order to maintain the status quo. This would mean, in the coming decade, the need to more than double the annual building rate the past decade from 5.8 to 13.7. Construction starts are on a declining trend. The required number of new units might be even higher because many reactors are being shut down long before their licenses are terminated; the mean age at closure of the 17 units taken off the grids between 2015 and 2019 was 42.4 years.

Construction. Seventeen countries are currently building nuclear power plants, one more than in mid-2019, as Iran restarted construction of Bushehr-2 site, originally launched in 1976. As of 1 July 2020, 52 reactors were under construction—six more than WNISR reported for mid-2019 but 17 fewer than in 2013—of which 15 in China with 14 GW of capacity, less than half of the 5-Year target of 30 GW under construction by the end of 2020.

Total capacity under construction in the world increased by 8.9 GW to 53.5 GW. The current average time since work started at the 52 units under construction is 7.3 years, on the rise for the past two years from an average of 6.2 years as of mid-2017. Many units are still years away from completion.

  • All reactors under construction in at least 10 of the 17 countries have experienced mostly year-long delays. At least 33 (64 percent) of all building projects are delayed.
  • Of the 33 reactors clearly documented as behind schedule, at least 12 have reported increased delays and four have reported new delays over the past year.
  • Thirteen reactors were scheduled for startup during 2019, but only six made it.
  • Construction start of two projects dates back 35 years, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, and their startup has been further delayed, currently to 2020–2021. Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, that is 44 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
  • Five reactors have been listed as “under construction” for a decade or more: the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) in India, Olkiluoto-3 (OL3) in Finland, Shimane-3 in Japan, the Flamanville-3 (FL3) in France, and Leningrad 2-2 in Russia. The Finnish project has been further delayed this year, grid connections of the French and Indian units are likely to be postponed again, and the Japanese reactor does not even have a provisional startup date.
  • Nine countries completed 63 reactors—with 37 in China— over the past decade, with an average construction time (start to grid connection) of 10 years.

Construction Starts & New-Build Issues

Construction Starts. In 2019, construction began on six reactors—four in China and one each in Russia and the U.K.—and in the first half of 2020 on one (in Turkey). These were the first construction starts of commercial reactors in China since December 2016. This compares to 15 construction starts in 2010 and 10 in 2013. Construction starts peaked in 1976 at 44.

Over the decade 2010–2019, construction began on 67 reactors in the world. As of mid-2020, only 18 have started up, while 44 remain under construction (5 cancelled).

Construction Cancellations. Between 1970 and mid-2020, a total of 93— one less than in WNISR2019 as Bushehr-2 restarted construction in 2019—that is one in eight of a total of 773 constructions were abandoned or suspended in 19 countries at various stages of advancement.

Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19

COVID-19 is the first pandemic of this scale in the history of nuclear power. Nuclear utilities have been fast to point to the “crucial” role nuclear power played during the pandemic as a source of electricity. But the picture is more complex, with various safety and security routines becoming more difficult or impossible during a pandemic:

  • Periodic and frequent testing is usually done at systems to provide assurance that vitally important functions like the emergency control room operations, emergency electricity supply or emergency core cooling are in good working order.
  • Normally periodic testing and inspections are performed under the four-eyes principle (at least two people have to be always present), which becomes challenging if social distancing is followed.
  • Particular staff groups, like control-room personnel, with specific knowledge and qualification for specific facilities cannot easily be replaced.
  • Emergency situations like a fire or toxic gas buildup in the control-room could easily be exacerbated by the need of social distancing; the challenge is even greater in the emergency control-room.
  • Infections amongst security staff, a limited number of highly trained forces for specific facilities, could rapidly lower the protection level.

Infections, and Operator Response Strategies. Systematic national reporting on infections amongst nuclear staff did not happen anywhere, with the remarkable exception of Russia’s Rosatom, whose Director General made weekly video presentations on the evolution of active cases and recovered persons.

  • Russian Rosatom graphic illustrations indicate a total of about 4,500 infections in the group, with 1,200 still recovering as of the end of July 2020.
  • Only a handful of infections have been reported from nuclear facilities in Japan and South Korea.
  • French utility EDF in mid-June 2020 indicated around 600 cases amongst the nuclear staff over a 12-week period, reaching around 2 percent at the peak of the pandemic.
  • The Swedish regulator reported “few cases” but did not give numbers.
  • At the U.K. Sellafield site about 1,000 employees self-isolated and the reprocessing plant was shut down. At least one EDF Energy employee died of COVID-19 at the Hinkley Point C construction site but no numbers have been published about tested/infected staff.
  • In the U.S., several nuclear power plant sites have reported up to dozens of infected staff (e.g. Limerick, Waterford). At the Millstone reactor, three operators were amongst those that tested positive. An outage at Fermi-2 may have led to 200-300 infections. Operator DTE Energy refused to disclose exact numbers.

While numerous fuel-chain and research facilities were shut down, no country reported an enforced shutdown of a nuclear power plant. Various measures were taken, including:

  • Operators dramatically reduced staff levels in nuclear plants, e.g. in France, 15,000 employees (two thirds) of EDF’s Nuclear Generation Division were put on telework. Reduced staff levels led to a lack of oversight of subcontractors.12
  • Regulators granted operators permission to impose strikingly long work hours. For example, in the U.S., workers could work for up to 16 work hours in any 24-hour period and up to 86 work hours in any 7-day period or 12-hour shifts for up to 14 consecutive days.
  • In some cases, e.g. in Russia and Sweden, control-room staff and essential personnel were isolated, and/or onsite housing was provided for workers during outages (also in the U.S.).
  • Social distancing and remote working practices have been employed widely, but implementation seems to have varied in degrees of speed and rigor. In some cases, trade unions have reported practices very different from operator declarations, complaining about lack of masks and insufficient social distancing. In France, workers walked off at least three reactor sites considering their health and safety were not appropriately protected.
  • Force-on-force exercises in the U.S. as well as many other security and safety training-sessions in several countries have been suspended during the pandemic, leading to a degraded readiness level.
  • In many cases, refueling and maintenance outages have been altered to eliminate “non-critical work” or were deferred entirely to the end of the year or even into 2021. In some cases, like at Germany’s Grohnde and Spain’s Trillo-1, outages have been stretched out to allow for a lower density of workers.
  • In some cases, e.g. at Canada’s Darlington-3 or Romania’s Cernavoda-1, planned major overhaul has been rescheduled. In France, the installation of emergency diesel generators at five reactors was delayed for a second time, to February 2021, two years after the first delay was granted.
  • The pace of construction in at least 12 of the current 17 countries building nuclear reactors has been impacted, but apparently only in Argentina construction activities were entirely halted (on CAREM-25). A large outbreak took place at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, the only nuclear construction site in the U.S., where over 800 staff tested positive, with over 100 still affected as of late August 2020. As of late May 2020, about 100 cases were reported at the Belarus Ostrovets site.

Infections, and Regulator Response Strategies. Very little information has been made public about infections at national safety authorities and their Technical Support Organizations (TSOs). Some examples of infection levels and measures include:

  • French regulator ASN claims that as of early August 2020 not a single staff person had tested positive. In late April 2020, the French TSO IRSN said 59 were “contaminated or likely to be”, all of whom recovered, but strangely another IRSN spokesperson said in early September 2020 that only nine people were actually tested positive and only 13 total of 1,800 staff were tested at all.13 Apparently, neither ASN nor IRSN have systematic testing programs in place.
  • Safety authorities and their TSOs in several countries (e.g. Canada, Finland, France, U.S.) decided to halt site visits (except in cases of emergency). ASN carried out about 6 percent of the number of inspections it carries out on average under normal circumstances. IRSN also entirely suspended environmental sampling.
  • Regulators generally have been very “pragmatic” and “flexible” in their decision-making and approved most operator requests for exemptions, exceptions and deferrals.

Degradation of Safety and Security. Nuclear officials in international organizations, industry groups, utilities and regulatory authorities have claimed in one way or another that all these measures were taken “while maintaining the required level of safety”, as ASN put it. The U.K. Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) found “no significant change to dutyholders’ safety and security resilience”.

This confidence is difficult to comprehend because working conditions have clearly deteriorated in many nuclear facilities, because scheduled repair and upgrading work was often not carried out or delayed for many months, and operators of many nuclear power plants in the world were left without any physical regulatory oversight as inspectors stayed home. So not only valves, joints, pipes and weldings were not checked by the operators as planned, but no physical inspection actually made sure that operators were doing what they said they were doing. Considering the long list of fraud cases in the industry (for a selection see Introduction to Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19), fully operational independent regulators and their TSOs remain a crucial ingredient to nuclear safety and security.

Even if the pandemic were to slow down—there is of course no guarantee that no second wave hits nuclear countries—the situation will take time to significantly improve. Operators and regulators will be struggling to get back to operational modes that are closer to normality, leave alone catching up on all of the delayed activities, which will likely take several years.

In addition, bulk prices plunged as operational costs went up, bulk prices dropped and electricity consumption plunged. The financial viability of some of these utilities may be at stake. Indispensable cost cutting exercises will further exacerbate the pressure.

This is far from over.

Middle East Focus

On the occasion of the first nuclear power plant entering the operational phase in an Arab country, i.e. Barakah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), WNISR provides an overview of the nuclear energy ambitions of six countries in the Middle East: Iran, UAE, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan (ordered by level of program advancement).

The region mainly depends on natural gas for electricity generation with five of the six assessed countries generating more than half of their power from gas; of these, three countries (Egypt, Jordan, UAE) rely on gas for more than 75 percent of the electricity.

Iran has one reactor in operation and another one under construction as well as various activities along the nuclear fuel chain. UAE has started up one unit in early August 2020, while three more reactors remain under construction. Turkey has two units under construction. As for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, nuclear plans are more or less advanced, but no construction has yet begun. Egypt, Jordan and Turkey are struggling with high debt loads and unfavorable credit-ratings (highly speculative or “junk”). This makes capital-intensive investments like nuclear power particularly challenging, unless financing assistance from vendor countries is provided. While Egypt and Turkey have benefited from Russian financial assistance, Jordan is yet to obtain any financial aid.


  • Construction had been disturbed by decades-long suspensions. Even after construction of Bushehr-1 had restarted in 1996, the project was plagued by delays and connected to the grid only in 2011, 35 years after construction first started, 15 years after construction restart.
  • Production remains modest and in 2019, Bushehr-1 represented less than 2 percent of electricity generation in the country.
  • According to official estimates, Iran’s solar capacity potential is a stunning 40 TW (40,000 GW).

United Arab Emirates

  • Construction of the Barakah plant by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) is about three years behind schedule. Barakah-1 was planned to start up in 201714, with Units 2, 3 and 4 following each other with one-year distance. Amongst the reasons for delays were construction problems (cracks/voids in the containment) and difficulties in establishing a local, trained operator workforce.
  • Cost comparisons between the nuclear and solar options show:
    • The official cost estimate of Barakah power of US$72/MWh in 2012 was below the lowest level of Lazard’s international cost range for the year of US$78–114;
    • A Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) for a 1.2 GW solar photovoltaic capacity signed in 2017 at US$24.2/MWh; the plant was connected to the grid in 2019.
    • Earlier in 2020, a solar power bid was made by EDF/Jinko for 1.5 GW at US$13.5/MWh, five times lower than the no doubt underestimated original cost of Barakah power and 9–14 times below Lazard’s nuclear cost estimate for 2019 of US$118–192/MWh.


  • Construction at Akkuyu-1 was launched by Russian builder Rosatom in April 2018 followed by Akkuyu-2 in April 2020. Startup for the first unit was planned for 2023, which is unlikely to happen. The Akkuyu project has been in the planning since the 1970s and was delayed countless times. The construction itself was hampered with technical problems including cracks identified in the basemat that had to be repaired. Nuclear power has met with fierce opposition, nationally and locally, concerned about nuclear safety, earthquake risks and negative social impacts. Two thirds of Turkish people polled opposed nuclear power in a 2018 survey.
  • Cost comparisons between the nuclear and solar options show that in 2018 solar PPAs came in at US$65/MWh, almost half the cost for nuclear electricity estimated in 2012.


  • Project Planning. Eleven years after the first feasibility study for nuclear energy, in 2018, Jordan pulled the plug on any project for large nuclear power plants and focused planning on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). After signing cooperation agreements with potential vendors from China, Russia, U.K. and the U.S. no further progress has been made.
  • Cost comparisons between the nuclear and solar options show a 2012-nuclear-cost estimate at around US$100, compared to a 2017-PPA for 50 MW solar at US$59/MWh connected to the grid in late 2019, and a bid at US$25/MWh in 2018. The country set a 20-percent target from renewable sources in the power mix for 2025.


  • Project Planning. The Egyptian Atomic Energy Commission was established in the mid-1950s and the idea of building nuclear power plants was explored as early as the mid-1970s. But it took until 2016 to sign a loan agreement with Russia for the construction of four Rosatom reactors. In March 2019, a site permit was issued for Dabaa on the Mediterranean cost. Construction is planned to begin in 2020.
  • Cost comparisons show a 2015-estimate for nuclear power at US$110/MWh vs. a 2019-PPA for solar power at US$24.8/MWh, four times cheaper. In 2016, the Government set a 37-percent-share target for renewables in the electricity mix by 2035 vs. 3 percent for nuclear energy.

Saudi Arabia

  • Project Planning. In 2018, the Government approved a nuclear program of two reactors to be built in the 2020s, and possibly more later. However, no vendor has been chosen and no site selected. The Government has also been interested in the development of domestic uranium mining and enrichment for fuel. The country has also shown interest in the development of SMR technology, without much tangible progress so far.
  • Cost comparisons between the nuclear and renewable energy options are not possible because there are no cost estimates for nuclear power. However, a PPA for solar power at US$16/MWh, signed in 2016, underlines the competitiveness of photovoltaic electricity in the region.

Focus Countries

The following seven Focus Countries covered in depth in this report represent almost one fourth of the nuclear countries hosting about two-thirds of the global reactor fleet. Key facts for year 2019:

China. Nuclear power generation grew by 19.2 percent in 2019 and contributed 4.9 percent of all electricity generated in China, up from 4.2 percent in 2018. Plans for future expansion remain uncertain.

Finland. Nuclear generation reached a new record in 2019. The Olkiluoto-3 EPR project was delayed yet again, and, according to an announcement from April 2020, “regular production of electricity” will not happen before February 2022; that constitutes nearly two years of additional delay since the previous announcement only one year earlier, and 13 years after the original planned startup date.15

France. Nuclear plants generated 3.5 percent less power than in 2018, representing 70.6 percent of the country’s electricity, the lowest share in 30 years. Outages at zero capacity cumulated 5,580 reactor-days or more than three months per reactor on average. All outages at 54 of the 58 units were extended beyond the planned duration, leading to an average 44-percent increase of the outage time. A damning report by the Court of Accounts slams the lack of government oversight of the Flamanville-3 EPR construction project that is at least 10 years behind schedule and recalculated the cost at over €201519 billion (US$202020 billion) including financing.

Japan. Nuclear plants generated more power than in any year since Fukushima disaster began in 2011 and provided 7.5 percent of the electricity in 2019. As of mid-2020, nine reactors had restarted but that number has not increased since mid-2018. Four units were taken off the grid again in mid-2020 for various reasons, and power output is expected to drop by up to half in 2020. A large bribery scandal involving KEPCO management including the president rattled the industry.

South Korea. Nuclear power output recovered by 9 percent after a decline of 19 percent since 2015 and supplied 26.2 percent of the country’s electricity. If adopted, a draft energy bill under review would further reduce nuclear’s role to providing just 10 percent of power by 2034.

United Kingdom. Nuclear generation decreased again and provided only 14 percent of the power in the country, down from 17.7 percent in 2018. The fleet’s aging units, over 36 years on average, are struggling with many technical issues, in particular irreparable damage to moderator graphite bricks leading to lengthy outages of the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs). Three units newly qualified for the LTO category. While construction officially started at Hinkley Point C-2, prospects for other new-build projects remain uncertain.

United States. Nuclear power plants generated a new historic maximum of 809 TWh (+1.4 TWh), while their share in the electricity mix remained below 20 percent (19.7 percent). The continuous excellent productivity of the ageing U.S. fleet, average age 40 years, is intriguing and contrary to the performance of other early programs. The NRC issued its first license extension to 80 years. But nuclear units have increasing difficulties to economically compete in the market. State subsidies have been granted to four uneconomic nuclear plants to avoid their “early closure”. Following the revelation of an unprecedented corruption scheme in Ohio, involving the State’s Speaker of the House, two of these “bailouts” might be reversed. Many other units remain threatened with early closure for economic reasons. A series of other criminal affairs involving the nuclear industry were revealed over the past two months.16

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)

Following assessments of the development status and prospects of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in WNISR2015 and WNISR2017, this year’s update does not reveal great changes.

Argentina. The CAREM-25 project under construction since 2014 is reportedly 55 percent complete. A significant construction interrupted work in November 2019 complaining about late payments and design changes. COVID-19 led to a complete construction stop.

Canada. Three provincial Governments have embraced the idea to promote SMRs for remote communities and mining operations. Various models are being investigated. The environmental impact assessment process for the proposed first demonstration high temperature reactor is underway.

China. A high-temperature reactor under development since the 1970s has been under construction since 2012. Startup has been delayed several times and is now planned for 2021, four years later than scheduled.

India. An Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) design has been under development since the 1990s, and its construction start is getting continuously delayed. No major news since WNISR2019.

Russia. Two “floating reactors” were finally connected to the grid in December 2019. As construction started in 2007, it took about four times as long as planned. The costs were estimated at US$2015740 million in 2015 (likely underestimated) or US$11,600 per installed kilowatt, significantly more expensive than the most expensive Generation III reactors.

South Korea. The System-Integrated Modular Advanced Reactor (SMART) has been under development since 1997. In 2012, the design received approval by the safety authority, but nobody wants to build it in the country, because it is not cost-competitive.

United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce is the only company interested in participating in the Government’s SMR competition but has requested significant subsidies, including for investing in a factory. The Rolls-Royce pre-design is at a very early stage but, at 440 MW, it is not really small. As of 1 September 2020, the design was not even under examination by the regulator.

United States. The Department of Energy (DOE) has generously funded companies promoting SMR development. A single design by NuScale is in the final stage of the design certification process.17 However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards identified some significant safety problems that will have to be resolved in the future.

Overall, there are few signs that would hint at a major breakthrough for SMRs, either with regard to the technology or with regard to the commercial side.

Fukushima Status Report

Over nine years have passed since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident (Fukushima accident) began, triggered by the East Japan Great Earthquake on 11 March 2011 (referred to as 3/11 throughout the report) and subsequent events. The onsite situation is still not stabilized and numerous offsite challenges remain.

Onsite Challenges

Spent Fuel Removal from the pool of Unit 3 started in April 2019. Only about one fifth had been removed one year on. Units 1 and 2 have not gotten beyond the preparatory stage.

Fuel Debris Removal is now planned to start with Unit 2 by 2021. Further delays are likely.

Contaminated Water Management. Water injection continues to cool the fuel debris of Units 1–3. Highly contaminated water runs out of the cracked containments into the basements where it mixes with water that has penetrated the basements from an underground river. The commissioning of a dedicated bypass system and the pumping of groundwater has reduced the influx of water from around 400 m3/day to about 170 m3/day. However, in FY2019, pumped contaminated water increased again to 180 m3/day. An equivalent amount of water is partially decontaminated and stored in 1,000-m3 tanks. Thus, a new tank is needed every 5.5 days. The storage capacity onsite of 1.4 million m3 is expected to be saturated by the end of 2022. Plans to release the contaminated water into the ocean are widely contested, including overseas.

Worker Health. As of March 2020, there were 7,000 workers involved in decommissioning work on-site, 87 percent of whom were subcontractors; only the remaining 13 percent worked for Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Maximum effective dose levels accepted for subcontractors turned out eight times higher than for TEPCO employees.

Offsite Challenges

Amongst the main offsite issues are the future of tens of thousands of evacuees, the assessment of health consequences of the disaster, the management of decontamination wastes and the costs involved.

Legal Issues. In September 2019, the Tokyo District Court acquitted three former TEPCO top managers accused of professional negligence resulting in injury or death. The ruling was widely condemned as flawed, and the lawyers for the plaintiffs have filed an appeal to the Tokyo High Court.

Evacuees. As of April 2020, almost 39,000 Fukushima Prefecture residents—not including “self-evacuees”—were still officially designated evacuees. According to the Prefecture, the number peaked just under 165,000 in May 2012. The Government intends to continue the lifting of restriction orders for affected municipalities. However, according to a recent survey, only 1.8 percent of the people returned to Okuma Town and 7.5 percent to Tomioka Town.

Health Issues. Officially, as of February 2020, a total of 237 people had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor or suspected of having a malignant thyroid tumor and 187 people underwent surgery. While the cause-effect relationship between Fukushima-related radiation exposure and illnesses has not been officially established, questions have been raised about the examination procedure itself and the processing of information. However, a 2019-study concludes that “the average radiation dose-rates in the 59 municipalities of the Fukushima prefecture in June 2011 and the corresponding thyroid cancer detection rates in the period October 2011 to March 2016 show statistically significant relationships”.

Food Contamination. According to official statistics, among over 266,000 samples taken in FY 2020, a total of only 157 food items were identified as being contaminated beyond legal limits. As of March 2020, post-3/11 import restrictions remain in place in 20 countries (three less than a year earlier).

Decontamination. The contaminated soil in the temporary storage area in Fukushima Prefecture is currently being transferred to intermediate storage facilities in eight areas. As of June 2020, around 56 percent of the total amount of 14 million m3 had been shipped. The soil is to be processed through various stages of volume reduction before being shipped to a final repository.

Decommissioning Status Report – Soaring Costs

As more and more nuclear facilities either reach the end of their pre-determined operational lifetime or close due to deteriorating economic conditions, their decommissioning is becoming a key challenge.

  • As of mid-2020, 189 reactors were closed, eight more than a year earlier, of which 169 are awaiting or are in various stages of decommissioning.
  • Only 20 units have been technically fully decommissioned, one more than a year earlier: 14 in the U.S., five in Germany, and one in Japan. Of these, only 10 have been returned to greenfield sites.
  • The average duration of the decommissioning process is about 20 years, with a large range from 6–42 years.
  • Progress in decommissioning projects around the world remains slow. In France, the two Fessenheim reactors entered the warm-up stage and Superphénix entered the hot-zone stage. In Germany four reactors advanced to the hot-zone stage, while one additional reactor entered the warm-up-stage. In the U.S., two more reactors entered the warm-up stage, while one plant finished the technical decommissioning process.
  • Although they were early to start nuclear power programs, Canada, France, Russia and U.K. have not fully decommissioned even one reactor so far.

Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy Deployment

Renewable energy deployment and generation has better resisted the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic than the nuclear power sector. In the first quarter of 2020, renewables increased output by an estimated 3 percent and its relative share in global generation rose by 1.5 percentage points, while nuclear output fell by about 3 percent.

