27 September 2021

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021 (HTML)

“Ten years have now passed since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, a disaster on a scale surpassing even that of Chernobyl. The reactors in Units 1 to 3 suffered not only meltdowns, but also melt-through of the nuclear fuel, while the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 came close to evaporating entirely. […] As Prime Minister of Japan at the time of the disaster, I now believe that the time has come for Japan and the world to end its reliance on nuclear power.”

Foreword by

Naoto Kan

Former Prime Minister of Japan I Member of the House of Representatives, Japan

By

Mycle Schneider

Independent Consultant, Paris, France

Project Coordinator and Lead Author

Antony Froggatt

Independent Consultant, and Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, Environment and Society Programme, Chatham House, London U.K.

Lead Author

With

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

Mariana Budjeryn

Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom,

Harvard Kennedy School, U.S.

Contributing Author

Yuichi Kaido

Lawyer, Japan

Contributing Author

Thibault Laconde

Consulting Engineer and Founding President of Callendar, France

Contributing Author

Mathilde Le Moal

Criminologist, Research Associate at Realist Revolt, France

Contributing Author

M.V. Ramana

Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Schoool of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA), University of British Columbia,

Vancouver, Canada

Contributing Author

Hisako Sakiyama

Chair of the Board of Directors of the 3/11 Fund for Children with Thyroid Cancer, Former Member of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, Japan.

Contributing Author

Tatsujiro Suzuki

Vice Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University (RECNA), Former Vice-Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, Japan

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

Nina Schneider

Freelance

Proofreading, Fact-Checking and Production

Friedhelm Meinass

Visual Artist, Painter, Rodgau, Germany

Cover-page Design, Painting and Layout

Paris, 2021 © A Mycle Schneider Consulting Project

Acknowledgments

Another difficult year. We all thought it could hardly get worse than 2020. Then came 2021. Several team members lost family members, to COVID-19 or other circumstances. Climate-related disasters from California to Louisiana, from Germany to Greece, from Argentina to China have dominated the news. Most of the WNISR team members and contributing authors are living in rather privileged, rather protected environments, but not all of us, and definitely not all of the families and friends.

Despite all the adverse side-effects of the global situation, here’s The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021 (WNISR2021). Once again, the project coordinator is 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 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 few 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, Ben Wealer, and for the second year in a row from Ali Ahmad. Many thanks to all of you. I’m very fortunate to be working with you.

WNISR2021 has greatly profited from the contributions by six extraordinary new contributing authors: Hisako Sakiyama (so glad to work with you), Yuichi Kaido (very grateful you took the time), Tatsu Suzuki (enormously thankful for your contribution and additional help), Thibault Laconde (thanks for the very fruitful cooperation), Mathilde Le Moal (grateful for your original contribution to the project) and Mariana Budjeryn (glad you could fit it in just after your book). Thank you all so much.

Many other people have contributed pieces of work to make this project possible and to bring it to the current standard. Shaun Burnie stands out as his numerous contributions again have been invaluable and are highly appreciated. Thank you for your steady presence in this project.

Nina Schneider has expanded her meticulous proof-reading capacities, source verification, and fact-checking. Authors have experienced her demanding precision. Her production skills round up her invaluable input. Thanks so much.

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.

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

For the third 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”), who have also contributed the acclaimed original artwork for the WNISR2019 edition and the cover of WNISR2020. Thanks so much for another fascinating, original, and very generous contribution.

This work has greatly benefitted from additional proofreading by Walt Patterson (above all), partial proof-reading, editing suggestions, comments or other input by Yuri Hiranuma, Amory B. Lovins, Benoît Pelopidas, Andrew Wood, Wenmin Yu, and others. Thank you all.

The authors wish to thank in particular Matthew McKinzie, Eva van de Rakt, Tanja Gaudian, Eva Stegen, 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, and the Swiss Renewable Energy Foundation for their generous support.

Note

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) France

Ph: +33-1-69 83 23 79

E: mycle@WorldNuclearReport.org


Antony Froggatt

53a Neville Road

London N16 8SW United Kingdom

Ph: +44-79 68 80 52 99

E: antony@froggatt.net

Table of contents

Acknowledgments

Foreword

Key Insights

Executive Summary and Conclusions

Introduction

Nuclear Power and Green Taxonomy

“And the Winner is…”

General Overview Worldwide

Production and Role of Nuclear Power

Operation, Power Generation, Age Distribution

Overview of Current New-Build

Construction Times

Construction Times of Reactors Currently Under Construction

Construction Times of Past and Currently Operating Reactors

Construction Starts & Cancellations

Operating Age

Lifetime Projections

Focus Countries

Belarus Focus

China Focus

Finland Focus

Olkiluoto-3 (OL3)

Faulty Pressurizer Safety Relief Valves

France Focus

Introduction

Worst Performance in Decades

Nuclear Unavailability Review 2020

Lifetime Extension, ASN’s Conditional Generic Approval

The Flamanville-3 EPR Saga Continued

An EPR “New Model”, an “EPR2”?

Increasing Role for Renewables Welcome

India Focus

Strong Push for Renewables

Nuclear Construction Experiencing Delays

Rising Costs

Reactor Imports Make Slow Progress

Japan Focus

Overview

Kansai Electric Dominates Nuclear Operations

Prospects for Other Additional Reactor Operations

Reactor Closures

Energy Policy Key to Nuclear Future

Prospects for Nuclear Power

South Korea Focus

Construction

Typhoon Shutdowns

Permanent Closure

Containment Liner Plate Corrosion

Wolsong Debacle and Uncertainty Over Energy Policy

Moon Administration’s Energy Policy Under Threat

Taiwan Focus

Reactor Closures

Referendum on Lungmen

Energy policy

United Kingdom Focus

Serious Ageing Issues

Pathways to Net Zero

Nuclear Newbuild

United States Focus

Overview

Extended Reactor Licenses

Reactor Closures

Reactor Construction

Guilty Pleas and On-going FBI Investigations Over V.C. Summer Project

Securing Subsidies to Prevent Closures

Ohio Corruption Scandal Terminates Nuclear Subsidies Legislation

Progress Towards Securing Federal Subsidies

Fukushima Status Report · Ten Years After

Overview of Onsite and Offsite Challenges

Introduction

Onsite Challenges

Offsite Challenges

Conclusion

Health Effects of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster

Introduction

Principles of Radiation Health Effects

Survey on Health Effects

Health Problems of Nuclear Power Plant Workers

Conclusion

Estimated Costs of Fukushima Disaster: Official and Independent Assessments

Introduction

Estimates by the Government in 2016 and 2021

An Independent Estimate by JCER in 2017

An Updated Estimate by JCER in 2019

Conclusions

Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents

Introduction

Historic Ikata Case: Japanese Supreme Court Demands High Level of Nuclear Safety

Fukushima Case: Judicial Decisions Regarding the Responsibility of TEPCO and the State

Residents Win Lawsuits, Preventing Restarts

Volcanic Controversy over the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant

Mito District Court Rules Against Restart of Tokai Daini

Conclusion

Chernobyl · 35 Years After the Disaster Began

Introduction

Onsite Challenges

New Safe Confinement (NSC)

Spent Fuel and Radioactive Waste

Tourism, Conservation, and Research

Offsite Challenges

Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy

Introduction

Literature Review

Typology of Corrupt Practices

Bribery

Grand Collusion Schemes, Counterfeiting, Fraud

Case Studies: Sabotage and Organized Crime in Japan, Russia, and the U.S.

Sabotage

Organized Crime and Nuclear Trafficking

Conclusion

Decommissioning Status Report 2021

Introduction

Elements of National Decommissioning Policies

Global Overview

Decommissioning Worldwide

Overview of Reactors with Completed Decommissioning

Overview of Reactors with Ongoing Decommissioning in 11 Selected Countries

Brief Overview of Reactors with Ongoing Decommissioning

Country Case Studies

Focus Country: Germany

United States

Canada

Japan

South Korea

France

Lithuania

Italy

United Kingdom

Spain

Russia

Conclusion on Reactor Decommissioning

Potential Newcomer Countries

Asia

Suspended or Cancelled Programs

Middle East

Continental Europe

Africa

Small Modular Reactors

Argentina

Canada

China

India

Russia

South Korea

United Kingdom

United States

Conclusion

Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy Deployment

Introduction

Investment

Technology Costs

Installed Capacity and Electricity Generation

Status and Trends in China, the European Union, India, and the United States

China

European Union

India

United States

Conclusion on Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy

Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience

Introduction

Why climatic disruptions matter?

Overview of Climatic Disruptions to the Operation of Nuclear Power Plants

Indirect climatic disruptions

Case Study France

Climate-induced Impact on Nuclear Generation in France Since 2015

Most Affected Power Plants

Causes of Climate-Induced Unavailabilities in France

Managing Climate Risks in the Future

Limited Adaptation Options for the Existing, Ageing Fleet

Factoring Climate Change into New Projects

Conclusion

Annex 1 – Overview by Region and Country

Africa

South Africa

The Americas

Argentina

Brazil

Canada

Mexico

United States

Asia & Middle East

China

Iran

Pakistan

South Korea

Taiwan

United Arab Emirates

European Union (EU27)

Western Europe

Belgium

Finland

France

Germany

Netherlands

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Central and Eastern Europe

Bulgaria

Czech Republic

Hungary

Romania

Slovakia

Slovenia

Former Soviet Union

Armenia

Russia

Ukraine

Annex 2 – Status of Japanese Nuclear Fleet

Annex 3 - Status of Nuclear Power in the World

Annex 4 – Nuclear Reactors in the World “Under Construction”

Annex 5 – Abbreviations

Annex 6 – About  the  Authors

Table of Figures

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

Figure 2 · History of National Nuclear Power Programs

Figure 3 · Nuclear Electricity Generation and Share in Global Power Generation

Figure 4 · Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Closures in the World

Figure 5 · Nuclear Power Reactor Grid Connections and Closures – The Continuing China Effect

Figure 6 · World Nuclear Reactor Fleet, 1954–

Figure 7 · Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” in the World (as of 1 July 2021)

Figure 8 · Average Annual Construction Times in the World

Figure 9 · Delays for Units Started Up 2018–

Figure 10 · Construction Starts in the World

Figure 11 · Construction Starts in the World/China

Figure 12 · Cancelled or Suspended Reactor Constructions

Figure 13 · Age Distribution of Operating Reactors in the World

Figure 14 · Reactor-Fleet Age of Top 5 Nuclear Generators

Figure 15 · Age Distribution of Closed Nuclear Power Reactors

Figure 16 · Nuclear Reactor Closure Age

Figure 17 · The 40-Year Lifetime Projection

Figure 18 · The PLEX Projection (not including LTOs)

Figure 19 · Forty-Year Lifetime Projection versus PLEX Projection

Figure 20 · Age Distribution of Chinese Nuclear Fleet

Figure 21 · Operating Fleet and Capacity in France

Figure 22 · Startups and Closures in France

Figure 23 · Nuclear Electricity Production in France 1990–2020

Figure 24 · Startups and Closures in France

Figure 25 · Reactor Outages in France in 2020 (in number of units and GWe)

Figure 26 · Forced and Planned Unavailability of Nuclear Reactors in France in 2020

Figure 27 · Age Distribution of French Nuclear Fleet (by Decade)

Figure 28 · Opinion Survey on Energy Sources in France (in 2020)

Figure 29 · Rise and Fall of the Japanese Nuclear Program

Figure 30 · Status of the Japanese Reactor Fleet

Figure 31 · Age Distribution of the Japanese Nuclear Fleet

Figure 32 · U.K. Reactor Startups and Closures

Figure 33 · Age Distribution of U.K. Nuclear Fleet

Figure 34 · Age Distribution of the U.S. Nuclear Fleet

Figure 35 · Evolution of Average Reactor Closure Age in the U.S.

Figure 36 · Timelines of 23 Reactors Subject to Early Retirement in the United States

Figure 37 · Classification of contaminated areas and grouping of patients in causal relationship analysis

Figure 38 · JCER Estimates (2019) versus Government Estimates (2016/2021)

Figure 39 · Irregularities at the French Creusot Forge

Figure 40 · Overview of Completed Reactor Decommissioning Projects, 1954–2020

Figure 41 · Progress and Status of Reactor Decommissioning, 2018–2021

Figure 42 · Global Investment Decisions in Renewables and Nuclear Power 2004–2020

Figure 43 · Regional Breakdown of Nuclear and Renewable Energy Investment Decisions 2011–2020

Figure 44 · The Declining Costs of Renewables vs. Traditional Power Sources

Figure 45 · IEA 2050 Forecasted Cost of Electricity from Nuclear and Renewables, LCOE (US$/MWh)

Figure 46 · Variation of Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the World

Figure 47 · Net Added Electricity Generation by Power Source 2010–2020

Figure 48 · Nuclear vs. Non-Hydro Renewable Electricity Production in the World

Figure 49 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in the World

Figure 50 · Nuclear vs Non-Hydro Renewables in China 2000–2020

Figure 51 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in China 2000–2020

Figure 52 · Electricity Generation in the EU27 by Fuel, 2011–2020

Figure 53 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the EU27 (Developments)

Figure 54 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Capacity and Electricity Production in the EU27 (Absolute Numbers)

Figure 55 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in India

Figure 56 · Wind, Solar and Nuclear Installed Capacity and Electricity Production in the U.S

Figure 57 · Solar Panels Over Irrigation Canals in India

Figure 58 · Attribution of climate change towards the occurrence of extreme weather events

Figure 59 · Pathways of Climate-Induced Disruptions of the Operation of Nuclear Power Plants

Figure 60 · Nuclear Power Plant Sites in France with Open and Closed Cooling Systems

Figure 61 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Power Plants 2015–2020

Figure 62 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Plants by Cause and Year

Figure 63 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Plants by Cause and Month

Figure 64 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Plants per Cause and Site

Figure 65 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Plants by Cause and Year

Figure 66 · Climate Related Unavailabilities of French Nuclear Plants – Maximum Unavailabilities

Figure 67 · The containment of one of the Fessenheim reactors is

Figure 68 · Nuclear Reactors Startups and Closures in the EU27 1959–1 July 2021

Figure 69 · Nuclear Reactors and Net Operating Capacity in the EU27

Figure 70 · Age Distribution of the EU27 Reactor Fleet

Figure 71 · Age Distribution of the Western European Reactor Fleet (incl. Switzerland and the U.K.)

Figure 72 · Main Developments of the German Power System Between 2010 and 2020

Figure 73 · Age Distribution of the Swiss Nuclear Fleet

Figure 74 · Age Distribution of the Russian Nuclear Fleet

Table of tables

Table 1 - Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2021)52

Table 2 – Duration from Construction Start to Grid Connection 2011–202056

Table 3 - Official Reactor Closures Post-3/11 in Japan (as of 1 July 2021)118

Table 4 – Status of Nuclear Reactor Fleet in South Korea (with scheduled closure dates)126

Table 5 – Expected Closure Dates of U.K. Nuclear Reactor Fleet – As of 1 July 2021135

Table 6 – 19 Early-Retirements for U.S. Reactors 2009–2025166

Table 7 – Thyroid Cancers Identified in the Fukushima Prefectural Health Management Survey184

Table 8 – Summary of Government Estimates of Fukushima Disaster Costs 2012–2021 (in US$2021 Billion)192

Table 9 – Government Cost Sharing Scheme as of 2016 (in percent)192

Table 10 – JCER Estimates (2017) versus Government Estimate (2016) (in US$2021 billion)193

Table 11 – Updated JCER’s Estimate (2019) and Original Estimate (2017)194

Table 12 – Overview of Reactor Decommissioning Worldwide (as of July 2021)236

Table 13 – Decommissioned Reactors in Germany (as of May 2021)243

Table 14 – Status of Reactor Decommissioning in Germany (as of May 2021)245

Table 15 – Status of Reactor Decommissioning in the U.S. (as of May 2021)247

Table 16 – Status of Reactor Decommissioning in France (as of May 2021)254

Table 17 – Selection of Indirect Climate-Driven Effects Disrupting Nuclear Power Plant Operation316

Table 18 – Causes for Outages and Generation Reductions at French Nuclear Fleet in 2019320

Table 19 – Status of Canadian Nuclear Fleet - PLEX and Expected Closures 347

Table 20 – Belgian Nuclear Fleet (as of 1 July 2021)357

Table 21 – Legal Closure Dates for German Nuclear Reactors 2011–2022363

Table 22 – Status of Japanese Nuclear Reactor Fleet (as of 1 July 2021)392

Table 23 – Status of Nuclear Power in the World (as of 1 July 2021)394

Table 24 – Nuclear Reactors in the World “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2021)395

Foreword

By Naoto KAN, Former Prime Minister of Japan

Ten years have now passed since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, a disaster on a scale surpassing even that of Chernobyl. The reactors in Units 1 to 3 suffered not only meltdowns, but also melt-through of the nuclear fuel, while the spent fuel pool at Unit 4 came close to evaporating entirely. Had this come to pass, it would have necessitated the evacuation of all residents within a radius of 250 kilometers – an area including the metropolis of Tokyo, the consequences of which would have been unimaginable.

Thanks to the selfless front-line work of TEPCO employees, members of the Japan Self-Defense Force, firefighters, and the police, and with vital assistance from the USA and other countries, we were able to avoid the worst-case scenario. I would like to take this opportunity to again express my sincere gratitude to all those to whom we are so deeply indebted.

As Prime Minister of Japan at the time of the disaster, I now believe that the time has come for Japan and the world to end its reliance on nuclear power. To this end, I am currently involved with various projects, working alongside my like-minded predecessor Junichiro Koizumi.

The global nuclear power situation has changed greatly in the 35 years since the Chernobyl disaster, and even in the 10 years since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster began. New nuclear construction projects are few and far-between, even in heavily-reliant countries such as France and the USA, while the number of operational reactors is in decline. On the other hand, some countries, notably China, are actively pushing ahead with the construction of new nuclear power plants. However, in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, construction costs have doubled or even tripled, and the number of new plants under construction remains limited.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) is amongst the most reliable data resources available on the subject and allows for an impartial and comprehensive understanding of the current status of nuclear power around the world. It is an invaluable tool when it comes to objectively assessing the situation faced by Japan’s own nuclear power industry.

While Japan’s power companies are still pushing to restart their existing reactors, the safety standards that must be met in order for this to happen are becoming ever-more stringent. Combined with the fact that no new facilities have entered service since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the upshot of this is that no more than ten reactors are currently operational in Japan.

Japan is looking for ways to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel-based power generation as part of the fight against climate change. However, the current Japanese administration remains committed to including nuclear power in its projections. For my part, I am doing my best to persuade the Diet [the Japanese Parliament] that Japan’s power needs can be fully met by renewable energy sources, without the need to fall back on nuclear.

Specifically, I am pushing for the large-scale rollout of solar power generation that shares space with agricultural land. This concept of “solar sharing” envisages installing solar panels three meters above the ground while continuing to use the farmland below.* The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) refers to such solar sharing schemes as “farm-type solar generation”. This approach enables solar power generation to be combined with food production. In principle, implementing such farm-type solar generation over just half of Japan’s agricultural land area would provide enough electricity to meet Japan’s entire power requirements. The MAFF is now showing enthusiasm for this concept.

Only 200 years ago, the energy consumed in Japan’s towns and cities was produced in the countryside in the form of firewood and charcoal. Over the past 200 years, our major sources of energy have transitioned through coal, oil, and nuclear technology. The rise of renewable energy in the form of farm-type solar schemes would bring energy production back to the countryside where it began.

Around once a year, I still visit the remains of the Fukushima Daiichi site. Even though ten years have passed, progress in the decommissioning process remains frustratingly slow, driving home to me the importance of avoiding any repeat of such an event. The large quantities of radioactive debris that remain within the stricken reactors continue to release alarming levels of radiation. We already know from the example of Chernobyl that the timescale needed for this nuclear waste to drop to safe radioactivity levels will be measured in terms of centuries.

It is my wish that the WNISR will reach an ever-increasing audience of people around the world as they switch their focus to the nuclear industry.

Key Insights

Capacity Up, Production Down

  • China passes France and becomes Number 2 in the World.
  • As of mid-2021, 33 countries operated 415 nuclear reactors, up seven units compared to mid-2020—but still below mid-2019 and 23 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438.
  • In 2020, globally, five reactors started up including first ones in Belarus and UAE – eight less than scheduled as of mid-2019. Six units closed.
  • The total operating nuclear capacity increased by 1.9 percent from one year earlier to reach 369 GW as of mid-2021, a new mid-year peak just above the record of 367 GW in 2006.
  • In 2020, nuclear power generation decreased—for the first time since 2012—by over 100 TWh or more than the individual national production of 28 of the 33 nuclear countries.
  • Excluding China, nuclear power generation dropped to the lowest level since 1995. The nuclear share in the electricity mix in France dropped to the lowest level since 1985.
  • For the first time, China generated more nuclear electricity than France and becomes the second largest nuclear generator in the world behind the United States.
  • The mean age of the world’s nuclear fleet has increased steadily since 1984 and now stands at about 31 years with one in five units reaching 41 years or more.
  • Nuclear energy’s share of global gross electricity generation continues its slow but steady decline from a peak of 17.5 percent in 1996 with a share of 10.1 percent in 2020.

China Continues to Dominate Domestic Nuclear Development… On a Lower Level

  • Nuclear generation in China increased by 4.4 percent, the lowest growth rate since 2009.
  • One third or 18 of the 53 units listed under construction in the world as of mid-2021 are in China. The global total remains well below the 69 units at the end of 2013.
  • In 2020, construction began on five reactors globally including four in China and one in Turkey.
  • China General Nuclear Corp. (CGN) abandoned nuclear export ambitions entirely.
  • China missed its 5-Year nuclear targets of 58 GW installed and 30 GW under construction but expanded wind power capacity by over 70 GW and solar by almost 50 GW in 2020 alone.
  • Russia is involved in 17 of the 53 construction projects in 8 of the 17 countries building

Chernobyl 5 Years After the Disaster Began

  • Most of the 6,800 thyroid-cancer patients of the first 20 years survived but at a high price.
  • Food contamination persists in large areas of Europe, e.g. in Germany exceeding legal limits.
  • A New Safe Confinement (NSC), an arch-like structure, covers Unit 4 since November 2016.
  • Dismantling of Units 1–3, undamaged in 1986, is to take at least until 2065.
  • Visitors to the Chernobyl site—the Ukrainian government seeks UN World Heritage status—went from 1,000 in 2004 to 200,000 in 2019.

Fukushima Status Report Ten Years After

Onsite. The highly controversial plan to release more than 1 million m³ of contaminated water into the ocean is conditioned on re-processing at least 70 percent of the water and the dilution of all of it by a factor of 100. The operation would take at least three decades.

Health. As of July 2021, 218 persons—children at the time of exposure—were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The number of cases is several dozen times higher than expected.

  • The cancer incidence amongst residents clearly increases with the level of environmental contamination. No health survey on any group of workers has been released.
  • In total, the number of officially recognized “disaster-related deaths” following evacuation in the prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi reached 3,717, of which almost two thirds in Fukushima. That is very high, considering its share of deaths due to earthquake and tsunami was only 10 percent.

Costs. The Japanese government released a new cost estimate of the disaster tripling a 2012-estimate and reaching US$2021223.1 billion. An independent assessment established a range of US$322–758 billion largely depending on the kind of water and waste treatment and disposal.

Judicial. Numerous legal cases have been filed and many are ongoing including a lawsuit to clarify the civil liability of TEPCO executives for the Fukushima disaster.

  • Lawsuits have been filed against all operating reactors and restart attempts by nuclear operators except for one. As of April 2021, there have been eight court decisions that have suspended the operation of nuclear power plants.

Many Construction Delays Worsened
Construction Time of Latest Reactors Improved

  • At least 31 of the 53 units under construction are behind schedule; 13 have reported increased delays and four have had documented delays for the first time over the past year.
  • In 10 cases (19 percent), first construction starts date back a decade or more, including two units that had construction starts 36 years ago and one unit that goes back 45 years.

Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy

  • The nuclear sector appears to have a problem of multiple forms of criminal activities.
  • Some problems date back decades or have been ongoing for decades. Organized-crime organizations in Japan have been supplying workers to nuclear sites for over a decade.
  • Serious insider sabotage has occured in major nuclear countries (e.g. Belgium) in recent years.
  • Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index rates half of the 35 countries operating or constructing nuclear power plants on their territory below 50 out of 100.
  • In the Bribery Payers Index, seven out of the ten worst rated countries amongst a total of 28 surveyed operate or are building nuclear power plants on their territory.

Renewables Continue to Thrive

  • Total investment in new-renewable electricity exceeded US$300 billion again, 17 times the reported global investment decisions for nuclear power.
  • Renewables proved highly resilient against the global pandemic and yet another record 256 GW of non-hydro renewables were added to the world’s power grids in 2020. Wind added 111 GW and solar 127 GW. Nuclear power added a net 0.4 GW (startups vs. closures).
  • Since 2009, levelized cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 90 percent, wind by 70 percent, while nuclear increased by 33 percent.
  • In the European Union, renewables for the first time overtook fossil fuels to become the primary source of power in 2020 which is also the first year that non-hydro renewables generated more power than nuclear reactors.

Executive Summary and Conclusions

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021 (WNISR2021) provides a comprehensive overview of nuclear power plant data, including information on age, operation, production, and construction of reactors. As 2021 is the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, this year’s report analyzes in more detail the onsite/offsite status, including the issues of contaminated water and waste management, health consequences, cost estimates and legal cases. A dedicated chapter assesses the lasting impacts of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine 35 years later.

As the world continues to struggle with a global pandemic, record temperatures, wildfires, flooding, and other extreme weather events, WNISR2021 presents a first look at Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience including a case study on France.

WNISR has reported for years about irregularities, fraud, counterfeiting, corruption, and other criminal activities in the nuclear sector. WNISR2021 has, for the first time, dedicated an entire chapter to Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy documenting multiple criminal activities associated with nuclear power in many countries.

The WNISR assesses the status of new-build programs in the 33 nuclear countries (as of mid-2021) as well as in potential newcomer countries. WNISR2021 includes sections on ten Focus Countries representing about two-thirds of the global fleet and four of the five largest nuclear power producers. The Decommissioning Status Report 2021 provides an overview of the current state of nuclear reactors that have been permanently closed. The chapter on Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy Deployment offers comparative data on investment, capacity, and generation from nuclear, wind and solar energy, as well as other renewables 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. WNISR2019 noted 13 reactors scheduled for startup in 2020; only three of these units did so, while the other 10 were delayed at least into 2021. Two additional reactors started up that were not on the list. Four units were commissioned in the first half of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted some of the commissioning schedules.

Closures.1 Six units were closed in 2020, two each in France and in the U.S., and one each in Russia and Sweden. In the first half of 2021, two units were closed, in Taiwan and in the U.S.

Over the two decades 2001–2020, there were 95 startups and 98 closures in the world. As there were 47 startups and no closures in China over the period, the 98 closures outside China were only matched by 48 startups, a drastic decline by 50 units over the period.

Operation & Construction Data2

Reactor Operation and Production. As of 1 July 2021, 33 countries operated 415 nuclear reactors—excluding Long-Term Outages (LTOs)—up seven units compared to WNISR20203 but still two below mid-2019, three less than in 1989 and 23 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438. Two countries, Belarus and the United Arab Emirates, started up their first reactors.

A total of 26 units were in LTO, five less than in WNISR2020, of which 24 in Japan and one each in India and South Korea, all of which are considered operating by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The total operating capacity increased by 1.9 percent from one year earlier to reach a record 369 GW as of mid-2021, just above the previous maximum of 367 GW in 2006.4

In 2020, nuclear power generation decreased for the first time since 2012 (by 104 TWh or 3.9 percent). Annual nuclear electricity generation declined to 2,553 net terawatt-hours (TWh or billion kilowatt-hours) in 2020, a 3.9 percent drop over the previous year. Outside of China, nuclear power generation dropped by 5.1 percent to the lowest level since 1995.

For the first time, China generated more nuclear electricity than France.

The “big five” nuclear generating countries—by rank, the United States, China, France, Russia, and South Korea—generated 72 percent, the top three alone count for 58 percent of all nuclear electricity in the world in 2020.

Share in Electricity/Energy Mix. Nuclear energy’s share of global gross electricity generation lost the 0.2-percentage-point increase of 2019 and returned to its slow but steady decline from a peak of 17.5 percent in 1996 with a share of 10.1 percent in 2020.

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-2021 reached 30.9 years. The mean age of the world’s fleet has been increasing since 1984.

A total of 278 reactors, two-thirds of the world’s operating fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 89—more than one in five—that have operated for 41 years or more; six units have operated for 51 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 123 reactors or 95 GW— one unit or 0.8 GW per month—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 current decade, the need to more than double the annual building rate of the past decade from 6 to 12. 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 23 units taken off the grids between 2016 and 2020 was 42.6 years.

Construction. Seventeen countries are currently building nuclear power plants. As of 1 July 2021, 53 reactors were under construction—one more than WNISR reported for mid2020, but 16 fewer than in 2013—of which 18 are in China with with a total capacity of 17 GW.

Total capacity under construction in the world increased by 0.5 GW to 54 GW. The current average time since work started at the 53 units under construction is 7 years compared to 7.3 years one year ago and 6.2 years as of mid-2017. Many units are still years away from completion.

  • All reactors under construction in at least 12 of the 17 countries have experienced, mostly year-long, delays. At least 31 of the building projects are delayed.
  • Of the 31 reactors clearly documented as behind schedule, at least 13 have reported increased delays and four have reported new delays over the past year.
  • Thirteen reactors were scheduled for startup during 2020, but only five did.
  • Construction starts of two projects date back 36 years. Firstly, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, where their startup has been further delayed, currently to late 2021 and 2023 respectively. Secondly, Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, 45 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
  • Five additional reactors have been listed as “under construction” for a decade or more: the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) and Kakrapar-4 in India, Olkiluoto-3 (OL3) in Finland, Shimane-3 in Japan, and Flamanville-3 (FL3) in France. 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.
  • Ten countries completed 63 reactors—with 37 in China—over the past decade, with an average time between construction start and grid connection of 10 years.

Construction Starts & New-Build Issues

Construction Starts. In 2020, construction began on five reactors—four in China and one in Turkey—and in the first half of 2021 on six units, of which three in China. This compares to 15 construction starts in 2010. Construction starts peaked in 1976 at 44.

Over the decade 2011–2020, construction began on 57 reactors in the world, of which three have been abandoned. As of mid-2021, only 15 have started up, while 39 remain under construction.

Construction Cancellations. Between 1970 and mid-2021, a total of 93 or one in eight of a total of 783 constructions were abandoned or suspended in 19 countries at various stages of advancement.

Focus Countries

The following ten Focus Countries covered in depth in this report represent almost one third of the nuclear countries hosting about two-thirds of the global reactor fleet. Key facts for year 2020:

Belarus. On 3 November 2020, the country connected its first reactor Belarusian-1 at Ostrovets to the grid and became the 33rd country operating nuclear power plants. The plant is highly controversial amongst neighboring countries, and the European Commission has called for safety upgrades.

China. Nuclear power generation grew by 4.4 percent in 2020, the lowest annual growth rate since 2009, but China overtook France as the second largest nuclear generator in the world nevertheless.

Finland. The Olkiluoto-3 EPR project was delayed again, this time “due to extension of turbine overhaul”. According to an announcement from August 2021, “regular production of electricity” will not happen before June 2022, 13 years after the original planned startup date.5

France. Nuclear plants generated almost 12 percent less power than in 2019, representing 67 percent of the country’s electricity, the lowest share since 1985. Outages at zero capacity cumulated 6,475 reactor-days or almost one third of the year per reactor on average. The Flamanville-3 EPR project was delayed again and is now scheduled for startup at mid-2023. Meanwhile, as of the end of 2020, the national utility EDF’s competitors had captured half of the commercial customers and 26 percent of the residential clients.

India. Kakrapar-3 eventually started operating in January 2021 after over 10 years of construction. Nuclear plants generate 3 percent of the country’s electricity. Solar plants and wind turbines each generate more power than nuclear plants. Both technologies together generate three times as much electricity as nuclear plants.

Japan. Nuclear plants generated 5 percent of the electricity in the country, down from 7.5 percent in 2019. As of mid-2021, ten reactors had restarted at some point but hardly produced simultaneously. One returned to LTO status. For six weeks in November-December 2020, only one unit was operating.

South Korea. For the second year in a row, nuclear power output increased by almost 10 percent following a significant decline in the years after 2015 and supplied 29.6 percent of the country’s electricity. According to the ninth energy plan, the country will reduce nuclear’s role to providing just 10 percent of power by 2034. However, that policy could be overturned following the next elections.

Taiwan. Another reactor was closed in July 2021, and the remaining three are to be closed by 2025. With the reelection in 2020 of President Tsai Ing-wen, the phaseout policy has been maintained. Nuclear’s share in electricity generation has already declined from 41 percent 1988 to 13 percent in 2020.

United Kingdom. Nuclear generation decreased another 11 percent while renewable power generation increased by 11 percent. Two reactors in LTO were closed. Four more units are slated for closure before mid-July 2022. The fleet’s aging units, over 37 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). The projected startup of Unit 1 of Hinkley Point C has been delayed to mid-2026 and the cost estimate raised again.

United States. The nuclear fleet continues to age, with a mid-2021 average of 40.7 years, exceeding 40 years for the first time. Nuclear units have increasing difficulties to 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, the “bailouts” of four reactors are likely to be reversed. Many other units remain threatened with early closure for economic reasons. The former CEO of nuclear utility SCANA pleaded guilty to conspiracy fraud charges involving a cover-up of financial problems with the now abandoned V.C. Summer construction project. Westinghouse’s most senior executive managing the project was charged with the felony offence of lying to the FBI over his role in the scandal.

Fukushima Status Report – Ten Years After

Ten 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.

This anniversary edition goes beyond the traditional overview of onsite and offsite challenges and provides dedicated sections to the complex issue of health effects, cost assessments and judicial decisions on the responsibilities of operator and the state for the disaster, and on the conditions of reactor restarts.

Overview of Onsite and Offsite Challenges

Onsite Challenges

Spent Fuel Removal from the pool of Unit 3 was completed in February 2021. Units 1 and 2 have not gone beyond the preparatory stage.

Fuel Debris Removal, planned to start with Unit 2 by 2021, has been delayed by “about one year due to the spread of COVID-19”.

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 bypass system and the pumping of groundwater had 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, and to 228 m3/day as of mid-2021. An equivalent amount of water is partially decontaminated and stored in 1,000-m3 tanks. Thus, a new tank is needed every 4.5 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. If implemented, at least about 70 percent of the water has to be processed again, and all of it must be diluted by a factor of 100. The operation would take at least three decades.

Worker Health. As of February 2021, there were close to 7,000 workers involved in decommissioning work on-site, 86 percent of whom were subcontractors; only the remaining 14 percent worked for Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Offsite Challenges

Amongst the offsite issues are the future of tens of thousands of evacuees, food contamination, and the management of decontamination wastes. Separate sections are dedicated to health consequences, legal issues, and cost assessments of the Fukushima disaster.

Evacuees. As of April 2021, about 35,500 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 2.5 percent of the people returned to Okuma Town and 9.2 percent to Tomioka Town.

Food Contamination. According to official statistics, among 54,412 samples taken in the first 11 months of FY 2020 (five times less than in FY2019), a total of only 127 food items were identified as being contaminated beyond legal limits. As of March 2021, post-3/11 import restrictions remain in place in 14 countries/regions (six less than a year earlier), including the E.U.

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 April 2021, around 76 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 retransported to a final repository.

Health Effects

In the immediate aftermath of 3/11, the Japanese government increased the public exposure dose limit by a factor of 20 from 1 to 20 millisieverts per year. In March 2017, the government terminated housing support for evacuees from outside specific evacuation zones to encourage residents to return to (what is left of) their homes.

The Fukushima accidents did not lead to cases of acute radiation deaths but to lower-level radiation exposure of large numbers of people as well as several thousand casualties from indirect effects following evacuation.

Thyroid Radiation Dosimetry and Potassium Iodine. According to the results of the body surface screenings, at least 1,000 evacuees received dose levels at the thyroid exceeding 100 millisievert that should have led to decontamination and intake of potassium iodine. However, this did not happen. Instructions by the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) for iodine distribution got lost and only about 10,000 people took iodine on the initiative of the heads of four towns.

Thyroid Examination Program. About 380,000 children at the age of 18 or younger (including in utero) at the time of the accidents are eligible for the program. As of July 2021, a total of 260 malignant or suspected malignant cases were detected: 219 underwent surgery, and 218 were diagnosed as cancer. The number of cases is several dozen times higher than usual. In addition, an NGO revealed that there are at least 19 additional, unreported thyroid cancer cases and possibly twice as many which would mean that one in eight cases had not been included in the official results.

Causal Relationship Between Thyroid Dose and Cancer Incidence. Measurements of children’s thyroid doses started only two weeks after the release (iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days). Only about 1,000 children were measured at a distance beyond 30 kilometers with high environmental contamination. The cancer incidence clearly increases with the level of environmental contamination. Exposure levels were estimated and segmented by the Oversight Committee on the basis of aircraft measurements in the evacuation zone and three regions outside. The causal relationship that is clearly visible when the exposure doses are segmented by contaminated area incorrectly seems to disappear when the doses were segmented according to the UNSCEAR estimate based on the calculated sum of external and internal exposure for two different age groups.

Other Cancer Cases and Other Disaster Related Deaths. While mortality rates decreased and morbidity rates have remained flat or decreased in nine other prefectures, incidence rates in Fukushima Prefecture seem to be on the rise since 2012 for thyroid, cervical, prostate, and breast cancer. No increase in congenital anomalies have been reported. Deaths from heart attack increased by 10-20 percent in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 for both men and women in the age groups of 40-69, and 70 and over. In total, the number of officially recognized “disaster related deaths”6 following evacuation in the prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi reached 3,717 of which almost two thirds in Fukushima. That is very high, considering its share of deaths due to earthquake and tsunami was only 10 percent.

Health Issues of Nuclear Power Plant Workers. Amongst the almost 25,000 workers who have worked onsite in the six months following 3/11, the maximum documented exposure dose was 679 mSv, and 174 workers (0.7 percent) are documented to have been exposed to more than 100 mSv. The average exposure dose was 12.4 mSv. Reliability of these values is highly questionable as, at least for two months, the doses were only measured in groups due to the lack of individual dosimeters. In addition to the radiological impact of the ongoing decommissioning work, workers are exposed during handling, shipment and storage of millions of cubic meters of contaminated soil. No health survey on any group of workers has been released over the past decade.

Cost Estimates

Ten years after 3/11, disaster response remains decades away from completing the essential clean-up and mitigation tasks. Cost estimates are therefore essentially hypothetical. However, the government has recently offered an updated estimate that can be compared to an independent assessment by the Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER), an established independent economic think tank.

Government Estimates for 3/11 disaster-related costs covering decommissioning, decontamination, and compensation rose from US$202174.3 billion in 2012 to US$2021223.1 billion in 2021. Decommissioning increased by a factor of five to US$202175 billion and compensation by 26 percent to US$202174 billion. Decontamination, not even factored into the first estimate, represents US$202152.5 billion and a new position for “others” comes in with US$202121.6 billion.

JCER Estimates released in 2019 range from US$322 billion to US$758 billion covering in three scenarios decontamination with US$186 billion and compensation with US$96 billion while decommissioning costs vary from US$40 billion (if delayed to 2050, not including post-2050 costs) to US$476 billion. The range of decommissioning costs largely depends on the quantity and type of contaminated water treatment with the upper number including tritium removal.

The biggest difference between the government and JCER estimates comes from the fact that the official estimate does not include final disposal costs for radioactive waste generated by decommissioning and decontamination.

Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents

Over the past decade, many court cases have been filed by citizens around nuclear power issues. The most significant lawsuits include attempts to establish a link between the responsibilities for the disaster and complaints filed against Fukushima owner-operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese Government. In addition, cases have been filed against all operating reactors and restart attempts by nuclear operators except for one (Higashidori).

Government Responsibility. Judicial decisions are divided: the September 2020 Sendai High-Court decision and the February 2021 Tokyo High-Court decision acknowledged government responsibility while a separate February 2021 Tokyo High-Court decision rejected the responsibility of the state. All three of these cases have been appealed, and the Supreme Court’s decisions are expected to be issued within the coming year.

TEPCO Criminal Case. In September 2019, the Tokyo District Court acquitted three TEPCO executives from criminal responsibility for manslaughter through the Fukushima disaster.

TEPCO Civil Liability Case. The TEPCO shareholder representative lawsuit to clarify the civil liability of TEPCO executives for the Fukushima disaster is still underway.

Lawsuits Against Reactor Operation and Restarts. As of April 2021, there have been eight court decisions that have accepted the opinions of plaintiffs and suspended the operation of nuclear power plants, including the following:

  • In April 2015, the Fukui District Court issued a provisional injunction order against the operation of Takahama Units 3 and 4, thereby forcing the shutdown of actually operating reactors.
  • In December 2017, the Hiroshima High Court, presided by Judge Tomoyuki Nonoue, issued a provisional injunction against the operation of Unit 3 of the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, for a limited nine-month period.
  • In January 2020, the Hiroshima High Court granted an injunction against the operation of the Ikata nuclear power plant.
  • In December 2020, the Osaka District Court ruled to revoke the license for the modification of the installation of Units 3 and 4 of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant. This was the first time since 3/11 that residents’ claims have been accepted in an administrative lawsuit.
  • In March 2021, the Mito District Court issued an injunction against the restart of the Tokai Daini nuclear power plant—directly impacted by 3/11—for the first time, on the grounds of a missing credible evacuation plan.

Chernobyl – 35 Years After the Disaster Began

Thirty-five years ago, on 26 April 1986, the world witnessed its worst nuclear power plant accident. Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a critical power excursion. Within seconds, nominal energy output of the reactor core surged by a factor of more than 100, followed by a steam and then a hydrogen explosion that tore through the roof of the reactor building. About 40 percent of European territory has been contaminated, potentially affecting some 400 million people. To date, in some regions, radioactivity levels in various food stuffs remain above legal limits. Nevertheless, much has changed in three and a half decades.

Offsite Challenges

  • The death toll of the disaster remains controversial. Prior to 2005 only some 50 deaths were directly attributed to the accident. In 2006, a WHO-IAEA study estimated 9,000 excess cancer deaths. U.S. nuclear physicist Richard Garwin estimated 24,000 and other independent experts 40,000 excess cancers over the coming 50 years. Russian and Belarussian scientists claimed that Chernobyl’s death toll from radiation-related diseases would even surpass 200,000 in Europe and approach 20,000 in the rest of the world.
  • The health detriments obviously do not all entail death. Most of the 6,800 thyroid-cancer patients in the first 20 years following the accident survived but suffered physical and psychological harm. There are contradicting studies about transgenerational effects.
  • Abortions sky-rocketed in the aftermath of the accident. The IAEA estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 abortions were related to Chernobyl radiation concerns in the year following the accident in Western Europe alone.
  • Psychological trauma caused by the disaster, resettlement, loss of community and livelihood, resulted in significantly higher rates of mental illness, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. There is also evidence of direct neuropsychiatric effects of ionizing radiation on the brain. In 2018, the Ukrainian government reported estimates that mental illness was about twice as prevalent and by some estimates suicide rates are as much as 20 times higher among the Chernobyl liquidators compared to the general population. In Ukraine, 20 years after the Chernobyl disaster began, some 83 percent of the population affected by the accident had experienced some form of adverse health consequences; 92 percent among liquidators.
  • Persisting food contamination remains widespread in Europe. In southern Germany, for example, wild game and mushrooms are still found contaminated with caesium-137 to several times the legal limits for sales.

Onsite Challenges

  • A New Safe Confinement (NSC), an arch-like structure, covers Unit 4 since November 2016. The arch is the largest land-based movable structure ever built. The NSC is meant to hermetically seal off Unit 4 from the environment and has a projected lifetime of at least 100 years.
  • Dismantling of Units 1–3 is estimated to take at least until 2065.
  • Spent fuel, some 21,000 assemblies or 2,500 tons, from the four Chernobyl units has been moved from reactor pools to a centralized five-pool interim storage facility. Then, it is to be transferred to a centralized dry store that received the operating license in April 2021.
  • Visitors to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone—the Ukrainian government seeks UN World Heritage status for it—went from 1,000 in 2004 to 200,000 in 2019.
  • Wildlife Refuge? Significant media coverage has been dedicated to the return of wildlife following the depopulation of the zone; but its abundance has likely been significantly tempered by radiation effects. Studies across some 30 species, found an unusually high rate of radiation-related genetic mutation and suggest that transgenerational population-wide effect of radioactive contamination could be significant.
  • Wildfires, once a rarity, have become more frequent in the exclusion zone, often due to arson, reactivating radionuclides and significantly increasing ambient radioactivity.

Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy

A stunning number of revelations in recent years on irregularities, fraud, counterfeiting, bribery, corruption, sabotage, theft, and other criminal activities in the nuclear industry in various countries suggest that there is a systemic issue of “criminal energy” in the sector.

While WNISR has reported for years about illegal and criminal practices, WNISR2020 mentions “corrupt” 14 times in connection with corruption cases involving nine countries on four continents.

This is the first systematic international analysis of the issue within the framework of this annual report. Although not comprehensive, this analysis offers several noteworthy insights:

  • Criminal activities in the nuclear sector are not new. Some major scandals date back decades or have been ongoing for decades.
  • Organized crime organizations have been supplying workers to nuclear sites—e.g. the Yakuza in Japan—for over a decade.
  • Serious insider sabotage has hit major nuclear countries in recent years—like a Belgian nuclear power plant—without ever leading to arrests.
  • There is no systematic, comprehensive, public database on the issue.
  • In 2019, the IAEA released a report on cases of counterfeit or fraudulent items in at least seven countries since at least the 1990s.
  • In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index about half of the 35 countries operating or constructing nuclear power plants on their territory rate under 50 out of 100.
  • In the Bribery Payers Index (BPI, last published in 2011), seven out of the ten worst rated countries operate or are building nuclear power plants on their territory.
  • The first part focuses on 14 cases with serious implications (safety, public governance) that came to trial in the period 2010–2020 either involving companies from or having taken place in the 2020 Top-8 nuclear power fleets (by operating capacity)7 including the following:
    • International (Ukraine/Czech Republic), Energoatom/Skoda, October 2020—A Swiss court sentenced Mykola Martynenko, a former Ukrainian member of parliament and chair of the energy committee, to a 28-month prison term for aggravated money laundering through Swiss banks.
    • Japan, KEPCO, September 2019—A Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) internal investigation revealed that the utility’s President and 19 other employees received cash and gifts worth US$3 million from former Deputy Mayor Eiji Moriyama who aimed to encourage KEPCO to work with local suppliers he had ties with.
    • France, AREVA, 2016—AREVA informed the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) about “irregularities in the manufacturing checks” at its Creusot Forge, including “inconsistencies, modifications or omissions in the production files, concerning manufacturing parameters or test results” for about 400 components fabricated since 1969. EDF subsequently identified 2,982 “anomalies” in the manufacturing documentation related to parts already installed in 58 French reactors.
    • International (Russia/U.S.), Rosatom, 2015—Former President of U.S.-based Rosatom subsidiary TENAM, Vadim Mikerin, received a 4-year prison sentence for his participation in a US$2.1-million bribery scheme involving several American companies and Rosatom officials.
    • International (China, South Korea, U.S.), 2012—CEO and five executives of Control Component Inc. (CCI), an American control valve manufacturer, received up to 5-year prison sentences each, for making “236 corrupt payments to officers and employees of state-owned and private companies in thirty-six countries totalling approximately [US]$6.85 million and earned approximately [US]$46.5 million in net profits from the sales related to those corrupt payments.”
    • South Korea, November 2012—Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) reported fraudulent documents on equipment qualification in 60 procurement contracts involving 7,682 items.
  • The second part provides a cross-country comparison of events involving sabotage and organized crime on nuclear power plant sites in Japan, Russia, and the U.S. including:
    • Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, Japan, October 2014—Yuuki Sagawa, a member of the Matsuba Kai mob was arrested in 2014 for brokering unlicensed workers to Fukushima cleanup operations. In May 2012, Makoto Owada, high-ranking member of Sumiyoshi-kai, the second largest Yakuza group in the country, was arrested for the same crime.
    • St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, U.S., August 1996—Employees glued backup switches in a high security area during a labor strike over their working conditions. The month before, it had been discovered that padlocks and doors had also been glued.

Decommissioning Status Report

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. Note that waste management is not part of this decommissioning analysis.

  • As of mid-2021, 196 reactors were closed, seven more than a year earlier, of which 176 are awaiting or are in various stages of decommissioning including 74 in long-term enclosure.
  • Only 20 units have been technically fully decommissioned, no change over the situation 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 for unrestricted use.
  • The average duration of the decommissioning process is about 20 years, with a large range of 6–42 years (both extremes for very small reactors with respectively 22 MW and 17 MW).
  • The analysis of 11 major nuclear countries shows that progress in decommissioning projects remains slow: of 169 closed units, 57 are in the “warm-up stage” and only 10 are in the “hot-zone stage”.
  • None of the early nuclear states—U.K., France, Russia, and Canada—have fully decommissioned a single reactor yet.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRS)

Following assessments of the development status and prospects of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in earlier WNISR editions, this year’s update does not reveal any major advances but some modest progress.

Argentina. The CAREM-25 project under construction since 2014 is reportedly 58 percent complete. COVID-19 led to a provisional complete construction stop. Completion shall take another three years.

Canada. There is strong federal and provincial government support for the idea to promote SMRs. The federal Minister of Natural Resource released an action plan aiming at “first units in operation by the late 2020s”. Various models are being investigated. Two designs (Moltex SSR-W300, Hotec’s SMR-160) completed Phase 1 review process by the safety authorities with numerous issues remaining to be solved.

China. Two 100 MW high-temperature reactor modules have been under construction at one site since 2012. Startup has been delayed several times and is still planned for 2021, four years later than scheduled. The module size shall be increased to 600 MW in a second project, which would be twice the 300 MW maximum for the SMR label. Construction of a reactor with another design called ACP100 is believed to have commenced, but it was never officially report; according to the promoter, the cost per kilowatt would be two times higher than that of a large reactor.

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. After a construction lasting four times longer than planned, two “floating reactors” were connected to the grid in December 2019. The costs per unit of generation capacity has been estimated at about twice as high as that of the most expensive Generation III reactors. Performance in 2020 was poor with load factors of 29 percent and 16 percent. Construction of a 300 MW lead-cooled fast reactor got underway.

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 there have been no orders, because it is not cost-competitive. Saudi-Arabian engineers are assisting in the redesign of a larger model.

United Kingdom. The government to provide up to US$0.5 billion for SMR development in as part of an “Advanced Nuclear Fund”. Rolls-Royce, the only company that has demonstrated interest, has recently increased the capacity of its pre-design to 470 MW, thus beyond the SMR size. The general design is to be submitted to the regulator in the second half of 2021.

United States. The Department of Energy (DOE) has funded companies promoting SMR development. A single design by NuScale has received a final safety evaluation report by the regulator. However, the capacity of the design has been increased by 25 percent and the modifications need to be certified by the regulator. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of eight municipalities leaves NuScale with less than one ninth of the output of a typical 12-module plant under tentative contract.

Overall, there are additional delays in development and construction, and no new design certifications beyond an already outdated NuScale design in the U.S. There are thus no new signs that of a major breakthrough for SMRs, neither technologically nor commercially.

Nuclear Power vs. Renewable Energy Deployment

Renewable energy deployment and generation has far better resisted the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic than the nuclear power sector. In 2020, nuclear power added net 0.4 GW (+startups, -closures) while renewable capacity increased by a record 256 GW (+30 percent); nuclear production dropped 4 percent while non-hydro renewables increased 13 percent.

Costs. Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis shows that between 2009 and 2020, utility-scale solar costs came down 90 percent and wind 70 percent, while new nuclear costs increased by 33 percent. The gap has continued to widen between 2019 and 2020.

Investment. In 2020, for the second time in a row, and the fourth time after 2015 and 2017, the total investment in non-hydro renewable electricity capacity exceeded US$300 billion, almost 17 times the reported global investment decisions for the construction of nuclear power of around US$18 billion for 5 GW. Investment in nuclear power is one eighth of the individual investments in wind (US$142 billion) and solar (US$149 billion).

Installed Capacity. In 2020, wind nearly doubled its annual expansion with 111 GW and solar-photovoltaics (PV) added 127 GW (+22.5 percent), both new record levels, largely contributing to the new global record of 256 GW of non-hydro renewables added to the world’s power grids. These numbers compare to a net 0.4 GW addition in nuclear power capacity.

Electricity Generation. In 2020, annual growth for global electricity generation from solar was 21 percent, and 12 percent for wind power, but nuclear generation dropped by 4 percent. Non-hydro electricity generation outperformed nuclear power production by 16.5 percent.

Low-Carbon Power. Compared to 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, in 2020 an additional 1,580 TWh of wind power was produced globally and 855 TWh of solar PV electricity, compared to nuclear’s additional 289 TWh (net). Compared to 2010, thus prior to 3/11, non-hydro renewables generated 2,386 TWh more electricity, hydro 861 TWh more while nuclear power generated 68 TWh less.

Share in Power Mix. After experiencing the strongest annual growth on record, the share in power generation from new renewables (excluding hydro) reached 10.7 percent, widening the gap with nuclear energy’s shrinking share at 10.1 percent.

In China, electricity production of 466 TWh from wind alone again by far exceeded the 366 TWh from nuclear, while solar power is already at 261 TWh. Solar and wind combined generate twice as much electricity as all nuclear plants put together.

In India, generation from wind and solar individually outpaced nuclear by 50 percent; combined they produced in excess of three times as much electricity as nuclear power plants.

In the European Union, renewables including hydro for the first time overtook fossil fuels to become the primary source of power in 2020 contributing 38 percent to the mix with fossil fuels covering 37 percent and nuclear 25 percent. 2020 is also the first year that non-hydro renewables generated more power than nuclear reactors.

In the United States, nuclear generation declined by 3.6 percent to the lowest level since 2012, due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and competition from other sources. In contrast, the U.S. generated a record amount of renewable electricity in 2020, about 12 percent of the total vs. 20 percent for nuclear. Wind power output increased by 14 percent in 2020, while the generation of solar increased by 22 percent.

Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience

Recent studies have generated evidence that energy generation and services are increasingly disrupted by climate change through the increase in the variability, intensity, and predictability of weather conditions. Power-system resilience can be broadly defined as the ability to cope with, recover from, and minimize the impact of various types of potentially disruptive developments or events. The special focus chapter on the issue of Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience provides an overview of problems all electricity generating technologies and grid systems are facing and a case study on France.

  • The operations of all thermal power plants are most frequently vulnerable to ambient and water temperature variations. Nuclear plants are especially vulnerable to droughts.
  • The most vulnerable renewable energy source to climate change is hydropower, which is expected given the high dependency on water availability. Wind energy output is strongly dependent on the wind density at given wind turbine sites. Solar energy output is dependent on the cloudiness and ambient temperature. The efficiency of solar panels decreases as the ambient temperature increases.
  • High ambient temperature levels lead to greater transmission and distribution losses. For every 5°C air temperature-increase, research has found, the capacity of a fully loaded transmission line would be diminished by an average of 7.5 percent. Wildfires can also severely impact the grid.

Overview of specific challenges to nuclear facilities. There are two main pathways:

  • Thermal Disruptions, driven by droughts and heatwaves, include outages that result from the limitation on evacuating the thermal power generated within the reactor, triggering either reduced power output or a full outage at zero capacity.
    • In Europe, temperature extremes are the main contributor to climatic disruptions. Over the past two decades, heatwaves have frequently forced shutdown or curtailment of nuclear power reactors, the largest of which were observed in 2003, 2006, 2015 and 2018.
  • Severe Storm Pathway, including outages triggered by violent storms like hurricanes or typhoons, often accompanied by floods, lightning, etc., that can impact in particular the electrical power supply systems at the power plant.
    • Nuclear power plants in North America and East Asia, are particularly susceptible to suffer from cyclone activity.

Indirect climate driven effects, and nuclear facilities other than reactors:

  • Indirect Climate-Driven Effects impacting nuclear power plant operation include jellyfish proliferation that can block the inlet of cooling water channels, wildfires that can necessitate plant evacuation, floods that can cut power supply, road access, and sea level rise that can lead to the intensification of storms.
  • WNISR does not cover fuel chain facilities such as uranium mining, nuclear fuel production, spent fuel reprocessing, waste management and disposal facilities. However, it should be noted that all of them are at risk of being affected by climate change induced events.

Case Study France – Historic and Recent Events

  • First weather-related disruptions of nuclear power production reported as early as 1976. In August 2003, 10–15 GW or 16–24 percent of total installed nuclear capacity was unavailable due to high temperatures.
  • Recent incidents include the unavailability of three out of four 900 MW Blayais reactors in the Bordeaux region in March 2021 due to an accumulation of foreign matter disabling their pumping stations (fouling) and a one-month shutdown of the two 1450 MW units in Chooz at the Belgian border caused by the low level of the Meuse River in August–September 2020.