Costs. Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis shows that between 2009 and 2019, utility-scale solar costs came down 89 percent and wind 70 percent, while new nuclear costs increased by 26 percent. The gap has continued to widen between 2018 and 2019.

Investment. In 2019, for the third time after 2015 and 2017, the total investment in renewable electricity exceeded US$300 billion, almost ten times the reported global investment decisions for the construction of nuclear power of around US$31 billion for 5.8 GW. Investment in nuclear power is less than a quarter of the investment in wind (US$138 billion) and solar (US$131 billion) individually. China remains the top investor in renewables, spending US$83 billion in 2019, down 9 percent compared to 2018.

Installed Capacity. In 2019, a new record 184 GW (+20 GW) of non-hydro renewables were added to the world’s power grids. Wind added 59.2 GW and solar-photovoltaics (PV) 98 GW, both slightly below the 2017-levels. These numbers compare to a net 2.4 GW increase for nuclear power.

Electricity Generation. In 2019, annual growth for global electricity generation from solar was 24 percent, for wind power about 13 percent and 3.7 percent for nuclear power, half of which is due to China.

Low-Carbon Power. Compared to 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was signed, in 2019 an additional 1,418 TWh of wind power was produced globally and 723 TWh of solar PV electricity, compared to nuclear’s additional 394 TWh. Over the past decade, non-hydro renewables have added more kilowatt-hours than coal or gas, twice as many as hydropower, and 22 times as many as nuclear plants.

Share in Power Mix. After experiencing the strongest annual growth on record, the share in power generation from new renewables (excluding hydro) reached 10.39 percent, surpassing nuclear energy’s share (10.35 percent) for the first time.

In China, electricity production of 406 TWh from wind alone again by far exceeded the 330 TWh from nuclear, while solar power is already at 224 TWh.

In India, generation from wind power (63 TWh) outpaced nuclear again, but for the first time, generation from solar energy (46 TWh) exceeded the nuclear output of 41 TWh.

In the European Union, solar installed capacity for the first time exceeded the nuclear one in the EU28 with 130 GW vs. 116 GW. Wind had outpaced nuclear already in 2014 and has since enlarged the gap. Renewables (incl. hydro) generated a record 35 percent of electricity, while nuclear provided 25.5 percent. Hard coal generated electricity declined by an unprecedented 32 percent and lignite power by 16 percent, while natural gas increased by 12 percent. Wind power output grew by 14 percent and solar by 7 percent, while nuclear declined by 1 percent.

In the United States, electricity generation from coal plunged to a 42-year low, and in April 2019, for the first time since 1885, the renewable energy sector (hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal) generated more electricity than coal-fired plants. While nuclear energy’s share stayed stable, it is set to decline. With three reactors closed in 2019–1HY2020, and more closures expected, the nuclear capacity is shrinking. In 2019, for the first time, installed wind power exceeded installed nuclear capacity with 104 GW vs. 98 GW. Over the past decade, wind + solar have quadrupled combined electricity generation while nuclear production has not moved.


Since the release of the previous edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) in September 2019, the world has changed dramatically and is undergoing the worst global pandemic and the most devastating global economic crisis in a century. This is in addition to the increasingly acute climate change emergency. And much has been said about the systemic interdependencies between these crises, which is not the subject of this report.

It was an obvious choice for the WNISR-Team to elaborate a focus chapter providing a preliminary international assessment on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nuclear sector and the reactions of operators and regulators (see Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19). The most striking outcome of the analysis is the display of confidence by the main stakeholders that “everything is fine”. While most outages for maintenance and repairs were delayed, many nuclear facilities operated with a fraction of normal staffing levels, and virtually all physical inspections by safety authorities were cancelled for at least two months. Some of the large nuclear operators like the French EDF or the Russian Rosatom were hit with hundreds of COVID-19 cases. No information is publicly available about the impact on specific areas of work. How can regulators assure parliamentarians, citizens and Governments that the operators were “maintaining the required level of safety”, as the French chief regulator put it18 if they have not been on the sites for weeks?

The in-depth assessment of the safety and security implications of the COVID-19 crisis—not only in the past months, but also in the coming years, as outage schedules will be impacted over the coming at least two years—would go far beyond the scope of this report. But there is a major public interest in getting this analysis done, soon.

The second focus chapter of WNISR2020 is devoted to Nuclear Power in the Middle East. With the first nuclear power reactor starting up in the Arab world, at the Barakah site in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it was an appropriate time to analyze the energy policies in the region and the role of nuclear power. The deployment of nuclear energy projects in a region that has a high security volatility raises additional questions such as the comparative vulnerability of energy infrastructure that are outside the scope of this report. The recent threat by the Azerbaijani Government to bomb the Armenian nuclear plant was a reminder of the security implications of an existing nuclear facility in cases of international conflict or terrorism. “The Armenian side mustn’t forget”, Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargyakhly said in a 16 July 2020 statement, “that the most advanced missile systems our army has are capable of launching a precision strike on the Metsamor nuclear power plant, and that would be a huge tragedy for Armenia”.19 Only two days earlier, Al Jazeera posted a video on twitter20 that raised the possibility of attacks on the Barakah nuclear plant. Three weeks later, the first reactor of the four-unit Barakah complex was connected to the grid.

The WNISR deadline for statistical and major editorial information is 1 July. This year, July and August were particularly rich in nuclear and energy related information. Here are some news items likely to be analyzed in more detail in the WNISR2021, some of which reflect a surprising level of corruption and other illegal activities in the nuclear sector:

  • The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) lifted its long-standing ban on funding of nuclear energy projects overseas.21 This makes the DFC one of the few development banks that allow investment in new nuclear projects. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) amongst others do not permit funding of new nuclear power projects.
  • The speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Larry Householder, was arrested by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on charges of racketeering. Allegedly, he and his associates had set up a US$60 million slush fund “to elect their candidates, with the money coming from one of the state’s largest electricity companies. (…) Prosecutors contend that in return for the cash, Mr. Householder, a Republican, pushed through a huge bailout of two nuclear plants and several coal plants that were losing money.”22 As a consequence, in 2019, FirstEnergy’s Oak Harbor and Perry reactors were granted generous US$1.3 billion of taxpayer-money support to keep their uneconomic units on the grid. The conspiracy was “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, David M. DeVillers, said in a news conference.23
  • The revelation of the massive bribery affair in Ohio came within days of U.S. federal prosecutors in Chicago charging Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) with bribery and a US$200 million fine. ComEd, the largest electric utility in Illinois, paid at least US$1.3 million in contracts, jobs, and other payments to associates of state House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Democrat, and “in return received [US]$150 million in benefits resulting from legislation that relaxed oversight of the utility”.24
  • In a different affair, Steve Byrne, former Vice-President of SCANA—the utility that in 2017 abandoned construction of the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina—pleaded guilty to fraud charges in federal court. Peter McCoy, U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, told the Federal District Court in Columbia that Byrne “joined a conspiracy with other senior SCANA executives to defraud customers of money and property through... false and misleading statements and omissions.” The guilty plea was the result of a three-year investigation by the FBI and prosecutors at the Federal Attorney’s Office in Columbia. The fraud charges he pleaded to can carry up to five years in prison. The company had spent over US$9 billion, much of it ratepayer money, prior to folding the project.25
  • In the aftermath of the ComEd scandal, the company’s owner Exelon, operator of the largest nuclear fleet in the U.S., was concerned its attempts to impose legislative change to allow for subsidies for its uneconomic Byron and Dresden plants in Illinois could fail. Exelon CEO Chris Krane stated: “If we can’t find... a path to profitability, we will have to shut them down.”26 Three weeks later Kane announced the early closure of the four reactors, the two 33- and 35-year-old units at Byron in September 2021 (although licensed for another 20 years) and the 49 and 50-year-old units at Dresden in November 2021 (licensed for another decade).27
  • As a result of storm damage incurred on 10 August 2020, the Duane Arnold-1 reactor will not return to service and will instead be permanently closed. It was previously scheduled for closure on 30 October 2020. This is the second reactor closure in the U.S. and the fourth in the world since the beginning of 2020.28
  • EDF Energy is to close its Hunterston B plant in the U.K. in late 2021, at least two years earlier than planned. Serious graphite cracking and other damage had been identified at the two 44- and 43-year-old Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) in 2018 and the units were shut down over the past two years. Repairs for longer-term operation turned out impossible or too costly.29.
  • The startups of the Franco-German nuclear projects in Finland and France have been delayed for the nth time. While the first EPR started building in Olkiluoto in 2005 and was, at the time, scheduled to deliver power by 2009, “regular electricity generation” is now planned for February 202230 (see Finland Focus); the second one in Flamanville started construction in 2007 and was supposed to supply electricity by 2012 but power generation is now not expected before 2023. Popular Mechanics concluded: “France’s Revolutionary Nuclear Reactor Is a Leaky, Expensive Mess.”31
  • The French Financial Market Authority (AMF) imposed a fine of €5 million (US$6 million) on EDF and a fine of €50,000 (US$60,000) on Henri Proglio, former CEO of EDF for “disseminating false information” on the Hinkley Point C project in the U.K. The AMF ruled that by claiming in a news release of 8 October 2014 that earlier agreements remained “unchanged”, when there had in fact been “significant changes to the financing plan by guaranteed debt, EDF had disseminated false information likely to set the share price at an abnormal or artificial level”.32

While the nuclear industry was struggling with COVID-19 cases, dramatically reduced workforces in operating plants and facilities under construction, the renewable energy industry apparently suffered much less and shorter impacts of the pandemic. It is obvious that operating solar plants or wind farms need significantly less maintenance by fewer workers than a nuclear facility. Also, the construction of new generating facilities requires less workers on-site at any given time in the renewable sector than in the case of nuclear. New renewables (excluding hydro) come in much smaller units, and therefore appear as a whole significantly more resilient than in the nuclear sector.

  • The lowest ever commercial offer for solar electricity was issued in Portugal in August 2020 at US$13.2/MWh, just below a July 2020 bid in Abu Dhabi at US$13.5/MWh (see Figure 25).33
  • Wind and solar electricity generation increased by 19 percent year-on-year in the first seven months of 2020 across the Big-5 power markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, U.K.) with solar power generation at an all-time high34, while nuclear generation was on the decline in many nuclear countries around the world.
  • China’s newly installed solar capacity has recovered quickly after a year-on-year decline due to COVID-19 in the first quarter of 2020, and the half-year result is even slightly above 2019 (11.5 GW vs. 11.4 GW).35
  • In spite of COVID-19, wind power capacity additions in the first half of 2020 exceeded 2019-results significantly in major markets including the E.U., Japan and the U.S. where added capacity more than doubled to over 4 GW.36
  • In spite of COVID-19, global investment in new renewables increased year-on-year in the first half of 2020 by 5 percent to an estimated US$132 billion, driven by the tripling of investments in off-shore wind to US$35 billion.37

And as a consequence of some of the development mentioned above:

  • As of mid-2020, energy consumption in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in 30 years; 19 energy companies, mostly oil and gas, had filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. in these six months.38 (Already in April 2020, for the first time ever, oil was traded at negative prices and producers paid shippers to get rid of it).
  • For the first time ever, the world’s coal power plant fleet ran at less than half of its capacity (47 percent) for six months in a row (January to June 2020) on average with China at 45 percent, the EU at 24 percent, India at 51 percent and the U.S. at 32 percent. Renewables generated an estimated 10 percent. However, in spite of the significant impact of COVID-19 on electricity consumption and the rise of renewables, coal use dropped “only” by 8 percent year-on-year over the first half of 2020, while it needs to fall 13 percent annually to reach the +1.5°C climate goal by 2050.39

This is quite an amazing list of developments and revelations in just two months. In WNISR2018, we started to assess the performance of the French nuclear sector reactor-by-reactor and WNISR2019 provided a full picture of the year 2018. WNISR2020 offers an update to that analysis. The average outage (at zero power, not including reduced output) per unit for the 58 French reactors has increased by 10 percent in 2019, exceeding three months (96.2 days) per year, totaling 5,580 reactor-days, up 500 days over the previous year (see France Focus). In the previous editions, we were wondering about EDF’s declaration of planned vs. unplanned outages and were intrigued about the principle ‘once planned, always planned’. Therefore, we decided to analyze scheduled vs. real restarts and the result is staggering, with an average of 40 percent increase between scheduled vs. real outage times. EDF, the largest nuclear operator in the world, has entirely lost control of outage planning.

In Japan, no new units have been restarted since mid-2018—four restarted in the first half of 2018—and there are still only nine operating reactors in the country. As of mid-2020, 24 reactors remain in Long-Term Outage (LTO) with uncertain prospects for restart, which is still highly controversial amongst the Japanese public (see Japan Focus).

Small Modular Reactors or SMRs have made little progress ever since the first WNISR assessment in 2015, as this edition’s update concludes: “delays, poor economics, and the increased availability of low-carbon alternatives at rapidly decreasing cost plague these technologies as well, and there is no need to wait with bated breath for SMRs to be deployed” (see Small Modular Reactors).

The WNISR’s overview of decommissioning of closed reactors identifies few major developments. While eight additional reactors have been closed since WNISR2019, only one more reactor finished the technical decommissioning process, bringing the total to 20 units of a total of 189 closed reactors in the world. The detailed analysis is in the Decommissioning Status Report.

It has become a challenge to keep the traditional Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy chapter up to date as developments have accelerated to a point that becomes difficult to account for in an annual report. It provides a global comparative overview on investment, deployment, production of non-hydro renewables vs. nuclear power as well some country specific analysis, including on China, India, the EU, and the U.S.

General Overview Worldwide

Production and Role of Nuclear Power

In 2019, the world nuclear fleet generated 2,657 net terawatt-hours (TWh or billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity40, a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year— half of this rise is due to China’s nuclear output increasing by over 19 percent—and only 3 TWh below the historic peak in 2006 (see Figure 1). Without China, global nuclear power generation slightly increased (+1.8 percent). The numbers illustrate that China continues to dominate the key indicators in nuclear statistics.

Nuclear energy’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation in 2019 has marked a break in its slow but steady decline from a peak of 17.5 percent in 1996, with a 0.2 percentage-point increase over the 10.15 percent in 2018 to 10.35 percent in 2019. However, with non-hydro renewables’ strongest annual growth on record, “their share in power generation (10.4 percent) also surpassed nuclear for the first time”, as BP notes in their annual statistical review.41

Sources: WNISR, with BP, IAEA-PRIS, 202042

The nuclear contribution to commercial primary energy generation remained stable at 4.3 percent. It has been around this level since 2014.43

In 2019, nuclear generation increased in 19 countries of the 31 countries operating commercial reactors, declined in eight, and remained stable in four.44 A remarkable eight countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Finland, Hungary, India, Russia, U.S.) achieved their largest ever nuclear production. As only two of these countries started up new units (China and Russia), the others either restarted reactors after long outages, sometimes involving significant overhaul including an increase in capacity or improved their performance through better plant management.

The following noteworthy developments for the year 2019 illustrate the continuous volatile operational situation of the individual national reactor fleets (see country-specific sections for details):

  • Argentina boosted output by almost 23 percent after one of their three reactors (Embalse) returned to service following a four-and-a-half-year refurbishment-outage.
  • Belgium’s nuclear generation increased by 52 percent after a 32-percent plunge in 2018 due to the extension of outages for maintenance, repair and upgrade.
  • China started up only two new units after having connected seven reactors to the grid in 2018, which helped increase output by 19.2 percent in 2019.
  • France’s nuclear generation decreased by 3.4 percent, remaining for the fourth year in a row below the 400 TWh mark. In the 15 years between 2001 and 2015, this had happened only once, in the crisis year 2009 (see France Focus).
  • India increased generation by just over 15 percent, following several years of stagnation, achieving an annual load factor of almost 74 percent, compared to a lifetime load factor of 60 percent.
  • Japan, that had restarted four more units in 2018, bringing the total of operating reactors to nine, did not restart any additional units but boosted output by one third in 2019.
  • Russia reached a new peak in nuclear electricity generation and overtook China in the number of startups during the year (three vs. two).
  • South Korea increased nuclear production by 9.2 percent following a 10-percent decline in 2018. In spite of the grid connection of a new reactor in April 2019, the country did not return to 2017 generation levels.
  • South Africa increased generation by 28.4 percent but could not make up for the 29.8 percent drop in the previous year.
  • The U.K. nuclear generation decreased by 13.7 percent, due to repeatedly extended, long outages of some its reactors.
  • The U.S. improved its 2018, all-time highest nuclear electricity generation by another 1.3 TWh (0.2 percent). While the increase remains marginal, it is a remarkable achievement as two more reactors were closed during the year (Pilgrim-1 in April and Three-Mile-Island-2 in September) and no new ones were started up since 2016. With the average age hitting 40 years in 2020, the productivity of the U.S. reactor fleet is astounding and quite contrary to the difficulties with ageing issues in other countries.45

Sources: IAEA-PRIS, and national sources for Germany and Switzerland, 2020

With remarkable stability, just as in previous years, in 2019, the “big five” nuclear generating countries—by rank, the U.S., France, China, Russia and South Korea—generated 70 percent of all nuclear electricity in the world (see Figure 2, left side). In 2002, China held position 15, in 2007 it was tenth, before reaching third place in 2016. With another 15 reactors under construction, China will likely overtake France within the next few years. In the meantime, the two top countries alone, the U.S. and France, accounted for 45 percent of global nuclear production in 2019.

In many cases, even where nuclear power generation has increased in the past, the addition is not keeping pace with overall increases in electricity production, leading to a nuclear share below the respective historic maximum (see Figure 2, right side). Only two countries, China and Russia, reached new historic peak shares of nuclear in their respective power mix, both at small increases, +0.7 percentage points for China (reaching a share of 4.9 percent) and +1.8 percentage points for Russia (attaining 19.7 percent.)

However, in 2019, there were 12 countries that increased their nuclear share—three times as many as in 2018—and 13 remained at a constant level (change of less than 1 percentage point), while six decreased their nuclear shares.

Operation, Power Generation, Age Distribution

Since the first nuclear power reactor was connected to the Soviet power grid at Obninsk in 1954, there have been two major waves of startups. The first peaked in 1974, with 26 grid connections in that year. The second reached a historic maximum in 1984 and 1985, just before the Chernobyl accident, reaching 33 grid connections in each year. By the end of the 1980s, the uninterrupted net increase of operating units had ceased, and in 1990 for the first time the number of reactor closures46 outweighed the number of startups. The 1991–2000 decade produced far more startups than closures (52/30), while in the decade 2001–2010, startups did not match closures (32/37). Furthermore, after 2000, it took a whole decade to connect as many units as in a single year in the middle of the 1980s (see Figure 3). Between 2011 and mid-2020, the startup of 58 reactors—of which 35 (60 percent) in China alone—outpaced by two only the closure of 56 units over the same period. As there were no closures in China over the period, the 56 closures outside China were only matched by 23 startups, a startling decline by 33 units over the period. (See Figure 4).

After the startup of 10 reactors in each of the years 2015 and 2016, only four units started up in 2017, of which three in China and one in Pakistan (built by Chinese companies). In 2018, nine reactors generated power for the first time, of which seven in China and two in Russia, while three units were closed, of which two in Russia and one in the U.S. In 2019, six units were connected to the grid, of which three in Russia, two in China and one in South Korea, while five units were closed, of which two in the U.S., and one each in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland (see Figure 4).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

As of 2019, WNISR is using the term “Closed” instead of “Permanent Shutdown” for reactors that have ceased power production, as WNISR considers the reactors closed as of the date of their last production. Although this definition is not new, it had not been applied to all reactors or fully reflected in the WNISR database; this applies to known/referenced examples like Superphénix in France, which had not produced in the two years before it was officially or the Italian reactors that were de facto closed prior to the referendum in 1987, or some other cases. Those changes obviously affect many of the Figures relating to the world nuclear reactor fleet (Startup and Closures, Evolution of world fleet, age of closed reactors, amongst others.)

Not a single new unit was connected to the world’s power grids in the first half of 202047, including in China, where no unit was started up since mid-2019.48 It is not since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 that there has not been a single startup in China for a full year.49

Three reactors were closed in 2020 by mid-year, the two oldest units in France (Fessenheim-1 and -2) and one in the U.S. (Indian Point-2).

As of mid-2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to count 33 units in Japan in its total number of 440 reactors “in operation” in the world. That is a significant drop of 11 compared to mid-2019). The IAEA is counting four less “operating” units in Japan than in mid-2019 with the four Fukushima Daini reactors finally considered closed.50 WNISR has considered them closed since 2012, as the probability for restart were virtually zero with their location in the middle of the exclusion zone, at 15 km distance of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site. No nuclear electricity was generated in Japan between September 2013 and August 2015, and as of 1 July 2020, only nine reactors were operating (see Japan Focus), just as in mid-2019. Nuclear plants provided only 7.5 percent of the electricity in Japan in 2019.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

The WNISR keeps reiterating its call for an appropriate reflection in world nuclear statistics of the unique situation in Japan. The attitude taken by the IAEA, the Japanese Government, utilities, industry and many research bodies as well as other Governments and organizations to continue considering the entire stranded reactor fleet in the country as “in operation” or “operational” is misleading.

The IAEA actually does have a reactor-status category called “Long-term Shutdown” or LTS.51 Under the IAEA’s definition, a reactor is considered in LTS, if it has been shut down for an “extended period (usually more than one year)”, and in early period of shutdown either restart is not being “aggressively pursued” or “no firm restart date or recovery schedule has been established”. The IAEA currently lists zero reactors anywhere in the LTS category.

The IAEA criteria are vague and hence subject to arbitrary interpretation. What exactly are extended periods? What is aggressively pursuing? What is a firm restart date or recovery schedule? Faced with this dilemma, the WNISR team in 2014 decided to create a new category with a simple definition, based on empirical fact, without room for speculation: “Long-term Outage” or LTO. Its definition:

A nuclear reactor is considered in Long-Term Outage or LTO if it has not generated any electricity in the previous calendar year and in the first half of the current calendar year. It is withdrawn from operational status retroactively from the day it has been disconnected from the grid.

When subsequently the decision is taken to close a reactor, the closure status starts with the day of the last electricity generation, and the WNISR statistics are retroactively modified accordingly.

Applying this definition to the world nuclear reactor fleet, as of 1 July 2020, leads to classifying 31 units in LTO—all considered “in operation” by the IAEA—three more than in WNISR2019, of which 24 in Japan (no change) and one in China (China Experimental Fast Reactor – CEFR). Three units entered the category in the U.K. (Hunterston-B1, Dungeness-B1 and -B2), one each in India (Madras-1) and South Korea (Hanbit-3, with Hanbit-4 remaining in LTO). One reactor in Canada (Darlington-2) restarted from LTO since mid-2019. One unit in Taiwan (Chinshan-2) moved from LTO to closed.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

Changes in the database regarding closing dates of reactors or LTO status slightly change the shape of this graph from previouus editions. In particular the previous “maximum operating capacity” of 2006 (overtaken in July 2019) is now at 367 GW.