Case Study France – Impact on Nuclear Generation 2015–2020

A study by the French transmission system operator RTE analyses the impact of weather on nuclear power production between 2015 and 2020. The results show:

  • Between 2015 and 2020, weather was responsible for about 4,000 hours of outages at zero power—a loss of 166 reactor-days of production—and an additional 4,000 hours of derating.
  • Climate-induced unavailabilities occurred every year: 2016 was the least affected with just 18 deratings while 2018 was the worst year with 23 full outages and 103 deratings.
  • Over the 6-year period, 26 reactors were affected at least once (including both Fessenheim reactors) and 12 were shutdown (including one Fessenheim unit) at some point.
  • The cumulated production loss is 8.5 TWh or an average 1.4 TWh per year. This represents only about 0.4 percent of French annual nuclear production.
  • The production losses appear to have an increasing trend with the highest loss occurring in 2020 with 3 TWh.
  • While the absolute production losses appear negligeable, they are difficult to forecast and are often concentrated over a relatively short period of the year. The 2019 heatwave, for example, impacted nine reactors and lead the loss of 10 percent of the installed nuclear capacity, which in turn lead to a surge in electricity spot market prices.
  • Climate-induced unavailabilities over the period were concentrated between July and November, and half of the production losses occurred in the September months. The Chooz site had a 28-day full unavailability in September 2020. September is the month with the lowest flow on the Rhône and Meuse rivers and is increasingly exposed to late heatwaves.
  • Among the fourteen nuclear sites located inland, nine experienced climatic unavailability over the period. Three plants lost output in excess of 1 TWh: Chooz (4.4 TWh), Saint Alban (2 TWh) and Bugey (1.1 TWh).
  • Disruptions can be classified into three broad categories: summer type (caused by temperature), autumn type (caused by low water flow), and winter type (caused by floods or storms).
    • Summer disruptions are usually short but can touch multiple plants simultaneously and will almost certainly occur more frequently.
    • Autumn disruptions often stretch over longer periods but remain more localized. They occur during low flowrate periods when rivers cannot efficiently dilute hot water discharged from the power plant, making it harder to comply with temperature regulations.
    • Winter disruptions are due to lower frequency events that can carry higher risks (e.g. the December 1999 flooding of the Blayais site).
  • Adaptation options are limited for existing plants. Also, while most adaptation strategies are based on climate projections, EDF uses extrapolations. Maximum temperatures are calculated by extending historical observations over a 10-year period. This implicitly carries a risk of underestimating future temperature variation.
  • Safety implications of nuclear-climate interactions remain poorly understood, especially as nuclear power is being introduced into potentially particularly adverse climate environments like in the Middle East or Bangladesh for example. Unexpected extreme weather events could also have particularly detrimental effects if they coincided with an ongoing nuclear accident.

Introduction

Mid-2020, the world had hoped the pandemic would be gone long before year end. Mid-2021, a growing number of people starts wondering whether they will have to live with COVID-19 over the long term and adjust with repeated vaccinations.

WNISR2020 provided a first international overview of some of the COVID-19 impacts on the nuclear industry. Generally speaking, the nuclear industry and safety authorities remain very confident that the pandemic had limited or no impact on the operating conditions of their facilities. The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) told the public that “the safety of nuclear facilities as well as their oversight had been guaranteed at all times”.8 The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) thought that the “level of nuclear safety and radiation protection achieved remained satisfactory”.9 The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) that represents the industry in the U.S. enthusiastically concluded “the COVID-19 public health emergency brought out the best in industry and the NRC [U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission]”.10 The industry also points to profound and lasting changes, in particular the role of telework with the COVID experience having “overturned assumptions about the benefits and costs of expecting support staff to be onsite”.11 The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported as early as summer 2020 that “the Agency quickly and effectively adapted to remote working conditions and continued to deliver on its mandate”.12

Surprisingly, as of mid-2021, there is still no comprehensive international assessment of consequences of the global pandemic on nuclear safety and security systems. There is no doubt that while much can be done through telework, there are countless operations, inspections and training exercises needing physical presence that were delayed by months or not carried out at all since the pandemic got underway. This is true for safety and security.

“Thankfully, no major nuclear security incidents have made headlines during this time, but this should not be considered as evidence that nuclear security systems are operating, and will continue to operate, effectively,” three senior academic nuclear security experts concluded in a June 2021 paper.13 They report that

There has been a surge in cyber security incidents during the pandemic, with cyber criminals and other actors taking advantage of the move to remote online working. According to a recent cybercrime assessment by Interpol, the focus of these attacks has altered significantly, switching ‘from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure’.14

The U.K. Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) admitted in its March 2021 strategy paper:

We recognise the many threats that face the NDA and its supply chain, from cyber-attacks, data breaches and Information Technology (IT) system failures to extreme weather conditions, global pandemics and terrorism. (…).

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be considerable, introducing uncertainty into the timing and duration of the spending review process so that any exercise undertaken will be set in a radically different fiscal environment and is likely to compound an already challenging situation.15

WNISR2021 does not include an update to the assessment of the impact of the global pandemic on the nuclear industry, not because it would not be considered important but simply because of a lack of capacity. However, this edition does look at the question whether there is a systemic issue of Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy. In addition to this first attempt to describe typologies of irregularities, fraud, corruption and other criminal activities, various country chapters provide more detailed information on specific affairs, notably China Focus, Japan Focus, Annex 1 – Slovakia, and United States Focus.

Criminal conduct is an ongoing concern for the nuclear industry, as for example in the U.S. in mid-August 2021, there were media headlines like “New criminal charges filed against Westinghouse official in SC’s [South Carolina’s] nuclear plant failure” calling it “one of the largest business failures in South Carolina history”.16 The Westinghouse official who oversaw worldwide construction of nuclear reactors, including the now abandoned V.C. Summer project in South Carolina, faces “16 felony counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly-traded company to keep a false record” and risks a maximum of 20 years in prison and a US$5 million fine.17 He was the fourth top manager to plead guilty to a range of criminal charges in this affair (see also Guilty Pleas and On-going FBI Investigations Over V.C. Summer Project).

Almost exactly at the same time, in Japan, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) suspended its safety screening of Unit 2 at Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture after “data tampering was found in documents submitted to the regulator”.18 Reportedly, the data manipulations concerned geological information obtained from a drilling survey conducted at the plant’s premises. The NRA said it will not license the restart of the reactor until it receives credible data.

This edition marks the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Fukushima disaster, also termed 3/11, and the 35 years of the Chernobyl accident. These catastrophes continue to impact the lives of many people and we were fortunate to be able to count on the contributions by some outstanding experts on technical challenges, health issues, legal cases, and cost assessments around these tragic events.

In addition, Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan at the time when the Great East Japan Earthquake triggered the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, honored WNISR2021 with a Foreword.

At a time when the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed human responsibility in the climate crisis, it has become clear that we have passed the point of discussions about whether policy should focus on avoidance or adaptation. Responsible policy strategies will need to address both. The question how energy technologies fare in this context is of great importance. Following an extensive assessment of Climate Change and Nuclear Power in WNISR2019, the chapter Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience provides a first look at nuclear’s challenges in this context. A case study on France illustrates the relative significance and impact of extreme weather events like heat and drought, heavy rain, and storms.

Nuclear Power and Green Taxonomy

In July 2020, the European Taxonomy Regulation entered into force.19 The regulation provides a framework for future investments in the European Union (EU) to further the goals of the European Green Deal20 that targets no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The EU is currently debating whether nuclear power should be granted the same access to funding under the taxonomy criteria—in particular the Do-No-Significant-Harm (DNSH) criteria—as renewable energies.

The European Commission asked its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to assess the question. The decision to commission the evaluation from JRC raised eyebrows as the center is directly involved in nuclear research and operates EU nuclear research facilities in various countries.21 Thus a classical conflict-of-interest situation seemed obvious.

Ten days prior to the release of the JRC report, a coalition of seven European nuclear countries led by France, including the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia, released a joint letter to the European Commission stating that “all available zero and low-emission technologies” should be “actively supported by the European Union. This is especially valid for nuclear power whose development is one of the primary objectives of the Treaty establishing the Euratom Community, obliging EU institutions to promote it.”22

In March 2021, the JRC released a 387-page report of which a single sentence has been abundantly quoted by nuclear industry representatives and the media: “The analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the Taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation.”23

The report has been severely criticized.

The European Commission’s own Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) concluded that

… [JRC’s] overall conclusion of “no evidence of does more harm” is not sufficiently supported by the information provided within the report…

… the impact [of thermal pollution] has the potential to be greater than described in the JRC report…

… clearly nuclear energy produces larger quantities of waste than other energy generation technologies… The SCHEER is of the view that high-level waste storage remains an open research question, with considerable uncertainties.24

Some SCHEER comments on specific parts of the JRC report are particularly critical. The section on the impact of radiation on the environment, SCHEER concluded, “does not provide any useful or detailed information for assessing the impacts”. Some statements were found “simplistic”.

The German Government commissioned a joint assessment of the JRC report by two of its own nuclear expert organizations that concluded:

This expert response finds that the JRC has drawn conclusions that are hard to deduce at numerous points. Subject areas that are very relevant to the environment have also only been presented very briefly or have been ignored. (…)

… the problem of disposing of radioactive waste has already been postponed by previous generations to today’s and it will ‘remain’ a problem for many future generations. The principle of “no undue burdens for future generations” (pp. 250ff) has therefore already been (irrevocably) infringed, while the DNSH-hurdle “significant[ly] harm” has also been infringed.

The JRC Report is therefore incomplete and therefore fails to comprehensively assess the sustainability of using nuclear energy.25

Seven ministers representing the governments of five countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain) complained in a joint letter to the European Commission about “grave methodological shortcomings”. The JRC report “neglects to address the residual nuclear risk, assessing only the normal operation of nuclear power plants” and “disregards the life-cycle approach” as the lack of an effective radioactive waste management solution violates the principle of “no undue burdens on future generations”. The governmental statement concludes:

Nuclear power is incompatible with the Taxonomy Regulation’s “do no significant harm” principle. We therefore urge the European Commission not to jeopardise the courageous path it has taken towards making the EU the global lead market for sustainable finance.26

Reclaim Finance, a newly established NGO affiliated with Friends of the Earth France, concluded an assessment of the Taxonomy process by stating:

By planning to include fossil gas and providing a specific process to welcome nuclear through the backdoor, the EU is likely to end up with a sustainable Taxonomy that undermines the transition of the energy sector. (…)

The EU is setting its energy agenda for the decades to come: it is time to sever the ties between officials and energy lobbies that contribute to untamed global warming or undermine the sustainable transition.27

Nuclear Transparency Watch has requested a round of public participation according to the Aarhus Convention.28 A public consultation, carried out prior to the release of the JRC report, had triggered tens of thousands of comments from European citizens. The European Commission is expected to make a final decision before the end of 2021. WNISR2022 will report on the outcome.

Meanwhile, the nuclear industry had to absorb a serious blow in the U.K. with nuclear being officially excluded from the country’s green taxonomy. The 31-page “UK Government Green Financing Framework” document mentions nuclear power just in one paragraph, under “Exclusions”: “Recognising that many sustainable investors have exclusionary criteria in place around nuclear energy, the UK Government will not finance any nuclear energy-related expenditures under the Framework.”29

“And the Winner is…”

The likely winner of the taxonomy debate in Europe will be renewables that have also shown a remarkable resistance to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, the World Economic Forum stated:

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to business as usual, setting off a chain of events disrupting all sectors – including energy. (…) Resilience, in economic, financial, regulatory and infrastructure terms, is a crucial prerequisite for an effective energy transition.30

The total investment in non-hydro renewables globally—despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—exceeded US$300 billion in COVID-19-year 2020.31 Significantly, falling capital costs enabled record volumes of both solar (>130 GW) and wind (>70 GW) to be installed despite relatively small increases in investment.

In the meantime, so-called advanced reactors of various designs, including so-called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), make a lot of noise in the media but their promoters have provided little evidence for any implementation scheme before a decade at the very least. Even staunch industry supporters like William Magwood, Director General of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) in Paris and a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), recently stated: “If these technologies cannot be brought to market … in about a decade … they may not be relevant to the energy transition.”32 Mark Cooper, Senior Fellow for Economic Analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, concluded a recent analysis more bluntly:

Small modular reactors appear to be repeating the path of large reactors, with rising costs and increasing delays. Much of the battle to meet the challenge of climate change will be over before even one of these reactors is online.33

Time will be of the essence.

General Overview Worldwide

Production and Role of Nuclear Power

In 2020, the world nuclear fleet generated 2,553 net terawatt-hours (TWh or billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity34, a drop of 104 TWh or 3.9 percent over the previous year (see Figure 1). This is the first time that nuclear generation declined since post-3/11-year 2012. Without China, global nuclear power generation decreased by 5.1 percent and reached the lowest level since 1995. China for the first time produced more nuclear electricity than France and takes second place—behind the U.S.—among the top nuclear power generators.

Nuclear energy’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation in 2020 fell slightly from 10.4 percent to 10.1 percent, significantly below the peak of 17.5 percent in 1996.

With a new record non-hydro renewables’ annual growth, their share in world power generation grew by 1.4 percentage points to 11.7 percent.35

In a global economic environment depressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, fossil fuel consumption slumped: oil by 9.7 percent, coal by 4.2 percent, and natural gas by 2.3 percent. The nuclear commercial primary energy consumption dropped by 4.1 percent, but, due to the overall decline, its share in global consumption remained stable at 4.3 percent. It has been around this level since 2014. Hydropower’s primary energy consumption increased, by 1 percent on the global average and by 7.2 percent in the EU. Renewables, including mainly solar, wind and biofuels, continued their spectacular growth with a 9.7 percent increase in primary energy—in spite of the global pandemic.36

In 2020, there were eight countries that increased their nuclear share (including the two newcomer countries Belarus and UAE; see Figure 2)—versus 12 in 2019—nine decreased their nuclear shares, and 16 remained at a constant level (change of less than 1 percentage point). Besides the two newcomer countries, four countries (Argentina, China, Pakistan, Russia) achieved their largest ever nuclear production, as in 2019, two of these countries started up new units (China and Russia), Argentina’s record was as a result of a full year of operation of a reactor that was restarted in 2019 after a four-and-a-half-year outage, and Pakistan increased productivity after a mediocre year.

Sources: WNISR, with BP, IAEA-PRIS, 202137

The following noteworthy developments for the year 2020 illustrate the continuous volatile operational situation of the individual national reactor fleets (see country-specific sections for details):

  • Argentina boosted output by 26 percent—the second year in a row with a 20+ percent increase—after Embalse returned to service following a long refurbishment-outage and Atucha-1 generated more power than in any year over the past 12 years, and despite a bad year for Atucha-2 with a load factor below 40 percent.
  • Armenia’s single reactor at Medzamor increased generation by almost 26 percent.
  • Belgium’s nuclear fleet keeps undergoing large variations in generation. Output plunged by 21 percent after a 52-percent increase in 2019 following a 32-percent plunge in 2018 due to additional outages for maintenance, repair, and upgrade.
  • China started up only two new units in 2020, just as in 2019, with nuclear generation increasing only 4.4 percent, the lowest increase since 2009.
  • France’s nuclear generation decreased by 12 percent, remaining for the fifth year in a row below the 400 TWh mark. Output dropped to the lowest level in 27 years (see France Focus).
  • Germany closed one reactor (Philippsburg-2) at the end of 2019 and the national nuclear power generation dropped accordingly by 14 percent in 2020.
  • Japan had restarted nine reactors after all of them were down in 2014. But after a progressive increase in output, nuclear generation plunged again in 2020, by over 34 percent. A major reason were four reactors that were forced to shut down because they did not meet the regulator’s deadline for security upgrades.

Source: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Notes

This figure only displays countries with operating or once operating reactors.

* Although it has a phaseout policy, South Korea has four reactors under construction as of 1 July 2021.

** Including South Korea listed in the category “Program Limitation or Phase-out”.

*** Japan is counted here among countries with “active construction”—however it is possible that the only project under active construction (Shimane-3) will be abandoned.

  • South Korea increased nuclear production by 10 percent—mainly due to a full-year production of a reactor started up in April 2019—following a 9 percent increase in 2019 and a 10-percent decline in 2018.
  • South Africa’s nuclear generation declined by 15 percent after a 28-percent increase in 2019 and a 30 percent drop in 2018.
  • Sweden’s nuclear output dropped by 26.5 percent, partly due to the closure of one reactor (Ringhals-2).
  • The U.K. nuclear generation decreased by another 10.5 percent following a 14 percent decline in 2019, due to long outages of some of its ageing reactors. Since 2016, annual production has dropped by 30 percent.
  • In the U.S., following the all-time high in 2019, nuclear electricity generation dropped (by 2.4 percent) below the 800 TWh mark for the first time since 2015. As four reactors were closed in 2019–2020, it is possible that the country has seen “peak nuclear” and will not get back to earlier production levels.

Similar to previous years, in 2020, the “big five” nuclear generating countries—by rank, the U.S., China, France, Russia and South Korea—generated 72 percent of all nuclear electricity in the world (see Figure 3, left side).

In 2002, China held position 15, in 2007 it was tenth, before reaching third place in 2016. In 2020—earlier than anticipated due to the mediocre performance of the French fleet—China became the second largest nuclear generator in the world, a position that France held since the early 1980s.

In 2020, the top three countries, the U.S., China and France, accounted for 58 percent of global nuclear production, underscoring the concentration of nuclear power generation in a very small number of countries.

In many cases, even where nuclear power generation increased, the addition is not keeping pace with overall increases in electricity production, leading to a nuclear share below the respective historic maximum (see Figure 3, right side). Only three countries, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, and Russia reached new historic peak shares of nuclear in their respective power mix, all three small increases, +2.1 percentage points for the Czech Republic (reaching a share of 37.3 percent) and +0.5 percentage points for Pakistan (attaining 7.1 percent) and +0.9 percentage point for Russia (reaching 20.6 percent). China maintained the 4.9 percent share, a maximum it first reached in 2019.

Sources: IAEA-PRIS, and national sources for France and Switzerland, compiled by WNISR, 2021

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 closures38 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 4).

Between 2011 and 2020, the startup of 63 reactors—of which 37 (59 percent) in China alone—outpaced by only two the closure of 61 units over the same period.

Over the two decades 2001–2020, there were 95 startups and 98 closures in the world. As there were 47 startups and no closures in China over the period, the 98 closures outside China were matched by only 48 startups, a drastic decline by 50 units over the period (see Figure 5).

As larger units were started up (totaling 85.5 GW) than closed (totaling 59 GW) the net nuclear capacity added worldwide over the 20-year period was 26.5 GW. However, since China alone added 45 GW, the net capacity outside China declined by over 20 GW.

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.

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.

In 2020, five units were commissioned, two in China and one each in Belarus, Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At the same time, six units were closed including two each in France and the U.S. and one each in Russia and Sweden. Four new units were connected to the world’s power grids in the first half of 2021, including two in China, while two reactors were closed, one each in the U.S. and Taiwan. (See Figure 5).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Notes:
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 closed 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.)

As of mid-2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to count 33 units in Japan in its total number of 443 reactors “in operation” in the world. That is a significant drop of eight compared to mid-2019.39 No nuclear electricity was generated in Japan between September 2013 and August 2015, and as of 1 July 2021, only six reactors were operating. Nuclear plants provided only 5.1 percent of the electricity in Japan in 2020 versus 7.5 percent in 2019. It is the first time since all of the Japanese fleet came to a halt in 2014 following the events of 3/11 that the nuclear output is declining again (for details see Japan Focus).

The WNISR will keep 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.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

The IAEA does have a reactor-status category called “Long-term Shutdown” or LTS.40 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 2021, leads to classifying 26 units in LTO—all considered “in operation” by the IAEA—five less than in WNISR2020, of which 24 in Japan (no change) and one each in India (Madras-1) and in South Korea (Hanbit-4).

Two of the reactors in LTO in WNISR2020 were closed in the U.K. (Dungeness-B1 and -B2), one each was restarted in China (CEFR), Japan (Mihama-3), South Korea (Hanbit-3), and the U.K. (Hunterston-B1). One new reactor entered the LTO category in Japan (Ikata-3).

As of 1 July 2021, a total of 415 nuclear reactors were operating in 33 countries, up seven units from the situation in mid-2020 but still two below the status as of mid-2019.41 The current world fleet has a total nominal electric net capacity of 369 GW, up by 7 GW (+1.9 percent) from one year earlier, representing a new peak just above the former record of 367 GW in 2006. The number of operating reactors remains by three below the figure reached in 1989 and by 23 below the 2002 peak (see Figure 6).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

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

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. (In 1989, the average size of an operational nuclear reactor was about 740 MW, while that number has increased to almost 890 MW in 2021). Technical alterations raised capacity at existing plants resulting in larger electricity output, a process known as uprating.42 In the U.S. alone, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved 170 uprates since 1977. The cumulative approved uprates in the U.S. total 8 GW, the equivalent of eight large reactors. These include six minor uprates (<2 percent of reactor capacity) approved since mid-2020.43

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 2021, 53 reactors are considered as under construction, one more than WNISR reported a year ago, but 16 fewer than in 2013 (five of those units have subsequently been abandoned). The number includes 18 units or one third being built in China.

Four in five reactors are built in Asia or Eastern Europe. In total, 17 countries are building nuclear plants, the same as reported in WNISR2020 (see Table 1). However, only four countries have construction ongoing at more than one site (see Annex 4, Figure 7 for details). Since mid-2020, ten new construction sites were launched worldwide, including seven in China. One construction start took place in each of India (Kudankulam-5), Russia (Brest-OD-300) and Turkey (Akkuyu-3).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Notes:

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.

The number of 53 reactors listed as under construction by mid-2021 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 7). 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 the 53 units under construction in the world as of mid-2021 increased by just 0.5 GW to 54 GW, with an average unit size of 1,020 MW.

Table 1 - Nuclear Reactors “Under Construction” (as of 1 July 2021)44

Country

Units

Capacity
(MW net)

Construction Start

Grid Connection

Units Behind Schedule

China

18

17 062

2012 - 2021

2021 - 2027

4

India

7

5 194

2004 - 2021

2022 - 2026

6

South Korea

4

5 360

2012 - 2018

2022 - 2025

4

Russia

3

2 650

2018 - 2021

2022 - 2026

0

Turkey

3

3 342

2018 - 2021

2024 - 2026

1

UAE

3

4 035

2013 - 2015

2021 - 2023

3

Bangladesh

2

2 160

2017 - 2018

2023 - 2024

0

Slovakia

2

880

1985 - 1985

2021 - 2023

2

UK

2

3 260

2018 - 2019

2026 - 2027

2

USA

2

2 234

2013

2022 -2023

2

Argentina

1

25

2014

2024

1

Belarus

1

1 110

2014

2022

1

Finland

1

1 600

2005

2022

1

France

1

1 600

2007

2023

1

Iran

1

1 196

1976

2024

1

Japan

1

1 325

2007

2025

1

Pakistan

1

1 014

2016

2022

1

Total

53

54 047

1976 - 2021

2021 - 2027

31

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2021

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 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 2021, for the 53 reactors being built an average of seven years have passed since construction start—slightly lower than the mid-2020 average of 7.3 years— and many remain far from completion.
  • All reactors under construction in at least 12 of the 17 countries have experienced mostly year-long delays. At least 31 (58.5 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 Turkey.
  • Of the 31 reactors clearly documented as behind schedule, at least 13 have reported increased delays and four have reported new delays over the past year.
  • WNISR2019 noted a total of 13 reactors scheduled for startup in 2020 but only three of these did so, while the other 10 were delayed at least into 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly influenced some of the commissioning schedules.
  • Construction start of two projects dates back 36 years, Mochovce-3 and -4 in Slovakia, and their startup has been further delayed, currently to late 2021 and 2023. Bushehr-2 originally started construction in 1976, that is 45 years ago, and resumed construction in 2019 after a 40-year-long suspension. Grid connection is currently scheduled for 2024.
  • Five additional reactors have been listed as “under construction” for a decade or more: the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) and Kakrapar-4 in India, the Olkiluoto-3 (OL3) reactor project in Finland, Shimane-3 in Japan, and Flamanville-3 (FL3) in France. The Finnish and French projects have been further delayed this year, grid connections of the 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.

Construction Times of Past and Currently Operating Reactors

Since the beginning of the nuclear power age, 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 8 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, 2021

The 11 units completed in 2018–2020 by the Chinese nuclear industry took on average 7.1 years to build, while the six Russian projects took a mean 15 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 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 three-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 201045, which finally happened in December 2019. Not surprisingly, the “nuclear barge” has become more expensive, from an initial estimate of around 6 billion rubles (US$2007232 million)46 to at least 37 billion rubles as of 2015 (US$2015740 million),47 or close to US$25,000 per installed kilowatt, almost twice as costly as the most expensive Generation III reactors.48

The mean time from construction start to grid connection for the five reactors started up in 2020 was 7.2 years, a clear improvement over the 9.9 years in 2019 and 10.9 years in 2018. In the case of the four units connected in the first half of 2021, the duration was 6.7 years.

While mean construction times have been improving more recently, over the three years 2018-2020, only two of 20 units started up on-time, and those are Tianwan-4 and -5 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 claims contain at least ten improvements making them a Gen III design.49

Leaving the epic Rostov-4 case aside, the other 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 9).

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Note

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. Ten countries completed 63 reactors over the decade 2011–2020—of which 37 in China alone—after an average construction time of 10 years (see Table 2). That is two countries more (Belarus, UAE) than for the decade 2010–2019 with otherwise exactly the same numbers.

Table 2 – Duration from Construction Start to Grid Connection 2011–2020

Construction Times of 63 Units Started-up 2011–2020

Country

Units

Construction Time (in Years)

Mean Time

Minimum

Maximum

China

37

6.1

4.1

11.2

Russia

10

18.7

8.1

35.1

South Korea

5

6.4

4.2

9.6

India

3

11.5

8.7

14.2

Pakistan

3

5.4

5.2

5.6

Argentina

1

33.0

33.0

Belarus

1

7.0

7.0

Iran

1

36.3

36.3

UAE

1

8.1

8.1

USA

1

42.8

42.8

World

63

9.9

4.1

42.8

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Construction Starts & Cancellations

The number of annual construction starts50 in the world peaked in 1976 at 44, of which 11 projects were later abandoned. In 2010, there were 15 construction starts—including 10 in China—the highest level since 1985 (see Figure 10 and Figure 11). That number dropped to five in 2020—including four in China—while building started on six units—including three in China—in the first half of 2021. Like most of the construction projects of the past decades, it was government owned or controlled companies that launched all the 11 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 11). While this increase apparently is a sign of the restart of commercial reactor building in China, the level continues to remain 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 the end of 2020, China had 49 units with 47.5 GW operating, one reactor in LTO (CEFR) and 17 units with 16 GW under construction, far from the original target.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Notes:

Construction of Bushehr-2, started in 1976, was considered abandoned in earlier versions of this figure. As construction was restarted in 2019, it now appears as “Under Construction”. The Chinese project at Shidao Bay-1 is considered as two reactors, and construction starts in 2012 reflect this change.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Over the decade 2011–2020, construction began on 57 reactors in the world, of which three have been abandoned (Baltic-1 in Russia, V.C. Summer-2 and -3 in the U.S.). With 18 units, one third of the ongoing building projects are located in China. As of mid-2021, only 15 of the 54 units have started up, while 39 remain under construction.

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 12). The United States alone accounted for 138 of these order cancellations.51

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

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

Of the 783 reactor constructions launched since 1951, at least 93 units in 19 countries had been abandoned or are suspended, as of 1 July 2021. This means that 12 percent or one in eight nuclear constructions have been abandoned.

Close to three-quarters (66 units) of all cancelled projects were in four countries alone—the U.S. (42), Russia (12), Germany and Ukraine (six each). Some units were 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, successful new-build over many years, the average age (from grid connection) of operating nuclear power plants has been increasing since 1984 and as of mid-2021 it is standing at 30.9 years, up from 30.7 years in mid-2020 (see Figure 13).52

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

A total of 278 reactors, two-thirds of the world’s operating fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 89—more than one in five—for 41 years or more.

In 1990, the average age of the operating reactors in the world was 11.3 years, in 2000, it was 18.8 years and stood at 26.3 years by 2010. The leading nuclear nation is also leading the age pyramid. The U.S. has passed the 40-year average age in 2020. France’s fleet exceeds 35 years. Russia inversed the curve starting in 2016 and its average fleet age of 27.8 years as of the end of 2020 remains 2.4 years below the 2015-peak. South Korea’s reactors at 21.4 years remain half as old as the U.S. fleet, and China is the obvious newcomer with an average fleet age of just 8.3 years. (See Figure 14).

Many nuclear utilities envisage 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. An initiative to allow for 40-year license extensions in one step was terminated after NRC staff had recommended in June 2021 to “discontinue the activity to consider regulatory and other changes to enable license renewal for 40 years”.53

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

As of mid-2021, 97 U.S. units had received a 20-year license extension, no further applications were under NRC review. Nine 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). Three additional applications for four reactors are expected in 2021–2023.54

So far, the NRC has granted Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses to six reactors, which permit operation from 60 to 80 years. A further seven reactors have their applications still under review.55

Only eight of the 40 units that have been closed in the U.S. had reached 40 years on the grid. All eight had obtained licenses to operate up to 60 years but were closed much earlier mainly for economic reasons. In other words, at least one fourth of the 133 reactors connected to the grid in the U.S. at any point in time never reached their initial design lifetime of 40 years. None of those already closed had reached yet 50 years of operation. The mean age at closure of those 40 units was 22 years.

On the other hand, of the 93 currently operating plants, 44 units have already operated for 41 years or more (of six have been on the grid for 50 years or more); thus, half of the units with license renewals have entered the lifetime extension period, and that share is growing rapidly with the mid-2021 mean age of the U.S. operational fleet exceeding 40 years (see Figure 34 and 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 36 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.

EDF’s approach to lifetime extension has been reviewed by ASN and its Technical Support Organization (TSO). In February 2021, ASN granted a conditional generic agreement to lifetime extensions of the 32 reactors of the 900 MW series. However, lifetime extensions beyond 40 years require site-specific licensing procedures involving 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 13 and Figure 15). The age structure of the 196 units already closed (seven more than one year ago) completes the picture. In total, 77 of these units operated for 31 years or more, and of those, 33 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 about 27 years.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

To be sure, the operating time prior to closure has clearly increased continuously. The mean age at closure of the 23 units taken off the grids between 2016 and 2020 was 42.6 years (see Figure 16).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

As a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster (elsewhere 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 1970 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 clearly 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

Nuclear operators in 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 17), assumes a general lifetime of 40 years for worldwide operating reactors—not including reactors in Long-Term Outage (LTO).

Sources: Various sources, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Notes pertaining to Figure 17, Figure 18 and Figure 19.

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 2025 and 2024, as there are no official dates.

The restart of two reactors (Mihama-3 and CEFR) from LTO prior to 7/2021 appears as “startup”. Potential restarts or closures amongst the 26 reactors in LTO as of 1 July 2021 are not represented here.

The figures take into account “early retirements” of three reactors in the U.S.; the early retirement as of 2021 for four Exelon reactors recently announced to close in September and November of this year, is not taken into account due to uncertainties; in the case of four additional reactors, the reversal of early retirements has been maintained although some are likely to be repealed, and others might be added (see United States Focus); the figures also take into account political decisions to close reactors prior to 40 years (Germany, South-Korea).

In the case of reactors that have reached 40 years of operation prior to 2021, the 40-Year projection also uses the end of their licensed lifetime (including 6 reactors licensed for 80 years in the U.S.)

In the case of French reactors that have reached 40 years of operation prior to 2021 (startup before 1981), we use the deadline 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 startup date.

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 99 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 18) 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, if all units were closed after a lifetime of 40 years.

Considering all units under construction scheduled to have started up and not including potential early closure of the four units at Byron and Dresden sites in the U.S.,56 17 additional reactors (compared to the end of 2020 status) would have to be commissioned or restarted prior to the end of 2021 in order to maintain the status quo of operating units. Without additional startups, installed nuclear capacity would decrease by 15.9 GW by the end of 2021.

In the decade to 2030, in addition to the units currently under construction, 178 new reactors (152.6 GW)—18 units or 15 GW per year—would have to be connected to the grid to maintain the status quo, almost three times the rate achieved over the past decade (63 startups between 2011 and 2020).

Sources: Various sources, compiled by WNISR, 2021

The stabilization of the situation by the end of 2021 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 likely continue to stagnate at best, unless—beyond restarts—lifetime extensions become the rule 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 ambitions for China’s targets for installed nuclear capacity have fluctuated in the past. While construction starts have picked up speed again, Chinese medium-term ambitions appear significantly lower than anticipated in the pre-3/11 era.

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 2021, the net number of operating reactors and operating capacity would remain almost stable (+ 1 unit / + 0.3 GW, not including the potential early closure of the four units at Byron and Dresden in the U.S.).

In the decade to 2030, the net balance would turn negative as soon as 2024, and an additional 123 new reactors (95.3 GW)—one unit or 0.8 GW per month—would have to start up or restart to replace closures. The PLEX-Projection would still mean, in the coming decade, a need to double the annual building rate of the past decade from six to twelve (see Figure 17, Figure 18 and the cumulated effect in Figure 19).

Sources: Various sources, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Note: This figure illustrates the trends, and the projected composition of the current world nuclear fleet, taking into account existing reactors (operating and in LTO) and their closure dates (40-years Lifetime vs authorized Lifetime Extension) as well as the 53 reactors under construction as of 1 July 2021. The graph does not represent a forecasting of the world nuclear fleet over the next three decades as it does not speculate about future constructions.

In the meantime, construction starts have been on a declining trend for a decade. Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 33 constructions were launched around the world, of which 14 in China (and three later abandoned), thus an average of six units per year were launched and sustained. Between 2016 and 2020, constructions started at only 24 units, of which 11 in China, thus an average of less than five construction starts per year, significantly less than half than of the building rate needed according to the PLEX Projection over the coming decade just to maintain the current number of operating reactors in the world.

Focus Countries

The following chapter offers an in-depth assessment of ten countries: Belarus, China, Finland, France, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.). They represent one third of the nuclear countries, two thirds of the global reactor fleet and four of the world’s five 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-2021) and nuclear’s share in electricity generation in 2020 are from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Power Reactor Information System (IAEA-PRIS) online database.57 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.

Belarus Focus

Construction started in November 2013 at Belarus’s first nuclear reactor at Ostrovets power plant, also called Belarusian-1. Construction of a second 1200 MWe AES-2006 reactor started at the same site in June 2014. The first unit was completed and connected to the grid on 3 November 2020 and reached full power in January 2021.58 The first few weeks of operation reignited the international controversy around the project, and according to the Lithuanian Government three incidents of equipment failure occurred in the first month (later confirmed by Belarus), including in the voltage transformer, the cooling system, and a steam noise absorber.59 On 2 June 2021, Belarusian-1 received a commercial operating license.60

The European Commission issued a statement saying “It is regrettable that Belarus has decided to start the commercial operation of the Astravets [Ostrovets] nuclear power plant, without addressing all the safety recommendations contained in the 2018 EU stress test report. As the Commission has repeatedly stated, all peer review recommendations should be implemented by Belarus without delay.”61

The State Inspectorate for Nuclear Energy Safety of Lithuania (Vatesi) commented: “The fact of issuing a licence does not change the position of Vatesi, that it is necessary to suspend the operation of the Belarusian NPP, resolve nuclear safety problems and take the necessary measures to improve its safety.”62

In October 2011, a contract was signed between the Belarus Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate, and Russia’s AtomStroyExport (ASE). It defines the main terms of the general contract for the construction of two reactors as a turnkey project to be carried out by ASE, with the first unit then scheduled to be commissioned in 2017 and the second in 2018.63

The Russian and Belarusian governments agreed that Russia would lend up to US$10 billion for 25 years to finance 90 percent of the project. In July 2012, the contract was signed for the construction of the two reactors for an estimated cost of US$10 billion, including US$3 billion for new infrastructure to accommodate the remoteness of Ostrovets in northern Belarus.64 Under the terms of the loan agreement Belarus should begin to repay the loan no later than 1 April 2021. Furthermore, the current loan rate for Belarus is a fixed 5.23 percent a year for half of the selected funds and “six-month LIBOR65 in dollars (now 1.72 percent) plus 1.83 percent per annum” for the other half. Belarus has also proposed increasing the repayment period from 25 years (counting from the date of opening a credit line in 2011) to 35 years, but this has so far been rejected by the Russian counterparts. In March 2021, the Russia-Belarusian loan agreement was adjusted, and the loan extended by two years, until the end of 2022. In addition, a fixed interest rate on the loan is set at 3.3 percent a year, and the start date of the repayment of the principal debt on the loan has been deferred from 1 April 2021 to 1 April 2023.66

The project assumes liability for the supply of all fuel and repatriation of spent fuel for the life of the plant. The fuel is to be reprocessed in Russia and the separated wastes returned to Belarus. Information is not available on the fate of the plutonium extracted during reprocessing, but it is likely to remain in Russia.

It is difficult to estimate what the final construction price will be. On the one hand, President Lukashenko has said that cost would be below US$10 billion, but refused to reveal the actual number stating: “It is a commercial secret. The contract price shouldn’t be made public.”67 Other sources suggest that the cost of the project has increased by 26 percent, to 56 billion Russian rubles [US$750 million] in 2001-prices.68 The uncertainty of the actual costs is compounded by the high volatility of exchange rates.

The project is the focus of international opposition and criticism, with formal complaints from the Lithuanian government69 that has published a list of fundamental problems of the project. These include claims of major construction issues, doubts about the site suitability and accusations of non-compliance with some of its public engagement obligations according to the Espoo Convention. Belarus was in 2017 found in non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention for harassing members of civil society campaigning against the project.70 Then, in February 2019, a meeting of the Espoo Convention voted by 30 to 6 that Belarus had violated the convention’s rules while choosing Ostrovets as the site for a nuclear power plant.71

The Belarussian government, in order to allay European concerns about Ostrovets, submitted the project to a post-Fukushima nuclear stress test and produced a national report, which was submitted to peer-review by a commission from the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) and the European Commission. In July 2018, the European Commission announced that the ENSREG report had been presented to the Belarussian authorities and the executive summary was made public, which concludes that “although the report is overall positive, it includes important recommendations that necessitate an appropriate follow up”. For example, on the topic of assessment of severe accident management, it says, “the overall concept of practical elimination of early and large releases should be more explicitly reflected in an updated plant safety case.” It also gave recommendations for better seismic robustness.72

The Belarus authorities have not responded to the peer-review report and in June 2019 the Council of the European Union stated, “The Commission and ENSREG have been calling upon Belarus to swiftly prepare and present a National Action Plan to address the peer-review findings and recommendations, in line with the practice followed for previous stress tests within the EU and with third countries. At the moment of preparation of this report, the Commission and ENSREG are still awaiting reception of this plan.”73 The Lithuanian President has called upon the European Commission to take all possible actions to ensure the safety of the power plant and in March 2020, the Belarus nuclear regulator discussed the national action plan with ENSREG.74 A follow-up mission of ENSREG in February 2021 to discuss the (lack of) implementation of the stress-test recommendations was downscaled due to the COVID pandemic and was to be followed by a larger mission in May-June 202175, but had not been reported as of mid-August 2021.

In February 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Ostrovets, which “encourages the Commission to work closely with the Belarusian authorities in order to suspend the starting process until all EU stress test recommendations are fully implemented and all necessary safety improvements are in place”.76

Belarus has historically been an importer of electricity from Russia and Ukraine. Lithuania is trying to get its neighbors to follow the ban on nuclear power from Belarus and will use the Espoo ruling to add weight to its claim. In February 2020, the Governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania put out a joint declaration that they would oppose electricity purchases from the nuclear power plant.77 In addition, in May 2020, the Lithuanian Parliament passed a resolution “on Energy Independence and the Threat Posed by the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant” proposing that the government take technical means to block electricity from Belarus.78 The sale of electricity to the West will be vital for the economics of the project, as increasing domestic consumption or even sale back to Russia will raise significantly lower revenues, due to lower prices. The inability to export the power will lead to significant overcapacity and consequently President Alexander Lukashenko has said that the government needed to devise ways to get the population to use more electricity, including retrofitting houses for electric heating and installing more water boilers.79

In November 2020, following the first production of power from Unit 1, Lithuanian transmission system operator Litgrid ceased all power trading with Belarus.80 However, trading did restart, and Lithuania is seeking a permanent solution. In March the Government proposed a new trilateral methodology for power trade with Russia to its Baltic neighbors with the hope that this would lead to a blockade of electricity from Belarus.81 It is foreseen that the Baltic states will be synchronized with the West-European electricity grid in 2025, delinking the region from its dependency on Russian and Belarusian electricity.82

Following the start of commercial operation Lithuania initiated a legal process to take control of power interconnections with Belarus. The Lithuania government hopes that restricting electricity exports will delay the commercial operation of Belarus-2.

China Focus

As of mid-2021, China had 52 operating reactors, including the China Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) that was reconnected to the grid after a Long-Term Outage (LTO). Nuclear plants generated 345 TWh in 2020, which is 4.4 percent more than in 2019, the lowest annual growth rate since 2009. Nuclear plants provided a stable 4.9 percent of the electricity in the country.

China operates by far the youngest large nuclear fleet in the world with 40 units, or almost four in five, having been connected to the grid within the past ten years (see Figure 20).

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

As reported in WNISR2020, there continues to be uncertainty about the future path of nuclear power in China. While the nuclear industry in China and elsewhere are advocating for a large buildup of nuclear reactors in China, the government seems to be cautious. In July 2020, it was reported that 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” and “the State Council, has mentioned almost nothing about newbuilds in its government work plan”.83

Despite announcing ambitious plans for carbon emissions reduction, the 2021–2025 five-year plan released in March 2021 only announced a goal of 70 GW total nuclear capacity by the end of 2025.84 This goal should be seen in light of China missing the earlier 2020-target of 58 GW in operation plus 30 GW under construction, with only 47.5 GW constructed and less than 16 GW under construction at year-end. Also to be considered for context is the 2010 recommendation from the China Nuclear Energy Association (CNEA) calling upon the government to set a goal of 70 GW of nuclear power for 2020.85 During the deliberations over the five-year plan in 2020, the nuclear industry reportedly took “a back seat to renewables” with leading nuclear developers shifting their business strategies “away from nuclear toward solar”.86

More significant for the future of nuclear energy is the disappointment expressed by nuclear officials at this goal, calling on the government to accelerate development.87 The government’s caution might be similar to the pause in construction and other decisions made in the aftermath of the multiple nuclear accidents at Fukushima.88 The Xinhua publication of the government’s new emission goals, for example, showed that the government only called for “active and well-ordered steps to develop nuclear energy on the basis of ensuring its safe use”.89 In January 2021, China’s energy regulator acknowledged “concerns about ‘quality management’…noting that some reactor projects had been launched without adequate preparation”.90

A further reason for uncertainty has been the ongoing anticorruption campaign. In October 2020, the top nuclear official in China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) was indicted for misconduct.91 According to a listing in Nuclear Intelligence Weekly (NIW)92, this was the fifth indictment of an NEA chief and the 12th among its senior officials, in eight years; at least a dozen nuclear executives have been indicted since 2018, including the former chairman of China General Nuclear Technology Development Co. More recently, an executive at China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has been under investigation for graft.93 This official was “previously an executive at an asset-management firm under China Nuclear Engineering & Construction Corporation”, which merged with CNNC in 2018, when he was “promoted to deputy chief economist at CNNC, managing costs in that capacity”.94

Of the 18 reactors under construction by mid-2021, two have been ongoing since 2012 (Shidao Bay 1-1 and 1-2), three have been ongoing since 2015 (Fangchenggang-3, Hongyanhe-6, and Fuqing-6), one since 2016 (Fangchenggang-4), one since 2017 (Xiapu-1), four since 2019 (Taipingling-1, Zhangzhou-1, Shidao Bay 2-1 and 2-2), and four since 2020 (Taipingling-2, Sanaocun-1, Xiapu-2 and Zhangzhou-2); three started construction during the first half year of 2021 (Changjiang-3, Tianwan-7, and Xudabao-3). Notably, there are no AP1000 reactors under construction, with the State Council reportedly rejecting arguments by AP1000 proponents in September 2020.95 This is likely a result of the experience with the projects at Haiyang and Sanmen reported in earlier issues of WNISR.

The startup of at least four reactors is delayed. When construction of Hongyanhe-6 started in 2015, it was scheduled to begin operating in 2020.96 In January 2020, China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) announced that operation of Hongyanhe-6 was delayed by at least six months to 2022.97 Fuqing-6 was scheduled to be completed in 2020; it is now expected to start up later in 2021.98 However, since most of the units started building after 2016 and information on the respective construction status is not always available, it is difficult to assess the exact construction status.

The most prominent among the delayed reactors are the twin High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (HTGR) units (Shidao Bay 1-1 and 1-2) under construction since December 2012. The builder and operator of the units announced at that time that construction would “take 50 months, with 18 months for building, 18 months for installation and 14 months for pre-commissioning”.99 We are now past more than twice that time period and the reactors still have not commenced operation. According to an update from January 2021, hot testing of the reactors had started, and the units were scheduled to start up later this year.100

Well before these construction delays, the cost of electricity from Shidao Bay had been projected to be 40 percent higher than that from light water reactors.101 The poor economic prospects might be driving China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), one of the partners in the Shidao Bay 1 project, to start plans for building larger HTR units to take advantage of economies of scale. In November 2020, CNNC put out a tender soliciting technology partners to construct two 600 MW HTR units.102 It is hard to imagine that even this increase in scale would make HTRs competitive; estimates by the Idaho National Laboratory in the U.S. suggest that the costs for fuel fabrication, operations, and maintenance alone would be three times the corresponding costs for light water reactors.103 CNNC’s interest in the HTGR is therefore puzzling, especially in light of the failure of the first HTR-PM project to meet schedules and cost estimates.

China’s hopes for nuclear reactor exports also seem to be fading away. During the past decade, the Fukushima accidents were used by Chinese officials to argue that the country had a comparative advantage; in 2013, a former Administrator at the CNEA stated “history has given China an opportunity to overtake the world’s nuclear energy and nuclear technology powers”.104 In 2016, CNNC’s president announced that “China aims to build 30 overseas nuclear power units… by 2030”.105 That goal is clearly beyond reach today and most agreements that China had entered into with various countries “have not progressed much past the signing stage”.106 The country has no firm export prospects except to Pakistan.

Accordingly, CGN has simply abandoned any export ambition over the coming years, and states in a May-2020 supplement to the 2019-Annual Report107:

In view of the recent international development trend of nuclear power, the Company has neither determined any specific targets for overseas market exploration, nor commenced any overseas projects, and does not expect to have any overseas investment projects in the next few years. As a result, the proceeds specified to be used for overseas market exploration in the Prospectus have not been utilized. Given the orderly progression of the Company’s construction of nuclear power projects under construction, in order to increase the efficiency of use of proceeds and reduce capital deposition, on May 20, 2020, the Company, as approved by the 2019 Annual General Meeting, has changed the use of the remaining unused proceeds. Accordingly, approximately RMB966.739 million [US$152 million] of the unused proceeds to be used for overseas market exploration as specified in the Prospectus will instead be entirely utilized for the construction of Fangchenggang Units 3 and 4, and the interests and exchange income thereby generated will also be used for the construction of Fangchenggang Units 3 and 4.

In the meantime, renewable energy capacity in China continues to grow rapidly. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), total installed renewable capacity increased by nearly 18 percent in the past year, going from 759 GW in 2019 to 894 GW in 2020.108 The largest component of that expansion was in wind capacity, which increased from 210 GW in 2019 to 282 GW in 2020, of which offshore capacity is 9 GW; solar capacity went from 205 GW in 2019 to 254 GW in 2020.

In comparison, with two reactors starting up, installed nuclear capacity increased by 2 GW in 2020. According to provisional numbers, this is by far the lowest increase in all major sources of power with hydropower going up by 13 GW and thermal (coal) power expanding by 56 GW.109 The reasons for the expansion of coal have been traced to a number of incentives.110 Investment trends, according to the China Electricity Council, are also important. When 2020 is compared with 2019, investment in completed thermal power projects has declined by 27 percent and nuclear energy projects by 23 percent, whereas investment in completed hydro power and wind power projects went up by 19 percent and 71 percent respectively.111

When it comes to power generation trends, wind and solar plants injected 467 TWh and 261 TWh to the grid respectively, according to the China Electricity Council.112 In 2020, electricity generated by wind turbines exceeded the nuclear output by 28 percent, and solar energy represented over 70 percent of nuclear energy’s contribution.

Finland Focus

Finland operates four units which in 2020 supplied 22.4 TWh of electricity, compared with 22.9 TWh in 2019 which was the highest production ever in the country. The nuclear share represented 33.9 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2020, compared to 34.7 percent in 2019, and a peak 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 as previously, during the past year has suffered further delays. In mid-2020, the schedule was 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.113 These target dates were not achieved, and the plant is now scheduled to be connected to the grid in October 2021.114

Finland has adopted different nuclear technologies and suppliers, as two of its operating reactors are modified VVER-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 42.3 years. In January 2017, operator TVO (Teollisuuden Voima Oyj) filed an application for a 20-year license extension for Olkiluoto-1 and -2 (OL1, OL2), which were connected to the grid in 1978 and 1980 respectively.115 On 20 September 2018, the Cabinet approved the lifetime extension for both units to operate until 2038.116

A “severe abnormal event” occurred at the OL2 reactor on 10 December 2020, that led to reactor shut down.117 What the Finnish radiation and nuclear safety regulator Säteilyturvakeskus (STUK) called an exceptional safety event, with a rise in radiation levels inside the containment, caused a full-scale emergency response at STUK and at Olkiluoto. As of mid-2021, the situation was stable and the unit in a safe state. TVO and STUK reported that there was no radioactive release to the environment.118 The event cause was confirmed on 11 December 2020 due to a fault in the purification system in the primary circuit when filter material caused a temporary rise of the radiation levels in the circuit. According to STUK there was no nuclear fuel damage.119

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,120 and then in April 2014 a “binding decision to construct” a 1200 MW AES-2006 reactor was announced. A construction license for the reactor was expected in 2021121 and construction was to begin in the same year, with operation of the plant currently scheduled for 2028. Progress was made during the past year according to Fennovoima, in particular its near completion of the safety review, however, there have been revisions to the construction start and completion dates.

In April 2021, Fennovoima reported that it had moved significantly towards being granted a construction license by the end of 2021.122 However, three weeks later it reported that it was now aiming for a license in summer 2022. In its updated application to STUK for a construction license on 28 April 2021, it reported construction start now scheduled for 2023, and commercial operation by 2029.123 Construction of Hanhikivi-1 is now ten years behind the original schedule.124 Estimated costs for the project have increased from €6.5–7 billion (US$7.7-8.3 billion) to €7–7.5 billion (US$8.3–8.8 billion).125 The construction contract with RAOS Project Oy is a fixed-priced contract, so costs are due to expenses from Fennovoima’s own operations. A Review by STUK of the licensing documentation to be submitted as part of the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report for the reactor is underway but has experienced further delays.126

Olkiluoto-3 (OL3)

In December 2003, Finland became the first country in Western Europe to order a new nuclear reactor since 1988. AREVA NP, then a joint venture owned 66 percent by AREVA and 34 percent by Siemens, was contracted to build the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) at OL3 under a fixed-price, turnkey contract with the utility TVO. Siemens quit the consortium in March 2011 and announced in September 2011 that it was abandoning the nuclear sector entirely.127 After the 2015 technical bankruptcy of the AREVA Group, in which the cost overruns of Olkiluoto had played a large part, the majority shareholder, the French Government, decided to integrate the reactor-building division under “new-old name” Framatome into a subsidiary majority-owned by state utility EDF.

However, EDF made it clear that it would not take over the billions of euros’ liabilities linked to the costly Finnish AREVA adventure.128 Thus, it was decided that the financial liability for OL3 and associated risks stay with AREVA S.A. after the sale of AREVA NP and the creation of a new company AREVA Holding, now named Orano, that will focus on nuclear fuel and waste management services, very similar to the old COGEMA. In July 2017, the French Government confirmed that it had completed its €2 billion (US$20182.3 billion) capital increase,129 most of which was to cover the costs to AREVA of the OL3 investment.

The OL3 project was financed essentially on the balance sheets of the Finland’s leading firms and heavy energy users as well as a number of municipalities under a unique arrangement that makes them liable for the plant’s indefinite capital costs for an indefinite period, whether or not they get the electricity—a capex “take-or-pay contract”—in addition to the additional billions incurred by AREVA under the fixed price contract.

OL3 construction started in August 2005, with operations planned from 2009. However, that date—and other dates—passed.

From the beginning, the OL3 project was plagued with countless management and quality-control issues. Not only did it prove difficult to carry out concreting and welding to technical specifications, but the use of sub-contractors and workers from over 50 nationalities made communication and oversight extremely complex (see previous WNISR editions).

After further multiple delays, TVO announced in June 2018 that grid connection was planned for May 2019 with “regular electricity generation” in September 2019.130 In April 2019, fuel loading was pushed further to August 2019. TVO’s plans for grid connection in October 2019 and electricity generation by January 2020 were considered by WNISR2019 as highly optimistic.131

In July 2019, TVO announced that it had once again delayed operations for OL3 by six months.132 The startup date was moved to July 2020 by nuclear plant supplier the AREVA-Siemens Consortium. TVO announced that nuclear fuel was scheduled to be loaded into the reactor in January 2020 and the first connection to the grid was to be in April 2020. By November 2019, the revised schedule for OL3 start had slipped a further six weeks, according to TVO.133 The delays were reported to be due to final verification of the mechanical, electrical and Instrumentation and Control (I&C) systems.

In December 2019, the AREVA-Siemens Consortium informed TVO134 that OL3 would be connected to the grid in November 2020 with regular electricity generation from March 2021.135 Nuclear fuel loading was planned for June 2020. The delays were reported to be due to slow progress of system tests and shortcomings in spare-part deliveries.136 Among other things in the tests of auxiliary diesel generators some faulty components were found.137

On 8 April 2020, TVO announced that it had applied to the regulator STUK, for approval for fuel loading.138 It was expected to take two months. At the same time, TVO revealed that “a significant amount of measures [were] taken to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) in order to minimize the effects of pandemic risk to the project. The coronavirus pandemic may have significantly added uncertainty to the progress of the project.”139 As a consequence, fuel loading would not take place in June 2020 as planned, and “it is possible that the regular electricity production will be delayed respectively. AREVA-Siemens consortium will update the schedule for OL3 EPR unit as soon as spreading and effects of the coronavirus pandemic are known.”140

These delays and uncertainties prompted a revision downwards of TVO’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s, with the timing and effect on OL3 commissioning “unclear” and

with expectations (...) that this will further increase project costs and postpone TVO’s deleveraging, increasing the risk that the AREVA (not rated) is unable to maintain sufficient funds for related obligations, including the two-year guarantee period. The negative outlook reflects the risk that TVO’s financial flexibility could diminish as a result of weaker counterparties or additional delays that could further increase already-high financial leverage.141

With the delay in fuel loading, and in a further sign of potential and additional financial risks for delay in OL3 commissioning, credit rating agency Fitch revised TVO’s outlook from stable to negative, and stated that, “A significant delay could be negative for TVO’s cash flow as the company has to service debt related to OL3”.142 The agency noted:

There is a risk that the settlement agreement signed with the supplier consortium (AREVA NP, AREVA GmbH, Siemens AG (A/Stable) and AREVA Group’s parent AREVA SA) in March 2018 would not protect TVO from financial impacts should the start of power production be delayed beyond June 2021, because the consortium has not yet assigned a new date for the fuel loading. After this date, TVO would not be entitled to penalty payments from the supplier consortium under the settlement agreement anymore.143

As reported by WNISR2019 (see WNISR2019 – Finland Focus), TVO and AREVA-Siemens signed a settlement agreement in March 2018, which states that TVO would receive compensation of €450 million (US$515 million) from the supplier consortium. The settlement further includes a penalty mechanism, under which the supplier consortium pays additional penalties to TVO in case of further delays beyond 2019. However, these are capped at €400 million (US$458 million), which were reached in June 2021. With delays beyond June 2021, the agreement does not cover the financial impact on TVO. It was reported in April 2020, that AREVA was currently making arrangements in order to secure funding until the end of the project (including the guarantee period).144

In March 2021, fuel was finally loaded into the OL3 reactor, with grid connection announced in mid-May 2021 for October 2021.145 By the end of July 2021, startup had already been pushed back by another month to November 2021, “due to turbine overhaul”.146

On 17 May 2021, TVO announced that it had reached a consensus settlement agreement with the Areva−Siemens consortium.147 Negotiations had been underway since summer 2020 on the terms of the OL3 EPR project-completion. Critical to the goal was agreement for an additional €600 million to be made available from the AREVA companies’ trust mechanism as of the beginning of January 2021. Other key issues agreed included that both parties are to cover their own costs from July 2021 until end of February 2022, and that in case the consortium companies do not complete the OL3 EPR project until the end of February 2022, they would pay additional compensation for delays, depending on the date of completion. Fitch reported that it may revise TVO’s outlook from negative to stable.148

Faulty Pressurizer Safety Relief Valves

On 9 July 2020, when yet another potentially significant delay was announced in commissioning of OL3, STUK reported that defects in the pressurizer safety relief valves had been identified.149 The valve on which the leak was found was mechanically damaged and after further checks similar cracks were detected in two of five other valves. STUK announced that the problem was serious and should be fully investigated before proceeding with nuclear fuel loading. The Sierion valves were disassembled, removed from OL3 and returned to the German manufacturer for detailed analysis.