As of 1 July 2020, a total of 408 nuclear reactors were operating in 31 countries, down nine units from the situation in mid-201952. The current world fleet has a total nominal electric net capacity of 362 GW, down by 7.5 GW (–2.1 percent) from one year earlier. The number of operating reactors remains by 10 below the figure reached in 1989 and by 30 below the 2002 peak (see Figure 5). With three reactors closed in the first half of 2020 but none started up, and four more units in LTO, the number of operating units and their installed capacity has also declined since the end of 2019.

For many years, the net installed capacity has continued to increase more than the net number of operating reactors. This is a result of the combined effects of larger units replacing smaller ones. Thus, in 1989, the average size of an operational nuclear reactor was about 740 MW, while that number has increased to almost 890 MW in 2020) and technical alterations raising capacity at existing plants resulting in larger electricity output, a process known as uprating.53 In the U.S. alone, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved 164 uprates since 1977. The cumulative approved uprates in the U.S. total 7.9 GW, the equivalent of eight large reactors.54 No additional uprates were approved since April 2018 and there are no pending applications as of mid-2020. Four additional applications were expected in 2019 but did not materialize.

A similar trend of uprates and major overhauls in view of lifetime extensions of existing reactors has been seen in Europe. The main incentive for lifetime extensions is economic but this argument is being increasingly challenged as backfitting costs soar and alternatives become cheaper.

Overview of Current New-Build

As of 1 July 2020, 52 reactors are considered as under construction. After falling for five years in a row, there are six more units than WNISR reported a year ago, but 17 fewer than in 2013 (five of those units have subsequently been abandoned).

Three in four reactors are built in Asia and Eastern Europe. In total, 17 countries are building nuclear plants, one more than reported in WNISR2019, with Iran restarting construction on Bushehr-2 (see Table 1). However, only four countries have construction ongoing at more than one site (see Annex 5, Figure 6 for details).

Four new construction sites were launched in China, including two CAP1400 units at Shidao-Bay where building started in April and October 2019 respectively, but that were not being taken into account in WNISR2019 (for Unit 1) and have not been reported by IAEA-PRIS as of mid-August 2020. One construction start took place in the U.K. with Hinkley Point C-2. The only construction start reported in the first half of 2020 was Akkuyu-2 in Turkey.

The figure of 52 reactors listed as under construction by mid-2020 compares poorly with a peak of 234—totaling more than 200 GW—in 1979. However, many (48) of those projects listed in 1979 were never finished (see Figure 6). The year 2005, with 26 units under construction, marked a record low since the early nuclear age in the 1950s. Compared to the situation described a year ago, the total capacity of units under construction in the world as of mid-2020 increased by 8.9 GW to 53.5 GW, with an average unit size of 1,028 MW.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020


This figure includes construction of two CAP1400 reactors at Rongcheng/Shidaowan, although their construction has not been officially announced (see China Focus). At Shidao Bay, the plant under construction since 2012 has actually two reactors on the site and is therefore counted as two units as of WNISR2020.

Table 1 · Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2020)55



(MW net)

Construction Start



Units Behind Schedule



13 842

2012 - 2019

2020 - 2025




4 824

2004 - 2017

2020 - 2023


South Korea


5 360

2012 - 2018

2020 - 2024




5 380

2012 - 2015

2020 - 2023




3 315

2010 - 2019

2021 - 2023




2 160

2017 - 2018

2023 - 2024




2 218

2013 - 2014

2020 - 2021




2 028

2015 - 2016






1985 - 1985

2020 - 2021




2 228

2018 - 2020

2024 - 2025




3 260

2018 - 2019

2025 - 2026




2 234


2021 - 2022










1 600






1 600






1 196






1 325






53 475

1976 - 2020

2020 - 2026


Sources: Various, Compiled by WNISR, 2020

Notes: This table does not contain suspended or abandoned constructions.

This table includes construction of two CAP1400 reactors at Rongcheng/Shidaowan, although their construction has not been officially announced (see China Focus). At Shidao Bay, the plant under construction since 2012 has actually two reactors on the site and is therefore counted as two units as of WNISR2020.

Construction Times

Construction Times of Reactors Currently Under Construction

A closer look at projects presently listed as “under construction” illustrates the level of uncertainty and problems associated with many of these projects, especially given that most builders assume a five-year construction period to begin with:

  • As of 1 July 2020, for the 52 reactors being built an average of 7.3 years have passed since construction start—an increase of more than six months compared to the mid-2019 average—and many remain far from completion.
  • All reactors under construction in at least 10 of the 17 countries have experienced mostly year-long delays. At least 33 (64 percent) of the building projects are delayed. Most of the units which are nominally being built on-time were begun within the past three years or have not yet reached projected startup dates, making it difficult to assess whether or not they are on schedule. Particular uncertainty remains over construction sites in Bangladesh, China, Russia and the U.K.
  • Of the 33 reactors clearly documented as behind schedule, at least 12 have reported increased delays and four have reported new delays over the past year.
  • WNISR2018 noted a total of 14 reactors scheduled for startup in 2019. At the beginning of 2019, two of these were already connected to the grid in late 2018, ten were still scheduled for startup during the year, in addition to four reactors previously scheduled for 2018, while the others were delayed at least into 2020. Only six made it in 2019.
  • Construction start of two projects dates back 35 years, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, and their startup has been further delayed, currently to 2020–2021. Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, that is 44 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
  • Five reactors have been listed as “under construction” for a decade or more: the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) in India, the Olkiluoto-3 (OL3) reactor project in Finland, Shimane-3 in Japan, the French Flamanville-3 (FL3) and Leningrad 2-2 in Russia. The Finnish project has been further delayed this year, grid connections of the French and Indian units are likely to be postponed again, and the Japanese reactor does not even have a provisional startup date.

The actual lead time for nuclear plant projects includes not only the construction itself but also lengthy licensing procedures in most countries, complex financing negotiations, site preparation and other infrastructure development. As the U.K.’s Hinkley Point C (HPC) project illustrates, a significant share of investment and work was carried out long before even entering the official construction phase (see United Kingdom Focus).

Construction Times of Past and Currently Operating Reactors

There has been a clear global trend towards increasing construction times. National building programs were faster in the early years of nuclear power, when units were smaller and safety regulations were less stringent. As Figure 7 illustrates, construction times of reactors completed in the 1970s and 1980s were quite homogenous, while in the past two decades they have varied widely.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

The nine units completed in 2018–2019 by the Chinese nuclear industry took on average 7.6 years to build, while the five Russian projects took a mean 16 years from first construction start to grid connection, with Rostov-4 taking 35 years from construction start to finally generate power (see The Construction Saga of Rostov Reactors 3 and 4).

The case of the twin “floating” reactors Akademik-Lomonosov is particularly interesting. These are small 30-MW reactors and they were meant to demonstrate a precursor to a new generation of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), smaller, cheaper and faster to build. However, construction has taken longer than any other reactor that has come on-line over the two-year period (with the exception of Rostov-4) and about four times as long as originally projected; a little before construction of the ship began in 2007, Rosatom announced that the plant would begin operating in October 2010 and that it would complete five additional floating nuclear plants by 201556. The first one finally started up only in December 2019. Not surprisingly, the “nuclear barge” has become more expensive, from an initial estimate of around 6 billion rubles (US$2007232 million)57 to at least 37 billion rubles as of 2015 (US$2015740 million),58 or close to US$11,600 per installed kilowatt, significantly more expensive than the most expensive Generation III reactors.59

The mean time from construction start to grid connection for the six reactors started up in 2019 was 9.9 years, improving from 10.9 years in 2018, confirming the trend towards an average of around a decade. By mid-2020, no new unit had started up in the year anywhere in the world.

Over the two years 2018 and 2019, there is only one unit that started up on-time, and that is Tianwan-4 in China, a Russian-designed but mainly Chinese-built VVER-1000 (model V-428M), that the designers claim to belong to Gen III classification, but few details are known. The two Chinese units Yangjiang-5 and -6 were completed with minor delays in 4.7 and 5.5 years respectively. These are ACPR1000 reactors, designed by China General Nuclear Corp. (CGN) that it claims contain at least ten improvements making them a Gen III design.60 Leaving the epic Rostov-4 case aside, the other six units that started up in China (four AP1000s, two EPRs), the two large reactors in Russia (Leningrad 2-1 and Novovoronezh 2-2) and the one in South Korea (Shin-Kori-4) all experienced years-long delays and roughly doubled their respective planned construction time to 8.3–9.8 years, while the two floating reactors took with 12.7 years about four times as long to complete as planned (see Figure 8).

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2020


Expected construction time is based on grid connection data provided at construction start when available; alternatively, best estimates are used, based on commercial operation, completion, or commissioning information.

The longer-term perspective confirms that short construction times remain the exceptions. Nine countries completed 63 reactors over the past decade—of which 37 in China alone—after an average construction time of 10 years (see Table 2).

Table 2· Duration from Construction Start to Grid Connection 2010–2019

Construction Times of 63 Units Started-up 2010–2019



Construction Time (in Years)

Mean Time













South Korea
































Sources: Various, Compiled by WNISR. 2020

Construction Starts & Cancellations

The number of annual construction starts61 in the world peaked in 1976 at 44, of which 12 projects were later abandoned. In 2010, there were 15 construction starts—including 10 in China—the highest level since 1985 (see Figure 9 and Figure 10). That number dropped to five each in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, WNISR accounts for six construction starts, four in China and one each in Russia and the U.K. In the first half of 2020, only the Akkuyu-2 construction was kicked off. Like most of the construction projects of the past decades, it was Government owned or controlled companies that launched all of the reactors over the past 18 months.

Seriously affected by the Fukushima events, China did not start any construction in 2011 and 2014 and began work only on eight units in total in 2012 and 2013. While Chinese utilities started building six more units in 2015, the number shrank to two in 2016, only a demonstration fast reactor in 2017, none in 2018, but four in 2019 (see Figure 10). While this increase could mean a restart of commercial reactor building in China, for the time being, the level remains far below expectations. The five-year plan 2016–2020 had fixed a target of 58 GW operating and 30 GW under construction by 2020. As of mid-2020, China had 47 units with 45.5 GW operating and 15 units with 13.8 GW under construction, far from the original target.

Over the decade 2010–2019, construction began on 67 reactors in the world, of which five have been abandoned. With 31 units, half of the building projects that were continued are located in China. As of mid-2020, only 18 of the 62 units have started up, while 44 remain under construction.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020


Construction of Bushehr-2, started in 1976, was considered abandoned in previous versions of this figure. As construction was restarted in 2019, it now appears as “Under Construction”.

The Chinese reactor Shidao Bay-1 is now considered as two reactors, and construction starts in 2012 reflect this change.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020


Construction of Bushehr-2, started in 1976, was considered abandoned in previous versions of this figure. As construction was restarted in 2019, it now appears as “Under Construction”.

The Chinese reactor Shidao Bay-1 is now considered as two reactors, and construction starts in 2012 reflect this change.

Past experience shows that simply having an order for a reactor, or even having a nuclear plant at an advanced stage of construction, is no guarantee of ultimate grid connection and power production. The abandonment of the two V.C. Summer units at the end of July 2017 after four years of construction and following multi-billion-dollar investment is only the latest example in a long list of failed nuclear power plant projects.

French Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) statistics through 2002 indicate 253 “cancelled orders” in 31 countries, many of them at an advanced construction stage (see also Figure 11). The United States alone accounted for 138 of these order cancellations.62

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

Note: This graph only includes constructions that had officially started with the concreting of the base slab of the reactor building.

Of the 773 reactor constructions launched since 1951, at least 93 units—one less than in WNISR2019 as Bushehr-2 restarted construction in 2019 after 40 years of suspension—in 19 countries had been abandoned as of 1 July 2020. This means that 12 percent or one in eight nuclear constructions have been abandoned in the course of things. The decade 2010–2019 shows an abandoning rate of one-in-thirteen—as five in 67 building sites officially started during that period were later given up at various stages of advancement.

Close to three-quarters (66 units) of all projects cancelled after official construction start were in four countries alone—the U.S. (42), Russia (12), Germany and Ukraine (six each). Some units were actually 100 percent completed—including Kalkar in Germany and Zwentendorf in Austria—before the decision was taken not to operate them.

Operating Age

In the absence of significant new-build and grid connection over many years, the average age (from grid connection) of operating nuclear power plants has been increasing steadily since 1984 when it stagnated, and as of mid-2020 it is standing at 30.7 years, up from 30.1 years in mid-2019 (see Figure 12).63

A total of 270 reactors, two-thirds of the world’s operating fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 81 (~20 percent) reaching 41 years or more.

In 1990, the average age of the operating reactors in the world was 11.3 years, in 2000 it had advanced to 18.8 years and by 2010 it stood at 26.3 years. The different development stages amongst the Top-5 nuclear fleets in the world illustrates the historic shift in the nuclear power sector. The two leading nuclear nations are also leading the age pyramid. The U.S. passes the 40-year average age in 2020, and France’s fleet exceeds 35 years. Russia inversed the curve starting in 2016 and its average fleet age of 28.5 years in mid-2020 remains one and a half years below the 2015-average. South Korea’s reactors at just above 20 years remain half as old as the U.S. fleet, and China is the obvious newcomer with an average fleet age of just 8.2 years. (See Figure 13).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

Some nuclear utilities envisage average reactor lifetimes of beyond 40 years up to 60 and even 80 years. In the U.S., reactors are initially licensed to operate for 40 years, but nuclear operators can request a license renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for an additional 20 years.

As of mid-2020, 97 U.S. units had received a license extension. Six units with renewed licenses were closed early, and two applications for three reactors were withdrawn as Crystal River was closed and the other two at Diablo Canyon will close when their current license expires in 2024–2025 (see United States Focus). Two additional applications for three reactors are expected in 2021–2022.64

Only six of the 38 units that have been closed in the U.S. had reached 40 years on the grid. All six had obtained licenses to operate up to 60 years but were closed mainly for economic reasons. In other words, at least a quarter of the reactors connected to the grid in the U.S. never reached their initial design lifetime of 40 years. None of them reached 50 years of operation. On the other hand, of the 95 currently operating plants, 46 units have operated for 41 years or more; thus, half of the units with license renewals have already entered the lifetime extension period, and that share is growing rapidly with the mid-2020 mean age of the U.S. operational fleet at about 40 years (see United States Focus).

Many countries have no specific time limits on operating licenses. In France, for example, reactors must undergo in-depth inspection and testing every decade against reinforced safety requirements. The French reactors have operated for 35.1 years on average, and most of them have completed the process with the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) evaluating each reactor allowing them to operate for up to 40 years, which is the limit of their initial design age. However, the ASN assessments are years behind schedule. For economic reasons, the French state-controlled utility Électricité de France (EDF) clearly prioritizes lifetime extension to 50 years over large-scale new-build.65 EDF’s approach to lifetime extension is still under review by ASN and its Technical Support Organization (TSO). ASN plans to provide its opinion on the general assessment outline by the end of 2020. The program has cumulated various delays, and it is somewhat ironical that Tricastin-1, the first unit to undergo the fourth decennial review, has done so in 2019 without the completion of ASN’s generic approval of the procedure. In addition, lifetime extension beyond 40 years requires site-specific public inquiries in France.

Recently commissioned reactors and the ones under construction in South Korea do or will have a 60-year operating license from the start. EDF will certainly also aim for a 60-year license for its Hinkley Point C units in the U.K.

In assessing the likelihood of reactors being able to operate for 50 or 60 years, it is useful to compare the age distribution of reactors that are currently operating with those that have already closed (see Figure 12 and Figure 14). The age structure of the 189 units already closed (eight more than one year ago) completes the picture. In total, 74 of these units operated for 31 years or more, and of those, 30 reactors operated for 41 years or more. Many units of the first-generation designs only operated for a few years. The mean age of the closed units is 26.6 years.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

To be sure, the operating time prior to closure has clearly increased continuously. The mean age at closure of the 17 units taken off the grids between 2015 and 2019 was 42.4 years (see Figure 15).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2020

As a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster (also referred to as 3/11), questions have been raised about the wisdom of operating older reactors. The Fukushima Daiichi units (1 to 4) were connected to the grid between 1971 and 1974. The license for Unit 1 had been extended for another 10 years in February 2011, just one month before the catastrophe began. Four days after the accidents in Japan, the German Government ordered the closure of eight reactors that had started up before 1981, two of which were already closed at the time and never restarted. The sole selection criterion was operational age. Other countries did not adopt the same approach, but it is clear that the 3/11 events in Japan had an impact on previously assumed extended lifetimes in other countries, including in Belgium, Switzerland and Taiwan. Some of the main nuclear countries closed their respective then oldest unit before age 50, including Germany at age 37, South Korea at 40, Sweden at 46 and the U.S. at 49. France closed its two oldest units in spring 2020 at age 43.

Lifetime Projections

Many countries continue to implement or prepare for lifetime extensions. As in previous years, WNISR has created two lifetime projections. A first scenario (40-Year Lifetime Projection, see Figure 16), assumes a general lifetime of 40 years for worldwide operating reactors—not including reactors in Long-Term Outage (LTO). The 40-year number corresponds to the design lifetimes of most operating reactors. Some countries have legislation or policy (Belgium, South Korea, Taiwan) in place that limit operating lifetime, for all or part of the fleet, to 40 or 50 years. Recent designs, mostly reactors under construction, have a design lifetime of 60 years (e.g. APR1400, EPR). For the 81 reactors that have passed the 40-year lifetime, we assume they will operate to the end of their licensed, extended operating time.

A second scenario (Plant Life Extension or PLEX Projection, see Figure 17) takes into account all already-authorized lifetime extensions.

The lifetime projections allow for an evaluation of the number of plants and respective power generating capacity that would have to come online over the next decades to offset closures and simply maintain the same number of operating plants and level of capacity. With all units under construction scheduled to have started up, installed nuclear capacity would still decrease by 10.5 GW by the end of 2020. In total, 16 additional reactors (compared to the end of 2019 status) would have to be started up or restarted prior to the end of 2020 in order to maintain the status quo of operating units.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

Notes pertaining to Figure 16, Figure 17 and Figure 18:

Those figures include one Japanese reactor (Shimane) and two Chinese 1400 MW-units at Shidao Bay, for which the startup dates were arbitrarily set to 2021 and 2025, as there are no official dates.

The restart of one reactor (Darlington-2) from LTO prior to 7/2020 appears as “startup”. Restart and closure of 31 reactors in LTO after 1 July 2020 are not represented here.

The figures take into account “early retirements” of five reactors in the U.S.; in the case of four additional reactors, the reversal of early retirements has been maintained although they are likely to be repealed, and others might be added (see United States Focus, Table 9); as well as political decisions to close reactors prior to 40 years (Germany, South-Korea).

In the case of French reactors that have reached 40 years of operation prior to 2020 (start-up before 1980), we use the limit date for their 4th periodic safety review (visite décennale) as closing date in the 40-year projection. For all those that have already passed their 3rd periodic safety review, the scheduled date of their 4th periodic safety review is used in the PLEX projection, regardless of their start-up date.

In the following decade to 2030, 176 additional new reactors (152.5 GW) would have to be connected to the grid to maintain the status quo, three times the rate achieved over the past decade (58 startups between 2010 and 2019).

The stabilization of the situation by the end of 2020 is only possible because most reactors will likely not close at the end of the year, regardless of their age. As a result, the number of reactors in operation will probably more or less continue to stagnate at best, unless—beyond restarts—lifetime extensions become the norm worldwide. Such generalized lifetime extensions—far beyond 40 years—are clearly the objective of the nuclear power industry, and, especially in the U.S., there are numerous more or less successful attempts to obtain subsidies for uneconomic nuclear plants in order to keep them on the grid (see United States Focus).

Developments in Asia, including in China, do not fundamentally change the global picture. Reported figures for China’s 2020 target for installed nuclear capacity have fluctuated between 40 GW and 120 GW in the past. The freezes of construction initiation for almost two years and of new siting authorizations for four years have significantly reduced Chinese short-term ambitions.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

Notes: Refer to notes below Figure 16.

Every year, WNISR also models a scenario in which all currently licensed lifetime extensions and license renewals (mainly in the U.S.) are maintained and all construction sites are completed. For all other units, we have maintained a 40-year lifetime projection, unless a firm earlier or later closure date has been announced. By the end of 2020, the net number of operating reactors would increase by two units, and the installed capacity would grow by 2.5 GW.

In the following decade to 2030, the net balance would turn negative as soon as 2022, and an additional 137 new reactors (107.5 GW) would have to start up to replace closures. The PLEX-Projection would still mean, in the coming decade, a need to more than double the number of units built annually over the past decade from 5.8 to 13.7 (see Figure 16, Figure 17 and the cumulated effect in Figure 18).

In the meantime, construction starts have been on a declining trend for a decade. Between 2010 and 2014, a total of 40 constructions were launched around the world, of which 18 in China and five later abandoned, thus an average of seven units per year were launched and sustained. Between 2015 and 2019, constructions started at only 27 units, of which 13 in China, thus an average of 5.4 construction starts per year, significantly less than half of the 13.7 that would be needed according to the PLEX Projection over the coming decade just in order to maintain the current number of operating reactors in the world.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

Notes: This figure exclusively represents the evolution over time of world reactor fleet as it is currently operational or under construction. It does not take into account any assumptions on potential further constructions or additional early closures beyond those currently decided.

For details refer to Notes below Figure 16.

Nuclear Power in the Age of COVID-19

“With the COVID-19 crisis, for the first time in its history, the nuclear industry is confronted with crisis management involving safety challenges that has not a technical cause linked to its activities as origin.”

Bernard Doroszczuk, President, ASN

29 April 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic had and continues to have severe global repercussions and the nuclear industry is no exception. Remarkably little information is available on COVID-19 cases in nuclear facilities and amongst regulator staff. Virtually nothing is known about testing and its results. Nevertheless, industry representatives have not stopped claiming how well the establishment has coped with the crisis and how crucial it has been. The World Nuclear Association’s Chair Agneta Rising stated late March 202066:

I would like to pay particular tribute to the utilities, their workers and their suppliers who are keeping their reactors running during this public health crisis. Their work reminds us just how crucial nuclear energy is as a source of 24/7 electricity supply.

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency’s Director General William Magwood pointed out in early April 202067:

It is the norm in the nuclear sector to change processes and practices only after deliberate analyses, with numerous viewpoints taken into account; but today’s crisis calls upon all for quick responses. Decisions must be made rapidly in situations that have no complete parallel. Regulators must adjust their plans for inspections. Operators will defer outages and modifications to their plants.

In early June 2020, the European Commission issued an 8-page working paper on “Good Practices to Address Pandemic Risks”68 stating confidently:

Nuclear power plant regulators and operators ensured that there was no adverse impact on nuclear safety and supported continued Euratom Safeguard verifications by the European Commission, as far as safely possible.

There is no explanation what restrictions were implied by “as far as safely possible”.