Pressurizer safety relief valves are F1A classified (must-not-fail) because it is necessary to reach a controlled state under Plant Condition Category (PCC) conditions. The EPR valves are required to perform vital functions in both routine and accident conditions.150

The safety relief valves type VS99 (Sierion) installed in OL3 were manufactured by the German company Sempell,151 and their quality was confirmed in 2016–2017 by Erlangen Center owned by Framatome. As a result of the discovery, Sempell valves installed in the EPRs at Taishan-1 and -2 in China and Flamanville-3 in France are to be investigated. Sempell valves are also due to be installed in the Hinkley Point C EPRs. As of early July 2020, the only disclosure from TVO was that “cracks were detected in the pilot valves of the pressurizer safety relief valves”.152

In October 2020, STUK confirmed that the damage to the safety release valves had been caused by stress corrosion cracking.153 The valves would be required to be repaired before nuclear fuel loading, and would be eventually required to be replaced.

STUK granted a fuel loading permit for the OL3 EPR on 26 March 2021.154 It started on 27 March 2021.155

OL3 was considered by the nuclear industry as a showcase for next-generation reactor technology with TVO and AREVA predicting 56 months to completion. In September 2020, after confirming further delays to the operation date for OL3, the project Director, Jouni Silvennoinen, said he would not guess the total costs and losses and that in terms of the project being a failure, “We do not comment.”156

Over a decade ago WNISR considered that the project could lead to a crisis,157 which has turned out to be rather accurate as its total construction time to commercial operation on the current schedule of February 2022, will be 212 months or 13 years behind schedule.

France Focus

This report constitutes a Copernican moment for the energy world.

From now on, we have the confirmation that moving towards 100% renewable electricity is technically possible. This is a major conceptual evolution and a revolution for our collective representation concerning our electricity mix.158

Barbara Pompili

Minister for the Ecological Transition

Comments on a joint IEA-RTE report

27 January 2021

Introduction

The year 2020 was particularly difficult for the French nuclear sector. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the industry not only by reducing electricity consumption and increasing costs, but the operation of nuclear power plants was significantly impacted by the repeated reshuffling of the outage schedules. Output plunged to the lowest level in 27 years. While no reactor has been shut down explicitly due to the impact of COVID-19, nuclear power has turned out very sensitive to effects, like the need to have very large numbers of workers on-site during refueling and maintenance outages.

The credit-rating agencies did not wait for year-end and in June 2020 downgraded EDF to BBB+ (lower medium grade) notably because of “lower-than-expected availability of nuclear reactors”. However, due to the “likelihood of government support”, EDF is awarded three notches over its “Stand Alone Credit Profile”, which is now lowered BB+ (non-investment grade or “junk”). EDF’s U.K. subsidiary EDF Energy was downgraded to “junk”.159

“Without civil nuclear no military nuclear,

without military nuclear no civil nuclear.”

President Emmanuel Macron

At the end of 2020, President Emmanuel Macron visited the Creusot Forge that had been fighting for several years with a scandalous history of irregularities and falsifications in the documentation of thousands of forged pieces spanning over several decades (see Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy). He gave a symbolic speech that was meant to reinforce the unconditional support of the French state to the struggling nuclear industry, civil and military. “Our energy and ecological future”, “our economic and industrial future”, “the strategic future of France” are all depending on the nuclear industry.160 In brief, the quality of life, the independence, la grandeur de la France all depend on the nuclear sector.

The French President insisted heavily on the interdependencies between the civil and military branches of the nuclear industry:

The sector is living of its complementarities and moreover it should be conceived in its complementarities. And it is also because of that that we need to constantly think in the long term, the capacity to preserve our technical, technological, and industrial competences on the entire sector to protect our sovereign production capacities, civil as well as military. The one is not possible without the other.161 Without civil nuclear no military nuclear, without military nuclear no civil nuclear.162

The President mentioned the “Creusot Affair” only in passing, “four and a half years after these moments of doubt”. However, he also stated:

As it is very difficult to say today which, nuclear [power] or renewable energies, will be the best technology to replace our existing nuclear fleet in 2035, we therefore need to look at the entire range of possibilities. (…) First, we need to study the technical feasibility of an electricity mix with a very high level of renewables. A report commissioned from the International Energy Agency [IEA] and RTE [Réseau de Transport d’Électricité] will be published early next year.163

Indeed, the joint IEA-RTE report was released in January 2021 and found “no insurmountable technical barriers to move towards a mix with very high shares of variable renewable energy”, that is 85–90 percent by 2050 and 100 percent by 2060.164 However, the study sees four areas where additional developments seem necessary: Power system strength; adequacy and flexibility resources to cope with the variability of wind and solar PV; operational reserves; and grid development.165

The IEA-RTE working group is carrying out a series of follow-up assessments including a full system-cost analysis and extensive modeling of the European power sector. The work is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2021.

The conflicting signals between the affirmation of the traditional government support for the “all-nuclear” approach and the fine-tuning of an “all-renewables” feasibility analysis are likely to provide ample substance for debate well into 2022 with the first round of the presidential election scheduled for 10 April.

Worst Performance in Decades

Until the closure of the two oldest French units at Fessenheim in the spring of 2020, the French nuclear fleet had remained stable for 20 years, except for the closure of the 250 MW fast breeder Phénix in 2009 and for two units in LTO within the period 2015–2017 (see Figure 21).

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

No new reactor has started up since Civaux-2 was connected to the French grid in 1999. The first and only PWR closed prior to Fessenheim was the 300 MW Chooz-A reactor, which was retired in 1991. The other closures were eight first generation natural-uranium gas-graphite reactors, two fast breeder reactors and a small prototype heavy water reactor (see Figure 22).

In 2020, the 58 operating reactors—including the two Fessenheim reactors closed in the first half of 2020166— produced 335.4 TWh, an 11.6 percent drop over the previous year.167 The plunge of 44.1 TWh is larger than the total annual production of 21 smaller nuclear power generating countries, including Japan, or larger than the annual generation of two thirds of all nuclear countries. It is the fifth year in a row that generation remained below 400 TWh, partially due to the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. In 2005, nuclear generation peaked at 431.2 TWh.

Nuclear plants provided 67.1 percent of the country’s electricity, 3.5 percentage points less than in 2019, the lowest share since 1985. According to RTE, the share peaked in 2005 at 78.3 percent (see Figure 23).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Notes:

PWR: Pressurized Water Reactor; GCR: Gas-Cooled Reactor; HGWGCR: Heavy Water Gas Cooled Reactor; FBR: Fast Breeder Reactor.

Sources: RTE, 2000–2021

In the first half of 2021, nuclear production recovered to some degree but remained below the 2019-level and at the lower end of the 2012–2019 range (see Figure 24).

Source: RTE, “Données Mensuelles”, 2021

Nuclear plants provided 17 percent of final energy in France in 2020, with the largest share being covered by fossil fuels with 63 percent.

According to operator EDF, the negative impact relating to Covid-19 on 2020 generation is estimated to be approximately 33 TWh. In addition to the effects of the health crisis, the drop in power generation is due to the shutdown of the two Fessenheim reactors as well as:

  • The shutdown of Flamanville-2 (ten-year inspection) and Paluel-2 (Simple Reload Shutdown – SRS) which continued throughout the 2020 campaign, due to major technical issues. The end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 saw the return of these two units to the grid.
  • A significant technical complication on a shared radioactive effluent collection tank for Bugey-2 and -3, resulting in the extension of the ten-year inspection of Bugey-2 and the shutdown of Unit 3 (as well as the extension of its SRS);
  • Exceptional incidents and large-scale contingencies (Flamanville-1 diesel – 10 TWh, Cattenom-1 power transmission station – 1.1 TWh):
  • In addition, production losses were suffered at the Chooz power plant due to the low water levels in the river Meuse.168

    Nuclear Unavailability Review 2020

In 2020, the total duration of zero output of the French reactor fleet reached 6,465 reactor-days (up 885 days or 16 percent from the 5,580 reactor-days in 2019, following a 500-day or 10 percent increase in 2019 over 2018), an average of 115.5 days per reactor (up 19.3 days over 2019) or an outage ratio of about one third of the time, not including load following or other operational situations with reduced but above-zero output e.g. as a consequence of heat and drought. All 56 reactors were subject to outages ranging from 5–356 days (see Figure 25 and Figure 26).

Sources: RTE, compiled by WNISR, 2021169

Note: For each day in the year, this graph shows the total number of reactors offline, not necessarily simultaneously as all unavailabilities do not overlap, but on the same day. The two Fessenheim reactors closed in the first half of the year are not represented.

The unavailability analysis further shows170:

  • On 13 days (4 percent of the year), 28 or more (30–34.4 GW) of the 56 units were down for at least part of the day.
  • On 169 days (46 percent of the year, up from 26 percent in 2019), 20 or more units were shut down for at least part of the day.
  • On 335 days (92 percent of the year, up from 83 percent in 2019), at least 10 units were down during the same day.
  • At least six reactors (6.7 GW) were down (zero capacity) simultaneously at any day of the year.
  • At least twenty reactors were offline simultaneously during the equivalent of 158.5 days.

Sources: compiled by WNISR, with RTE Data, EDF, “List of outages”, 2020–2021

Notes:

This graph only compiles outages at zero power, thus excluding all other operational periods with reduced capacity >0 MW. Impact of unavailabilities on power production is therefore significantly larger.

“Planned” and “Forced” unavailabilities as declared by EDF.

The two Fessenheim reactors closed in the first half of the year are not represented.

EDF’s declaration of “planned” vs. “forced” outages is grossly misleading. According to that classification, in 2020, 15 reactors did not have any “forced” outage, at eight units they lasted less than one day, and at 24 between one and ten days, just nine reactors fall in the range between 11 and 31 days of “forced” outage.

EDF considers an outage as planned whatever the number of extensions or its duration. In fact, WNISR analysis shows that in 2019 only one unit (Dampierre-3) restarted as planned after a long outage of 82 days. All other outages were extended beyond the original grid-reconnection dates. The unplanned delays ranged from 1.3 to 175 days. The additional unavailability added up to 1,705 days, an increase of 44 percent over the expected outage duration.

The Flamanville site was the worst performer. The two units finally restarted on 12 December 2020 (FL2) and 3 May 2021 (FL1), after 702-day and 593-day outages. Throughout the shutdown, EDF has labeled the outage for both units as “planned”, a policy that does not help the public and decision-makers understand the real nature of plant management and performance by the largest nuclear operator in the world.

According to EDF, the outage schedule for the 2020 campaign “suffered significant upheaval due to the health crisis, requiring major adjustments to the work programmes, and causing disruption to preparation”.171 In particular:

Some shutdowns were extended by more than 50 days, notably the partial inspections at Cattenom-2, Civaux-1, Cruas-3, Blayais-3, and Gravelines-6, and the ten-year inspection at Chinon-B4. These shutdowns, some of which began during the first lockdown, met with significant complications.172

Lifetime Extension, ASN’s Conditional Generic Approval

By mid-2021, the average age of the 56 power reactors exceeds 36 years (see Figure 27). Lifetime extension beyond 40 years—49 operating units are now over 31 years old—requires significant additional upgrades. Also, relicensing will be subject to public enquiries reactor by reactor.

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Operating costs have increased substantially over the past few years (see also previous WNISR editions). Outages that systematically exceed planned timeframes are particularly costly. EDF’s net financial debt increased by €8 billion (US$9 billion) in 2019 and grew by another €1.2 billion (US$1.4 billion) in 2020 to a total of €42.3 billion (US$50 billion).173

Until 2022, the COVID-19 effects might add a total of €5–10 billion (US$6–12 billion) to the company’s debt burden and increase the pressure for further cost savings.174

Investments for lifetime extensions will need to be balanced against the excessive nuclear share in the power mix, the stagnating or decreasing electricity consumption in France—it has been roughly stable for the past decade—and in the European Union (EU) as a whole, the shrinking client base due to successful competitors, and the energy efficiency and renewable energy production targets set at both the EU and the French levels.

EDF has been losing 100,000–200,000 clients per month for several years. As of the end of 2020, EDF’s competitors had captured half of the commercial customers and 26 percent of the residential clients.175 On 1 January 2021, EDF lost 300,000 non-residential customers in one go when the regulated tariffs for small commercial users were abolished.176

At the beginning of 2018, EDF claimed its power generating costs for existing reactors would be €32/MWh (US$38/MWh)—including nuclear operating and maintenance costs (€22/MWh or US$201826/MWh including fuel at €5/MWh – US$20186/MWh) and all anticipated upgrading costs for plant life extension to 50 years (10 €/MWh or US$201812/MWh)—and would remain more economic than “any new alternative”.177

However, there are serious questions about these numbers. Michèle Pappalardo, former senior representative of the Court of Accounts, remarked during the National Assembly’s Inquiry-Committee hearings that EDF’s calculation stopped mid-way in 2025, and recalled that the Court had calculated a total cost of €100 billion (US$117 billion) for the period 2014–2030.178 That figure has been confirmed by EDF in the meantime.179

However, these estimates were based on the situation in early 2018, but EDF’s performance in 2018–20 significantly deteriorated with unprecedented outage extensions, thus low production levels in a low-price, low-consumption market environment, which had not been factored into the 2018-cost calculations. The COVID-19 crisis led to a further deterioration of the situation and will have repercussions at least into 2022.

EDF will likely seek lifetime extension beyond the 4th Decennial Safety Review (VD4) for most, if not all, of its remaining reactors. This is in line with the Government’s pluriannual energy plan, which does not envisage any further reactor closures until 2023 (after the presidential elections) and only a limited number in the following years. This program will be limited to 900 MWe reactors, the oldest segment of the French nuclear fleet. The first reactor to undergo the VD4 was Tricastin-1 in 2019. Bugey-2 and -4 were scheduled in 2020, and Tricastin-2, Dampierre-1, Bugey-5 and Gravelines-1 in 2021… until the COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted the safety review schedule.

While the President of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) judged the VD4-premiere on Tricastin-1 “satisfactory”, he questioned whether EDF’s engineering resources were sufficient to carry out similar extensive reviews simultaneously at several sites.180 Beyond the human resource issue, the experience raises the question of affordability. EDF had scheduled an outage for Tricastin-1 of 180 days in 2019, which was extended by 25 days. Including further, unrelated unavailabilities, the reactor was in full outage during two thirds of the year (232 days).

EDF expects these VD4 outages to last six months, much longer than the average of three to four months experienced through VD2 and VD3 outages. However, as illustrated, many factors could lead to significantly longer outages. EDF, in fact, has already started negotiating with ASN for the workload to be split in two packages, with the supposedly smaller second one to be postponed four years after the VD4.181

On 23 February 2021, the ASN issued detailed generic requirements for plant life extension. Originally, these requirements were to be issued in 2016 but their release has been postponed several times, due to the need for extended and often unprecedented technical discussions. The general objective of ASN has been to bring the reactors “as close as possible” to the safety level required in new reactor designs, such as the EPR under construction in Flamanville. ASN notes in its 2019-Annual Report:

The safety reassessment of these reactors and the resulting improvements must be carried out by comparison with the new-generation reactors, such as the EPR, the design of which meets significantly reinforced safety requirements.182

This is strikingly different from most other countries, where safety authorities merely request to maintain a given safety level. Accordingly, the key aspects of ASN’s February 2021 decision were not the five short administrative articles but the two annexes setting the technical conditions and the timetable for work to be carried out. The challenge for operator EDF will be high, as ASN outlines:

Over the coming five years, the nuclear sector will have to cope with a significant increase in the volume of work that is absolutely essential to ensuring the safety of the facilities in operation.

Starting in 2021, four to five of EDF’s 900 Megawatts electric (MWe) reactors will undergo major work as a result of their fourth ten-yearly outages. (…)

All of this work will significantly increase the industrial workload of the sector, with particular attention required in certain segments that are under strain, such as mechanical and engineering, at both the licensees and the contractors.183

ASN has shown remarkable tolerance for extended timescales of refurbishments and upgrades in the past, e.g. many of the post-Fukushima measures have not yet been implemented. According to information provided by ASN to Greenpeace France on 3 March 2021 following a detailed questionnaire sent to ASN on 16 December 2020, none of the 56 French reactors were backfitted entirely according to ASN requests issued in 2012. Completion of the work program could take until 2039.184

And the implementation of work to be carried out as part of the lifetime extension beyond 40 years stretches over 15 years until 2036, when the last 900 MW reactor is supposed to be upgraded: Chinon B-4, connected to the grid in 1987, gets the 15-year delay to implement 15 of a total of 37 measures. The unit will have operated then for 49 years. This is not an exception; it is just the most recent operating 900 MW reactor. ASN has accepted similar timescales for all 32 of the 900 MW units. The French Nuclear Safety Authorities are flexible.

The Flamanville-3 EPR Saga Continued

The 2005 construction decision of Flamanville-3 (FL3) was mainly motivated by the industry’s attempt to confront the serious problem of maintaining nuclear competence. Fifteen years later, ASN still drew attention to the “need to reinforce skills, professional rigorousness and quality within the nuclear sector”.185

In December 2007, EDF started construction on FL3 with a scheduled startup date of 2012. The project has been plagued with design issues and quality-control problems, including basic concrete and welding difficulties similar to those at the Olkiluoto (OL3) project in Finland, which started construction two-and-a-half years earlier. These problems never stopped. In April 2018, it was discovered that the main welds in the secondary steam system did not conform with the technical specifications; so by the end of May 2018 EDF stated that repair work might again cause “a delay of several months to the start-up of the Flamanville 3 European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) reactor.”186

In July 2020, EDF had stated that fuel loading would now be delayed to “late 2022” and construction costs re-evaluated at €12.4 billion, an increase of €1.5 billion over the previous estimate.187 In addition to the overnight construction costs, as of December 2019, EDF indicated more than €4.2 billion (US$20194.6 billion) was needed for various cost items, including €3 billion (US$20193.3 billion) of financial costs. By 1 July 2023, the latest provisional date for the startup of the reactor, these additional costs could reach €20156.7 billion (US$20157.4 billion). The latest construction cost estimate given by EDF of €201512.4 billion would represent about two thirds of the total thus estimated by the French Court of Accounts at €201519.1 billion (US$202020 billion).188

On the basis of the updated cost estimates, the Court states that FL-3 electricity could possibly be generated at €2015110–120/MWh (US$137–149/MWh).

All of these numbers do not take into account the COVID-19 effect, and EDF warned that the construction interruption at the Flamanville EPR “could result in further delays and additional costs”.189

That is in addition to new technical issues. ASN notes in its 2020 Annual Report:

The inspection of the EPR equipment has already revealed numerous deviations from the required level of quality. ASN therefore asked EDF to perform a quality review of the Flamanville EPR reactor equipment. With regard to the secondary circuits (main steam lines and steam generator feedwater lines), more than a hundred welds are concerned by deviations. (…)

ASN is particularly attentive to operating experience feedback from the EPR reactors in Finland and China, which highlights certain subjects requiring specific investigation and examination. It notably concerns the stress corrosion on the pilot valves of the EPR reactor at Olkiluoto (Finland), as well as the anomalies on the power distributions in the EPR cores in Taishan (China).190

In March 2021, EDF notified ASN of a new problem. Back in 2006, EDF and Framatome changed the design of three nozzles—connections between pipes—and increased the diameter of the weld connecting the pieces, which are part of the primary circuit. ASN reports: “At the time, they did not identify the fact that the break size to be considered in the event of rupture of this weld now exceeded that considered in the safety studies.”191 EDF only detected this in 2013, but apparently did not communicate it to ASN, and, instead, “decided to process this anomaly by extending to these welds the break preclusion approach applied to the main primary system pipes”. This approach consists in reinforcing design and manufacturing requirements to practically exclude a break scenario that would call for the study and mitigation strategies of potential consequences. ASN has yet to issue a position statement on this latest problem.

Independent nuclear experts Manon Besnard and Yves Marignac, both members of several ASN advisory committees, issued a briefing on the nozzle problem expressing concern that “no procedure allowed ASN, for fifteen years, to identify” the issue. The “coincidental discovery” of the problem reinforces “the picture of the systemic crisis” in nuclear safety, they write.192

An EPR “New Model”, an “EPR2”?

Various reports over the past few years indicated that EDF is pushing for an early decision on the construction of new EPRs. The trade journal Contexte Énergie has consulted a leaked study evaluating four scenarios of an electricity mix in 2050. EDF’s Strategy Department concludes that the three scenarios combining renewables and nuclear power would “provide a better resilience” than an all-renewable option as they would avoid “betting on the maturity of certain technologies and on the capacity to mobilize very high potentials of renewables”. They would also “allow to achieve the objectives at lower cost”.193 Consequently, the EDF study pushes for a decision to engage in the construction of six EPRs as early as 2021–22, thus prior to the presidential elections.

The leak of EDF’s conclusions appears convenient in the interest of those wishing to follow suit, as it is impossible to assess the underlying hypotheses.

The government has asked EDF to “prepare a comprehensive file with the nuclear industry by mid-2021 relating to a programme of renewal of nuclear facilities in France”. Studies for a new design termed EPR NM (New Model) or EPR2 are underway. EDF has “started to prepare economic and industrial proposals based on the EPR2 technology”.194

ASN’s technical support organization IRSN (Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire) issued several critical assessments of EDF’s pre-design choices. ASN had requested EDF to take into account the crash of a military plane in the design and safety studies. IRSN concluded in a note released in December 2020 that “EDF’s approach stays behind ASN’s request”, in particular that such a “crash does not entail an accident”.195 In another analysis published in March 2021, IRSN looks at a phenomenon identified in various EPRs in operation or under construction. Excessive vibrations have been identified in pipework connected to the pressurizer. IRSN stated that manufacturer “Framatome must identify the origin of the high vibrations and bring them back to a situation comparable to the one in the operating fleet.” This should not exclude the development of a new design.196

Increasing Role for Renewables Welcome

The national grid company, RTE, stated: “The decline in nuclear production compared to 2019 was thus compensated partially by an increase in wind and solar production”. While hydro contributed half of the renewable energy generation in 2020, wind power provided 33 percent, solar 11 percent, and biomass 6 percent.197

According to the 2020-edition of IRSN’s “Opinion Barometer”, nine in ten consulted citizens hold a “rather good” or “very good” opinion of solar energy and eight in ten do the same concerning wind turbines. Concerning nuclear energy, only one third express a “rather good” or “very good” opinion, but 16 percent do have a “very bad” opinion about nuclear power representing the strongest absolute rejection of any suggested energy option. (See Figure 28.)198

Sources: IRSN Barometer, 2020

India Focus

India has 21 operational nuclear power reactors, with a total net generating capacity of 6.5 GW. One unit falls under the LTO category, Madras-1, which was shut down on 30 January 2018 to carry out work on the end-shield and had not come back up as of mid-2021. The Rajasthan-1 reactor, which has not generated power since 2004, is considered permanently closed.199 The latest of the operational reactors is the third unit of the Kakrapar power plant. The 630-MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) went critical on 22 July 2020 and was connected to the grid on 10 January 2021.200

In addition to these operating reactors, seven more reactors, with a combined capacity of 5.2 GW, are under construction. These include one VVER-1000s at Kudankulam-5 (first pour of concrete in June 2021)201, two more VVER-1000s at Kudankulam (under construction since June and October 2017), three PHWRs—including one at Kakrapar (since November 2010) and two at Rajasthan (since July and September 2011)—and a Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) that has been under construction since October 2004.

According to the IAEA’s PRIS database, nuclear power contributed 40.4 TWh net of electricity in 2020, marginally less than 40.7 TWh in 2019. This represents a share of 3.1 percent of total power generation, compared to 3.2 percent in 2019. India’s Central Electricity Authority (CEA) records 43.9 TWh from nuclear power for the period from April 2020 to March 2021, lower than the corresponding figure of 46.4 TWh from April 2019 to March 2020.202

Strong Push for Renewables

In comparison, renewable energy sources, excluding large hydropower plants, together generated 147.3 TWh during the period from April 2020 to March 2021, up from 138.3 TWh generated from April 2019 to March 2020.203 Of the generation in 2020–2021, wind and solar energy contributed 60.1 TWh and 60.4 TWh, in comparison to 64.6 TWh and 50.1 TWh respectively in the previous year. As was the case in the year before, both wind and solar power have overtaken nuclear power in electricity generation. Together solar and wind energy generated nearly three times as much electricity as nuclear energy during the 2020-21 fiscal year.

BP’s 2021 statistical review reports 44.6 TWh gross of nuclear electricity and 151.2 TWh for non-hydro renewables for the year 2020, including solar and wind energy with 58.7 TWh and 60.4 TWh respectively. This compares to 45.2 TWh from nuclear power and 139.2 TWh from non-hydro renewables for the year 2019.204

The divergence between the contributions from renewable energy sector and nuclear energy is expected to increase drastically in the coming years and decades. The International Energy Agency (IEA) foresees explosive growth in solar energy followed by a somewhat more modest increase in wind energy, but relatively minuscule levels of growth of nuclear power.205 Some studies involving modelling the grid in India even suggest that wind and solar energy “could meet 80% of anticipated 2040 power demand supplanting the country’s current reliance on coal”.206 There seems to be a strong economic logic to renewables being expanded rapidly in India.

However, in 2020, there was relatively sluggish growth in installed capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), installed solar capacity increased by about 11 percent, from 35.1 GW in 2019 to 39.2 GW. Though still a significant increase in capacity, it is smaller than in earlier years. For comparison, installed solar capacity was only 0.6 GW in 2011. The growth in wind capacity was even more modest, and installed capacity went from 37.5 GW in 2019 to 38.6 GW in 2020 (up from 16.1 GW in 2011).207

Nuclear Construction Experiencing Delays

In contrast, the nuclear sector’s performance over the past year has been a continuation of earlier trends, most importantly construction delays and cost overruns. Of the seven reactor projects under construction, at least four, and possibly six, are delayed. The uncertainty is with regard to units 3 and 4 of Kudankulam; although there has been no official announcement, in July 2021, Nuclear Intelligence Weekly (NIW) reported that “Units 3 and 4 were targeted for commissioning in March and November 2023, but will now be completed in September 2024 and March 2025”.208 The other units are officially delayed. The PHWR that started operating in Kakrapar was to be commissioned in 2015. The two PHWRs under construction at Rajasthan were to be commissioned in late 2016. As of March 2021, the anticipated dates of commissioning are February 2022 for Kakrapar-4, and March 2023 for Rajasthan-7 and -8.209 In a petition to the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) has stated that it expects Rajasthan-7 to be connected to the grid by 30 June 2022.210

Finally, the PFBR continues to maintain its status as the most delayed project. From the initial expectation that it will be commissioned in September 2010, the latest “anticipated” date for commissioning the PFBR is October 2022.211 The shift from September 2010 to October 2022 was in steps, by a few months or a year at a time.212 What has also been changing with time is the official explanations for the delays. An initial factor that the nuclear establishment blamed was the December 2004 tsunami.213 The next cause to be blamed was the Fukushima accident, followed by pointing to “increased regulatory requirements” and the need for “abundant caution”.214 In September 2019, the chairperson of Bhavini, the organization constructing the PFBR, talked about a variety of equipment failures at Bhavini’s annual general meeting.215 More recently, a former nuclear official revealed that the pumps used to circulate the molten sodium have experienced problems.216

One set of reasons for the delay that is not explicitly acknowledged relates to the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel elements necessary to manufacture the core of the PFBR.217 There is evidence suggesting problems with either the production of adequate amounts of plutonium,218 or the ability to use that plutonium to fabricate MOX fuel.219

Rising Costs

As it has become progressively delayed, the projected cost of the PFBR has also risen, from the initially anticipated Rs.34.9 billion to, first, Rs.56.8 billion, to currently Rs.68.4 billion.220 (As of June 2021, the conversion rate to US$ is around Rs.73 per U.S. dollar. However, the PFBR costs are in mixed-year Rupees and so directly converting it into other currencies using one conversion rate is misleading.) Other projects have become more expensive too. Kakrapar-3 and -4 are now projected to cost Rs.165.8 billion, up from Rs. 114.6 billion, while Rajasthan-7 and -8 are now projected to cost Rs.170.8 billion, up from Rs.123.2 billion.221

Likely due to the construction cost escalation and delays, NPCIL has sought an increase in tariff for power from Kakrapar-3 and -4 extension, from Rs.3.34/kWh to Rs 5.31/kWh and the state of Gujarat, which is contractually obliged to purchase the output of about one third of the capacity of the two units, reportedly requested the central government to intervene and lower the tariff. The higher rate was particularly problematic for Gujarat because nuclear reactors have what is called “must run” status.222

Construction starts have also been slow. The government has long “accorded administrative approval and financial sanction for” constructing ten 700-MW PHWRs at various sites around the country.223 But construction is yet to begin on any of these.

In July 2020, the Chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission announced that NPCIL planned to start construction of two new projects, Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (GHAVP, 2x700 MW) in Haryana and Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) Units 5 and 6 (2x1,000 MW) at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu “in the course of the year”.224 So far, first concrete has been poured only for Kudankulam-5 (and hypothetically -6). A similar promise was repeated in May 2021 by the Chairman & Managing Director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India who said that the “first pour of concrete” for the Gorakhpur plant in the northern state of Haryana “is also planned this year”.225 In September 2020, the government did state in parliament that “work has commenced” on the GHAVP and Kudankulam-5 and -6 projects.226 This presumably meant activities prior to first pour of concrete. Despite construction not starting so far, the government has announced in parliament that “GHAVP 1&2 is expected to commence operation in 2026/2027” with two more units at the same site coming online in 2027 and 2028.227

Reactor Imports Make Slow Progress

Ever since the U.S.-India nuclear deal was negotiated between 2005 and 2008, there have been plans to import reactors from the U.S. and France. Despite the clearly uneconomical nature of such projects, they are still being considered, both by NPCIL and by nuclear reactor vendors. In April 2021, EDF submitted a “binding techno-commercial offer to supply engineering studies and equipment for the construction of six (6) EPR [European Pressurized Reactor] reactors at the Jaitapur site” in India.228 According to this offer, EDF’s subsidiary Framatome would provide nuclear steam supply systems, and GE Steam Power would supply the conventional islands, but NPCIL would be responsible for the construction and the commissioning of these reactors. No cost figures were mentioned but EDF explicitly announced that it is “neither an investor in the project nor in charge of the construction”.229

The performance of the last major imported reactors operating in India, Kudankulam-1 and -2, has been poor. During the 2020-2021 financial year, NPCIL records capacity factors of 64 percent and 72 percent respectively.230 According to the IAEA’s PRIS database, Kudankulam-1 and Kudankulam-2 had load factors of 60.7 percent and 71.9 percent in 2020, and cumulative load factors of 53.4 percent and 52.3 percent respectively. The official tariff for electricity from Kudankulam-1 and -2 is the highest among all nuclear plants.231

Japan Focus

Overview

The past year has seen a decline in electricity generation from nuclear power in large part due to forced extended outages linked to the regulatory deadline for completing anti-terrorism emergency safety facilities. For six weeks from mid-November to late December 2020 only one reactor was operating in Japan.232 However, by early 2021, four reactors were operating and as of 1 July 2021, eight reactors were operating. On 23 June 2021, the Mihama-3 Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) restarted for the first time in a decade becoming the first commercial reactor in Japan to operate beyond 40 years after first grid connection.233

As of 1 July 2021, a total of ten PWRs had restarted in Japan since the application of new safety guidelines under the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

Progress by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) towards restart of Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) at its one remaining nuclear plant, at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata, suffered a significant setback in April 2021. The NRA ordered a halt to scheduled refueling-operations for Unit 7 until corrective measures were taken in response to security breaches at the site.234 Restarts of Unit 6 and Unit 7 are also conditional on prefectural approval which is not expected before summer 2022 at the earliest. The order was the first of its kind issued to a commercially operated nuclear facility in Japan and led TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa to state: “We have grave concerns about whether we can continue to operate the nuclear power generation business.”235

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Note: This figure considers Ikata-3 in LTO since 2019. The reactor was shut down in December 2019 for maintenance and refueling.

The restart of Mihama-3 is significant as it is the first reactor granted a 20-year license extension by the NRA to resume operations. The reactor is owned by Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), which had been at the center of a bribery and corruption scandal in 2019-2020 (see WNISR2020). Kansai Electric is also planning to restart Takahama-1 and -2, during the second half of 2021 and into 2022. Both reactors have also been granted license extensions by the NRA.

Citizen initiated lawsuits against nuclear plants have continued to destabilize reactor operations in Japan. On 4 December 2020, for the first time a district court ruled that the NRA was not applying its regulations correctly and that the operating license for Ohi-3 and -4 should be withdrawn.236

No additional reactors have been declared for permanent closure during the past year, thus the total remains unchanged at 21 reactors (including the ten at Fukushima Daiichi & Daini). With one additional restart, Mihama-3, and one of the previously restarted reactors, Ikata-3, meeting the LTO criteria again, as of 1 July 2021, 24 reactors remain in LTO. WNISR has considered for years that the four reactors at Fukushima Daini will never restart. (See Figure 30 and Annex 2 for a detailed listing of the Japanese Reactor Program).

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2021

In 2020, nuclear power in Japan produced 43 TWh contributing 5.1 percent to the Japan’s electricity generation.237 This compares with 65.7 TWh and a 7.5 percent share in 2019, the largest share of nuclear generated electricity since 2011 (when it fell to 18 percent), compared with 29 percent in 2010 and the historic high of 36 percent in 1998. (See Figure 29.)

As a matter of comparison, according to IEA data, solar PV generation in 2020 was 78.7 TWh or 7.9 percent of electricity production, up 10 percent over the previous year and outpacing nuclear power.238

As in past years, from a Japanese utility perspective, there have been both positive and negative developments for the future of nuclear power in Japan, including the potential role it could play in decarbonization and emission reductions. During the past year, the new government of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced more ambitious emissions reduction goals for 2030 and a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.239 The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Green Growth vision for 2050, without setting firm targets, envisages renewable energy as providing 50–60 percent of electricity by 2050, and that nuclear together with fossil fuel and Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS), would be 30–40 percent.240

The process of reviewing the latest Strategic Energy Plan, which is due to be completed in summer 2021, also provided a platform for advocates of continued and even expanded nuclear power generation in Japan. The current plan, with a 20–22 percent target for nuclear electricity generation by 2030, is likely to remain unchanged this year. However, Kyodo News reported in June 2021 that the government “dropped the key phrase” that it “will continue to seek to make the most of nuclear power” following protests from Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono.241

As WNISR reported in 2019 and 2020, the industry has been working to counter unfavorable electricity market conditions. Significantly, this included the launch in April 2020 of a Capacity Market for the year 2024–2025. Calculations by WNISR suggest that seven of the nine reactors that had restarted as of 2020, secured contracts under the capacity market which should yield ¥67.2 billion (US$613 million) in additional income for three utilities (Kansai Electric, Kyushu Electric and Shikoku Electric) in 2024–2025.

As in previous years, a consistent majority of Japanese citizens, when polled, continue to oppose the sustained reliance on nuclear power, support its early phase-out, and remain opposed to the restart of reactors.242

Kansai Electric Dominates Nuclear Operations

KEPCO’s past year can be considered largely positive in terms of moving towards additional reactor restarts. On the current trajectory the utility within the next 12 months could be operating seven nuclear reactors. This is despite the major scandal that engulfed KEPCO in 2019 and early 2020, and a historic Osaka District Court ruling against its Ohi reactors (see Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents).

As detailed in WNISR2020, a decades-long bribery and corruption scandal in Fukui Prefecture in western Japan extended from local contractors, a former Takahama mayor, local prefectural officials, a chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and executives of KEPCO, including the President (see also Nuclear Power and Criminal Energy).243 Long considered the nuclear peninsula of Japan, Fukui Prefecture hosts 11 KEPCO reactors, four of which are slated for decommissioning.

As reported in WNISR2020, restarts for KEPCO’s Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) Takahama-1 and -2, and Mihama-3, which passed NRA review for respective upgrading plans in 2016, were delayed going into 2020 and there were further delays during the past year. In March 2020, KEPCO announced that completion of safety retrofits would take another four months longer than planned.244 These three reactors, which are 47, 46 and 45 years old respectively, were granted lifetime operation approval to 60 years by the NRA in 2016.245 Respective restart schedules have all been revised several times over recent years. While KEPCO had indicated restart targets of September–October 2020 for the Takahama and Mihama units, WNISR2020 noted that these were not attainable.

In the end, the first to restart was Mihama-3, on 23 June 2021, and was connected to the grid on 29 June 2021.

While there are no legal requirements that utilities receive local, prefectural assembly and Governor approval prior to reactor operations, without approval it is not possible. Local approval for restart of Mihama-3 was granted by the Mayor of Mihama town on 15 February 2021; this followed local assembly approval.246 In granting approval, Mayor Hideki Toshima stated that conditions to approve the restart, “have all been met, including understanding from the townspeople and consent from the municipal assembly, as well as promising feedback over regional development by the central government and Kansai Electric”, adding, “Both supporters and skeptics of the reactor restart are concerned about its safety. I will make sure to pay attention to the process.”247 Tatsuji Sugimoto, the Governor of Fukui, granted approval for the Mihama-3 restart on 28 April 2021.248 However, the NRA requires that the emergency safety center onsite be completed by 25 October 2021. KEPCO will not complete construction by this time but instead chose to restart the reactor anyway in June 2021 and will operate the reactor during the summer months and then shut it down again prior to the NRA deadline in October 2021. Nuclear fuel loading was completed on 22 May 2021. The reactor was connected to the grid on 29 June 2021249, and full operation was achieved on 4 July 2021.250 KEPCO announced on 2 August 2021 that after shutdown of Mihama-3 in October 2021, following completion of safety retrofits, the reactor will be restarted on 30 October 2022.251

For Takahama-1 and -2 restart will only take place after completion of emergency safety control-center construction. The NRA deadline for installation of these was 9 June 2021, which KEPCO was unable to meet. In February 2021, restart approval was granted by Mayor Yutaka Nose of the prefectural town of Takahama; the Municipal Assembly has also approved of the move.252 As with Mihama-3, Governor Sugimoto granted approval for restart of Takahama-1 and -2 on 28 April 2021. Fuel loading for Unit 1 began on 14 May 2021.

One factor that had been reported as an additional obstacle to prefectural approval was the issue of spent fuel storage. In the end, the political and economic weight of KEPCO asserted itself. The governor of Fukui had requested that KEPCO present its plans for securing a storage facility for spent fuel outside Fukui Prefecture, a condition of granting approval for restart of the Mihama and Takahama reactors. In February 2021, KEPCO President, Takashi Morimoto, had told the Fukui Governor that the utility would pursue all possibilities, including joint use (as the spent fuel intermediate storage facility) of the recyclable spent fuel storage center in Mutsu City, in Aomori Prefecture.253 He also said that KEPCO would not operate the reactor for more than 40 years without the determination of an external spent fuel site.254

Morimoto had earlier told Sugimoto that the company would present a candidate site in 2020 for the spent fuel facility but acknowledged and apologized at the end of the year that it “cannot state a specific place as of this time.”255 After further meetings with Japanese ministers, Sugimoto indicated that he was no longer applying the condition of spent fuel storage prior to reactor approval. However, the prefectural assembly in February refused to consider the restart of Takahama and Mihama, with members accusing the Governor of backing down on his earlier position. On 6 April 2021, Sugimoto met with the head of the Fukui prefectural assembly and explained that central government had proposed new grants to local governments hosting aging nuclear plants of up to ¥2.5 billion (US$23 million) per nuclear plant.256 On 23 April 2021 the assembly gave its consent to restart. Governor Sugimoto granted approval with an undertaking from KEPCO that they will identify a candidate spent fuel storage site by the end of FY2023 (31 March 2024); if not, KEPCO President Morimoto said, “we will work until we reach a determination, with the unwavering resolve that we will not operate Mihama-3 or Takahama-1 or -2.”257 There are very limited prospects that a site outside Fukui Prefecture will be secured for spent fuel for KEPCO within this timeframe, but this does not mean the reactors will really be shut down as a consequence. But it may have been a factor in the 2 August 2021 announcement of KEPCO to not plan to restart Takahama-1 and -2 until June and July 2023, nearly three years later than KEPCO’s original schedule.258

On the basis of the current schedule, the eventual operation of Takahama-1–4, Ohi-3 and -4 and Mihama-3, would mean that KEPCO by 2023 will account for seven of twelve reactors operating in Japan—assuming no further delays to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa restart.

Under the license extensions granted by the NRA, Takahama-1 and -2 reactors will be permitted to operate until November 2034 and November 2035 respectively; while Mihama-3 could operate until December 2036. Under NRA regulations, the license extension is supposed to be granted under special circumstances, implying not for all reactors, and cannot be extended further. Whether this changes over the coming years remains to be seen.

Nuclear Regulatory Safety Standards Challenged

The past year has witnessed significant rulings from law courts across Japan that underscore the continuing uncertainties for future reactor operation, as well as highlighting some of the underlying safety issues that remain unresolved (see Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accident).

While KEPCO is making progress to having the single largest number of reactors operating in Japan, prospects for those operations were dealt a potentially significant blow in December 2020. The Ohi-3 and -4 reactors were the subject of a historic legal ruling on 4 December 2020259 when the Osaka District Court ruled that the NRA approval for operating the two reactors was illegal. This is the first time a Japanese court has withdrawn government approval granted to a utility to operate a nuclear plant under the post Fukushima safety guidelines adopted in 2013. KEPCO, which was an intervenor for the government in the lawsuit, described the ruling as “extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable.”260 An appeal against the judgement was filed on 17 December 2020 and consequently the reactors are permitted to continue to operate pending the result of the appeal.261 The first hearing of the appeal case opened in the Osaka District Court on 8 June 2021.262

The court ruling was the first against the NRA over how it applies the new safety regulations in the screening process for reactor restarts, and specifically the seismic standards which were adopted post Fukushima and outline in a Guide for the Evaluation of Standard Seismic Motion.

However, rather than apply the ruling and reassess the approval for all reactors in Japan, the NRA has sought to dismiss the implications of the judgement. On 3 March 2021, Toyoshi Fuketa, chair of the regulatory body, stated that the guide was only a reference and neither the utility nor the NRA should be bound by it. In addition, a proposal was put forward to change the specific reference to variation to seek to bypass the Osaka court ruling. The move by the NRA was strongly condemned by over 100 NGOs across Japan.263

While prospects for restart improved for KEPCO during 2020–2021, Moody’s kept its credit-ratings outlook negative264 following its downgrading in March 2020.265 This reflected Moody’s

concerns over Kansai Electric’s oversight, control and governance matters, which increases risk to the ongoing operation of its nuclear reactors. The bribery scandal could lead to higher negative public sentiment on nuclear plants in Japan, impeding Kansai Electric’s nuclear business and risking the competitiveness it has as a provider of low-cost nuclear power in the deregulated retail market.266

Kashiwazaki Kariwa Safety/Security Scandal and Restart Setback

We have grave concerns about whether we can continue to operate the nuclear power generation business.

Tomoaki Kobayakawa, TEPCO President, April 2021.267

Prospects for the restart of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) Kashiwazaki Kariwa-6 and -7 in Niigata Prefecture suffered a significant blow in early 2021, when NRA commissioners ordered a halt to planned refueling operations for Unit 7 until corrective measures were taken in response to security breaches at the site. The NRA rated the situation at the plant at the most serious level on its four-tier assessment scale, saying that the security flaws could have led the plant to a grave situation in terms of nuclear material protection.268

The origin of the NRA Commissioners decision was that on 20 September 2020 a TEPCO employee at the nuclear plant used a colleague’s identity card to enter the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa central control room. The guard on duty covered up the incident. Once it realized what had happened, TEPCO failed to notify the Niigata prefectural government and the Kashiwazaki city government. The on-site NRA staff also failed to notify the NRA commissioners until January 2021. In the subsequent follow-up investigation in February 2021, security equipment and systems intended to detect illegal entry were found to be non-operational.269 Subsequent investigations found that the plant was vulnerable to unauthorized entry at 15 locations since March 2020 because of defective intruder detection systems and backups.270 The station may not have been able to detect intrusions at ten points of entry for over 30 days. On 16 March 2021, the NRA classified the event as “safety significance assessment, red”271, then on 23 March as an inspection handling category 4 event.272 On 14 April 2021, TEPCO received an order that banned Kashiwazaki-Kariwa from transporting specified nuclear fuel materials until the inspection handling category was changed to Category 1.273

There was also partial loss of function to nuclear material protection equipment. “Systematic monitoring functionality failed, and the effectiveness of the physical protection system could not be adequately confirmed for a long period of time. In terms of nuclear safeguarding, it could have resulted in a grave situation,” the regulatory body said.274 NRA chair Fuketa stated that “using common sense it should be clear that this process cannot be completed within one year”; while malfunctioning counterterrorism equipment had been corrected, the more important issue is whether the utility has a “nuclear safety culture from bottom to top.”275 Both disclosures led to questions of the overall security preparedness of Japanese nuclear facilities.276

The scandal that subsequently engulfed TEPCO stands in contrast to the progress it made towards restart in late 2020. A series of submissions and approvals were made in October–November 2020.277

In October 2020, the NRA commissioners approved a report from TEPCO on the modernization and strengthening of safety measures at Kashiwazaki Kariwa-7.278 This approval came one month after the NRA secretariat knew of the security failures at the site, but according to the NRA, the commissioners were not informed until January 2021.

Even as late as mid-January 2021, the prospects towards local approval for restart seemed to be on track. TEPCO informed the local mayors in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa villages that safety measures would be completed at Unit 7 on 13 January 2021.279 Mayor Sakurai of Kashiwazaki said at a meeting with TEPCO that, the first half of this year will be an important time for TEPCO, Kashiwazaki City, and Japan,” and expressed his hope that discussions on the restart issue would begin. Kariwa Mayor Shinada told TEPCO that, “I am convinced that it is the year when Unit 7 will move. I want you to proceed with your work firmly.”280

By late January and into February 2021, TEPCO officials were apologizing across Niigata as well as to the House Budget Committee in the national Diet.281 In a meeting with LDP officials in Niigata on 30 January 2021, the TEPCO official was told by the LDP Secretary General that, “There are doubts about the ability of the parties (to operate the nuclear power plant) and even the eligibility as a company. It will be a problem if you do not think about how to deal with it.”282

TEPCO announced in February 2021 that it was disciplining its officials, including President Kobayakawa, noting that it, “considers this incident to be of the utmost seriousness and the decision has been made to take the following disciplinary action against the following individuals in order to further clarify managerial responsibility and thoroughly implement recurrence prevention measures.”283

It was reported that TEPCO had been aiming to restart Unit 7 as early as June 2021, following securing of local consent. As a result of the security violation disclosures, the LDP Secretary General in Niigata described the TEPCO schedule as “a charade”, adding “there is no restart within the year. It will return to the original and start from scratch.”284

The NRA concluded in April that TEPCO had, “failed to inspect, maintain [nuclear material protection equipment],” and “failed to perform regular assessments and improvements”.285 On 22 April 2021, TEPCO submitted to the NRA a notice of change to the construction plan pertaining to the reactor installation permission for facilities subject to design standards and severe accident handling equipment at Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station Unit 7.286 TEPCO’s plans for facilities subject to design standards and severe accident handling equipment is now “undetermined” since they “do not know when we will be able to move forward with our original plan as we received the order from NRA on April ١٤, 2021.”287

In June 2021, TEPCO announced the creation of an Independent Review Committee on Nuclear Material Protection.288 The Committee is tasked with the assessment of the validity of cause analysis and fact-finding investigations performed by TEPCO; analyze organizational factors and assess corporate culture including its safety culture and nuclear security culture, and identify signs of degradation pertaining to the incidents being investigated; and propose remedial measures based upon the corporate culture assessment. The results of a root cause analysis of the physical protection incident and responses to the incident are to be reported to the NRA by 23 September 2021,289 after which the NRA will review TEPCO compliance measures.

The disclosures of TEPCO’s security and safety failures at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant took place in the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accidents. As a result of the 2011 disaster, any exposure of safety and security failures by TEPCO is particularly sensitive. The disclosures have therefore destabilized TEPCO’s timetable for restarting reactor units at the Niigata plant but have also damaged the reputation of the NRA. These issues are particularly sensitive for the people of Niigata who have experienced the 2007 Niigata Chuetsu-oki quake at Kashiwazaki Kariwa and multiple TEPCO scandals over the decades.290 Units 2–4 were never restarted since the 2007 quake.

In 2017, TEPCO’s announced aim was to restart Kashiwazaki Kariwa-6 and -7 within fiscal year 2019, or 2020, or 2021.291 WNISR2018 concluded that the earliest the reactors could restart would be 2021, but only if TEPCO were to overcome significant obstacles. Even without the latest scandal, it remains doubtful that restart could have taken place in June 2021. The result of the scandal has set further back TEPCO’s plans with no restart scheduled for 2021. However, the financial pressure on TEPCO is such that restart remains a priority for the company and all the resultant political and economic lobbying that will be deployed to secure approval within Niigata. TEPCO confirmed that it is aiming for a 2022 restart “at the earliest”, with the publication of its Fourth Comprehensive Special Business Plan on 21 July 2021.292 However, there remain major obstacles to even achieving this objective.

Underlying safety issues remain central to public and political opposition within Niigata Prefecture to any restart. The Kashiwazaki Kariwa site has a history of major seismic activity, with repeated underestimates and non-disclosures of the seismic risks by TEPCO and resultant coverups. At the time of the licensing of Units 6 and 7 in 1991, TEPCO presented evidence to the regulator that the nearby fault lines were not active. This was then proven to be incorrect, with TEPCO’s own data showing that they were aware of active faults as early as 1980. None of this was made public until after the 2007 Niigata Chuetsu-oki quake.293

NGO’s and seismologists remain deeply concerned about the multiple seismic fault lines in the area of the Kashiwazaki Kariwa site, including through the site.294 There are large-scale submarine active faults offshore with four main ones, three of which run along either edge of the Sado Basin, a depression between Sado Island and mainland Kashiwazaki.295 Seismologists have long warned about the threat from major earthquakes leading to a severe nuclear accident at Kashiwazaki Kariwa.296 Independent seismologists and citizens’ groups continue to oppose restart of the reactors, including based on evidence that TEPCO has relied on flawed seismic assessments.297

Meanwhile, legal challenges seeking permanent closure are ongoing. A citizen initiative was launched in March 2021 which has the potential to further delay, and even prevent, restart at Kashiwazaki Kariwa.298 The initiative aims to extend the consent rights for restart to communities beyond the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa. Based on the agreement in Ibaraki Prefecture for Tokai-2 (Tokai Daini), the aim would be to require TEPCO to secure approval from all seven municipalities within the 30-km evacuation-preparation area (UPZ). If successful, the initiative will be a potentially major obstacle to restart the Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors, given that the communities do not directly receive financial incentives from either TEPCO or the central government for hosting the nuclear power plants.

Following the discovery of security failures at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, breaches in security provisions were also found at TEPCO’s closed Fukushima Daini power plant, and Shikoku Electric’s Ikata plant. These were announced by the NRA on 19 May 2021, where it reported that the security failures were at the least serious level in the nuclear watchdog’s four-point scale assessment about protection of nuclear substances.299

Prospects for Other Additional Reactor Operations

All currently operating reactors in Japan are Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs)—the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi units were Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs). As of 1 July 2021, 15 reactors remain under NRA safety review (out of a total of 25 that have applied since July 2013 of which ten were restarted); with one of those restarted reactors back in LTO since December 2019, adding to the 23 reactors remaining in LTO, there is a total of 24 reactors in LTO as of 1 July 2021. Not all of these will restart, with many questions and disagreements over seismic issues, and many plants far back in the review and screening queue. There are officially two reactors under construction (Shimane-3 and Ohma). WNISR has pulled Ohma off the list, as no active construction could be substantiated.

In addition to the June restart of Mihama-3 and Ohi-3 on 3 July 2021,300 the only reactor scheduled for resumption of operations during the remainder of 2021 is Ikata-3. The reactor, owned by the Shikoku Electric Power Company, is scheduled to resume operations in late October 2021. The reactor has been off-line since December 2019, when it was shut down for maintenance. However, it was prevented from restarting following a 17 January 2020 injunction ruling by the Hiroshima High Court in favor of residents within a 50-kilometer radius of the plant.301 On 18 March 2021 the Hiroshima High Court overturned on appeal its earlier 2020 ruling, opening the way for restart following completion of periodic inspections.302 (See Chapter on Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents).

Tokai-2 (Tokai Daini)

Prospects for an early restart of the 1100-MW BWR Tokai-2, owned by Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC), remain unlikely. Court judgements in 2021 have only added to the uncertainties. The reactor, located in Ibaraki Prefecture and connected to the grid in 1978, is the closest to the Tokyo metropolitan area. It was shut down on 11 March 2011. JAPC announced on 28 January 2020 that engineering and construction works at the plant, including a 1.7 km long coastal levee, were taking longer than anticipated.303 On 22 February 2019, JAPC announced its intention to proceed with the restart of Tokai-2.304 The target date is January 2023. This followed a 7 November 2018 unanimous decision by NRA commissioners to approve an additional 20 years of operation.305

On 28 October 2019, the board of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) approved the financing of ¥220 billion (US$2 billion) for Tokai-2.306 The decision is particularly controversial as TEPCO is effectively a state-owned utility and technically bankrupt following 3/11. JAPC is unique in Japan as it is a utility owned by all other nuclear utilities, with TEPCO owning the lion share. Failure to secure financing for Tokai-2 would have taken JAPC one step closer to bankruptcy, with serious implications for other utilities. This represents one major reason why TEPCO and the other utilities have agreed to finance the reactor backfitting. The utility has only one other reactor, Tsuruga-2 in Fukui Prefecture. JAPC has been in dispute with the NRA for the past years over the designation of an active seismic fault at the site,307 and there are currently no prospects for the reactor operating.

As previously reported in WNISR, local approval is more complicated for Tokai-2 than other sites in Japan as the power plant is covered by an agreement between the utility and municipalities. There is strong public opposition within Ibaraki Prefecture to the potential restart of Tokai-2.308 JAPC must obtain restart consent for Tokai-2 from six municipalities—Tokai village and the cities of Hitachi, Hitachinaka, Hitachiota, Mito and Naka—as well as the prefectural government of Ibaraki before it can restart the unit. About 940,000 people live in 14 municipalities within a 30-kilometer radius of the Tokai plant and the facility is closer to the Tokyo area than any other nuclear plant.

In March 2021, the Mito District Court in Ibaraki Prefecture issued an order halting operation of Tokai-2 due to an “inadequate regional evacuation plan”,309 (see Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents).

On 19 March 2021, the ruling was appealed by JAPC to the Tokyo High Court on the grounds that its regional evacuation plan was still under consideration, and that it was therefore premature and irrational for the court to make a substantive judgment on such a plan.310 As of 1 July 2021 the first hearing of the appeal had not been held.

Flaws in the existing evacuation plans compiled by Ibaraki Prefecture were highlighted in May 2021.311 This included confirmation that the maximum limit of people which were estimated to be able to be evacuated within the prefecture was 443,000. Ibaraki Prefecture requested that the remaining 517,000 of the then population of 960,000 people be received as evacuees by the nearby five prefectures.

On 20 May 2021, JAPC President Mamoru Muramatsu said that the company would “do its best to issue a regional evacuation plan” but without giving a date.312

The utility in February 2020 indicated an envisaged restart date of December 2022 in its application to the NRA for pre-operational inspections. This had been widely criticized in the local community given that no approval had been granted and negotiations have not even formally commenced. In January 2020, the completion of construction works at the site was delayed to November and December 2022, with restart scheduled for the first half of 2023.313 With likely additional cost escalations, the uncertainties in the latest construction schedule,314 and the complexities of overcoming opposition within Ibaraki and securing municipality approval, there remains major doubt about a 2023 restart for Tokai-2, by which time it will have been in LTO for 12 years.

Onagawa-2

Tohoku Electric Power Company made important progress towards the restart of Onagawa-2 during the past year. Approval was granted in November 2020 by host community Ishinomaki city and Onagawa town, followed by approval by Miyagi prefectural governor, Yoshihiro Murai.315

On 26 February 2020, the NRA commissioners had granted permission to Tohoku Electric to make changes to the Onagawa-2 reactor (i.e. basic design approval).316 The reactor, situated on the Ishinomaki Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Miyagi Prefecture, was the 16th in Japan and the fourth BWR to win approval under the NRA’s new safety standards. This major step in the approval of the safety of the reactor was reported as meaning that Onagawa-2 will be the first BWR to restart operations under the new guidelines, with completion of works planned by the owner scheduled for 2021. However, two months after securing NRA regulatory approval for its Onagawa-2 BWR, the President of Tohoku Electric announced on 30 April 2020 a two-year delay in completion of construction work at the reactor site.317 Work is now planned to be finished by March 2023.318

With NRA approval, it was reported in February 2020 that Onagawa-2 would likely be the first BWR to resume operations in Japan.319 As of November 2019, Tohoku Electric had committed ¥340 billion (about US$20193.1 billion) in safety retrofits at the site.320

Onagawa-2 still has several stages of approval by the NRA to pass before restart. There are three stages: Application for Permission to Install a Reactor (Basic design); Application for Approval of Construction Plan (Detailed design based on basic design); and Application for Approval of Operational Safety Program (Matters regarding operations, including operational safety), followed by pre inspection approval. Onagawa has passed only the first of these (Basic Design) and still has to pass the remaining stages before restart. As with all NRA review-processes, it is an enormous logistical exercise. For example, in November 2020, Tokoku Electric submitted its third tranche of documents to the NRA which are required for review under ‘Approval of Construction Plan’. The documents, which were on the subjects of seismic resistance and Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) integrity, totaled 17,000 pages.