In fact, the consequences of COVID-19 on the nuclear industry and the regulators are substantial, and the impact will last for many months to come and well into 2021–2022. As detailed below, refueling and maintenance outages were postponed, testing of key components delayed, physical inspections by safety authorities halted altogether. Some fear shortages in nuclear fuel supply due to logistical disruptions. These delays could lead to situations when outages need to be carried out in times of high demand.

The consumption of electricity, however, dropped significantly in some regions during the confinement periods and is not likely to reach pre-pandemic levels for many months—if not years, given the severe global recession—which will have a major impact on the financial and economic health of nuclear utilities, which were often already facing difficulties.

Permanent, independent oversight is crucial in any high-risk activity, for technical reasons and because of the possibilities for human errors. Effective regulation and control are not only of primary importance because of the very large danger potentials involved and the overall advanced ageing of the facilities. There is also a history of criminal wrongdoing, including in the major nuclear countries. Systematic irregularities, including falsifications, of manufacturing documentation has persisted for several decades at Creusot-Forge (now Le Creusot) in France69; quality-control procedures have been twisted in Japan for years70 and a new bribery scandal hit the country in the summer of 2020 (see Japan Focus); quality-guarantee certificates were faked for thousands of pieces in the South Korean industry71; in Brazil, a former President has been jailed because he was involved in the bribery scheme of a nuclear construction project72; in the U.S. state Ohio, prominent legislators were indicted for bribery related to legislation to provide subsidies for uneconomic reactors,73 in South Carolina, the head of nuclear new build pled guilty to fraud charges related to the canceled project V.C. Summer,74 and a Europe-wide bribery system of nuclear waste shipments involving several European countries shook up the industry in the late 1980s75. These are merely a few examples, some of which have been thoroughly documented in various editions of the WNISR.

Physical inspections by regulatory authorities in nuclear facilities are therefore necessary. Halting them altogether for many weeks is not without consequences.

Overview of Key Safety and Security Issues

The following analysis focuses on nuclear power plants. However, this does not mean that the potential impact of a pandemic on other nuclear facilities can be neglected. In fact, the operation of most of the nuclear fuel chain facilities considered non-essential for continued short-term operation of nuclear power plants was halted in many nuclear countries, including spent fuel reprocessing plants in France and in the U.K.

The operational status of a plant is crucial for any risk assessment. There is a clear difference of the risk level between operating power plants and plants in cold shutdown status.

Some of the following areas of concern are also applicable to other nuclear facilities, e.g. reprocessing plants or larger research reactors:

  • Periodic testing with short time-intervals like several weeks. This type of testing is done at systems to provide assurance that vitally important functions like the emergency control room operations, emergency electricity supply, emergency core cooling or (at PWRs) emergency feedwater supply are in good working order. The test intervals had been determined by failure probabilities derived from operating experience. Because of their risk importance, these test intervals are generally fixed by guidelines and/or plant specific provisions; to follow these is a legal obligation of the operator. To prolong the test intervals means a risk increase of unidentified failures of those systems and an increase of failure probability in emergency situations, i.e. situations, where the systems are necessary to prevent catastrophic accidents or to mitigate their consequences. If operators prolong the test intervals without appropriate review and analysis either by the operator or regulator, they violate their safety obligations. There can be—and in fact has been (see examples hereunder)—a formal acceptance by the relevant regulatory authority of prolonged test intervals because of an exceptional situation, like a pandemic. But in some of those cases the authority violates the general principle of “nuclear safety first”.
  • Periodic inspections at low frequency like once in several years. These include detailed inspections of many electrical and mechanical components in key areas of the plant. It includes also ultrasonic testing of large components like reactor pressure vessels, primary circuit components or steam generators at PWRs; the purpose is to follow the growth of cracks or other weaknesses like wall-thinning up to potentially hazardous dimensions. The information gained is necessary to decide whether a repair or a replacement of the component must be implemented. Those tests and inspection walks are necessarily performed during planned outages for maintenance and refueling as the components have to be accessible in terms of temperatures, absence of high pressures and excessive levels of radiation.
  • These outages typically involve significantly increased numbers of workers needed for the preparation and implementation of the tests. The inspection intervals have also been determined by failure probabilities derived from operational experience. To prolong the inspection intervals, for example by the decision to delay outages to avoid large numbers of additional workers on-site, means a clearly increased loss of control over weaknesses of mechanical or electrical components.
  • Normally periodic testing and inspections—both low-frequency and high-frequency—are performed under the four-eyes principle (at least two people have to be always present). This implies close contact between the persons involved. If the rules are weakened due to social distancing needs caused by the pandemic, the probability of mistakes grows, which means a higher risk of potential system failures.
  • In some countries, the relevant safety authorities and their Technical Support Organizations (TSOs) have decided to halt site visits or to dramatically reduce their frequency. The U.S. NRC implemented a reduced inspection program, e.g. In countries where the authorities rely on experts from TSOs or from third party inspectors, the analogue reduction of inspections by these experts was or is being considered. Some regulators have shifted to just inspecting the paperwork (e.g. in France). However, there is a significant difference between judging safety only on the basis of paperwork examinations and the physical inspections of facilities; unreported situations might become visible only in the presence of an inspector. Although the operator is entirely responsible for the quality of testing and maintenance, experience has shown that additional inspections by regulators or other entities enhance the quality of the results, as more failures or weaknesses are detected. The reason is clear: different people, especially when they come from different organizations, have different inspection methods and identify issues of non-compliance with standards and regulations. Experience also shows that during a physical inspection sometimes irregularities are detected, which have not been the original focus of a given specific inspection. A well-known example is the inspection in the US-plant Davis Besse, where a strong degradation of the reactor pressure vessel lid was detected by chance. Limiting inspections to paperwork instead of the real plant can hide a lot of safety weaknesses. Again, restrictions or reductions in inspection intensity and quality lead to an increasing probability of major failures.
  • Special problems arise with the control room staff, people with very specific knowledge and training and with a specific formal qualification. In most countries, a very limited number of people have acquired this qualification. A pandemic needs reduction of social contacts not just at work but in day-to-day life:
    • The full staff of the control room has to be present in a limited space.
    • It is necessary to perform actions under the four-eyes principle, which is impossible without at least two people being in proximity.
    • Each outgoing shift has to inform the incoming shift on all important developments of the previous hour.
  • If there is an infection or the need for quarantine amongst the limited number of qualified control-room staff, this can reduce available operators below the necessary minimum. This seems to be of particular concern for countries with only one (Armenia, Iran, Netherlands, Slovenia) or a small number (<5) of operating reactors (e.g. 3 in Argentina, 2 each in Brazil and Bulgaria, 4 each in Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Taiwan). However, in most countries shift staff in the control room are not licensed for all or even several reactors in a given country, as they have obtained a license only for a specific plant or for a group of identical reactors. The reason is that the control features and systems often have big differences between individual plants; that is specifically the case for those needed in an emergency. In case of an emergency event, the control room staff must be aware of these very specific features to avoid failures. Therefore, in most cases, it is not possible to replace staff impacted by a pandemic by staff from other plants, as those usually have no additional license and training for various plants (with the exception of staff from identical “sister-plants”). This means, even countries with a large reactor fleet are faced with the same problem. The situation in France, Russia and Ukraine with a significant number of identical (or almost identical) plants is not typical for any other country with a large reactor fleet. And even in the case of these three exceptions, a staff exchange would only be possible within a group of one specific design, not for all reactors in the country. For example, the U.S. and Japan have many different designs of control room and emergency systems, even if the nuclear steam supply system can be of a similar type. Even smaller fleets are often surprisingly diverse, e.g. Germany’s remaining six reactors have four different designs, and Switzerland’s four operating units are of three different designs.

Quarantining entire shifts—as was done in some cases—is not without risk either. The IAEA stresses: “It is also important to note that there is potential for common cause failure, as operators reside together in communities.”76

In terms of nuclear risk management, the cessation of reactor operation is unavoidable once critical limits are reached and switch to shutdown mode, which requires less staff in the control room. What to do, if even minimum staffing for the shutdown mode is not guaranteed, remains an open question. Fortunately, no such case has been reported yet.

  • Regarding possible nuclear emergency situations in times of a pandemic, it is clear that rules of social distancing and imperatives of addressing the situation contradict each other. This is especially the case, when a nuclear event needs quick response or densely staffed spaces, like the emergency control room or emergency staff rooms. The emergency control room is a second control room in the nuclear power plant, from where it is possible to activate and stop a number of the essential safety systems of the plant. It is implemented for situations when the main control room becomes inaccessible, for example, because of a fire or toxic gas buildup. In general, emergency control rooms are not very large and so incompatible with social distancing. The emergency staff room is separate from the main control room, but onsite. In case of an emergency, a group of additional specialists and decisionmakers (emergency staff) that is collecting information on the situation for evaluation and decision making will be using this room. It is designed for many people to stand or sit side-by-side in a very limited space. The existing rules of procedure for both emergency control rooms and emergency staff rooms do not reflect a situation where social distancing is necessary. Therefore, in the future it would be crucial to have appropriate rules of procedure in advance to deal with such conflicting issues in case of a nuclear accident during a pandemic.
  • Offsite emergency response plans rely heavily on evacuating local population groups to designated centers. These centers densely pack people into areas in which COVID-19 social distancing rules would be violated. Moreover, large numbers of public safety officials must coordinate the offsite response. Current plans, in the U.S., e.g., require large numbers of officials to meet and direct the response from centralized emergency response rooms with limited ability to maintain social distancing.
  • Nuclear plants are highly sensitive for terroristic attacks because of the potential consequences that could result from such an attack. Regarding plausible terroristic attack scenarios, one has to differentiate between external attacks and attacks from inside. The main impact of a pandemic on scenarios of external physical attacks is related to potential reductions in available security forces. These are highly trained teams with particular knowledge of the facilities they have to guard. Similar to control-room staff, there are only a limited number of specialized security personnel and contamination amongst these forces could lead to a serious security deficit on-site. In some countries, e.g. the U.S., certain security trainings have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.77

Attacks are also possible from the inside, be it mechanical or electronical. Scenarios for those attacks include cases with step by step preparation of degradation of safety relevant systems; with the objective that they do not protect adequately, when the attack itself starts. In “normal” times, there is a certain probability that tests and walkdowns for inspection (or even for other purposes) in the respective areas detect such manipulations. If the tests are reduced in number and if walkdowns were strongly reduced, then a potential terrorist has a better chance to prepare an attack and go undetected.

Response Strategies to COVID-19 by Operators and Regulators Around the World

Several international organizations have issued assessments of the impact and recommendations for nuclear establishments how to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The following section provides an overview of reactions by the IAEA, the OECD-NEA and other international and national organizations.

On 4 June 2020, the IAEA’s Director General reported to the Board of Governors on the “operation, safety and security of nuclear and radiation facilities and activities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.78

The 10-page paper stated:

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far reaching. (…)

National policy decisions made by governments have direct and indirect repercussions to organizations in the nuclear and radiological field, for example in the area of human resources. Decisions in one country could have affected facilities in other countries, for example through introducing supply chain difficulties in large scale projects such as outage management, major refurbishment or new plant construction. (…) The stretching of government infrastructure capacity could also potentially have an impact on the emergency preparedness of nuclear and radiation facilities.

The IAEA’s DG also pointed out that the crisis is without precedent: “COVID-19 is the first pandemic of this scale in the history of the nuclear industry.” The Agency saw its role as a facilitator of information exchanges between Members States and operators. It set up an international peer-to-peer network (COVID-19 OPEX Network) on nuclear plant operation. The pandemic’s impact on training activities and human resources policies is to be discussed at a special meeting in October 2020. A number of meetings have been cancelled and rescheduled, including the Eighth Review Meeting of the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) and the 7th Review Cycle of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management (The Joint Convention).

While the IAEA noted multiple disruptions of ordinary schedules and procedures, 79 it remarkably states: “No Member State reported the enforced shutdown of any nuclear power reactors resulting from the effects of COVID-19 on their workforce or essential services such as supply chains.” In fact, according to the IAEA, in Brazil, Finland, Iran, the Netherlands and Switzerland, “generation is expected to exceed original 2020 estimates because outages were either shortened or deferred to 2021”.80

In the EU, the European Commission recognizes that the energy sector “faces unique constraints as regards the continuity of critical operations, safety and the immediate cascading effects across sectors and Member States in case of incidents.”81 The Commission also stated:

It is worth noting that the steep reduction in electricity demand during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a higher share of renewables in the electricity mix, while the electricity system and balancing continued operating normally.

The Commission issued guidelines to allow for the free movement of workers to make sure that refueling of nuclear plants as well as other key activities in the energy sector (e.g. maintenance of offshore wind farms) was not impacted. One of 20 “good practices” during the pandemic stipulates a “pragmatic risk-based approach by national regulators, in particular the nuclear sector”.82 Indeed, nuclear safety authorities seem to be handling the crisis in a very flexible and pragmatic manner, as illustrated in the overview below.

General Difficulties and Measures

A range of measures to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic were taken by operators and regulators in most countries operating or building nuclear facilities, in many cases consisting in the reduction or elimination of activities judged non-essential, implementation of social-distancing rules and the rescheduling of refueling and maintenance outages. The IAEA received reports of outage impacts at nuclear plants in 26 of the 30 Member States with operating reactors:83

In some cases, outage scopes were reduced by eliminating non-critical work to minimise external staff brought on-site. In other cases, outages were extended to allow work to proceed at a slow pace that accommodated physical distancing constraints. In still other cases entire outages were deferred to next year. The full impact will play out over at least the next year as future outage plans are revised to complete deferred work.84

Other measures included regular medical screenings, travel restrictions, self-isolation and physical meeting restrictions. Mitigation plans at some facilities resulted in a need for more licensed personnel, which is being “satisfied by newly trained as well as previously qualified staff, including recent retirees and instructors”, reports the IAEA. “However, this approach in itself is facing challenges in maintaining the required quality and quantity of training in the context of other restrictions limiting the ability to assemble employees.”

Nuclear regulators have taken similar steps as the operators to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. These include virtual rather than face-to-face meetings internally and with regulators in other countries, moving from physical inspections to remote monitoring, and issuing exemptions to regulations. Trade journal Nuclear Intelligence Weekly (NIW) reported:

These exemptions—allowing significantly longer work weeks for plant employees and deferring maintenance and inspection, in some cases for up to two years—are precisely why regulators are encountering criticism. Beyond that, workers at some plants have complained either publicly, or via media leaks, that operators aren’t doing enough at plant and/or newbuild sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And health officials in some communities have requested that refuelings be postponed.85

NIW also published a compelling analysis on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the nuclear fuel manufacturing industry and the risks to nuclear power plant operators and concluded that

…for nuclear operators dependent on one single fuel fabricator, the risks are acute: a severe localized COVID-19 outbreak could threaten the supply of fuel assemblies for whole fleets of reactors in India, Russia, South Korea or the UK. Even for operators with more diversified suppliers in Europe and the US there could be problems.86

The state-by-state response to the COVID-19 crisis and a “dearth of leadership from the top” make the U.S. supply chain “more vulnerable”, according to NIW:

Risks to factories are twofold: First, in areas under stay-home orders, their workers might not be declared essential and therefore be forced to quarantine at home, and second—particularly in regions where governments are more lax about quarantining—that a localized outbreak sickens too many employees for the facility to operate safely.87

Reportedly, only Framatome and Westinghouse have requested exemptions to regulatory obligations. According to an NRC spokesperson, “Westinghouse has requested to defer until 2021 an internal emergency planning audit because a Westinghouse corporate team cannot currently go to the site” and a Framatome representative indicated that “although the company has reduced on-site staff at its Richmond plant by almost half, the company has all the components it needs in stock to meet spring and fall refueling outages”.88

The pandemic also impacted the construction of new plants in at least 12 of the current 17 countries building nuclear reactors but apparently nowhere were construction activities halted altogether (see also Middle East Focus).

Country-by-Country Overview

The following section provides a country-by-country overview of reported COVID-19 cases at nuclear facilities as well as countermeasures taken by operators and regulators.89 In fact, very few operators and regulators have published and regularly updated data about detected COVID-19 cases and their handling. The Swiss NGO Physicians for the Environment (Ärztinnen und Ärzte für Umweltschutz) has openly criticized the refusal by the national regulator to respond to any questions about testing and positive cases in nuclear facilities in the country.90


Measures and Impacts

Staff at the three operating reactors in the country work in staggered 14-day shifts, with 14 days off in between. Thermal imaging cameras at the entrances check for body temperatures exceeding 37°C for anyone entering the plant. The nuclear power plant operators have been seeking regulatory approval to reschedule all planned outages.91

Construction work on the Carem-25 was entirely stopped in March 2020 and had not restarted in early July 2020. Work on the Atucha-1 dry storage project has been given permission to continue during the quarantine as the site is running out of storage space in the spent fuel pool.


Measures and Impacts

The shutdown dates for preventive maintenance at Metsamor, the single operating reactor in the country, were postponed for 45 days to 1 July 2020. Reportedly, “borders closures have complicated the conclusion of agreements on the supply of necessary equipment and materials”.92



As of late May 2020, the Ostrovets construction site counted around 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst the workforce of about 4,000.

Measures and Impacts

“All the quarantine measures are being observed, but I would particularly like to ask ASE’s [Atomstroyexport’s] leadership and managers of the project to fortify measures even more,” Rosatom Director Aleksei Likhachev said on 26 May 2020. However, NIW noted that “it is difficult to gauge the extent of the virus’ spread given contradictory reports over the past two months and questions raised about the quality of testing in Belarus, one of a handful of countries whose leadership has expressed skepticism about the gravity of COVID-19.”93

While the first fuel load had arrived on-site in May 2020, fuel loading of Ostrovets-1, was delayed and only started on 7 August 2020, which will likely lead to further postponing of the plant’s commissioning.94 It also remains to be seen what effect the recent strikes and opposition movements will have on the project.


Source: Electrabel, screenshot, 8 August 2020.95

Note: The title of the picture says “Coronavirus: the Belgian nuclear power plants take the necessary measures”. The photo shows three Electrabel employees without masks and no social distancing. The page has not been updated since 15 May 2020.

Measures and Impacts

Nuclear operator Electrabel delayed refueling outages over the next three years.

Basic measures include:

  • The limitation of staff on the nuclear sites;
  • Remote work to the extent possible;
  • Respect of social distancing rules;
  • Wearing a mask “at strategic locations”;
  • Delaying of all “non-urgent” training, meeting and maintenance activities.

It is unclear how to interpret the term “strategic location”. The photo hereunder shows three Electrabel employees without mask, and without social distancing (see Figure 19).

Measures by the Regulator

In mid-March 2020, the Belgian regulator Agence Fédérale de Contrôle Nucléaire (AFCN) halted all pro-active and scheduled inspections and its Technical Support Organization (TSO) delayed all topical inspections and reduced periodical inspections. Training certificates for nuclear transport drivers and security advisers were extended up to nine months.96


In mid-April 2020, in the EU country the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, nuclear operator Electrabel and its owner Engie requested a Government decision on the potential lifetime extension of two of the country’s seven reactors “by the end of the year”. The move did not go down well with Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès: “Bad timing, and if they don’t understand English, I will tell them that it is really not the moment to speak about that”.97


Measures and Impacts

Preparatory work in order to restart construction at Angra-3 has slowed but not stopped as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to further impact upon the completion schedule.98



No precise information is available. Industry representatives claimed that they were well prepared and have had “no known cases of COVID transmission”.99 However, it was reported that at least one worker tested positive at the Pickering plant in late March 2020.100


The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) requires nuclear operators “to develop and implement a business continuity plan to ensure their facilities continue to operate safely at all times, including during a pandemic. Business continuity plans address how to deal with possible labour disruptions while maintaining key staffing positions.”101

The CNSC claimed:

We’re maintaining regulatory oversight of the measures licensees are taking to help fight the spread of the virus, including staffing changes and modifications to non-essential work.

At the same time:

We’re being flexible with licensees, understanding that they will need more time to report to the CNSC on issues that are not safety significant.102

Planned upgrade work on the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 3 has been postponed. Work to enhance the safety of the plant in the context of the station’s plant life extension has been rescheduled for fall 2020 instead of spring 2020.103

OPG has scaled back the number of staff at the local generating stations but has not planned to shut down any of its reactors; indeed, its CEO has argued for continued operations of nuclear plants.104 Further, Unit 2 of Darlington nuclear power plant, off-grid since October 2016, completed refurbishment in the middle of the pandemic, reached first criticality in April 2020 and was reconnected to the grid in June.105

Measures at the Regulator

Effective 16 March 2020, “CNSC staff have been directed to stay home, while critical staff continue to work to ensure effective regulatory oversight.” All physical site inspections ceased entirely; commission meetings and public hearings have been postponed. On 5 May 2020, limited on-site inspections resumed. A 16–17 June 2020 meeting scheduled was held virtually and was accessible via webcast for the public.


Very little is known about the COVID-19 crisis management at nuclear facilities in China and authorities have stated that it will not impact nuclear reactor construction.106 However, there are estimates that in January and February 2020, nuclear energy’s contribution to the grid declined by 2.2 percent due to the pandemic.107


Measures and Impacts

The Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) believes that nuclear power plants have prepared adequately for the risks and can be operated safely. STUK, however, announced that on-site inspections will “only be carried out at sites which are the most significant for safety, and the health authorities’ guidelines on avoiding close contact will be taken into account in the inspection arrangements”.108 STUK did not provide any definition of sites “most significant for safety” and no details of the measures taken by the operators and the regulator itself.

At Olkiluoto-3 (OL3), currently under construction, first fuel loading was planned for June 2020. This schedule has been postponed. As a consequence of further delays of the OL3 commissioning, due to technical reasons and the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit-rating agency Fitch revised owner TVO’s outlook to negative.109 At the same time, weaker electricity prices, partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, impact TVO. The Average Nord Pool system price in the first quarter 2020 was €15.4/MWh (US$16.9/MWh) compared with €46.8/MWh (US$52.5/MWh) for the same period in 2019.



There is no systematic sector-wide information available.110 At the Belleville nuclear power plant site, 29 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed as of the end of July 2020.111 Worker representatives claim there are many more cases. On 20 March 2020, Reuters reported that EDF had “declined to comment about the level of absenteeism or the number of confirmed coronavirus infections among its staff” but had said that “its nuclear plants could operate for three months with a 25% reduction in staffing levels and for two to three weeks with 40% fewer staff.”112

Mid-June 2020, EDF finally presented an overview of the numbers of infected staff, stating that, at the peak of the epidemic, the share did not exceed 2 percent. A total of almost 600 infections were identified over a 12-week period.113

On 29 April 2020, the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), which serves as the regulator’s Technical Support Organization (TSO), reported 59 active COVID-19 cases, all in the course of recovering.114 On 6 August 2020, regulator ASN reported that none of its staff had tested positive so far.115

Measures and Impacts

The pandemic has had major impacts on France’s nuclear workforce. It was reported that of 22,500 employees of EDF’s Nuclear Generation Division 15,000 were put on telework.116

In late March 2020, after more than a dozen EDF workers walked off at least three reactor sites over COVID-19 concerns, France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) asked EDF to “ensure that health and safety conditions are communicated and set up correctly on the sites for all employees.”117

According to ASN, various precautionary measures have been taken to deal with the COVID-19 crisis:118

  • A large number of nuclear installations whose functioning is not vital for the continued activity of the country, operated in particular by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Orano or the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste (ANDRA), have been shut down and are maintained in safe state. Activities necessary for the functioning of the EDF nuclear power plants are nevertheless maintained.
  • Examination work conducted by ASN in collaboration with its technical advisory body, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), is continuing as normal. At the same time, on-site inspections are suspended, except when judged indispensable. On-site inspections are replaced by remote verifications, particularly concerning the examination of documents relating to day-to-day operation accompanied by audio-conferences with the licensee.
  • As part of the post-Fukushima safety improvements, EDF is updating its on-site emergency plans (Plan d’Urgence Interne or PUI) to include potential difficulties in gaining access to the sites, which could render full deployment of the local emergency response teams more complicated.

ASN later stated that the crisis management has been taking “a lot of time” (reorganization of work mode, regulatory adjustments, reinforced oversight, etc). On-site inspections remain impossible for the foreseeable future for inspectors that have a high-risk profile if with COVID-19. Major interregional inspections have been cancelled or delayed.119

By late March 2020, IRSN had limited “to the strict service necessities the mobility of its employees”. Non-essential research activities and environment surveillance had been suspended (no environmental sampling was carried out).120

In the first week of the COVID-19 outbreak in France, EDF cut its staffing nuclear power plant sites by 70 percent, and even after the end of the lockdown in the middle of May 2020, staff reductions were at 50–60 percent on average. Mid-June 2020 was set as target date to get back to reference staffing levels.121

Some staff cuts were more significant. At the Flamanville site, for example—Units 1 and 2 are in outage since January 2019 and September 2019 respectively with major maintenance, and Unit 3 under construction—EDF reduced its staff level from 800 to 100. Only people in charge of safety and security remained on-site.122 At Unit 3, the EPR, “all construction activities have been temporarily interrupted between mid-March and early May”.123 At the Chooz site—with one unit in operation and another one in decennial outage—EDF has reduced the number of workers on-site from 2,200 to 850.

The documentation requested by the French regulator from operators has been reduced to a minimum. ASN’s Chief Inspector Christophe Quintin stated: “In general, we are requesting to see a great number of documents. Currently, we know that EDF’s teams work in a just-in-time mode. Therefore, we are going to the essential.”124 ASN’s President told the National Assembly at the end of April 2020:

The resumption of the activities on-site, which will happen in a context of work overload because of the delays and in a disturbed context for the employees, with the accumulation of fatigue and stress, will have to be subjected to particular attention.125

Mid-May 2020, ASN published a summary of activities during the lock-down period.126 Between 15 March and 15 May 2020, “a total of 18 on-site inspections were carried out: twelve on safety and the possible consequences of the epidemic on the working of the facilities and six on labour inspectorate subjects”. As a matter of comparison, in 2019, ASN carried out 1,800 inspections or 150 per month on average. In other words, during lockdown, ASN carried out only 6 percent of normal average inspections.

In the case of remote inspections, “ASN used new digital technologies, such as real-time and off-line remote-examination of the physical operating parameters of the reactors. Some of these innovations will be retained permanently.” According to ASN, “both remote and on-site inspections confirmed that Orano and EDF were able to implement appropriate organisations to deal with the health risk (barrier measures, prevention plans) while maintaining the required level of safety”.127

Considering the dramatically reduced level of on-site inspection and the large number of delayed outages and maintenance operations that is a remarkable statement.

The overall very positive reading of the French nuclear regulator clashes with the reporting of the sub-contractor organization Ma Zone Contrôlée that, in an open letter dated 12 July 2020 to the Minister for the Ecological Transition128, in charge of nuclear oversight, claims that

  • Until 27 April 2020, masks for contractors carrying out maintenance operations were not systematically available. “Numerous sub-contractor colleagues have experienced very humiliating and discriminatory situations, when, on certain sites, employees of the operators EDF/Orano had masks at the disposal to protect themselves against the virus but not us. Are we not equal?”
  • Some contractors made use of their right to withdraw. All of them “were subjected to disgraceful pressures by their respective hierarchy, job blackmailing, disciplinary threats”.
  • The remote surveillance carried out by ASN on strictly regulatory and administrative aspects “makes us fear the worst”. Several maintenance interventions were carried out without regulatory oversight under physical presence, as three-quarters of EDF staff were carrying out remote work.

Following a COVID-19 outbreak at the Belleville site, the contractor organization requests comprehensive testing on all sites, as they “all become potential clusters”.129

This is not the first time that Ma Zone Contrôlée has alerted the authorities. In a letter to ASN dated 22 March 2020, they reported “large numbers of degraded working conditions and increasing worries of employees”, including absence of hydroalcoholic gels and masks for sub-contractors, lack of systematic disinfection of exit radiation monitoring devices and dosimeters, impossibility to respect social distancing requirements in numerous places (shuttle buses, locker rooms, cafeterias…).130 Three weeks later, the worker representatives sent a follow-up letter to ASN protesting against unequal treatment for sub-contractors compared to EDF/Orano staff now getting equipped with protective gear. While the entire country was in lock-down “hundreds of employees of sub-contractor companies returned at the request of client EDF in order to resume [work during] ongoing outages (Chooz, Civaux, Cattenom, Nogent, Dampierre).” The group, considering the “abundant feedback from the sites remains perplexed about the expected final good results of all ongoing interventions and their direct impacts on the level of safety and security”.131

A particular point raised by the workers is the absence of usual oversight during interventions as a large share of EDF staff, including oversight personnel, was on telework. Reportedly, there were cases where intermediate checks during maintenance interventions were made over the phone. An accident on 9 April 2020 during the replacement of a hydrogen rack at Belleville-1 leaving two workers injured and leading to a fire that “could have had catastrophic consequences” 132 was clearly due to lack of oversight and “numerous deficiencies” of various types, as an ASN inspection revealed one week later.133

Some sub-contractor companies have refused to carry out certain work if the required conditions were not fulfilled. Workers from all parts of the country are hired for maintenance work and are often sharing housing with great contamination risks. They were not systematically tested. It is unclear whether this has changed as of the end of July 2020.

The regulator constantly juggles between safety concerns and operational necessities. On 30 July 2020, ASN granted EDF a delay for the second time (after February 2019) for the installation of emergency diesel generators for five reactors (Cattenom-4, Flamanville-1 and -2, Paluel-1 and -2). The new deadline for the Paluel site is 28 February 2021, just short of the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Fukushima disaster. The extra emergency power supply was a requested measure in response to the Japanese catastrophe.

The La Hague spent fuel reprocessing plant was shut down for several weeks after employees executed their “right to withdraw” (droit de retrait), a legal right that allows them to refuse work under conditions they individually judge as dangerous. La Hague and fuel chain operator Orano experienced “severe disruptions in service activities” and “interruption of supply chain impacting CAPEX projects”.134


According to the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), nuclear oversight has continued to the extent deemed necessary. German nuclear operators carry out pandemic plans, which were adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include enhanced hygiene measures, stricter access control to the facility to identify possible infected personnel and rearrangement of working procedures to reduce working contacts to the minimum necessary.135

Until 2009, no clear regulation with respect to minimum workforce levels at nuclear facilities in Germany was in place. After an event in a German reactor, during which personnel from the control room had to perform duties in their secondary function in the fire-fighting brigade, the German Reactor Safety Commission (RSK) issued recommendations with respect to the determination of the minimum workforce needed for safe operation.136 According to these recommendations, not including security staff, a minimum number of eight people have to be available on site at all times, five of which are control room staff. The determination of the minimum workforce required must take into account all potential states of the plant, including severe accidents. A corresponding requirement to determine the minimum workforce are since 2012 also included in German safety requirements for nuclear power plants.137

Major outages for nuclear power plants were planned for April and May 2020. The German regulatory authority had forbidden the maintenance and refueling outage of the nuclear power plant Grohnde as originally planned. The shutdown and related activities would have necessitated about 1,000 additional staff beyond the 500 permanent employees for a period of two weeks at the plant site. The outage was then reorganized and took an additional three weeks, while restricting the necessary workforce to a maximum of 250. The reactor was reconnected to the grid on 24 May 2020. Systematic testing for COVID-19 was carried out and no contamination was identified.138 It was expected that the schedule of planned outages at other plants would also change accordingly.

Transports of highly radioactive wastes from the Sellafield reprocessing plant in the U.K., planned for the spring of this year, have been postponed, as the required corresponding police operation was not feasible.139



In Hungary, the scope of planned 2020 outage activities have been reduced mainly due to travel restrictions of foreign vendor companies.



No systematic information is available.

Three people, including one employee’s family member, were infected at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, and two employees were contaminated at its headquarters, interrupting the safety upgrading work to resume.140 Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Genkai plant is constructing a facility for dealing with severe accidents. In April 2020, two workers were confirmed to be contaminated. Consequently, about 300 workers were instructed to remain on standby at home and construction was suspended.141

As of 1 July 2020, there were no reports about workers infected with COVID-19 within the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.142 As countermeasures for contamination, workers are obliged to have their temperature taken and wear a mask, but officially no change has been made to the decommissioning plan.143

The evacuation plan for nuclear accidents (nuclear disaster prevention guidelines) formulated after the Fukushima accident does not include measures against infectious diseases at evacuation centers. Therefore, the Cabinet Office decided to include infectious disease control measures in the guidelines in the future.144


Measures and Impacts

The level of maintenance staff on shift was optimized to the level necessary to complete the minimum preventive and corrective maintenance activities.


Certain work scheduled for the country’s only nuclear reactor Borssele’s annual refueling and maintenance, which began on 29 May 2020, has been postponed until the next planned outage in 2021.145


Measures and Impacts

In April 2020, the planned overhaul of Cernavoda-1 was delayed. This would have been done during a planned maintenance which is performed every two years, during May and June and usually lasts 30 days.146 The outage has been delayed and started only 20 June 2020. The unit was reconnected to the grid 4 August 2020 after an extended outage.147



In a quite unique manner, Rosatom’s Director General Alexey Likhachev has been doing weekly video updates for months on numbers and locations of positive cases and recovered staff148 (see Figure 20)149. Cumulating active and recovered cases on the graphic illustration presented by Rosatom on 31 July 2020, the order of magnitude of total infections appears to be around 4,500, a very large number compared to any other reported COVID-19 incidence at a nuclear operator (e.g. about 600 at EDF). And while EDF has reported hardly any active cases as of middle of June 2020, Rosatom still accounted for around 1,200 ill people as of the end of July 2020.

Source: Screenshot—Rosatom, “Обращение главы «Росатома» А.Е. Лихачёва (31 июля 2020)”, 31 July 2020

Note: Active (Red) and Recovered (Green) COVID-19 Cases at Rosatom as of 30 July 2020.

In April 2020, Rosatom raised concerns about the spread of the virus in the three “nuclear cities” which host civil and military nuclear research. But no numbers were released.150 On 1 April 2020, Rosatom announced that four of its employees tested positive for COVID-19 but did not specify the location.151 Consequently, at the Beloyarsk site, after one worker’s wife fell ill, all employees were asked to move to special dispensaries and commute from there.

Measures and Impacts

On 26 March 2020, Rosatom issued a statement on its COVID-19 response:

At present, we have introduced additional measures at all of Russia’s nuclear power plants, including regular health check-ups of our personnel. We have arranged for as many employees as possible to work remotely and purchased personal protective equipment and hygiene-related products in bulk; we are constantly disinfecting our production facilities and vehicles and have essentially cancelled all business trips. We are monitoring our employees’ health in close cooperation with local authorities across our areas of operation. We have developed a number of additional contingency plans for various scenarios of the coronavirus pandemic that may have an effect on the health of our NPP [nuclear power plant] employees.152

A few days later, Rosatom subsidiary Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear power plant staff would be isolated from the general public and required to live onsite at their respective stations.153 In addition:

[Rosatom] has created a kind of ‘mirror-management’ system so that if one manager falls ill with the virus, or any other sickness for that matter, their ‘duplicate’ can step in and continue managing the project or operation.154

However, apparently, central management leaves broader decisions about staff quarantines up to local authorities both in the Russian regions where Rosatom operates facilities as well as in other countries. On 6 April 2020, it pulled 178 of its employees from the Rooppur construction site in Bangladesh. Rosatom stated: “When our employees find themselves abroad in this difficult situation and want to return to their homeland, we will accommodate their needs.”155

As more than 4,000 people are working at the site, Rosatom assumes no impact on the planned schedule for the project because of the temporary relocation of its employees. It further cites enhanced health care measures to protect people at the construction site, like measuring employees’ temperatures, special disinfection of all office space and the issuing of masks to all employees.156 But the withdrawal of such a large number of Russian staff, many of whom can be presumed to be working at higher oversight responsibility levels, means that there could be questions about how safely construction is being carried out.


Fuel loading of Mochovce-3, under construction since 1985, has been further delayed. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was expected at the beginning of the summer of 2020 with “in the worst case, it will be the end of 2020”.157 However, this schedule will not hold, as due to social distancing measures the number of workers allowed on the site halved in March 2020., even if it was said that “the situation gradually stabilized in April and May”.158 The national regulator said in May 2020 that “it is impossible to estimate a precise delay for commissioning of the third nuclear unit.”159


Measures and Impacts

The Krsko nuclear power plant is considered a critical energy infrastructure facility. Following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the operator reduced the activities to “providing only those functions that are necessary to ensure the safe and stable operation of the plant”.160

South Korea


As of 1 July 2020, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 affected personnel working at South Korea’s nuclear power plants. Two employees, one working at the headquarters of the nuclear operator and one security guard, were infected, and there were no reported cases of transmission in nuclear power plants.161

Measures and Impacts

Schedule and duration of at least one unspecified reactor outage was adjusted to ensure worker safety.

Measures at the Regulator

Meetings of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) have been held with limited face-to-face interactions since 10 April 2020 by minimizing the number of attendees, checking body temperatures, wearing masks and physically distancing (maintaining a distance of 2 meters) from each other. The head of the national regulator stated: “The NSSC will strictly comply with the hygiene rules suggested by the disease control authorities and try to ensure that safety regulations and nuclear power plant operation are normally conducted.”162


Measures and Impacts

Trillo-1 was taken offline for a refueling outage while the operator limited the number of workers onsite, resulting in an outage extension to 35 days.

“Low wholesale electricity prices in Spain mean the country’s fleet of seven power reactors is currently operating at a loss”, the Spanish Nuclear Forum said in a statement on 13 May 2020. The nuclear lobby group has urged a review of the fiscal regime under which the reactors operate.163

Market prices are depressed by the COVID-19 pandemic and are “failing to cover the operating costs of the Spanish nuclear plants, not even the amount they pay in taxes and levies which amount to €22/MWh (about US$24/MWh)”, Foro Nuclear President Ignacio Araluce said in the statement.164



The national regulator, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SRSA), reported in June 2020, that it had “so far seen few COVID-19 cases at plant sites”. 165 However, there are no precise numbers.

Measures and Impacts

Measures included isolating control room staff and essential personnel, relatively isolated sites and on-site housing for traveling workers during refueling outages.166

United Arab Emirates

Measures and Impacts

Majority owner Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has introduced measures such as locking down the Barakah site with four units under construction167 and halting “non-essential” work in the wake of the pandemic.168 Additionally, ENEC’s Nawah company, the subsidiary responsible for Barakah’s operation and maintenance, issued guidelines to reduce the number of workers at the plant and enforce social distancing. Besides following strict quarantine and other preventative procedures at Barakah, UAE’s nuclear regulator, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) and ENEC have also established critical staff and functions to manage a potential second-wave of COVID-19.169

Measures at the Regulator

FANR established a COVID-19 crisis management taskforce, which called for measures such as asking employees to work remotely, leveraging digital means to conduct inspection and monitoring activities, and reducing the number of on-site inspectors.170

United Kingdom


No comprehensive information is available. A Chinese national working at the Hinkley Point C construction site tested positive for COVID-19 in early March 2020. Four of his co-workers self-isolated but were later tested negative and have returned to work.171 Mid-March 2020, a staff member of the Sellafield nuclear site had tested positive, followed by another employee with suspected COVID-19 a day or two later who had begun self-isolation. Within days, the number of Sellafield employees self-isolating climbed to about 1,000. The Sellafield complex has approximately 11,500 staff. In late March 2020, the operator decided to shut down the Magnox reprocessing plant at the site.172 It only resumed full operation in the first week of August 2020.173

EDF Energy mentioned in an 8 June 2020 statement the “tragic passing of one of our own employees from COVID-19 in April” at Hinkley Point B.174 In late July 2020, the entire plant of a key concrete supplier for the construction at Hinkley Point C was closed after 22 of the 90 employees tested positive.175

Measures and Impacts

According to the U.K. Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), “all sites have minimum staffing levels, and contingency plans should they fall below these levels, to enable them to remain in control of activities that could impact on nuclear safety under all foreseeable circumstances, including pandemic disease.”176 In correspondence with independent experts, an ONR representative stated early March 2020 that “staff rotas [schedules] at nuclear sites are resilient to keep generation running in scenarios including pandemic or industrial action. If a generating site needed to be shut down for any reason, it would be shut down safely.”177

Photos: Canteens at Hinkley Point C, before and after social distancing measures, both pictures are from late March 2020. A local paper quoted workers as saying: “They’ve done their best, but when anybody moves, they’re inevitably immediately within two metres of someone else.”178

In early June 2020, EDF Energy described measures applied by and by at their nuclear sites179 including:

  • Introducing remote working and split shift arrangements in a safe and controlled way, which has reduced the overall daily footfall on the site by over 50 percent;
  • Determining the level of risk associated with vulnerable and high-risk employees and bringing in appropriate measures to support them;
  • Increasing hygiene and cleaning arrangements in high footfall areas and introducing social distancing measures across the site;
  • The installation of thermographic cameras at the entrance and the purchase of COVID-19 immunity test kits.180

However, unlike at home, in France, where EDF rescheduled a large number of outages, subsidiary EDF Energy went through with several refueling and maintenance outages, including at Hartlepool-2 and Heysham-2.

Even after social distancing measures had been implemented, several environmental NGOs and Local Authorities were not convinced and, in a letter dated 30 March 2020, urged ONR “to exercise your powers and responsibilities to close operations at Hinkley Point C until such time as work can be safely resumed”.181 Only two days later, national television news (ITV) quoted a worker as saying: “At the moment I feel like the project is being put before my safety, my family’s safety and everybody on that site’s safety. You’ve still got people in vans - three and up - and all the toilets are rammed. There’s an account that I know of where someone’s been sent home with symptoms and the whole of their workforce - (the people) they work with and have had prolonged contact with - have been told not to isolate.” An EDF Energy spokesperson told ITV, it would be like everywhere else: “We’re actually learning as we go”.182 This sounds a bit different from the “all prepared” message that ONR has been putting out from the start.

On 23 July 2020, EDF Energy issued an update to its COVID-19 measures at the Hinkley Point C construction site:

That means that social distancing, the use of protective screens and extra cleaning continue on the site and in our canteens and buses. Workers will continue to have their temperature taken before entering the site. Face masks are mandatory on our external busses, as they are on public transport in the rest of the country. Bus services for workers are focused on our park and ride sites and we are no longer picking up workers in the community. We are looking to expand our testing capacity and aim to be able to test new starters for Coronavirus. We are not planning for a full return to offices for those that have been successfully working from home. This will help us maintain social distancing.183

While the workforce at the Hinkley Point C site was cut to about 2,000 in March–April, by July 2020 levels were back at 4,500, almost pre-crisis levels.

Measures at the Regulator

While dealing with significant restrictions at the nuclear facilities and at their own organization, The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) remained confident all along:

On 26 March 2020

A number of inspectors will continue to travel to sites where required, but we will carry out as much of our business as possible via phone, email and Skype. These measures will not have a severe impact on the effectiveness of our regulation of the nuclear industry.184

On 25 June 2020

We remain satisfied with industry’s response at this time and there has been no significant change to dutyholders’ safety and security resilience.


ONR staff continue to work at home, primarily. We have considered our priorities, deferred non-critical activities, and are carrying out as much of our work as possible via videoconference, phone and email.

We are inspecting, assessing and permissioning [?] remotely so far as is practicable, although we continue to go to site, as key workers, to conduct urgent and essential regulatory business, in accordance with public health measures.185

United States


No systematic information on COVID-19 cases in the U.S. nuclear industry or its regulator is available, therefore WNISR only reports on a selection of documented examples. It appears that in a few cases, the outbreak was so large that it was impossible to avoid communication.

DTE Energy’s Fermi-2 in Michigan, in the middle of a refueling outage with more than 2,000 workers on-site, reportedly may have had 200–300 positive COVID-19 cases in May 2020, which might have been the largest outbreak at any single place in Michigan. DTE has refused to disclose the number of positive cases among its workforce.186 But DTE did confirm that large-scale testing had begun early May 2020 and by 11 May 2020 it had requested exemptions from work-hour controls (see hereunder).