Doubts persist over the actual condition of the Onagawa reactors, including Unit 2. The Onagawa site is the closest nuclear plant to the epicenter of the 3/11 earthquake. Unit 2 was subcritical in startup mode on 3/11, while Units 1 and 3 were in full operation. In January 2017, the utility disclosed to the NRA that the reactor building had sustained 1,130 cracks in the walls and “lost an estimated 70 percent of structural rigidity” in the 3/11 earthquake.321 The disclosures led Tohoku to push back restart schedule from 2018 to 2019 and then beyond 2020. The disclosures to the NRA followed an architectural investigation which identified that structural rigidity, the ability to withstand earthquakes and other stresses from outside without being distorted, was concentrated in the upper third of the reactor building with the third floor only retaining 30 percent of its integrity compared with July 1995 when the reactor began operation. It also confirmed a 25-percent loss of structural rigidity in the two above-ground floors and three basement levels.322

Significantly, the disclosure contrasts starkly with the assessment and conclusions of a high-profile International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the plant in 2012.323 The IAEA mission included a “Structures Team” assigned to observe and collect information on the performance of the structural elements of buildings. They reported that, as far as cracks in Unit 2 are concerned, they were “less than 0.3mm, although at some locations there were cracks of approximately 0.8mm. These minor cracks do not affect the overall integrity of the structure.” The IAEA concluded: “The lack of any serious damage to all classes of seismically designed facilities attests to the robustness of these facilities under severe seismic ground shaking”, and that, “the structural elements of the NPS [Nuclear Power Station] were remarkably undamaged given the magnitude and duration of ground motion experienced during this great earthquake.”324

The NRA draft assessment of Onagawa-2 in November 2019 garnered 979 public submissions where, “many local citizens expressed concerns over the threat posed to the plant by earthquakes and tsunami, but the NRA dismissed their comments.”325 Public opposition to the operation of Onagawa, includes the major issue of emergency planning including evacuation. The location of the power plant on the Ishinomaki Peninsula with narrow roads and vulnerability to seismic and tsunami damage has led citizens to claim that there is no effective evacuation plan in place. On 28 May 2021, seventeen residents of Ishinomaki City and from within 30 km of the Onagawa nuclear plant filed a lawsuit against Tohoku Electric at the Sendai District Court, claiming that the evacuation plan formulated by the prefecture and city is not effective in the event of an accident.326 According to the complaint, full evacuation would not be possible as planned due to traffic congestion and the difficulty in securing appropriate means of evacuation. This would lead to radiation exposure.327

Onagawa-3

As of 1 July 2021, the utility had not applied for NRA review of Onagawa-3 which began operation in May 2001. Tokoku Electric’s President stated in October 2018 that they were in preparation for submitting a safety review application to the NRA for the reactor, without specifying a date.328 In November 2020, President of Tohoku Electric Kojiro Higuchi said in reference to applying to the NRA for Unit 3, that, “We are not at the stage where we can make a concrete statement.”329 There are suspicions that damage sustained at Unit 3 is more significant than reported.

Shimane-2

Chugoku Electric Power Company, which owns the Shimane-2 reactor, is moving toward some form of conclusion in its safety review by the NRA, according to reports in May 2021.330 The utility has recently submitted amendments to the NRA that raised the maximum expected design-base earthquake for the reactor from 600 gal331 to 820 gal and the maximum tsunami height from 9.5 meters above sea level to 11.6 meters above sea level. In June 2021, the NRA approved a draft report finding the reactor to meet the new regulatory standards. The assessment will now go to public comment review.332 Local consent and Shimane prefectural approval are still required for Shimane-2 restart, which is envisaged in spring 2022.

Reactor Closures

No additional reactors were formally declared for decommissioning in the year to 1 July 2021. The 11 commercial Japanese reactors now confirmed to be decommissioned (not including the Monju Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) or the ten Fukushima reactors) had a total generating capacity of 6.4 GW, representing 14.7 percent of Japan’s operating nuclear capacity as of March 2011.333 Together with the ten Fukushima units, the total rises to 21 reactors and 15.2 GW or just under 35 percent of nuclear capacity prior to 3/11 that has now been permanently removed from operations (see Figure 30 and Table 3).

On 26 August 2019, at a meeting between Masahiro Sakurai, the mayor of Kashiwazaki City and TEPCO’s President Tomoaki Kobayakawa, it was announced that the company would consider taking steps within five years of restart of Units 6 and 7 that could result in the decommissioning of one or more reactors at the site.334 (See TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa).

As of mid-2021, the Japanese nuclear fleet consisting of 33 units including 24 in LTO had reached a mean age of 30.4 years, with 15 units over 31 years (see Figure 31).

Table 3 - Official Reactor Closures Post-3/11 in Japan (as of 1 July 2021)

Operator

Reactor

Capacity
MW

Startup
Year

Closure
Announcement(a)
dd/mm/yy

Official
Closure Date(b)
dd/mm/yy

Last Production

Age(c)

TEPCO

Fukushima Daiichi-1 (BWR)

439

1970

-

19/04/12

2011

40

Fukushima Daiichi-2 (BWR)

760

1973

-

19/04/12

2011

37

Fukushima Daiichi-3 (BWR)

760

1974

-

19/04/12

2011

36

Fukushima Daiichi-4 (BWR)

760

1978

-

19/04/12

2011

33

Fukushima Daiichi-5 (BWR)

760

1977

19/12/13

31/01/14

2011

34

Fukushima Daiichi-6 (BWR)

1 067

1979

19/12/13

31/01/14

2011

32

Fukushima Daini-1 (BWR)

1 067

1981

31/07/19

30/09/19

2011

30

Fukushima Daini-2 (BWR)

1 067

1983

31/07/19

30/09/19

2011

28

Fukushima Daini-3 (BWR)

1 067

1984

31/07/19

30/09/19

2011

26

Fukushima Daini-4 (BWR)

1 067

1986

31/07/19

30/09/19

2011

24

KEPCO

Mihama-1 (PWR)

320

1970

17/03/15

27/04/15

2010

40

Mihama-2 (PWR)

470

1972

17/03/15

27/04/15

2011

40

Ohi-1 (PWR)

1 120

1977

22/12/17

01/03/18

2011

34

Ohi-2 (PWR)

1 120

1978

22/12/17

01/03/18

2011

33

KYUSHU

Genkai-1 (PWR)

529

1975

18/03/15

27/04/15

2011

37

Genkai-2 (PWR)

529

1980

13/02/19

13/02/13

2011

31

SHIKOKU

Ikata-1 (PWR)

538

1977

25/03/16

10/05/16

2011

35

Ikata- 2 (PWR)

538

1981

27/03/18(d)

27/03/18

2012

30

JAEA

Monju (FBR)

246

1995

12/2016(e)

05/12/17

LTS(f) since 1995

-

JAPC

Tsuruga -1 (BWR)

340

1969

17/03/15

27/04/15

2011

41

CHUGOKU

Shimane-1 (PWR)

439

1974

18/03/15

30/04/15

2010

37

TOHOKU

Onagawa-1 (BWR)

498

1983

25/10/18

21/12/18(g)

2011

27

TOTAL: 22 Reactors /15.5 Gwe

Sources: JAIF, Japan Nuclear Safety Institute, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Notes

BWR: Boiling Water Reactor; PWR: Pressurized Water Reactor; FBR: Fast Breeder Reactor; LTS: Long-Term Shutdown.

JAPC: Japan Atomic Power Company; JAEA: Japan Atomic Energy Commission

(a) – Unless otherwise specified, all announcement dates from Japan Nuclear Safety Institute, “Licensing status for the Japanese nuclear facilities”, 23 June 2021, see http://www.genanshin.jp/english/facility/map/, accessed 5 August 2021.

(b) – Unless otherwise specified, all closure dates from individual reactors’ page via JAIF, “NPPs in Japan”, Japan Atomic Industrial Forum,
see http://www.jaif.or.jp/en/npps-in-japan/, as of July 2021.

(c) – Note that WNISR considers the age from first grid connection to last production day.

(d) – WNN, “Shikoku decides to retire Ikata 2”, 27 April 2018, see http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-Shikoku-decides-to-retire-Ikata-2-2703184.html, accessed 22 July 2018.

(e) – The Mainichi, “Japan decides to scrap trouble-plagued Monju prototype reactor”, 21 December 2016.

(f) – The Monju reactor was officially in Long-Term Shutdown or LTS (IAEA-Category Long Term Shutdown) since December 1995. Officially closed in 2017.

(g) – The decision to close the reactor was announced in October 2018.

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Energy Policy Key to Nuclear Future

Japan’s latest Strategic Energy Plan (SEP), also called the Basic Energy Plan, has been under negotiation during the past year and is to be finalized and published in summer 2021.

The revision of the SEP takes place under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, under the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE), which itself is within the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI). The draft SEP, presented on 21 July 2021 at METI’s strategic policy committee at its advisory committee for natural resources and energy, proposed:

  • a significant increase in the proposed share of renewable energy from the current target of 22–24 percent of electricity generation to between 36–38 percent;
  • fossil fuel generation, in particular coal, to be reduced from 56 percent to 41 percent;
  • nuclear generation is to remain unchanged at 20–22 percent, a target that would require in the range of 30 reactors to be in operation by 2030.335

The draft SEP is scheduled to be approved by the Cabinet before Japan submits its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

The Japanese government is currently a coalition made up of the largest party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its smaller partner, the New Komeito Party. Reports in 2021 suggested that the LDP was moving towards active support for new construction and replacement of existing nuclear power plants, which would be a change to the present SEP. As of 1 July 2021, it was unclear whether New Komeito’s position which was for eventual zero nuclear power and a society not dependent on nuclear power would prevent language change to the SEP. New Komeito does not support new construction and is in favor of limiting operational licenses to 40 years.

The LDP, which has rarely been out of power since the mid-1950s, has been the principal political driver of nuclear power policy in Japan. Support for nuclear remains strong inside the party but with notable exceptions, including in Ministerial positions. Different LDP parliamentary associations have advocated slightly varying policies towards nuclear power. For example, “Headquarters for Achievement of Carbon Neutrality by 2050”, under direct supervision of Prime Minister Suga, recommends that nuclear energy will be valued, while renewable energies will be introduced to the maximum extent possible.336

On 25 May 2021, a draft Strategic Energy Plan was proposed at a joint conference of the LDP’s Economy, Trade and Industry Division and its Research Commission on Comprehensive Energy Strategy. Research Commission Chair Fukushiro Nukaga, a former Finance Minister, stressed that nuclear energy must be utilized in order to realize carbon neutrality. The draft called for renewable energy to be deployed to the maximum possible extent, and also a “correction” of the forty-year license limit. These would be compatible with the “3E+S” which provides the framework for current Japanese energy policy – namely: energy security, economic efficiency and environmental protection, along with safety.337

The removal of the 40-year license limit for reactor operation, as is being suggested for the next Strategic Plan, would be an important signal to Japan’s electric utilities of central government policy commitment and support for a significant share of nuclear power in Japan’s future electricity. In 2011, NISA, Japan’s then regulator, granted life extension beyond 40 years to Fukushima Daiichi-1 only two months before the 11 March accident. Post-Fukushima revised guidelines applied by the NRA sought to avoid this by limiting operation of nuclear reactors to 40 years, which if strictly applied would lead to the reduction and eventual decommissioning of reactors. However, the guidelines did allow, and only under exceptional circumstances, for reactors to be eligible for one license extension of up to 20 years. The restart of Mihama-3, and planned restart of Takahama-1 & -2, all of which applied and were granted by the NRA 20-year license extensions to operate beyond 40 years, highlights the likely future reality in Japan. With sufficient financial incentive, utilities are almost certainly going to seek to extend the operations of their existing fleet. (See Capacity Market below).

The justification for allowing license extension within the revised guidelines was in response to possible future electricity shortages.338 In 2021, this remains a concern and prospect of narrow electricity supply margins, and even blackout, has been an important factor in the context of this year’s drafting of the Strategic Energy Plan. With very tight margins in the past winter, due to a combination of surge in electricity prices, multiple units offline, and extended cold weather,339 the lobby for maintaining nuclear capacity received a boost during recent months. In May 2021, Japan’s power coordinator, the Organization for the Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators (OCCTO), issued its outlook for summer and winter 2021 noting energy supply risks during peak demand seasons. Planned decommissioning of fossil fuel plants is outpacing the installation of new renewable capacity. Platts reported Masashi Morimoto, director of METI’s Office for Electricity Supply Policy, as warning that, “In the next five to 10 years, we expect thermal power will continue to have an extremely severe outlook…Of course increasing renewable energy and adding storage battery and other tools will be important, but securing the immediate stable supply is becoming a critical issue.”340 Five reactor units are scheduled to go offline for inspection and maintenance in the year to 31 March 2022. The prospects and risks, real or otherwise, of a shortfall in energy supply to Japanese society will remain a central theme in the coming years and will inevitably provide leverage for utilities and policy makers to maintain nuclear capacity.

Former cabinet minister Daishiro Yamagiwa stated 25 May 2021 that construction of new and replacement reactors would remain part of the LDP’s proposal, as they would be “necessary to achieve carbon neutrality”.341 The LDP’s Parliamentary Association for Promotion of Replacement Advanced Reactors also called on the government to include the construction of new nuclear reactors in the Strategic Plan. However, as mentioned above, due to opposition from two LDP-Ministers, language advocating the maximum utilization of nuclear energy was removed from the draft SEP.342

Capacity Market

The capacity market is a mechanism whereby utilities can secure financing for their existing power plants. The case for capacity markets is premised on the basis that in a liberalized electricity market, generators are not incentivized to maintain surplus generation. For Japan’s large nuclear utilities, faced with growing competition from renewable energy, the creation of the capacity market is one of multiple electricity market reforms that have been introduced that will provide further incentive to restart reactors, and when the time comes, apply for a 20-year license extension.343 There are more than 600 power retailing companies in Japan who purchase 85 percent of their electricity on the wholesale market. The capacity market fee is paid to the successful utilities by the retailers via the Organization for Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators (OCCTO).

The first auction was held in 2020 and covered the year starting April 2024. The price was set at ¥14,137 (US$131) per kilowatt for surplus generation capacity, the highest in the world.344 Nearly 168 GW of capacity was accepted in the auction, meaning that utilities will receive ¥1.6 trillion (US$14.6 billion) in subsidies for the year April 2024 – March 2025. METI did not provide details as to which utilities and which generation facilities will get subsidies for the 2024 capacity, but they did report that of the total capacity of bidders, 42 percent were gas-fired facilities, 25 percent were coal-fired facilities, and only 4.2 percent were nuclear reactors. While the nuclear percentage is low compared to the total within the market, it represents a high share of the total operating nuclear fleet available for consideration in 2020.

A total of 7.1 GW of nuclear capacity was secured by Japanese utilities for the 2024–2025 capacity market, out of the total of 8.7 GW that was available as of 1 July 2020. While it is impossible to say which reactors have secured contracts, most likely seven of the nine reactors that had restarted as of July 2020 had secured contracts under the capacity market. A likely breakdown is three reactors each for Kyushu Electric and Kansai Electric plus Shikoku Electric’s single reactor at Ikata. This share of the capacity market will yield ¥67.2 billion (US$613 million) for the three utilities in 2024/25. With the restart of additional reactors in the coming years, it is nearly certain that the nuclear share of the capacity market will increase with resulting significant financial benefits accruing.345

The capacity market inevitably will have a negative impact on new and renewable energy companies, which are not entitled to apply to the capacity market if they are subject to financing via the Feed-In Tariff. This led Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi in 2020 to request the reform of the system, “so that it will promote expansion of clean energy.”346

METI confirmed changes to the capacity-market system in April 2021 to be applied in time for the next auction in September/October ٢٠٢١ and covering the period April 2025–March 2026.347 The reforms include a lower fee for older coal power plants which is aimed at reducing total coal generation capacity.

Prospects for Nuclear Power

Ten years after 3/11, Japan’s nuclear utilities have failed to overcome the multiple obstacles to restarting a major part of their nuclear fleet. The public and political opposition to nuclear power was highlighted on the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, when five former Prime Ministers of Japan— Hosokawa Morihiro, Murayama Tomiichi, Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto—publicly called for the end of nuclear power.348 No other country in the world with a large nuclear industry has garnered such opposition—and yet the ruling party of government, the LDP, remains wedded to nuclear power.

The number of reactors operating in Japan has barely changed during the past few years. However, by the end of FY 2023, it is expected that there will be 12, possibly 14 reactors operating in Japan, three of which are reactors resuming operation after being in LTO between ten to twelve years If these reactors operate for a full year, total electricity generation could be in the order of 82–99 TWh, based on the maximum output from these reactors in the immediate years prior to March 2011. In reference to the annual electricity generation in 2020, this would be 9–10 percent of total production, which is around half of the current government target of 20–22 percent by 2030. The path to achieving this larger share is less clear.

Any assessment of the likely order of restarts must take into account multiple factors: where they are in the NRA review process, which includes the status of seismic assessments; progress towards completion of construction of post Fukushima safety measures; and the local and prefectural politics in terms of opposition to restart, including status of lawsuits. All these uncertainties mean there a several scenarios possible over the coming years.

If TEPCO can overcome the opposition in Niigata, the next reactors to restart could be Kashiwazaki Kariwa-7 followed by Unit 6 in 2022–2023. Thereafter, there is a possibility of restart of Shimane-2, Onagawa-2 and even Tokai-2 by 2023–2024. Delays on these are also a distinct possibility, if not a certainty. Approval for the operation of the new Shimane-3 ABWR looks possible with a start of operations by 2025. This would bring the total number of reactors operating in Japan to 18 by mid-decade. Based on the same estimates, total electricity generation with one full year of operation could be as much as 127 TWh by 2026/27, equal to 14 percent of Japan’s electricity. On balance, this is one plausible scenario, if rather favorable to the utilities.

This WNISR analysis is more favorable to the outlook for nuclear than for example Fitch Solutions which in February 2020 noted, that as a result of public opposition and technical challenges, “We expect these factors will continue to challenge Japan’s push for nuclear restarts, prompting our more bearish outlook on nuclear power generation which we now expect will reach approximately 85.4TWh by 2029, accounting for 8.4% of the total power mix.”349

There are other reactors under NRA review, including two units at Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka site; Hokkaido Electric’s three-unit Tomari plant; and Tohoku Electric’s Higashidori. There is even a limited prospect of completion of construction of J-Power’s Ohma ABWR and TEPCO’s Higashidori ABWR. If all of these were to overcome the major obstacles to their operation, which is unlikely, then additional electricity generation by 2030 could in theory reach 59 TWh, for a total of 186 TWh, which would represent 20 percent of Japan’s electricity demand (on basis of the 2020 numbers). This would meet the current SEP share for nuclear generated electricity produced by operating 26 nuclear reactors at an output based on their historical maximum.

The barriers to achieving this scale of nuclear generation by 2030, even with all the financial incentives, market distortion, and central government support, look insurmountable. Therefore, there is no prospect that the SEP lays out the nuclear future for Japan during the next critical decade. Without a more ambitious expansion of renewable energy during the coming years, the shortfall in electricity supply due to the failure to meet nuclear targets, could be filled by fossil fuel. The 2021-SEP thus takes on even greater significance, if Japan is to begin to have any prospects of rapidly reducing its emissions by 45 percent by 2030, securing the necessary energy transition and to meet its 2050 goals of decarbonization and zero emissions.

South Korea Focus

On the Korean Peninsula, South Korea (Republic of Korea) operates 23 reactors, plus one reactor in Long-Term Outage (LTO), and has four reactors under construction. One of two reactors which had been in LTO, Hanbit-3, resumed operation in November 2020. Both reactors had been shut for more than two and three years respectively, due to voids in concrete containment walls and corrosion on containment liner plates.

In December 2020, the Government of President Moon Jae-in announced its 9th Basic Plan for Long-term Electricity Supply and Demand which aims to significantly increase renewable energy, while reducing installed nuclear capacity and coal-fired plants in the period up to 2034. However, the possibility that current Korean energy policy will be overturned looms with the Presidential election scheduled for 2022.

South Korea’s nuclear fleet, owned by Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company (KHNP), is located at the Hanbit, Hanul, Kori and Wolsong sites. Nuclear power provided 152.6 TWh in 2020, almost 10 percent more than the 138.8 TWh in 2019.

Construction

All four reactors under construction in South Korea are APR-1400 design. Construction of Shin-Hanul-1 and -2 has been nearly completed, but startup dates have been pushed back. Fuel loading for Unit 1 began on 14 July 2021 while Unit 2 is planned to be fueled one year later, on 1 July 2022.350 There is no date for grid connection, but KHNP has scheduled commercial operation for Unit 1 on 31 March 2022, and exactly one year later for Unit 2.

KHNP had also planned to construct two additional reactors at the site, Shin-Hanul-3 and -4. But they were ordered by the Moon government in 2017 to suspend their plans. The government’s 2017-Basic Plan for Long-term Electricity Supply and Demand cancelled Shin-Hanul-3 and -4, as well as four other reactors Cheonji-1 and -2 (in Yeongdeok) and either Cheonji-3 and -4 or Daejin-1 and -2 (in Samcheok). While there is no immediate prospect of construction actually beginning under the current administration, in February 2021, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) extended the construction license permits for Shin-Hanul-3 and -4, which were due to expire, until end of 2023.351 The suspension of construction could be terminated if the opposition party wins the upcoming 2022-Presidential elections.

The two other reactors, Shin Kori-5 and Shin Kori-6, have been under construction since April 2017 and September 2018 and were planned to be completed in March 2023 and June 2024 respectively.352 However, in March 2021, KHNP applied for an extension of the construction license, with a completion schedule for Shin Kori-5 now extended one additional year until 31 March 2024, and for Shin Kori-6, nine months later to 31 March 2025.353

Typhoon Shutdowns

As a result of two typhoon systems hitting Korea in September 2020, a total of 5.3 GW of nuclear capacity was shut down. Six KHNP reactors suffered loss of off-site power caused by Typhoon Maysak on 3 September 2020 and Typhoon Haishen on 7 September 2020. Kori-3 and -4, and Shin Kori-1 and -2 had been operating on 3 September 2020 when they were tripped and emergency diesel generators began operation. Kori-1 and -2 had been offline undergoing refueling and maintenance at the time. On 7 September 2021, Wolsong-1 and -2 were tripped while the supply of off-site power was sustained and the reactors started to operate at 60 percent of reactor power, and then were shut down.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) investigation into the event concluded that wind-carried salt had deposited on the transformer instruments, which measure electrical quantities generated from the reactors, which led to fire sparks or flashovers. It led to the opening of the breaker in the switchyard, which was the beginning of the event. KHNP said the typhoon was stronger than expected. However, Han Byeong-seop, director of the Korean Institute for Nuclear Safety (KINS) said that even if salinity was the cause, the real problem might be “poor-quality parts and slapdash construction,” The Hankyoreh newspaper reported.354 Countermeasures to be applied include replacing insulators with salt-resistant materials and minimizing parts exposed to the outside environment, including main transformers, standby transformers, and instrument transformers of the reactors by sealing the facilities.

As a consequence of the typhoons, combined with reactors offline due to refueling and maintenance during the off-peak autumn season, a total of 12 reactors with a combined capacity of 10.9 GW were offline in September 2020, or 47 percent of South Korea’s overall capacity of 23 GW across 24 nuclear reactors, KHNP reported on 28 September 2020.355 (See also Nuclear Power and Climate Change Resilience).

Permanent Closure

The NSSC formally passed the bill for the permanent closure of Wolsong-1 on 24 December 2019. The decision has met protests from the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the labor union of KHNP, which have launched legal action against NSSC and its members. The controversy over the closure has escalated during the past year (see below).

Table 4 – Status of Nuclear Reactor Fleet in South Korea (with scheduled closure dates)

Reactor

Type

MW

Grid connection

Expected Closure

Kori-2

PWR

640

1983

2023

Kori-3

PWR

1 011

1985

2024

Kori-4

PWR

1 012

1985

2025

Hanbit-1

PWR

995

1986

2025

Hanbit-2

PWR

988

1986

2026

Wolsong-2

PHWR

606

1997

2026

Wolsong-3

PHWR

630

1998

2027

Hanul-1

PWR

966

1988

2027

Hanul-2

PWR

967

1989

2028

Wolsong-4

PHWR

609

1999

2029

Hanbit-3

PWR

986

1994

Hanbit-4

PWR

970

1995

Hanbit-5

PWR

992

2001

Hanbit-6

PWR

993

2002

Hanul-3

PWR

997

1998

Hanul-4

PWR

999

1998

Hanul-5

PWR

998

2003

Hanul-6

PWR

997

2005

Shin-Kori-1

PWR

996

2010

Shin-Kori-2

PWR

996

2012

Shin-Kori-3

PWR

1 416

2016

Shin-Kori-4

PWR

1 418

2019

Shin-Wolsong-1

PWR

997

2012

Shin-Wolsong-2

PWR

993

2015

Sources: MOTIE, 2017

Following the closure of Wolsong-1, seven additional reactors are planned to be closed just prior to reaching their 40-year operating lifetime with a total 6.6 GW of capacity. The reactors are Kori-2 to be closed in 2023, Kori-3 in 2024, Kori-4 and Hanbit-1 in 2025, and Hanbit-2 in 2026, Hanul-1 in 2027 and Hanul-2 in 2028. Three reactors are scheduled to be closed as they reach their 30-year lifetime: Wolsong-2 in 2026, Wolsong-3 in 2027 and Wolsong-4 in 2029 (see Table 4).356

Containment Liner Plate Corrosion

In recent years, there have been extended outages of South Korea’s nuclear reactors. The principal reason has been that out of the 24 reactors South Korea operated (prior to startup of Shin-Kori-4 and closure of Wolsong-1 in 2019) 21 were found to have corrosion in the Containment Liner Plates (CLP) or voids in the concrete structure.357 Reactor containment-buildings in South Korea are insulated with a CLP of six millimeters in diameter, and then concrete 1.2 meters in diameter thick. As the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S. NRC) noted in 1997: “Any corrosion (metal thinning) could change the failure threshold of the liner plate under a challenging environmental or accident condition. Thinning has the effect of changing the geometry of the liner plate, creating different transitions and strain concentration conditions. This may reduce the design margin of safety against postulated accident and environmental loads.”358

Under nuclear regulation, evidence of structural deterioration that could affect the structural integrity or leak-tightness of metal and concrete containments must be corrected before the containment can be returned to service. Corrosion of a liner plate can occur at a number of places where the metal is exposed to moisture, or where moisture can condense (behind insulation) or accumulate. The corrosion repair has consisted of removal of the damaged liner section and embedded foreign material (e.g. wood), grouting the resulting void, and replacing the liner plate section.359 Root cause analysis of the causes of CLP corrosion reported by Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS) were predominately due to exposure to moisture (environment), as well as the presence of foreign debris.360 KHNP is required to submit its structural integrity assessment of the concrete voids found in the containment building of the reactors to the NSSC, which will then require a technical review by KINS, a technical support organization, and independent verification by the Korea Concrete Institute.361 For details on KHNP reactors impacted by CLP see WNISR2019 and WNISR2020.

One of the reactors impacted with CLP remaining in LTO is Hanbit-4 though it is scheduled to resume operation in August 2021, while Hanbit-3, also with CLP problems, returned to operation at the end of 2020. On 7 July 2019, Korean broadcaster MBC reported that KHNP had confirmed 94 holes between the steel plate and concrete inside the reactor building of Hanbit-3 and 96 holes in Hanbit-4. KHNP, according to MBC, explained that the holes found are up to 90 cm in size, but there would be “no problem with the structural stability of the containment.”362

Hanbit-3 entered LTO status in July 2020. However, on 12 November 2020 and following repairs to the CLP damage, the NSSC approved criticality of Hanbit-3, which had been shut down on 11 May 2018.363 There were further delays to the restart plans for Hanbit-4, following shutdown in 2017 and originally scheduled for October 2020.364 As of 1 July 2021, Hanbit-4 remains in LTO status but is due to restart operations on 17 August 2021.365

Wolsong Debacle and Uncertainty Over Energy Policy

Highlighting the political and economic pressure against the Moon administration over its energy policy is the on-going controversy over the closure of Wolsung-1. The Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) was closed on 24 December 2019. The closure of the Wolsong-1 reactor has been used by those opposed to President Moon’s energy policy and is now set to continue in the runup to the 2022 Presidential election. The leading opposition candidate for President, Yoon Seok-youl, is the former Prosecutor General who ordered the investigation into the Wolsong case, and later resigned.366

The Wolsong-1 reactor was a CANDU-6 PHWR design, which was connected to the grid on 31 December 1982, and had originally been licensed for 30 years until 2012, but KHNP secured a license extension of 10 years to November 2022. KHNP spent 700 billion won (U$616 million) during the period 2009–2011 on a first-of-its-kind complete retubing. All 380 zirconium calandria-tubes, which contain the reactor fuel channels and which allow heavy water coolant to circulate, were removed and replaced.367 KHNP stated that the work should enable the 679-MWe reactor to operate for a further 25 years.368 The reactor closed in November 2012, when its operating license expired, and restarted June 2015, after the NSSC voted in favor of lifetime extension.369 President Moon was elected in 2017 on a manifesto that included early closure of Wolsong-1. In June 2018, the commercial operation of Wolsong-1 was “terminated”,370 and the NSSC on 24 December 2019 formally passed the bill for its closure.371

The opposition to the closure decision (and Moon’s overall nuclear and energy policy) was given a boost in October 2020 when the Korean Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), concluded that, “The economic effectiveness of continuing operation of the reactor was unreasonably devalued,” as result of a “faulty assessment that unfairly underestimated the economic advantage of keeping it operating”.372 The investigation was launched at the request of the Korean National Assembly in September 2019. The BAI avoided ruling on the validity of the state-run corporation’s decision. The BAI found that an accounting firm had submitted a report that undervalued the economic advantage of continuing the operation of the reactor to KHNP in June 2018.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE), as part of the Moon administration’s energy policy, had already decided to close the reactor prior to the report being completed. Paek Woon-kyu, President Moon Jae-in’s first MOTIE minister decided on 4 April 2018 that the reactor would be closed earlier than the scheduled closure in 2022. KHNP, according to BAI, was prevented from considering any other options and this influenced the company’s economic efficiency assessment.