At the Limerick-1 plant in Pennsylvania, two workers tested positive in the days prior to a refueling and maintenance outage began on 27 March 2020, and three additional workers in the days after the outage started. Following these infections, an additional 44 of around 1,400 workers on-site were quarantined, with more than half of the quarantined personnel presenting symptoms of the virus.187

On 1 April 2020, operator Exelon confirmed the first case at its Quad Cities plant. 188

On 4 April 2020, a contractor working at the Susquehanna two-unit plant, in Berwick, Pennsylvania, prior to the Unit 1 spring refueling outage tested positive for COVID-19 and self-quarantined. Seven people who came into contact with the infected individual were also quarantined.189

In early May 2020, ten workers at the Waterford nuclear power plant had tested positive for COVID-19. Some of the 750 workers that were brought in for the refueling outage told reporters they don’t think enough is being done to protect their health amid the pandemic.190

Another major outbreak was reported at the Vogtle construction site in Georgia. The first case was confirmed on 6 April 2020. On 15 April 2020 it was announced that a “lower productivity levels and a slower pace of completion prompted a 20% workforce reduction”.191 Nonetheless, three weeks after the first confirmed case, as of 28 April 2020, 153 workers had been tested positive for COVID-19.192 By mid-June 2020, more than 200 positive cases were reported.193 As of 2 September 2020, while the number of infections were reported to be declining, more than 800 workers on the project had been tested positive with over 100 active cases.194 On 10 July 2020, Tom Fanning, President and CEO of the builder’s parent company Southern tested positive.195

The Millstone plant, in Connecticut, had a first confirmed case of COVID-19 prior to the beginning of its refueling outage in early April 2020, which drew 750 temporary workers onsite, sparking concern and criticism from Millstone employees towards insufficient measures put in place, including lack of personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing.196 In early May 2020, Dominion reported 10 employees had tested positive.197 On 18 May 2020, it was revealed that 11 workers had tested positive, three of whom were control room operators.198

Measures and Impacts

The industry lobby organization Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) listed a number of measures taken, which have been quite typical for any nuclear country:

Utilities are taking actions to limit the potential for infections, such as implementing teleworking where appropriate, practicing responsible social distancing both at work and home, and screening personnel allowed on-site. Specific actions by each plant will vary based on the condition at that plant and its plant status. These actions may include, but are not limited to:

F mechanisms to maintain awareness and communicate with staff;

F telling workers who don’t feel well to stay home and encourage them to seek medical attention, liberalizing the sick-leave policy, developing or updating a policy on telecommuting;

F setting up a screening point before people can enter the plant, to identify people who have symptoms;

F making masks, hand sanitizer and gloves available within a plant to places where they will be needed;

F focusing on extra disinfection of common areas;

F using paperless work processes to reduce human contact and teleconferencing when possible.199

While nuclear operators have identified some tasks that can be done remotely or be postponed, some employees must still come to nuclear power plants on a daily basis because many computers are not connected to the internet (so-called airgap). This is a cybersecurity measure required in operations by the NRC in order to prevent hackers from accessing critical computer systems.200

Photo: Bill Downey, Cook Nuclear Plant, 2020

Based on pandemic plans established a decade ago, at least part of the nuclear plants have cots, blankets, chemical toilets and enough personal care items to sustain the operating crews at a plant for several weeks should such measures be necessary.201 Officials have suggested they might isolate critical technicians at the country’s nuclear power plants and ask them to live onsite to avoid exposure to the virus. In early April 2020, Cook Nuclear Plant staff prepared about 80 travel trailers available through employees on the parking lot of the site—just in case.202

In reality, the measures have gone deep into work management. Following the large COVID-19 outbreak at Fermi-2 (see above), on 11 May 2020, DTE submitted a letter to the NRC seeking significant exemptions from work-hour controls for staff, pledging that “these controls ensure that covered workers are subjected to the following minimum controls” 203. Three days later, the NRC granted exactly what the industry had asked for:

  • Individuals will work up to 16 work hours in any 24-hour period and up to 86 work hours in any 7-day period, excluding shift turnover;
  • A minimum 10-hour break is provided between successive work periods;
  • 12-hour shifts up to 14 consecutive days;
  • A minimum of 6 days off are provided in any 30-day period; and
  • Requirements have been established for behavioral observation and self-declaration during the period of the exemption.204

The Fermi-2 decision was not isolated. Between 3 April and 14 May 2020, the NRC granted similar exemptions, typically for two months, from work-hour controls for at least 14 reactors (Beaver Valley-1&2, Braidwood-1&2, Fermi-2, Ginna, Limerick-1&2, Palo Verde-1&2&3, Quad Cities-1&2, Seabrook-1).205

These are major exemptions to standard rules for essential staff members in the following key workforce categories: operators, health physics and chemistry, fire brigade, maintenance and security. Challenges to safety and security through additional stress and fatigue are likely under those conditions.

The NRC has developed an ad-hoc process to review work hour limits, because the existing regulations never considered a pandemic. Using existing exemption provisions, the NRC will approve requests with minimal initial review. Industry observers pointed out that this “suggests that a certain amount of guesswork—and subjectivity—will be involved in decision-making, with outside observers and critics left mostly in the dark about how decisions are being made”.206

As Fermi-2 was shut down on 21 March 2020 and had not returned to service by 24 July 2020, the 4-month outage is one of the longest in the plant’s history, and the longest since a major fire left the plant seriously damaged in 1993.207

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has been scaling back some of its planned maintenance work at Watts Bar to limit the number of individuals on site and is performing health screenings of all TVA employees and contractors coming to the plants.

Limerick-1 owner/operator Exelon presented the refueling outage as exemplary—and quite the opposite of the Fermi-2 case. Lasting from 27 March to 13 April 2020, it was completed in a plant-record 16 days, and no additional COVID-19 infections were reported during the outage. A contractor told media a different story. On 3 April 2020—in the middle of the outage—he claimed that social distancing was not in place:

From the first day I got there, there were no less than 100 people in the training room being processed. I have pictures from that day of people literally sitting on top of each other, no one enforcing social distancing. There were computer labs for people to take the tests they need to get into the plant, people sitting at every computer elbow to elbow. So, I’ve been concerned since the minute I walked in there.208

Measures Taken at the Nuclear Regulator

On 19 March 2020, the NRC changed its modus operandi in response to COVID-19 and updated its guidance for resident inspectors on 6 April 2020 “to protect the health of inspectors and site personnel, while maintaining oversight that supports reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public health and safety”209:

  • Deferring of baseline inspections requiring onsite presence such as force-on-force and outage inspections.
  • Use of remote means of event response for “uncomplicated plant trips/transients”.
  • Practice of social distancing when on site and following site specific requirements for COVID-19.
  • Remote access of operator information using all available technology (remote connectivity, personal computer, phone, email).
  • Visiting each site “approximately once every three business days”.210

On 28 May 2020, the Director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation issued a new memorandum on “inspection guidance during transition from COVID-19 mandatory telework”.211 The guidance was “intended to balance the importance of protecting the health and safety of our inspectors and site personnel along with the need to conduct effective oversight that supports NRC’s critical safety mission”.212 Many activities have been further delayed with the objective to have them completed within the year. Concerning force-on-force (FOF) security inspections the guidance states that “continued COVID restrictions may necessitate further delays”.213 Early July 2020, nuclear industry representatives made it clear that they want the NRC not to resume but cancel all FOF inspections this year (about 20 reactor sites).214 The industry made the case that FOF “brings different challenges that lead to a higher possibility of cross-contamination of a critical group of employees”.215 An NRC representative stated that the Atomic Energy Act “specifically highlights that this is a performance-based inspection which cannot be accomplished through paperwork review or tabletop exercises”.216

A letter signed by 86 organizations to Vice-President Michael R. Pence in late April 2020217 asked for “urgent actions required to mitigate COVID-19 impacts in nuclear energy industry”. The organizations expressed their concern that the NRC “has abdicated its legal responsibility to protect public health and safety during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and to insist upon immediate corrective action”. The appeal, sponsored by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and supported by a long list of well-known national NGOs including Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth points out:

As the near disaster resulting from the deferred inspection at the Davis-Besse reactor in 2001-2218 showed, every single delayed/deferred safety inspection coupled with fatigued and ill workers clearly reduces the overall safety of the 96 [now 95] operating US nuclear power reactors.

The organizations ask for a range of immediate measures including the establishment of an interagency COVID-19 Nuclear Task Force “to develop plans and protective measures for nuclear workers and reactor operations.” The NRC brushed off any criticism: “As we’ve said in several forums, the NRC’s authority covers radiological health, not infectious disease health,” NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell stated.219

Longer-Term Implications

As of mid-2020, the COVID-19 pandemic so far has not led to any interruptions of primary energy or electricity supply in monitored countries. The Council of European Energy Regulatory (CEER) proudly stated:

No COVID-19 network congestion issues or problem with security of supply have been reported. The EU regulatory framework of liberalised energy markets regulated by independent regulators working for an integrated internal energy market has shown its resilience.220

Eurelectric, representing the European electricity industry, at the end of March 2020 published a useful country-by-country overview of impact on the sector and measures taken by Governments and companies.221 In general, most of the countries have experienced significantly declining power consumption and lower prices. According to one estimate, the five Western European countries France, Germany, Italy, Spain and United Kingdom averaged a drop of 8 percent in power demand over the first half-year 2020, ranging from –9 percent in Germany to –15 percent in France. The analysts expect demand remaining –4 to –8 percent (–10 percent in the U.K.) below 2019 levels222 Power prices plunged to around €20/MWh in the EU as a whole.

The longer-term impact of low consumption and low prices on the finances of the electricity utilities will be significant.

In France, massive outage rescheduling at the 56 nuclear reactors looks likely to extend into the high-consumption winter months 2020-21, and the country will probably need to rely on much more expensive power from other suppliers including from other countries.

Operator EDF plans to shorten the duration of refueling and maintenance outages by up to 2.5 months at 23 reactors to ease some of the effect.223 Considering the operator’s incapacity to respect its outage schedules over the past years (see France Focus), it will be interesting to see how EDF will perform.

Credit-rating agencies were quick to act. On 24 April 2020, Fitch revised EDF’s outlook to negative from stable, reflecting “production cuts due to the pandemic” as a key rating driver.224 Two days later, Moody’s did the same, arguing reduced output projections in particular “as a result of confinement and staff protection measures”.225 Standard & Poor’s went further and on 22 June 2020 downgraded EDF by one notch from A– to BBB+ stating that “the prolonged lower nuclear availability reflects greater operational weakness, which will contribute to a significant decline in profitability”.226

The lower ratings will make the service of the company’s debt more expensive. As of mid-2020, EDF’s net debt had grown to €42 billion (US$47.5 billion). It lost about €1 billion (US$1.1 billion) to the COVID-19 circumstances and its profit plunged by 56 percent. EDF warned that the construction interruption at the Flamanville EPR “could result in further delays and additional costs”.227

In Japan, the reduction in electricity generation from nuclear power in 2020 due to extended shutdowns coincides with a significant decline in demand and wholesale prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.228 As reported by Reuters, day-ahead prices on the Japan Electric Power Exchange (JEPX) dropped as low as ¥0.01 (US$c0.01) per kilowatt hour (kWh)—virtually free power— in February 2020. The impact on the finances of the nuclear utilities could be substantial.

Conclusion on Nuclear Power In the Age of COVID-19

There is no comprehensive information available for any nuclear country concerning identified cases of COVID-19 in the workforce of companies operating nuclear facilities and their supply chain. Some nuclear operators—like EDF in France—have explicitly refused to publish any data. There is no more information available on the situation at the national nuclear regulators and their technical support organizations. It remains entirely unclear to what extent and under what rules staff are being tested or not for COVID-19, and thus it remains uncertain how comprehensive the current knowledge of the impact of the pandemic in the nuclear sector actually is.

Operators and regulators have implemented widespread measures including telework and social distancing. In some cases, regulators stopped physical inspections almost entirely, and carried out site visits only in urgent cases like incidents relevant to safety or security. Remote work raises cyber-security issues and has its limitations. Most of the computers in nuclear facilities and at regulators are not connected to the internet and do not have any outside connection at all (airgap) in order to lower the possibility of hackers entering sensitive information systems or control functions.

There is no doubt that the quality of oversight of operators of their subcontractors has been seriously impacted, as witnessed by numerous workers. Many outages have been delayed or shortened, which means certain periodical exams and maintenance operations have not been carried out as scheduled.

While it is difficult to assess the degree, it is obvious that the cumulation of these circumstances leads to a shrinking of safety and security margins. It is very surprising under these conditions to see the respective national regulators assuring the public that everything is under control.

Focus Countries

The following chapter provides a special focus on nuclear programs in various stages in the Middle East. The section covers six countries in the region, either operating, building or planning for nuclear power plants. In addition, the chapter offers an in-depth assessment of seven countries: China, Finland, France, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.). They represent about two thirds of the global reactor fleet (60 percent of the units and 67.3 percent of the operating capacity) and five of the world’s ten largest nuclear power producers. For other countries’ details, see Annex 1.

Unless otherwise noted, data on the numbers of reactors operating and under construction and their capacity (as of mid-2020) and nuclear’s share in electricity generation in 2019 are from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Power Reactor Information System (IAEA-PRIS) online database.229 Historical maximum figures indicate the year that the nuclear share in the power generation of a given country was the highest since 1986, the year of the Chernobyl disaster. Unless otherwise noted, the load factor figures are from Nuclear Engineering International (NEI).230

Middle East Focus


In the Middle East, despite decades-long plans to build nuclear power stations, little progress has been achieved. Regional nuclear power projects have stagnated and are facing political and economic uncertainties. Currently, there are six countries in the region with nuclear power ambitions—Iran, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan (in order of program advancement). As shown in Figure 23, these countries are at very different levels of commitment and progress.

Source: WNISR, 2020

Interest in nuclear power in Middle Eastern countries stems from various, often unspoken, reasons. Officially communicated rationale to invest in nuclear power in the six countries emphasizes the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to generate electricity.231 Additionally, some countries advocate nuclear power investments as a pathway towards achieving localization of advanced technologies and creating a base of highly skilled workers.232 On the other hand, investments in nuclear programs across the region, especially in Iran and Saudi Arabia, are not isolated from the political tensions and their wider security and potential military implications.233

Table 3 · Typology of Nuclear Power Programs in the Middle East


Nuclear Capacity

Grid size (Year)

Fuel Arrangements

Fuel Chain Activities


Operating: 915 MW
Under construction: 974 MW

83 GW (2020)

Russia to supply and take back spent fuel under JCPOA terms

Uranium mining, milling, conversion and enrichment; fuel fabrication


Under construction: 5.4 GW

31 GW (2017)

Diversified fuel supply (six contracts);

Long-term spent fuel policy

is being developed



Under construction: 2.2 GW

“Committed”: 3.6 GW

~91 GW (2019)

Russia to supply and take back spent fuel



“Committed”: 4.8 GW

42 GW (2018)

Russia to supply and take back spent fuel


Saudi Arabia

“Committed”: 2 GW

89 GW (2017)





~5 GW (2017)



Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

Notes: UAE = United Arab Emirates; JCPOA = Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The scope and size of operations of nuclear programs across the region are not uniform. As shown in Table 3, the Iranian nuclear program is the most developed with one operating reactor, one more under construction and investments in uranium mining, conversion and enrichment among other nuclear fuel chain activities. The uranium enrichment component has been the focus of concerted international efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear proliferation potential. This had been resolved through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) under which Iran has committed not to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and to send it back to Russia.234 However, the future of the agreement looks bleak after the Trump administration pulled out of it.

As of mid-2020, Iran’s Bushehr-1 was the only operational reactor in the region (see Figure 24). Seven further units are under construction, including the four in the UAE, two in Turkey and one in Iran. Assuming no further delays, the next reactor to be connected to the grid in the region is the Barakah-1 reactor, which is undergoing final tests. When completed and all four units are operational, the plant is projected to provide 25 percent of the country’s electricity supply.235

Both the Iranian and Emirati nuclear power programs have experienced construction delays (more than 35 years in the case of Bushehr-1). In the case of Iran, delays were mostly due to political reasons, while for the UAE, it was primarily related to the need of further training of local personnel and some unforeseen technical issues.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020


Iran: Construction of Bushehr-1 and -2 had originally started in 1975 and 1976. Their supplier, Siemens, suspended construction of both units in 1978 following the beginning of the Iranian Revolution. Construction of Unit 1 restarted in 1996, followed by Unit 2 in 2019. In the absence of an official precise target date for startup of Unit 2, WNISR uses mid-2024 for illustrative purposes.

UAE: Construction of the Barakah reactors was expected to last 5 years each. For illustrative purposes, WNISR noted August 2020 for grid connection of Barakah-1, followed by the other reactors with intervals of one year each.

Turkey: Construction of Akkuyu-1 and -2 was expected to last 5 years, but Unit 1 is already delayed by about one year.

Reactor Suppliers

Russia’s Rosatom is the most pro-active reactor provider in the world and the Middle East is no exception, with active projects in Iran and Turkey, and possibly in Egypt (see Table 4). The Korean Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) currently has the largest number of reactors under construction in the region, with the development of the four-unit Barakah power plant in the UAE. Saudi Arabia has yet to select a nuclear supplier despite entering agreements with several vendors. Besides interest in large reactors, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also shown interest in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), although this interest has not yet translated into tangible actions.

Table 4 · Nuclear Technology Suppliers in the Middle East

Large Reactors


Rosatom (Russia)


KEPCO (South Korea)


Rosatom (Russia)


Rosatom (Russia)

Saudi Arabia


Small Modular Reactors

Saudi Arabia

KAERI (South Korea)



Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020.


UAE: United Arab Emirates; KEPCO: Korea Electric Power Corporation; KAERI: Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute.

An overview of the latest cost estimates of the regional nuclear power projects and their ownership model is shown in Table 5. These cost estimates do not include, usually significant, indirect costs such as the costs for grid adaptation, of establishing supporting and regulatory institutions, training of personnel, etc. In the six countries examined, and despite different ratios of financing arrangements and ownership models, Governments (on both the recipient and vendor sides) are playing a central role in advancing the nuclear agenda in the region. This is very much in line with the business model of the nuclear industry globally, which is heavily dependent on governmental support and interventions.236

The credit rating and debt-to-GDP numbers, also listed in Table 5, offer a glimpse of the economic environments in which the regional nuclear projects are to be established. Egypt and Jordan stand out as the two countries with both low credit-rating score and high debt-to-GDP. Turkey’s credit rating is also deep in “junk” territory (highly speculative). The combined effect of such unfavorable economic indicators increases the cost of financing, which will further inflate the cost of the capital-intensive nuclear projects, unless the vendor country offers a financial subsidy, such as loan guarantees or low interest rates.

Table 5· Overview of the costs of nuclear power projects in the Middle East and relevant economic indicators


Project Size (GW)

Project Cost Estimate

Ownership Model

Credit Rating Score0




US$29.4 billion

Joint venture

(highly speculative)




US$10 billion
(Bushehr Unit 2 & 3)








(highly speculative)


Saudi Arabia




(upper medium grade)




US$20 billion

Build-Own-Operate (BOO)

(highly speculative)




US$28.2 billion

Joint venture

(high grade)


Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020.

United Arab Emirates

  • Under Construction 4
Number of Reactors

Among the Arab countries with nuclear power ambitions, the UAE’s program is by far the most advanced one. The UAE established its nuclear power program in 2009, when it signed a contract with the Korean Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). The deal initiated the construction of four APR-1400 reactors with a total capacity of 5.6 GW at the Barakah site in Abu Dhabi, the first of which received its operating license in February 2020.237 In October 2016, KEPCO took an 18 percent equity stake in the Nawah Energy Company that owns the four reactors, with Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) holding the remaining 82 percent.238

At the time of the contract signing in December 2009, ENEC said that “the contract for the construction, commissioning and fuel loads for four units equaled approximately US$20 billion”.239 However, cost estimates later increased to at least US$28.2 billion.240 Reportedly, financing was primarily supported by the Government of Abu Dhabi; Korean and other financing partners also contributed through equity and loan agreements.241

In July 2010, a site-preparation license and a limited construction license were granted for the reactors at Barakah,242 40 km from the border with Saudi Arabia and 100 km from Qatar. A tentative schedule published in late December 2010, suggested that—with construction starting one unit per year between 2012 and 2015—Barakah-1 would start commercial operation in May 2017 with Unit 2 operating from 2018, Unit 3 starting up in 2019, and Unit 4 following in 2020. However, the project has experienced several delays and is currently projected to start in the second half of 2020. In May 2020, ENEC’s CEO Mohamed Al Hammadi stated that the Barakah plant will reach first criticality “within a month or so”.243

The delays can be linked to the following contributing factors:

  • Delays in establishing a domestic workforce that is trained and licensed to operate nuclear reactors safely.244
  • Cracks or “voids” found in the containment building of Units 2 and 3.245
  • Precautionary measures in response to South Korean nuclear industry’s quality assurance scandal.246
  • Delays in the commissioning of KEPCO’s reactors in South Korea, which are basis for the UAE designs.247

In May 2017, ENEC admitted that the startup delay for Unit 1 from 2017 to 2018 was “to ensure sufficient time for international assessments and adherence to nuclear industry safety standards, as well as a reinforcement of operational proficiency for plant personnel.”248 The issue of the delays in achieving an adequate level of personnel training seems to be compounded by the multiplicity of cultures and languages among new personnel.249 As a recognition of the scale of the ongoing problem, EDF in November 2018 signed an agreement with ENEC to provide services to support “operating and maintaining” the plant.250

Worker safety has also been a challenge. According to one South Korean media report, there have been a number of serious accidents at the construction site, resulting in deaths of workers and KEPCO’s contractors were found to have “largely failed to ensure worker safety”.251

The problem of defects in the containment buildings was similar to a problem that had been experienced in the 1990s at the Hanbit reactor in South Korea, where holes large enough for a small child were revealed.252 The discovery of such defects in Barakah raised concerns on safety and project management. The safety concern is because the containment building is a crucial barrier to stop potentially radioactive emissions escaping in the event of an accident. The latter concern is because construction has not gone smoothly and raises the question of possible other overlooked issues.

Further difficulties have emerged with the APR-1400 design, raising questions about the reliability of the pilot-operated safety relief valves (POSRV). These are designed to protect the pressurizers against overpressure and have been seen to be a problem for the design since 2016 when it inadvertently opened, during start-up of Shin-Kori-3 in South Korea. Then, possibly during testing, in November 2017 the same problem occurred at Barakah-1, and the regulator concluded that the valve did not meet its safety acceptance criteria.253

Nevertheless, the Barakah project has been moving toward completion. In December 2019, it was reported, based on ENEC’s estimates, that the overall construction of the four units was at more than 93 percent. Besides Unit 1, the construction of which is now completed, Units 2, 3 and 4 were reported at more than 95, 91 and 82 percent complete, respectively.254

The first group of operators at the plant received their certification in July 2019 after a three-year training program.255 In September 2019, at the 24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi, Barakah One Company and KEPCO signed an agreement to explore opportunities to offer the “Barakah model” to foreign markets.256

In February 2020, the first unit at Barakah received its operating license from the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), authorizing 60 years of operation. In March 2020, fuel loading was completed in Unit 1, making UAE officially the first Arab country with a nuclear power plant. Officials said that systems would be tested over the following few months, with power production to begin once testing is completed. Grid connection had been expected to take place before mid-2020, which did not happen.257

The delays in the construction of the Barakah project have led to a significant increase in the construction and financing costs through, primarily, extended interest payments and deferred revenues. As shown in Figure 25, these delays occur while solar power has made huge leaps in the UAE towards cost effectiveness. The latest solar-photovoltaics (PV) bid in the fifth phase of the Dubai solar park reached US$1.7 c/kWh in 2019, less than a quarter of the Barakah’s projected levelized cost of energy (LCOE), estimated at US$2012 ٧.٢ cents per kWh.258 Even concentrated solar reached prices similar to the expected nuclear levels as early as 2017 in the fourth phase of the Dubai solar park.

Sources: Multiple, compiled by WNISR, 2020.

Note: All numbers in nominal US dollars.

Since 2013, the UAE has been home to record-breaking prices of solar energy projects. Since then, not only solar power became more cost competitive vis-à-vis nuclear, it has been experiencing a diverging trend with dramatic cost reductions, while the cost of nuclear electricity has increased in what can be described as “negative learning”.

The Barakah delays are in line with the global trend of lengthy lead and construction times of nuclear power plants. They show that even in the UAE, with readily available financing and access to arguably the best consultants and technical experts in the world, problems and delays are bound to happen with nuclear projects.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s interest in acquiring nuclear power started to take shape in late 2006, initially envisaged as part of a joint GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) effort.259 The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE), which has been mandated with overseeing the development of the kingdom’s nuclear power program, was set up in 2010. In June 2011, KA-CARE announced plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors, with a total capacity target of 17.6 GW. The first two reactors were planned to be online ten years later and then two more per year until 2030. However, these ambitious plans are no longer endorsed by the Saudi leadership.

In March 2018, the Government approved a national nuclear program, with reports suggesting contracts for the construction of two reactors by the end of 2018,260 and planned commissioning in 2027.261 These contracts were not signed. However, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in January 2019 that his Government still planned to build two reactors in the next decade and then expand the program once these were in operation.262 The kingdom also confirmed that it had short-listed five nuclear technology vendors: Westinghouse, Rosatom, KEPCO, EDF/Orano, and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).263 Amongst the bidders, KEPCO is thought to be in a strong position, given its experience in the UAE.264

In mid-2018, the IAEA undertook an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) in the country. Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General, stated on the completion of the review that Saudi Arabia had established a legislative framework to support the next stage of nuclear development.265

Reuters reported in April 2019 that a full tender would be launched in 2020.266 Importing equipment from the United States will require the signing of a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (123 Agreement). Within the United States, there is increasing pressure to include a requirement to forego uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, which goes against previous Saudi statements about their desire to control the fuel system.267 Despite this, Reuters reported in March 2019 that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology. Perry’s approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal.268 Perry confirmed in October 2019 that talks were ongoing regarding U.S. support for the Saudi nuclear program and potential signing of a 123 agreement.269

Concerns have been raised about the connection the Saudi leadership has expressed between the civil nuclear program and the desire to acquire nuclear weapons. In March 2018, Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) told CBS News, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”270 In May 2020, Bloomberg reported that Saudi Arabia is continuing the construction of a research reactor without IAEA monitoring, which is a critical issue as the reactor design-information verification has to be conducted while the reactor is being commissioned.271

In September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said that the kingdom is “proceeding cautiously” with plans for two nuclear reactors and added that the kingdom still wants to go ahead with a full fuel chain nuclear program, including production and enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel.272 According to Saudi estimates, the kingdom has recoverable domestic resources of around 60,000 tons of uranium ore.273

Alexander Voronkov, Rosatom’s vice-president, revealed in October 2019 that his country is cooperating with Saudi Arabia and implementing a joint road map for building SMRs. Additionally, he alluded to Rosatom’s proposal to support the kingdom in its nuclear fuel chain activities, including training of Saudi personnel.274 Besides government talks, Rosatom also organized several workshops in an attempt to build networks and relationships with Saudi companies.275

Small Modular Reactors (SMR)

Besides large reactors, Saudi Arabia is also exploring the option of SMRs. In March 2015, KA-CARE and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to study the feasibility of constructing two SMART reactors (System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactors) in the kingdom, with the cost of building the first reactor estimated at US$1 billion.276 The agreement also mentioned that the two countries would cooperate on the commercialization and promotion of SMART reactors to other countries.

The progress of the collaboration between Saudi Arabia and South Korea on the SMART venture has been slow. Five years after the initial agreement, a pre-project engineering contract was signed between KA-CARE and South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology in January 2020.277 The agreement formalized the establishment of a joint entity to undertake activities related to the licensing and development of business models and infrastructure of the SMART reactor in Saudi Arabia.

Similarly, in March 2017, a cooperation agreement was signed with China Nuclear Engineering Group Corporation (CNEC) on the development of High-Temperature Gas-cooled Reactors (HTGR).278 So far, these collaborations have not progressed beyond the signing of MoUs and cooperation agreements.

In its 2016 “Vision 2030” document, Saudi Arabia’s leadership emphasized the role and importance of localizing energy supply chains. The strategy recognizes localization as pillar of a new and more diversified economy. In late 2016, the kingdom released the “National Transformation Program 2020 (NTP2020)”. On the nuclear energy issue, the plan gave specific attention to SMRs, stating targets of nuclear localization as strategic objectives. These targets can be summarized as follows:

  • Develop needed qualitative human capabilities for atomic and renewable energy sector;
  • Localization of SMRs on the basis of SMART technology;
  • Localization of uranium production.

Since the release of the roadmap, little progress has been achieved. The nuclear localization capacity vis-à-vis renewables in Saudi Arabia has been recently examined by three independent experts who concluded that “when it comes to nuclear power, the kingdom presents low technical capabilities, with moderate political support.”279 On the other hand, the report details how the scope, speed and potential of Saudi Arabia’s investments in renewable energy value chain seem to surpass that of nuclear energy. For example, in March 2019, the kingdom launched the second phase of its renewable energy program worth around US$1.5 billion.280

Unlike nuclear activities that have high decision-making centrality, investments in renewables in the kingdom are done on both Government and private sector levels. On the Government level, some serious investment efforts have been made to localize manufacturing solar PV panels. In February 2019, LONGi, a Chinese solar technology manufacturing giant, revealed that it is planning to open a US$2 billion solar panel production plant in Saudi Arabia.281

On the private sector level, Saudi-based companies, including ACWA Power—a regional heavy weight energy company—are now involved in several flagship projects inside and outside the kingdom. For example, ACWA Power is the developer of the 950 MW hybrid project (700 MW Concentrated Solar Power and 250 MW Photovoltaics) of the fourth phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest single-site of concentrated solar power plant in the world.282


  • Under Construction 2
Number of Reactors

In Turkey, three separate projects have been in the planning stage for many years, with three different reactor designs and three different financing schemes. However, as of mid-2020, construction only began on the first of these projects.


Over four decades after it was first proposed, construction of a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu in the province of Mersin on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast started in April 2018.283 The power plant is to be implemented by Rosatom of Russia under a Build-Own-Operate (BOO) model. An agreement was signed in May 2010 for four VVER1200 reactors (Generation III+), with construction originally expected to start in 2015. Only two months prior to the official construction start, Rosatom’s Turkish partners, who were to hold 49 percent of the shares, quit.284 However, Rosatom has stated that it would be able to complete the project even if it is unable to attract local investors.285 In April 2019, Rosatom stated that it was in talks with both state-run and private Turkish companies, seeking to sell 49 percent of the project.286 So far, however, there is no evidence that such efforts were successful.

The financing of the project is supported by a 15-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which includes 70 percent of the electricity produced from Units 1 and 2 and 30 percent of Units 3 and 4. Therefore 50 percent of the total power from the station is to be sold at a guaranteed price for the first 15 years, with the rest to be sold on the market. Currency fluctuation, and the fall in the value of the Turkish lira, makes the price guarantees in dollars (US$123.50/MWh) problematic.287

In October 2013, the Akkuyu project was announced to become operational by mid-2020.288 However, numerous delays have occurred (see previous editions of the WNISR), and by the time construction started in April 2018, first electricity was expected to be generated in 2023 (the 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Turkey), with all four units to be operational by 2025.289

In March 2019, the project management announced that it had finished the concreting of the basemat for the nuclear island for the first unit and that it was now expected that Unit 1 would be physically completed in 2023, with generation coming at a later date.290 In September 2019, Rosatom announced that the license for Unit 2 had been granted in the previous month, and that it was preparing to install the first steel equipment on Unit 1 in the autumn.291 Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, had announced in August 2019 that it would provide a US$400 million loan to Rosatom for the plant’s construction.292

In May 2019, it was reported that construction of Unit 1 had been “held up” due to the discovery of cracks in the foundations, and after further cracks were discovered in the re-laid concrete, a larger section of the foundations had to be redone.293As for Akkuyu’s Unit 2, Turkish media sources in late June 2020 reported that construction has started that same month.294 Strangely, as of early July 2020, Rosatom had not communicated about the event. It is only in late July 2020 that the company confirmed and provided a date of April 2020 for first concrete pouring.295


Sinop is on Turkey’s northern coast and was planned to host a 4.4 GW power plant of four units of the ATMEA reactor-design. If completed, these would have been the first reactors of this design, jointly developed by Japanese Mitsubishi and French AREVA (now Framatome, again).296 In April 2015, Turkish President Erdogan approved parliament’s ratification of the intergovernmental agreement with Japan.297

However, after three and a half years of unsuccessful attempts to renegotiate the deal (see previous editions of the WNISR), in December 2018, the Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) had withdrawn, finally ending the project.298 Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez stated that the time schedule and pricing of Sinop fell short of the ministry’s expectations after the results of feasibility studies, carried out by MHI. “We agreed with the Japanese side to not continue our cooperation regarding this matter.”299

Reportedly, while there is neither an apparent nuclear builder nor an officially selected design, the Turkish authorities have moved forward with an administrative Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).300 The company that has submitted the EIA application on 30 March 2020 is Assystem ENVY Energy and Environmental Investment on behalf of EUAS International ICC Sinop Nuclear Power Plant, Jersey Islands, Turkey Central Branch. The EIA report strangely mentions the Flamanville-3 EPR reactor in France, currently under construction, as “reference reactor”, while the original EIA from 2018 was based on the AREVA-Mitsubishi ATMEA design, which has never gone beyond the design phase anywhere. Neither of the French companies EDF or subsidiary Framatome (former AREVA NP) have communicated on the issue.


In October 2015, the Turkish Government suggested it was aiming to build a third nuclear power plant, at the İğneada site. The most likely constructors would be Westinghouse and the Chinese State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC). Chinese companies have been said to be “aggressively” pursuing the contract, reportedly worth an estimated US$22-25 billion. In September 2016, China and Turkey signed a nuclear co-operation agreement similar to the mechanism used to develop the country’s other nuclear projects.However, the financial collapse of Westinghouse effectively buried the project.

Small Modular Reactors

In addition to the existing planned nuclear projects, Turkey is exploring the potential for SMRs. In March 2020, the U.K.’s Rolls-Royce and Turkey’s state-owned EÜAS International ICC signed an agreement to study the potential for small modular reactors from a technical, licensing, commercial and investment perspective and the possibility of joint production of SMRs in Turkey and globally.301

Public Attitudes and Social Implications

The spread of an anti-nuclear sentiment within the Turkish public dates back to the 1970s and is rooted in the country’s well-established environmental justice movements.302 Fueled by the fear of a repetition of disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushima, social mobilization against nuclear power plants has been taking place in big cities and near the selected nuclear sites, protesting safety threats, legality of waste disposal, high costs and administrative shortcomings among other issues.303

Beside these well-known challenges that transcend the case of Turkey, the Akkuyu project is also generating some serious social challenges, particularly on the level of the local population living nearby the construction site. Although the construction of Akkuyu started only two years ago, the nuclear power plant constitutes already a problem in the eyes of the local population. According to recent field research, the Akkuyu construction site and its workers are negatively impacting the safety, security and public health of local villagers as well as the state of the environment.304 Among the reported effects are the sharp increase in population in a very short period of time due to the influx of workers and subcontractors, leading to increased events of harassment against women, bullying and theft. Investigating the root cause of these issues, the research found that the Akkuyu construction workers themselves are not provided with decent living conditions, where their social and psychological needs are met.

Since it was licensed in 1976, the choice of the Akkuyu site has been criticized for its seismic risks, which have received more attention in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.305 Since then, various public surveys have been conducted to assess the public’s sentiment towards Turkey’s nuclear power plans (see Figure 26). According to the latest survey in 2018, two thirds of the Turkish public do not support their country’s efforts to build nuclear power plants, stating that “it is clearly risky, nuclear power plants should never be built.”.306 The survey also showed that the anti-nuclear sentiment is across all political affiliations. Even within the AKP, the ruling party in Turkey and an advocate of nuclear energy, half of its supporters are opposing nuclear power.

In another public survey in 2018, when asked the question “Assuming that a power plant will be built in the vicinity of your residence, which of the power plant options you oppose the most?” 67 percent of those surveyed selected nuclear.307 In March 2020, a group of Turkish NGOs filed a court case against the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization to halt the construction work of the Akkuyu project because of the “lack of a valid environmental impact assessment and generation license”.308

Source: Euronews, 2019309

Repeated public opinion polls show that a growing majority of the surveyed Turkish citizens oppose the building of nuclear power plants in the country, regardless of political affiliations, as seen in Figure 26.


In 2007, the Government established the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission. JAEC started conducting a feasibility study on nuclear power, including a comparative cost-benefit analysis.310

In September 2014, JAEC and Rosatom signed a two-year development framework for a scheme, which was projected to cost under US$10 billion and generate electricity costing US$0.10/kWh.311 However, in May 2018, an unnamed Jordanian Government official revealed to The Jordan Times that the plan to build two large reactors was not moving forward due to financial difficulties and that Jordan “is now focusing on small modular reactors”.312 This suggests not only that Jordan was unable to secure its part of the financing for the two 1000 MW proposal (~ US$5 billion, equivalent to 50.1 percent of the estimated project’s cost)313, but also that Russia did not prioritize the Jordanian project, compared to the financing facilities it offered Turkey and Egypt.

Since then Jordan has been focusing on small modular reactors. Jordanian officials reasoned that SMRs would be a better fit for the country because of the greater ease of financing, while their lower power capacity was also seen as more suited to Jordan’s small electricity grid (~ 4 GW in 2018).314 Additionally, the scarcity of water in Jordan seems to have contributed to the rationale to replace large reactor plans with those of SMRs.315 It is reported that the chosen site for the SMR is Aqaba on the Red Sea, which had been previously ruled out, “due to its proximity to industrial and transportation infrastructure”.316

Table 6 · Jordan’s SMR agreements (as of May 2020)

Vendor / Entity


Purpose / Scope

Rosatom (Russia)



King Abdullah City for Atomic

and Renewable Energy (Saudi Arabia)


Cooperation / Feasibility study

Rolls Royce (U.K.)


Feasibility study

CNNC (China)


Cooperation framework

NuScale Power (USA)


Feasibility study

X-energy (USA)


Letter of intent

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020.

Notes: CNNC = China National Nuclear Corporation.

Jordanian authorities have explored partnerships with several SMR vendors. Jordan has entered discussions with U.S.-based NuScale Power, U.K.-based Rolls Royce, China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), South Korea’s Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI), U.S.-based X-energy, and Russia’s Rosatom.317 However, it remains to be seen which, if any, of the partnerships will come to fruition. Additionally, JAEC has signed agreements with Saudi Arabia’s KA-CARE, Rolls-Royce, and NuScale to carry out feasibility studies to construct SMRs.318 Of course, since none of these designs are ready, especially Rolls-Royce’s, these feasibility studies can only be based on hypothetical numbers. Jordan’s numerous SMR agreements and their scope are listed in Table 6.

Jordan’s SMR Challenges

With its small grid size and limited financial resources, Jordan appears to be a textbook case for SMRs. The number and diversity of Jordan’s SMR agreements shown in Table 6 signals the appetite of international vendors to engage with Jordan on the development of SMR in the country. Despite the enthusiasm, very little progress has been made in translating these agreements into actions. Like the large reactor proposal, Jordan’s SMR venture is not without its own challenges319, such as:

  • Higher per kWh costs compared to large reactors due to diseconomies of scale;
  • None of Jordan’s SMR options are operational and many are first-of-a-kind designs;
  • US-based vendors (and technologies) would require Jordan to sign the so-called “123 Agreement”.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

If Jordan decided to build a nuclear power plant today, it would likely take at least 15 years to establish all the preconditions (legislation, safety authorities, trained staff, etc.), to construct and operate it. However, even at today’s costs, solar photovoltaics (PV) and natural gas provide a cost-effective combination to generate electricity, lower than half of that generated by nuclear power. If Jordan takes on the SMR option as it is currently advocating, nuclear costs are expected to even grow substantially higher.

Additionally, other SMR challenges are inherited from the large reactor option. As shown in Figure 27, electricity generated by nuclear power is not economically competitive vis-à-vis renewables or natural gas. The new gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean signal Jordan’s ability to reliably access relatively cheap natural gas. In 2019, Jordan signed a US$10 billion gas deal with Israel that would supply the kingdom’s gas-fired power plants for the next 15 years.320

Like the large reactor option, SMR also face the challenge of public disapproval,321 especially in the areas near the proposed site. In the current strained economic situation that has witnessed some of Jordan’s biggest protests in recent history, pushing the nuclear option, large or small, may provoke strong opposition and prove politically costly.


The Egyptian nuclear vision began in the mid-1950s with the establishment of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Commission (currently known as the Atomic Energy Authority). Egypt started to explore the possibilities of building nuclear power reactors in the mid-1970s, when the Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) was established. Initial plans envisioned 10 reactors being operational by the end of the century.

Despite discussions with Chinese, French, German, and Russian suppliers, little development occurred for several decades except for selecting in 1984 Dabaa on Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline to host Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.322

In recent years, Egypt has stepped up its efforts and in February 2015, Rosatom and Egypt’s NPPA signed a cooperation agreement, followed in November 2015 by an intergovernmental agreement for the construction of four VVER-1200 reactors at Dabaa. In May 2016, it was announced that Egypt had concluded a US$25 billion loan with Russia for nuclear construction, at three percent interest for 85 percent of the construction cost, to be paid back through the sale of electricity. In December 2017, the total cost of the project was reported to be US$60 billion, including US$30 billion for reactor construction. Three other deals were signed to cover the supply of nuclear fuel for 60 years, operation and maintenance for the first 10 years of operation, and training of personnel.

The current phase is focused on site preparation and licensing. According to Anatolos Kovatnov, the head of engineering work at the Dabaa project, Rosatom has submitted all the documents required, and hopes to obtain the permits to start construction at the first unit of the Dabaa plant in 2020. In March 2019, the Egyptian NPPA granted the site a permit for the reactors, the first step toward getting a construction permit.323

In December 2019, Australian energy group Worley Limited was awarded a consultant contract to advise Egypt in the building process.324 In February 2020, Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, announced that three Egyptian firms—Petrojet, Hassan Allam, and Aran Contractors—had won a tender for the first phase of work on the plant, expected to begin in the summer of 2020 and continue through 2022. Earlier in the month, Atomstroyexport had held a training for Egyptian engineers at the Kursk-II plant under construction in Russia.325

The Egyptian Government expects the Dabaa plant to be operational in 2026.326 However, questions have been raised as to whether the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (ENRRA), established in 2010, will have the capacity and political independence to effectively oversee the project. Additionally, while Egyptian officials estimate that the project will bring the country US$246 billion in revenues over 60 years, some experts have raised concerns that the project will lead to a substantial increase in Egypt’s external debt.327 The NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Right criticized the “persistent lack of transparency” that accompanied the nuclear project since its inception.

From the perspective of nuclear security, Egypt’s nuclear program poses several challenges. In recent years, “the rate, impact and sophistication of jihadi attacks in Egypt increased significantly and it is not unthinkable for Egypt’s nuclear facilities to be targeted”.328


  • Under Construction 1
Number of Reactors
Mean Age of Reactor Fleet

As of May 2020, Iran has the only operating nuclear power reactor in the Middle East (Bushehr-1), which became operational in 2011, 34 years after construction began. In 2019, the Bushehr-1 reactor generated 5.86 TWh, which is equivalent to 1.84 percent of the total electricity generated in Iran.329

In terms of generating capacity, the 915-MW Bushehr-1 reactor represents 1.3 percent (see Figure 28) in a mix dominated by oil and gas with 81.3 GW or just under 81 percent. Until Bushehr’s Units 2 and 3 come online, the nuclear share is expected to decline as Iran ramps up its capacity of other sources to meet increasing electricity demand. Although the share of non-hydro renewables is just below 1 percent, it has doubled in one year.330

Despite Iran’s heavy economic and political investments in the nuclear program, nuclear power contributes only 1.3 percent to the country’s electricity generating capacity—even private prosumers have a large capacity installed.

Source: ISNA, July 2019331

Compared to other countries in the region, Iran went beyond the mere goal of acquiring nuclear power reactors by investing in nuclear fuel chain activities such as uranium mining, enrichment and fuel manufacturing. Although Iran possess the capabilities to produce its own enriched uranium it cannot do so under the restrictions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although it remains to be seen if the agreement survives, Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium is capped at 300 kg until 2030.

Beyond Bushehr Unit 1, in November 2014, Iran’s Nuclear Power Production and Development Co. (NPPD) and Rosatom subsidiary Atomstroyexport signed a contract to build Bushehr Units 2 and 3. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) projected that Units 2 and 3, would be completed within a 10-year timeline and cost around US$10 billion.332

Excavation for the foundation of the second unit at Bushehr—which is being built under a deal between Iran and Russia’s Rosatom—started on 31 October 2017.333 New basemat concrete for the reactor building, which signals official construction start, has been poured in November 2019. However, Unit 2 was originally part of the construction work of the Bushehr power plant, which started in 1976. In fact, in 1994, the IAEA had listed both Units 1 and 2 as “under construction”.334 As of May 2019, Iranian authorities had maintained that “Bushehr units 2 and 3 are to be completed in 2024 and 2026, respectively”.335 In April 2020, AEOI spokesperson claimed that Bushehr-2 was 30 percent complete and the construction of Unit 3 would begin within two years.336 As it is physically impossible to build almost one third of a nuclear power plant within five months, this is an indication that the current project is well based on earlier construction efforts.

Additionally, in 2016, Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of the AEOI, hinted at talks with China to build two more power plants in Darkhovain and on the Makran coast.337 Since then, however, there has been no progress reported on these plans and their schedule, which is likely to be delayed further given the current economic and political environment.

Saudi Arabia has in the past raised concerns that potential radioactive leakage from the Bushehr plant could endanger the Gulf, including air, food and water supplies. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC states have voiced their concerns about Bushehr’s safety on various occasions, especially after earthquakes.338 In March 2020, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the Vienna-based international organizations, dismissed the Saudi concern as an attempt to politicize technical issues and maintained that the plant is meeting international safety standards.339 Gharibabadi pointed to the IAEA’s Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) mission at Bushehr in February 2020, the result of which was “satisfactory”. He added that the IAEA delegation concluded that “Iran’s nuclear safety system has the competence and capability to monitor nuclear activities”.

The Evolving Role of Renewables and Natural Gas in the Middle East

Like in many parts around the world, an electricity mix that is based on the coupling between renewables and natural gas is gaining ground in the Middle East. In the six regional countries with nuclear power ambitions, natural gas is the main source of power generation. In three countries, natural gas contribution is more than 75 percent, in five over half (see Figure 29).

Development of renewable energy projects in the region is also thriving. Several world record-low prices have been set in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in recent years. As shown in Figure 30, Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA) prices of solar PV projects, which are naturally higher than the cost of generated electricity as they integrate a profit margin, are much cheaper than the cost estimates of nuclear electricity. This is not surprising since the costs of solar electricity (both for photovoltaic and concentrating solar plants) have witnessed dramatic decline over the past decade, while nuclear costs have gone up. Additionally, the region enjoys abundant solar resources, in terms of yield and number of sunny days per year, thanks to its geographic and climatic characteristics.

Source: BP, 2020

Notes: The BP data for 2019 does not include Jordan's value. In 2017, and according to the IEA, natural gas produced 83 percent of Jordan’s electricity.

A recent study published in Nature Energy, analyzing the drivers of world record-low prices of renewable energy (especially solar PV) in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, found that among other factors favorable cost of capital and low taxes have played a significant role, emphasizing that “government policy remains an important element to remove barriers to PV deployment”.340

In all nuclear-aspiring countries in the region, natural gas is currently the dominating fuel used in power generation. Because of their operational and loading flexibility, natural gas-fired power plants are complementary to the region’s growing investments in renewable energy.

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2020

In all the regional countries with nuclear power aspirations, renewables have made big strides in recent years. Across the region, renewable energy targets are continually revised upwards.

In Egypt, the installed capacity of non-hydropower renewables (solar and wind) was around 2.7 GW, as of December 2019.341 In 2016, the Egyptian Government launched the “2035 Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy”, according to which it plans to generate 42 percent of the electricity through renewable energy sources, namely solar PV, concentrated solar-thermal power and wind energy (see Figure ٣١).342 In the same strategy, the percentage allocated for nuclear energy is just 3 percent, raising questions about the real value for investing in nuclear electricity that is only going to have such a small overall contribution to the national power mix. In parallel, the Egyptian Government has launched a series of energy reforms such as a feed-in-tariff that incentivized private sector to get involved in the country’s electricity sector, providing new financing pathways.

Egypt is also making strides in the development of a domestic and regional natural gas market. Besides being host to Zohr, the largest gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean,343 Egypt has invested in gas import and export infrastructure to position itself as regional hub, and in the process, become self-sufficient. These developments will have a great impact on Egypt’s electricity supply security as well as the future steps the country may take in shaping its energy policy. Despite the prioritization on renewables and natural gas, the Egyptian Government remains committed to building four nuclear reactors at the Dabaa site.

Sources: Egypt’s New and Renewable Energy Authority, 2016 / IEA, World Energy Balances, 2019

By 2035, Egypt’s Dabaa nuclear power plant is projected to contribute only 3 percent of the country’s electricity generation; a rather small share given the scale of investment (~US$60 billion – See section on Egypt above).

In the UAE, the Government released a long-term energy plan in February 2017, which proposes that by 2050 renewable energy will provide 44 percent of the country’s electricity, with natural gas 38 percent, “clean fossil fuels” 12 percent and nuclear 6 percent.344 The nuclear share is in line with expected output from the Barakah nuclear power plant and in September 2017, Government officials confirmed that there were no plans to build a second plant.345

In Jordan, where nuclear power plans continue to stumble, Energy Minister Hala Zawati said in late 2018 that renewable energy should provide more than 20 percent of the country’s electricity by 2020346, doubling the previous target,347 and in December 2019, Minister Zawati said the soon-to-be-released energy strategy would include increasing the renewably electricity share to 30 percent by 2030.348 In Jordan, the renewable energy market is one of the fastest growing in the Middle East. In December 2019, ACWA Power, a Saudi Arabian energy group, started the operation of a 50 MW solar power plant in Jordan with an electricity Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) price of US$59/kWh.349 While the price level is significantly higher (yet) than in neighboring countries—mainly because of smaller unit size and higher financing costs—it is only about half the estimated levelized cost of electricity for a large reactor, even with favorable assumptions.350 At the same time, the International Advisory Group, which is tasked with monitoring Jordan’s progress in implementing its nuclear program, made an appeal for nuclear energy to remain part of the country’s energy strategy in the medium and long term.351

In Saudi Arabia, the 300-MW Sakaka solar plant came on-line in November 2019, one month and a half ahead of schedule. The project was tendered only in February 2017. Owner-operator ACWA Power will sell electricity at US$23.6/MWh.352

Even in Iran, which has the region’s most advanced nuclear power program, and despite being under heavy economic sanctions, renewable energy has been expanding. Iran’s wind power capacity has grown from 92 MW in 2009 to 282 MW in 2018.353 Likewise, solar energy capacity has gone from 1 MW in 2013 to 286 MW in 2018. However, this may be slowing because of U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran. One report from August 2018 recorded that solar projects amounting to 2.6 GW of capacity had been stalled because of U.S. sanctions.354

Sanctions aside, Iran has a high renewable energy potential. It has the advantage of the geographic location, which gives it access to several sources of renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal.355 Recent studies have also shown that renewable energy can contribute to complete decarbonisation in Iran by 2050 by powering water desalination plants.356 Distributed renewables are particularly advantageous in rural regions where the cost of transmission infrastructure and maintenance of centralized power plant are high.

In terms of its solar energy potential, Iran is exposed to approximately 300 sunny days per year with solar radiation average of 2,200 kWh per square meter.357 According to official estimates, Iran’s solar energy capacity potential is 40,000 GW,358 an astonishingly high number.

Like Egypt, Iran continues to rely on natural gas as the main energy source which couples well with the country’s renewable energy potential. Economically, this makes sense given the abundance of proven natural gas reserves and the impact of sanctions that prevents Iran from selling its gas abroad. Based on 2017 numbers, Iran is the third largest producer of natural gas and the fourth largest consumer in the world. However, the gas sector in Iran needs significant investments for it to keep up with the country’s energy consumption. With the recent decline in Iran’s economy due to tightening sanctions, Iran will find it difficult to finance in parallel a significant expansion of its nuclear program.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Nuclear Programs in the Middle East

In the Middle East, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a varied impact on the regional nuclear power programs.

Beside the safety concerns outlined below, the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to weaken the already strained regional economies, putting further downward pressure on government budgets. This may force governments to reconsider their commitments when it comes to infrastructure spending such as on nuclear power programs. For example, Saudi Arabia is expecting its budget deficit to widen to around US$61 billion in 2020 as its revenues were hit hard by lower oil prices.359 Countries like Jordan, which has already been under pressing economic conditions before the COVID-19 pandemic, will find it very difficult to invest in nuclear power projects, regardless whether large or small.

In terms of country-specific issues, in the UAE, Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has introduced measures such as locking down the Barakah site and halting “non-essential” work in the wake of the pandemic.360 Additionally, ENEC’s Nawah company, the subsidiary responsible for Barakah’s operation and maintenance, issued guidelines to reduce the number of workers at the plant and enforce social distancing. On the other hand, FANR, the UAE’s nuclear regulator, established a COVID-19 crisis management taskforce, which called for measures such as asking employees to work remotely, leveraging digital means to conduct inspection and monitoring activities, and reducing the number of on-site inspectors.361

In Iran, Turkey and Egypt, where Russia’s Rosatom is the nuclear technology vendor and provider of other services such as operation, fueling and training, there have been no announcements of COVID-19 impacts. However, some of Rosatom’s operations in these countries may have been impacted by the company’s announced COVID-19 measures, which included accommodating the need of some of its international employees to return home.362

In Turkey, an MP representing the Mersin province, where the Akkuyu power plant site is located, reported that one of the workers hads caught COVID-19, leading to some workers leaving the construction site, which hosted more than 5,000 workers, due to safety concerns.363 Since then, members of local groups such as the Mersin Nuclear Platform have also voiced their concerns of the risks associated with continuing the construction works at Akkuyu during this period.364

In Egypt, Grigory Sosnin, director of the Dabaa project stated that preparatory work on site continues as planned and Rosatom “has taken a set of strict preventive measures” such as restricting access to the construction site.365

Barakah, a Model Replicable Throughout the Middle East?

Despite delays, the UAE’s Barakah project has advanced faster than other regional projects; so why has the Emirati nuclear program progressed while other regional initiatives faltered?

The UAE, an oil-rich country with readily available financial resources and “high-grade” credit rating, bypassed this challenge. In contrast, other Middle Eastern countries lack access to affordable financing. Even for Saudi Arabia, a top oil-producer, which usually enjoys an easier access to capital, is under economic pressure due to the collapse of oil prices. In projects with vendor financing, like Egypt and Turkey’s deals with Russia’s Rosatom, there is a perceived risk around Rosatom’s ability to deliver, especially if the Russian economy continues to suffer from the combined consequences of low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Russian Government has been subsidizing Rosatom’s projects overseas by providing government-to-government loans as well as sovereign guarantees.

As early as 2009, ENEC, FANR, and the Khalifa University for Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR) announced a Nuclear Energy Scholarship Program for Emirati students, promising graduates lucrative and prestigious positions in the nuclear industry.366 Officials also held a number of public forums to provide information and updates on the project.367 Moreover, the UAE’s leadership made special efforts to build a wide network of institutions and stakeholders with a vested interest in the success of the nuclear program, thus defusing much of the potential pushback. Efforts to sell the nuclear narrative to the public have been either weak or non-existent in other countries in the region. In Jordan, Turkey, and, to some extent, in Egypt, the public has been vocal in its criticisms of proposed nuclear projects.

Some of the proposed nuclear projects in the region face political barriers related to nuclear non-proliferation. The UAE bypassed much of the controversy associated with other nuclear projects in the region by agreeing to forgo uranium enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear spent fuel.368 This has removed political and logistical challenges related to establishing a broader nuclear infrastructure, which otherwise might have delayed or halted the project.

In some respects, the UAE’s nuclear program can be perceived as a “counter-Iran” model, wherein stripping the nuclear program of its most sensitive parts is “rewarded” by access to state-of-the-art technologies and wider international support, especially from the United States. Egypt and Turkey seem to be contemplating a similar approach, since their respective deals with Russia include fuel supply and take-back of spent nuclear fuel.

In conclusion, the expansion of nuclear power in the Middle East introduces more challenges than opportunities in a region swept by conflicts, fragility and economic hardship. The region’s weak institutions, especially the regulatory ones, and its geopolitical volatility pose serious safety and security concerns that extend beyond the borders of the countries where nuclear power plants are being built or projected. Economically, the region is already embarking on an energy transition away from oil by investing heavily in a power generation capacity of natural gas and renewables. Except for the case of the UAE, and based on the current electricity mix, the addition of nuclear power does not seem to be contributing much to the region’s energy transition.

China Focus

  • Under Construction 15
  • Operating 47
  • Long-Term Outage 1
Number of Reactors
Mean Age of Reactor Fleet

China continues to expand its nuclear power sector, albeit at a much slower pace than the nation’s renewable sector. As of mid-2020, China had 47 reactors in operation, with a total generating capacity of 45.5 GW. In addition, the 20-MW China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) remains in LTO. While in July 2019, Rosatom reported the delivery of a batch of fuel to the facility,369 there was no announcement of a restart of the reactor.

In 2019, nuclear power contributed 330 TWh of electricity production, which constituted 4.9 percent of all electricity generated in China. These figures have increased from the previous year, by 53.1 TWh (+19.2 percent) and 0.7 percentage points respectively.

Despite this increase, there seems profound uncertainty about the future path of nuclear power in China. Nuclear Intelligence Weekly (NIW) reported in July 2020 that “China’s ultimate authority, the State Council, has mentioned almost nothing about newbuilds in its Government work plan; while the National Energy Administration (NEA) provided no details of new nuclear construction in its recent 2020 National Energy Work Guiding Opinions, unlike in previous years”.370

This uncertainty is best illustrated by what is known (and unknown) about reactor construction. The IAEA’s PRIS database indicated as of 4 May 2020 that there were 10 reactors under construction with a total capacity of 9.4 GW.371 In the second half of May 2020, this was updated to include the start of construction of Taipingling-1 (also called Huizhou-1). However, the construction start of this reactor actually took place in December 2019, and had been publicly reported since at least January 2020.372 CGN Power (part of China General Nuclear Power Corporation – CGNPC) also mentioned the construction start in its annual report in April 2020.373

Even more mysterious is the inaugural CAP1400 project at Shidao Bay that is being built by State Power Investment and that was first revealed by Nuclear Intelligence Weekly last year, based on a list of all nuclear plants operating or considered as under construction as of 13 June 2019 put out by the National Nuclear Safety Administration.374 In January 2020, NIW noted that the project had been “kicked off… in an unusually quiet fashion, with no official announcements either from the government or the developer” and that there were “no announced target dates for commercial operation”.375 As of 1 July 2020, IAEA-PRIS only reports the twin High-Temperature Reactors Pebble-bed Module (HTR-PM) as being under construction at the Shidao Bay site. In previous WNISR editions, Shidao Bay-1 has been accounted for as one unit, just as the IAEA’s PRIS indicates the plant as consisting of one 200-MW unit.376 However, it turns out that Shidao Bay-1 (also called Shidaowan-1) consists of two 100-MW reactors, and consequently, as of WNISR2020, they are considered separately, i.o.w. as two units under construction (Shidao Bay 1-1 and 1-2).377

The China Fast Reactor (CFR-600) has also reportedly been under construction since December 2017,378 but is not listed by IAEA-PRIS as of mid-2020. Here again, there are various reports that suggest that construction is ongoing. In January 2019, Russia’s TASS News Agency reported that Rosatom subsidiary TVEL had signed “a contract for supply of nuclear fuel for CFR-600 fast-neutron reactor which is currently under construction”.379 In May 2020, a Chinese expert used satellite imagery to identify “the reprocessing plant [that] will supply plutonium for the mixed-oxide fuels that will power the CFR-600 demonstration fast reactors currently under construction”.380

Another sign of uncertainty about the future of nuclear power in China is the decline in numbers. Even with these additional reactors counted by WNISR as being under construction, the current number of 15 represents a continuous decline over the corresponding numbers of 17 reported in WNISR2018 and 21 in WNISR2017.381 The decline highlights the slowdown of China’s nuclear power program, especially considering the target of the 5-Year Plan 2016–2020: the 15 units combine less than 14 GW while 30 GW were planned for as under construction simultaneously by the end of the period.

There are structural reasons for this slowdown. As previous issues of WNISR have discussed, China has been confronting a combination of overcapacity in the power market and a reduced rate of demand growth. These problems might be further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which, as in other countries, had a significant impact on electricity demand.382 China experienced a 7.8 percent cumulative drop in power consumption in January and February 2020.383 However, by May 2020, demand seemed to be back to pre-lockdown levels.384

A separate problem for nuclear power has been the Government’s lowering of electricity prices, especially for industrial consumers, in recent years.385 In combination with nuclear construction cost overruns, this makes the outlook for nuclear power “cloudier”.386 A more recent difficulty has arisen with the strain in U.S.-China relations and the Trump administration’s ban on most nuclear exports to China.387 This means that China is forced to avoid the use of any U.S. suppliers. A number of new-build projects in China that planned to construct AP1000 reactors are reportedly “caught in the political minefield of US-China relations due to their technology choice”.388

Of the 15 reactors currently under construction, the two at the Shidao Bay 1 project have been underway since 2012, six since 2015 (Fangchenggang-3, Fuqing-5 and -6, Hongyanhe-5 and -6, and Tianwan-5), two since 2016 (Fangchenggang-4 and Tianwan-6), one since 2017 (CFR-600), four since 2019 (Huizhou/Taipingling-1, Zhangzhou-1, and Shidao Bay 2-1 & 2-2389). Many of these are delayed (see Annex 5) and these delays may be part of the reason for not publicizing new construction starts.

The last round of highly publicized construction projects involved the EPR and the AP1000 reactor designs, which were all quite delayed compared to initial projections, as detailed in previous issues of the WNISR. Their performance after commissioning has also been somewhat mixed, with Sanmen-2, one of the four inaugural AP1000 reactors, being shut down only six weeks after commercial operations began in November 2018 because of water intrusion into a reactor coolant pump.390 So far, the reasons for the pump malfunction have not been made public. China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) announced in November 2019 that the reactor had “entered into the restart phase, with nuclear fuel already loaded into the reactor,”391 and the PRIS database records that Sanmen-2 was online for a mere 817 hours (around 34 days) during all of 2019.

Among the reactors under construction, CGN has announced that Hongyanhe Units 5 and 6, both of the ACPR-1000 design, are expected to commence operations in the “second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022” respectively.392 That is around one year later than predicted in CGN’s Annual Report for 2015 (second half of 2020 and 2021 respectively).393

CGN has also announced that the Hualong units it is constructing at Fangchenggang (Units 3 and 4) are expected to “commence operations” in 2022.394 Again, this is delayed compared to earlier predictions of operations starting in 2020.395

CNNC’s Hualong projects at Fuqing, Units 5 and 6, also appear to be delayed. When concrete was poured for Fuqing-6, the expectation was that they “would be completed in 2019 and 2020, respectively”.396 In a March 2020 update, CNNC announced that Fuqing-5 had cleared its first hot performance test.397

CNNC’s Tianwan-5 and -6 are of the ACPR-1000 design and are reported to be scheduled for commercial operation in 2020 and 2021.398 That remains in line with initial expectations when construction started.399

Finally, the twin High-Temperature Reactors (HTRs) being constructed at Shandong continue to be delayed. Although the plant was supposed to start generating commercial electricity by the end of 2017, according to a June 2020 presentation, “criticality and power operation” are scheduled for 2021.400 There appear to be no plans in China to construct any more HTRs, certainly not of the same design. Economics is likely a key reason. The projected costs of electricity generation at the HTR are nearly 40 percent higher than at light water reactors,401 without accounting for many additional years of delays and thus much higher financing costs than anticipated.

Although the country was the first to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese authorities maintain that it will not impact nuclear reactor construction.402 This remains to be seen.

Success of these Hualong construction projects is pivotal to plans to export the technology to other countries, especially in Europe. The main prospect for such exports seems to be the United Kingdom. The U.K. Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) announced in February 2020 that it had completed Step 3 of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) of the Hualong, or more precisely the U.K. version of the design. The review did not identify “any fundamental safety or security shortfalls that would prevent” the reactor being given a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC), ONR stated that it had identified “a number of areas for which further substantiation is needed from the Requesting Party” and more generally “a lot of work by the Requesting Party is still required”.403

The progress in the U.K. was in contrast to what happened across the continent. In May 2020, the Romanian Government “asked the state company Nuclearelectrica… to terminate negotiations with…China General Nuclear Power Corporation…on the construction of nuclear reactors 3 and 4 at Cernavoda”.404 The two companies had signed a “preliminary agreement for the construction and operation of two new reactors” only in May 2019405 (see section on Romania in Annex 1).

Meanwhile, renewable energy capacity in China continues to grow at a substantially higher rate. Total installed renewable capacity increased by about nine percent from 2018 to 2019, going from 695 GW to 759 GW; wind capacity expanding from 185 GW in 2018 to 210 GW in 2019, and solar capacity from 175 GW in 2018 to 205 GW in 2019.406

According to the China Electricity Council, the two forms of renewable energy provided 406 TWh (wind) and 224 TWh (solar) to the grid respectively.407 These figures agree with those reported by BP.408 These have gone up by almost 11 percent and 26.6 percent compared to 2018. Electricity generated by wind continues to exceed the nuclear contribution, and solar energy is approaching two-thirds of nuclear energy’s contribution. (See Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy). IHS Markit estimates that in January and February 2020, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, nuclear energy’s contribution to the grid declined by 2.2 percent whereas renewables have remained resilient, with wind and solar energy growing by 0.9 percent and 12 percent respectively.409

In November 2019, the Government of China scaled back the subsidies offered to renewable power, from 8.1 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in 2019 to 5.67 billion yuan in 2020 (US$0.8 billion).410 This is in part a recognition of the increasing economic competitiveness of renewable energy. In May 2019, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced that wind projects commissioned after 1 January 2021 will not receive subsidies and will apply what it terms “grid price parity”, namely that it will be paid the same as coal.411

A different development in the future might be the acceleration of offshore wind energy, which has grown in installed capacity from 0.1 GW in 2010 to 5.9 GW in 2019.412 Last year, the inaugural price competition for offshore wind development led to a winning bid of 620 yuan/MWh (US$87.8/MWh) from China Longyuan, the wind development arm of China Energy Investment Corporation.413 The potential for offshore wind power is considerable and a recent study estimates that thousands of GW of capacity and over 10,000 TWh could be supplied at costs lower than the estimated costs of generating nuclear power.414

Another sign of the growing importance of renewable energy is interest among domestic nuclear companies in wind and solar power. Two of the three traditional state owned nuclear enterprises, the State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC) and CGN are now the largest solar photovoltaic power producer globally and the fourth-biggest wind developer respectively.415 CGN and China Huaneng, which is developing the HTR-PM (High-Temperature gas-cooled Reactor Pebble-bed Module) in Shidaowan, also bid in the first offshore wind power competition but were unsuccessful.416

These renewable energy acquisitions might also affect how these entities evolve in the future, especially as the Chinese Government is trying to respond to the country’s economic downturn by consolidating and restructuring the energy industry.417 Such restructuring could dramatically shape the future of the nuclear energy sector. Since the 1990s, the growth of nuclear power in China has been fueled by competition between the leading state-owned enterprises involved in the development of nuclear power, CGN, SPIC and CNNC.418 There is now speculation about forging “a unified nuclear developer by consolidating all the nuclear power assets of CNNC, CGN, and SPIC” or, as an alternative, having CGN’s nuclear units be absorbed by CNNC while SPIC absorbs the renewable units.419

China’s renewable energy push has also extended outside its borders. Since 2014, Chinese equity investment has supported a total of 12.6 GW of wind and solar projects in South and Southeast Asia as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.420 Chinese companies also built and own large renewable energy projects in various European countries.

Finland Focus

  • Under Construction 1
  • Operating 4
Number of Reactors
Mean Age of Reactor Fleet
Annual Load Factor

Finland operates four units which in 2019 supplied 22.9 TWh of electricity, the highest production ever in the country. The nuclear share represented 34.7 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2019, an increase of 2.3 percentage points over the previous year but remaining below the highest share of 38.4 percent in 1986. Finland’s fifth reactor, the 1.6 GW EPR at Olkiluoto (OL3), which has been under construction since August 2005, was originally scheduled to begin operations in 2009, and during the past year has suffered further multiple delays.421 The latest schedule, as of mid- 2020, is for grid connection at the end of January 2021 and commercial operation by 31 May 2021, 16 years after construction start and 12 years later than originally planned.422 The prospects are for further delays.

Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO), which owns and operates the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, reported record generation for its Olkiluoto Units 1 (OL1) and 2 (OL2) reactors, with total generation of 14.75 TWh and with load factors of 96.9 percent and 92.7 percent, respectively.423 Fortum, the operator of the two reactors at Loviisa also reported record production at Loviisa Unit 1, with total production from the plant of 8.2 TWh.424

Finland has adopted different nuclear technologies and suppliers, as two of its operating reactors are VVERs (Vodo-Vodianoï Energuetitcheski Reaktor) V213 built by Russian contractors at Loviisa, while two are AAIII, BWR-2500 built by Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) at Olkiluoto. The OL3 EPR contractor is AREVA. The average age of the four operating reactors is 41.3 years. In January 2017, operator TVO filed an application for a 20-year license extension for the respectively 39 and 37-year old units Olkiluoto-1 and -2.425 On 20 September 2018, the Cabinet approved the lifetime extension for TVO’s OL1 and OL2 to operate until 2038.426

In March 2014, Russian state nuclear operator Rosatom, through subsidiary company RAOS Voima Oy, completed the purchase of 34 percent of the Finnish company Fennovoima for an undisclosed price,427 and then in April 2014 a “binding decision to construct” a 1200 MW AES-2006 reactor was announced. A construction license for the reactor is expected in 2021428 and construction is to be