The BAI report did make clear that the audit looked only at the economic factors, not wider safety issues, stating that, “Safety and region-based elements were excluded from the scope of the audit,” and that,

The decision to close the reactor was a result of a range of factors such as safety and regional acceptance, in addition to economic viability. As the inspection was not about determining the validity of the policy decision, it is not appropriate to view the results of this inspection as a comprehensive assessment on the closure of Wolsong-1 reactor. 373

The BAI did conclude that Minister Paek deserved to be punished for having violated the State Public Officials Act, but no reprimand was recommended at that time because he had retired from the government in September 2018. The BAI recommended the government issue a strong warning to the president of KHNP and punish public servants who obstructed its audit.

Defending the decision to close the reactor, Rep. Youn Kun-young of the ruling Democratic Party warned that, “Shutting down the Wolsong-1 reactor was Moon’s presidential campaign pledge, and it was a policy endorsed by the people through the election. Auditing or investigating the policy to shut down the reactor is a direct challenge to democracy”.374

The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) demanded a criminal investigation into the government’s decision to close the reactor and public servants’ attempts to hinder the audit. In December 2020, Daejeon District Prosecutors Office sought arrest warrants for three officials from MOTIE suspected of deleting documents related to the closure of Wolsong-1 charging them with disturbing the state auditors’ examination and alleging that they had destroyed 444 materials and files about the decision.

On 1 July 2021, the Prosecutors’ Office charged former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Paik Un-gyu and former presidential secretary for industrial policy Chae Hee-bong with abuse of power and obstructing the business of KHNP. Chung Jae-hoon, president of the KHNP, was indicted on charges of breach of trust and obstruction of business.375

Moon Administration’s Energy Policy Under Threat

Despite the mounting pressure on the administration of President Moon from the main opposition party, industry and much of the media, the government confirmed a more ambitious renewables energy policy, the “9th Long-Term Basic Blueprint for Power Supply over 2020–2034”, which was announced on 20 December 2020.

Details of the plan, as reported in WNISR2020, were confirmed in the final version. The Government plan is to reduce dependence on nuclear and fossil fuel from the 46.3 percent in 2020 to 24.8 percent by 2034. Renewable energy is to be expanded from 20 GW in 2020 to 77.8 GW, supplying 40 precent of the country’s electricity by 2034, compared with the current 15.1 percent.376

The number of reactor units would peak at 26 in 2024, and by 2034 there would be 17 reactors operating with a total of 19.4 GW installed nuclear capacity generating 10.4 percent of South Korea’s electricity.377 This compares with 24 reactors (including the one in LTO) in 2020 and 23.3 GW and 19.2 percent of the nation’s electricity. A total of 5.6 GW of new nuclear capacity—Shin-Hanul-1 and -2, and Shin-Kori-5 and -6 are now scheduled to begin commercial operation between 2022–2024.

The uncertainty going forward was highlighted by the announcement of the lead opposition Presidential candidate, Yoon Seok-youl, who stated on 29 June 2021 that, “The nuclear phase-out policy was a poorly and hastily crafted one, and it must be revised…the Wolsong nuclear reactor probe is directly related to my resignation (as prosecutor in March 2021)…As soon as I ordered the Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office to conduct raids to investigate the suspicion that the reactor was shut down earlier than scheduled due to an assessment that deliberately underestimated the economic advantages of keeping it going, a disciplinary process against me started. There were also enormous pressures on how we handled the case.”378

It appears clear that the future of South Korean energy policy for the coming years, including the planned closure of 10 reactors, will be determined by the outcome of the 2022 Presidential elections.

Taiwan Focus

Taiwan has three operating reactors at Kuosheng (Guosheng) and Maanshan, all owned by the Taiwan Power Company (Taipower), the state-owned utility monopoly. This is one less reactor than previously due to closure of the Kuosheng Unit 1 (Guosheng) BWR on 1 July 2021.379 The Kuosheng Unit 1 closure is the third Taiwanese reactor to be closed under President Tsai Ing-wen government’s nuclear phase out plan and another milestone in the island’s energy transition including the end of nuclear generation by 2025.

In 2020, nuclear generation was almost stable at 30.3 TWh, compared to 31.1 TWh in 2019, equal to 12.7 percent of Taiwan’s electricity compared to 13.4 percent in 2019. Nuclear generation reached its maximum share of 41 percent in 1988.

As a consequence of the January 2020 re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the nuclear phase out and energy transition enacted in the first term, remains official policy.380 The rival Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) continues to strongly oppose President Tsai’s energy policy, calling for a life extension of existing reactors and the construction of new plants.381

Reactor Closures

As reported in WNISR2020, Taipower announced the closure of Chinshan Unit 1 on 5 December 2018, while Chinshan-2, which remained shut down from June 2017, was officially closed on 15 July 2019, when its 40-year operating license expired.

On 1 July 2021, Taipower announced that due to lack of spent fuel storage capacity, Kuosheng Unit 1 had been permanently shut down, which was six months earlier than planned.382 The closure of Kuosheng Unit 1 was originally scheduled for 27 December 2021 when its operating license expired. Nuclear fuel was loaded into the reactor during the refueling and maintenance outage in 2020, but in February 2021 Taipower reduced the reactor power level to 80 percent to allow it to extend operations until June.383

The reactor, which is located on the northern coast of Taiwan, approximately 22 km northeast of Taipei City, was a 985MW BWR/6 unit with Mark III containment supplied by General Electric, and was connected to the grid on 21 May 1981. In its last full year of operation in 2020, it generated 7.4 TWh of electricity.384 Local opposition in Taiwan prevented the construction of additional spent fuel dry storage capacity and is one principal reason for the early closure of Kuosheng Unit 1. Taipower undertook the installation of high density spent fuel storage racks (HDFSRs) in the early 1990’s at Kuosheng and installed even higher density in 2005.385

The Kuosheng Unit 2 is planned for closure on 15 March 2023. Maanshan’s PWR Unit 1 and Unit 2 are scheduled for closure on 26 July 2024 and 17 May 2025, respectively.

Referendum on Lungmen

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic a decision was taken to postpone the planned referendum that was scheduled on 28 August 2021 to 18 December 2021. The referendum is intended to attempt to overturn the current nuclear phase out policy, and will ask voters to approve restarting the Lungmen Nuclear Power Plant 4 project.386 In reality there is no prospect for a restart of the Lungmen reactors.

According to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), as of the end of March 2014, Lungmen-1 was 97.7 percent complete,387 while Lungmen-2 was 91 percent complete. The plant was, as of 2014, estimated to have cost US$9–9.9 billion.388 After multiple delays, rising costs, and large-scale public and political opposition, including through local referendums, on 28 April 2014, the then Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced that Lungmen-1 will be mothballed after the completion of safety checks, while work on Unit 2 at the site was to stop. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government was elected with a pledge to halt construction of the Lungmen reactors, and with a nuclear phase-out planned for 2025, there is little prospect that they will ever operate. A formal decision on terminating the project would potentially force Taipower to file for bankruptcy as the listing of Lungmen as an investment asset would put the company in the red.389

Any resumption of Lungmen construction would require Taiwan’s legislature and AEC approval, which, given the current government, is not going to happen. Taipower explained in February 2019 that it would not be able to replace major components installed nearly 20 years ago, including instrumentation and control as well as renegotiation with the main supplier General Electric (GE).390 Taipower stated that it could take 6–7 years to complete construction if all of these obstacles were overcome. WNISR took the units off the listing in 2014, where they remain as of 1 July 2021. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) although listing the reactors as under construction as of June 2019,391 as of 1 July 2021 they were no longer listed.392

Energy policy

Historical public opposition to nuclear power in Taiwan dramatically escalated during and in the months following the start of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and has been a principal driver of the nation’s ambitious plans for a renewable energy transition. The “New Energy Policy Vision”, announced by the administration in summer 2016, aims at establishing “a low carbon, sustainable, stable, high-quality and economically efficient energy system” through an energy transition and energy industry reform.393 On 12 January 2017, the Electricity Act Amendment completed and passed its third reading in the legislature, setting in place the mechanisms for Taiwan’s energy transition, including nuclear phase-out.394 The law also gives priority to distributed renewable energy generation, by which its generators will be given preferential rates, and small generators will be exempt from having to prepare operating reserves.

The closure of Kuosheng-1 prior to summer peak electricity demand has led some to question the merits of the government’s current energy policy395; however, a Taipower official stated that the loss of the reactor will not impact power supply margins as the company had “anticipated the shutdown for several months and Taipower has controlled for this”, through the commissioning of a new 500-MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) and 500 MW of new solar PV installations. “We have confidence that we can provide full power supply this summer with no problems”.396

President Tsai in October 2020 called for Taiwan to become a leading center of green energy in the Asia-Pacific region.397 Between 2021 and 2025, Taiwan aims to add 5.7 GW of offshore wind power to the grid, and a total of 14.2 GW by 2025. In 2020, the government’s position was that an additional 10 GW of offshore wind will be added to the grid between 2026–2035.398 In May 2021, this was increased to 15 GW.399 The reform of the electricity market is continuing with the second stage during 2019–2025 to include grid unbundling, the restructuring of Taipower into a holding company with two entities: a power generation corporation and a transmission and distribution corporation; and the separation of the accounting system for these planned within 2 years and complete separation within six to nine years.400

United Kingdom Focus

In 2020, the United Kingdom operated 13 reactors, with two units, Dungeness B-1 and B-2, in the LTO category (one less than in WNISR2020) as they had not operated since September and August 2018 respectively. In June 2021, it was announced that those two reactors would not be restarted. Nuclear plants provided 16 percent of power, down from a maximum of 26.9 percent in 1997. Generation from nuclear was 50.3 TWh in 2020, a decrease of 11 percent compared to 2019. This was due to a series of statutory and unplanned outages at the U.K.’s nuclear plants over the year.401 The average age of the U.K. fleet now stands at 37.4 years (see Figure 33).

Sources: WNISR with EDF-Energy and IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Final consumption of electricity was 284.4 TWh in 2020, a decrease of 4.7 percent compared to 2019. This was largely driven by a reduction in non-domestic electricity consumption due to restrictions introduced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Total electricity generated in 2020 was 312.8 TWh, 3.7 percent less than in 2019 (324.8 TWh), but continues a trend that has occurred since 2010.

Generation from renewable sources has been increasing year-on-year and in 2020 exceeded the generation from fossil fuels the first time. Renewable sources generated 134.3 TWh in 2020, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year.

A total of 32 power reactors have been permanently closed, all 26 Magnox reactors, two units at Dounreay, both Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR), a prototype Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) at Windscale and a prototype Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) at Winfrith. Six of the U.K.’s seven second-generation nuclear stations, each with two AGRs, are operating past the end of their original 25-year design lives. These are now expected to close between 2022 and 2030, while the country’s only Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR), at Sizewell B—the last of the U.K. units to start up, in 1995 (see Figure 32)—is scheduled to operate until at least 2035.402 However, with Heysham A and Hartlepool expected to close by 2024, EDF Energy will be left with just three operating nuclear stations (see Table 5).

Table 5 - Expected Closure Dates of U.K. Nuclear Reactor Fleet – As of 1 July 2021

Reactor

Type/Model

Net Capacity (MW)

Grid Connection

Age

Expected Closure

Status / Comment

Dungeness B-1

AGR

545

03/04/1983

38.2

Closed. Last power generation

on 28 September 2018

Dungeness B-2

AGR

545

29/12/1985

35.4

Closed. Last power generation

on 27 August 2018

Hartlepool A-1

AGR

590

01/08/1983

37.8

March
2024

Hartlepool A-2

AGR

595

31/10/1984

36.6

Heysham A-1

AGR

485

09/07/1983

37.9

2024

Heysham A-2

AGR

575

11/10/1984

36.6

2024

Heysham B-1

AGR

620

12/07/1988

32.9

2030

Heysham B-2

AGR

620

11/11/1988

32.6

2030

Hinkley Point B-1

AGR

485

30/10/1976

44.6

July
2022

Hinkley Point B-2

AGR

480

05/02/1976

45.3

Hunterston B-1

AGR

490

06/02/1976

45.3

January

2022

Hunterston B-2

AGR

495

31/03/1977

44.2

Sizewell-B

PWR

1 198

14/02/1995

26.3

2035

Torness-1

AGR

595

25/05/1988

33.0

2030

Torness-2

AGR

605

03/02/1989

32.3

2030

Sources: EDF Energy, 2020–2021

EDF Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of French state-controlled utility EDF, is the majority owner of the company Lake Acquisitions that owns these reactors. Centrica has a minority share (20 percent) in Lake Acquisitions. However, Centrica was trying to sell its stake since 2013, and the 2019 annual report says, “we re-affirmed our strategic direction back towards the customer and our desire to exit nuclear”.403 However, in its 2020 annual report they have stated “We have postponed the intended disposal of our nuclear generation assets until there is greater operational certainty”. Centrica also reported, an adjusted operating loss of £17 million (US$23 million) in 2020, compared to a profit of £19 million (US$27 million) in 2019, with lower generation volumes reflecting the extended outages at a number of power stations.404

Serious Ageing Issues

Managing reactors as they age is a constant problem for any technology design and the AGRs are no exception. In recent years problems with the core’s graphite moderator bricks have raised concerns. Keyway Root Cracks (KWRCs) were found at the Hunterston B reactors. This can lead to the degradation of the keying system, a vital component which houses the fuel, the control rods and the coolant (CO2). Their cracking or distortion could impact on the insertion of the control rods or the flow of the coolant. There are also issues of erosion of the graphite, and a number of the AGRs are close to the erosion limits that the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has set. ONR has said these issues are likely to be the lifetime-limiting factor for the AGRs, as it is not possible to replace the graphite bricks.405

In March 2018, during a scheduled outage, EDF discovered a higher number of KWRCs in the older of the two reactors at Hunterston than was predicted by its computer models in 2016 when the reactor underwent its statutory 10-year Periodic Safety Review. Since then, there has been a series of announcements indicating that the cracking problem is more extensive and the remedial measures more complicated than envisaged. In July 2019, the ONR’s Annual Report stated that Hunterston B were in an “enhanced level of regulatory attention” rather than routine. This was because assessment of the cracks required “substantial additional effort.” Part of the reason for the delay is that ONR revealed in a technical report that 58 fragments had broken from the graphite bricks and there was “significant uncertainty”, over the risk of these blocking the fuel channels. The ONR would require more robust arguments before agreeing to the restart of the reactors.406

Reactor 3 at Hunterston B (Hunterston B-1) was eventually restarted in August 2020, leaving the LTO status, and Reactor 4 (Hunterston B-2) in September. However, EDF Energy has confirmed that both units will be permanently closed before 7 January 2022,407 while the two reactors at Hinkley Point B, will be permanently closed before 15 July 2022.408

Concerns have been raised that lifetime-limiting cracking will be found at the other AGRs and in May 2020, it was revealed that the ONR in its 10-year Periodic Safety Review had estimated that “The predicted timescales for onset of keyway root cracking has changed from 2028 to mid-2022.”409 Consequently, the future of many of the AGRs is being questioned by EDF’s shareholders, who see ongoing outages and higher maintenance costs now outweighing the economic benefits of a possible additional couple of years of operation.410

Age-related problems, in this case corrosion rather than problems with graphite, have been found at similar reactors at Dungeness-B, with Unit 2 closed for what was supposed to be a 12-week outage in August 2018 and then Unit 1 for “common statutory outage work”, in September 2018, with both initially expected to restart in April 2019.411 However, on 7 June 2021, EDF Energy, to the surprise of many, announced that it would not seek to restart its Dungeness B nuclear power plant. EDF had said that “the station has a number of unique, significant and ongoing technical challenges that continue to make the future both difficult and uncertain”. EDF further stated that “the current scheduled decommissioning date is 2028. Given the unique technical challenges noted above, a range of scenarios are being actively explored. These include moving directly into the defueling phase later this year.”412 It was revealed that changes to the condition of the plant’s boilers, as well as serious issues on components that cover fuel assemblies were behind the decision to close the units.413

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Pathways to Net Zero

In June 2019, the Parliament set in law a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and as part of this process six select committees jointly agreed to establish a citizens’ assembly on climate change and how the Net Zero Target could be met. Special attention was to be given to the findings of the Committee as “it is unique: a body whose composition mirrors that of the U.K. population.”

The conclusions of the Committee on nuclear power were:

  • Assembly members saw three main disadvantages to nuclear: its cost, safety, and issues around waste storage and decommissioning.
  • Support for nuclear power was second lowest to the use of fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), with 34 percent of the assembly agreeing or strongly agreeing that it should be part of how the U.K. generates electricity, compared to 78 percent for onshore wind, 95 percent for offshore wind and 81 percent for solar.414

The Climate Change Committee, an independent body established to advise the Government on meeting its climate commitments has produced a report on how the U.K. can meet its Net Zero commitments. Three out of five of the Committee’s energy scenarios featured just 5 GW of nuclear capacity, equal to completing Hinkley Point C (HPC) and life-extending Sizewell B for the period 2035–2055. The remaining two scenarios featured 10 GW of nuclear capacity. The Committee concluded on nuclear power:415

Renewables are cheaper than alternative forms of power generation in the U.K. and can be deployed at scale to meet increased electricity demand in 2050 - we therefore consider deep decarbonisation of electricity to be a Core measure.

Reducing emissions towards net-zero will require continued deployment of renewables and possibly nuclear power and other low-carbon sources such as carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, along with avoiding emissions by improving energy efficiency or reducing demand. [Emphasis added.]

The committee is clearly recognizing the economic and deployment advantages of renewables over nuclear power as the country moves toward a zero emissions economy.

In November 2020, the U.K. Government published a Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which included a specific point on, “Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power”.416 This put forward milestones for the sector, including:

  • 2021: Launch of Phase 2 of U.K. Small Modular Reactor (SMR) design development.
  • Mid 2020s: HPC comes online.
  • Early 2030s: First SMRs and Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) demonstrator deployed in the U.K.

To support the development of the next generation of reactors the Government proposed to provide up to £385 million (US$533 million) in an Advanced Nuclear Fund for the next generation of nuclear technology, aiming, by the early 2030s, to develop an SMR and to build an AMR demonstrator. The Government is clearly backing SMRs and are extremely optimistic about a potential delivery timetable, which is a high-risk strategy given the industry’s track record of delivering established designs, never mind first-of-a-kind prototypes.

Then in December 2020, the Government published a long-awaited Energy White Paper. In this they stated that their aim was to “bring at least one largescale nuclear project to the point of Final Investment Decision by the end of this Parliament, subject to clear value for money and all relevant approvals”.417 In an accompanying press statement the Government said it would begin negotiations with EDF on Sizewell C.418 However, the language was prudent and requires a “value-for-money” hurdle to be passed, which given the current economics of nuclear vs. renewables is likely to be difficult. U.K. minister Gerry Grimstone told the Financial Times “If you read the energy white paper before Christmas it’s by no means certain that this country is going to be building large nuclear power stations”.419

Nuclear Newbuild

The development of new nuclear reactors in the U.K. has been slow since the current development cycle was “officially launched” 15 years ago, when then Prime Minister Tony Blair stated that nuclear issues were “back on the agenda with a vengeance”.420 In July 2011, the Government released the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Nuclear Power Generation.421 The eight “potentially suitable” sites considered in the document for deployment “before the end of 2025” are exclusively current or past nuclear power plant sites in England or Wales, except for one new potential site, Moorside, adjacent to the fuel-chain facilities at Sellafield. Northern Ireland and Scotland are not included. The Scottish Government is opposed to new-build and has reiterated their “continued opposition to new nuclear stations, under current technologies. The economics of these stations are prohibitive, especially given the falling costs of renewable and storage technologies”.422

Hinkley Point C

EDF Energy was given planning permission to build two reactors at Hinkley Point in April 2013. In October 2015, EDF and the U.K. Government423 announced updates to the October 2013 provisional agreement of commercial terms of the deal for the £16 billion (US$19.5 billion) overnight cost of construction of Hinkley Point C (HPC). The estimated cost of construction has since risen at the following times:

  • In 2017, it stood at £201519.6 billion (US$201525.3 billion), up from the £201518 billion (US$201523.2 billion)—a figure which included the financial costs. EDF said at the time that the £1.5 billion (US$1.9 billion) increase results mainly “from a better understanding of the design adapted to the requirements of the British regulators, the volume and sequencing of work on site and the gradual implementation of supplier contracts.”424
  • In November 2019, EDF announced a further increase in costs due to “challenging ground conditions”, “revised action plan targets” and “extra costs needed to implement the completed functional design”, with the new completion cost (in 2015 values) now being estimated between £21.5 billion (US$26.6 billion) and £22.5 billion (US$27.9 billion). Furthermore, it was stated that the risk of delay had increased and that such a delay would increase costs by £0.7 billion (US$0.9 billion) over and above these estimates, so the upper end of the range is now £23.2 billion (US$28.8 billion).425 EDF stated that “management of the project remains mobilised to begin generating power from Unit 1 at the end of 2025”, which is not a clear statement of confidence in the current schedule.426
  • In January 2021, EDF announced that Unit 1 is expected to generate power in June 2026, compared to end-2025 as announced in 2016. The project completion costs are now estimated in the range of £2015 22–23 billion (US$31–32.5 billion), a rise of £0.5 billion (US$0.7 billion).427

The critical points of the HPC deal were a Contract for Difference (CfD), effectively a guaranteed real electricity price for 35 years, which, depending on the number of units ultimately built, would be £89.5–92.5/MWh, in 2012 values (US$2020110–115/MWh), with annual increases linked to the Retail Price Index. In early 2020, EDF broke down the £92.50/MWh (US$2020115) strike price saying that £19.5 (US$202024.1) would go toward operating and maintenance costs, and only £11 (US$202013.6) to standard construction costs, excluding financing. The remaining £62 (US$202076.8) covers risk, with £26 (US$202032.2) for financing costs “for typical regulated asset without construction risk” and £36 (US$202044.6) to cover first-of-a-kind construction risk.428 The validity of and rationale for releasing these figures remain unclear. On the one hand, it could be designed to say that the cost of construction has been inflated in the U.K. due to the particular conditions in the U.K. leading to an extremely high cost of risk. However, on the other hand, it does highlight that building reactors is financially extremely risky.

The cost of this support scheme has rocketed, and the U.K. National Audit Office (NAO) suggested that the additional ‘top-up’ payments—the difference between the wholesale price, as of the beginning of 2020 at £36/MWh (US$50/MWh) and the agreed fixed price (or Strike Price), required through the CfD—have increased from £6.1 billion (US$20139.9 billion) in October 2013 to £29.7 billion (US$201641.2 billion) in March 2016. This was due to falling wholesale electricity prices. This is the discounted429 estimate, and the undiscounted estimate would be closer to £50 billion (US$202062 billion) The NAO also stated that “the [Government] Department’s deal for HPC has locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits.”430

There was an expectation that construction would be primarily funded by debt (borrowing) backed by U.K. sovereign loan guarantees, expected to be about £17 billion (US$26.9 billion). EDF announced in November 2015 its intention to sell non-core assets worth up to €10 billion (US$11.4 billion), including a stake in Lake Acquisitions, to help finance HPC and other capital-intensive projects.431

The expected composition of the consortium owning the plant changed from October 2013 to October 2015 with the effective bankruptcy and dismantling of AREVA making their planned contribution of 10 percent impossible. The Chinese stake, through China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), fell to 33.5 percent from 40 percent and the other investors (up to 15 percent) had not materialized, leaving EDF with 66.5 percent rather than 45 percent it had hoped for in 2013. The rising construction cost and its increased share has impacted upon the amount EDF has to pay. Since 2013, the cost of EDF’s expected share of the project has gone up by about 150 percent432 and significantly contributed to its large, €42.3 billion (US$51.6 billion) debt load. The HPC cost overruns were part of Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade EDF’s credit rating in June 2020 (see France Focus). 

The administration of Prime Minister Theresa May finally approved and signed binding contracts for the HPC project in September 2016, with the Government retaining a ‘special share’, that would give it a veto right over changes to ownership, including preventing EDF from selling down to less than 50 percent, if national security concerns arose.433 The U.S. Government continues to have security concerns and in October 2018 Assistant Secretary of State, Christopher Ashley Ford, even warned the U.K. explicitly against partnering with CGN, saying that Washington had evidence that the business was engaged in taking civilian technology and converting it to military uses.434

A New Funding Model for Nuclear?

Recognizing that the Contract for Difference (CfD) for Hinkley Point C (HPC) was leading to higher power prices than available alternatives, such as offshore wind, whose 2019 tender led to prices of £201239.65/MWh (US$50/MWh), in July 2019, the Government announced a consultation for the introduction of a new funding model to facilitate the construction of new nuclear via a Regulated Asset Base (RAB). In such a case the project developer could charge consumers upfront for the construction, which would be broken down into different phases during the build process. EDF has claimed that all households would have to pay only £6 (US$7.5) per year additionally for them to build the proposed reactors at Sizewell C.435 In the U.S., this model has led to at least nine tariff increases for consumers for the construction of the two V.C. Summer reactors in South Carolina, started in 2012 and abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of over US$10 billion. The financing scheme had been abandoned by most of the U.S. states in the 1970s and led to the cancellation of more reactor orders than were eventually carried through.

Charging upfront reduces the overall construction costs as it avoids the need to include interest during the construction phase, thus cutting the amount of compounded debt to be serviced and paid off during the life of the asset, which could be key for nuclear projects as financing represents a significant share of the overall project costs. Furthermore, by breaking the construction into different phases, it is expected that this would increase certainty and therefore further reduce the cost of finance. EDF argues that the aim would be to reduce the weighted average cost of capital (WACC) from the 9.2 percent on HPC to around 5.5-6 percent.436 However, as a paper by the National Infrastructure Commission concludes:

it would be inappropriate to compare the price achieved under a CfD model, into which the developer has priced the risks of cost and time overruns, with a price achieved under a RAB model made on the basis that the project will be built on time and on budget.437

Furthermore, the consumer protection association, Citizens Advice stated in their response to the consultation that:

While there are credible reasons to believe that a RAB model would reduce the cost of capital associated with bringing forward new nuclear power stations, these are outweighed by the risk of highly material increases in the volume of capital that consumers will need to finance.438

A key selling point for the Government was a hope that funding would not have to come from the Treasury—and therefore remain off the Government’s balance sheet. However, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng reportedly told an event at the Conservative Party conference that the Treasury now believes that government support under a nuclear RAB would be scored as balance sheet debt.439

Consequently, it was reported that the Government was, at the end of 2020, considering the option to taking a greater direct stake in nuclear new build and the Prime Minister’s spokesman said, “The government is looking at options to invest in Sizewell”.440

In December the Government published its response to the consultation and concluded that, “following the consultation, Government will continue to explore a range of financing options with developers, including RAB”.441 Which hasn’t, at least publicly, clarified the Government’s position.

Other U.K. New-Build Projects

Sizewell C

EDF and CGN are also preparing to launch the development of a follow-on to Hinkley Point C (HPC), the Sizewell C project. Chinese investment would be limited to 20 percent, leaving EDF with 80 percent. The 80/20 split covers only the stage up to final investment decision. There is no agreement to invest beyond that stage. Given the apparent problems EDF is having financing HPC, this makes the Sizewell project even more difficult. Despite this, a public engagement process has been ongoing, and EDF was expected to submit a planning application, a so called “development consent order” in February 2020, but concerns by statutory agencies about the readiness of the application followed by the pandemic and the Government’s control measures led to it being delayed until May 2020.442 On 24 June 2020, the Planning Inspectorate accepted the application and consequently the next stage of the planning process could begin.443 However, in October 2020, EDF announced it intended to make changes to the application, leading to further delay.444 The final decision on whether to grant a development consent order to build Sizewell-C is planned to be taken by the Government by 14 April 2022.

EDF is hoping that it can sequence the construction of Sizewell C with the completion of HPC, so that workers can move from one project to another. But given the earliest conceivable preliminary construction works start date of Sizewell C in 2022, this seems impossible. EDF is optimistic that it can reduce construction costs, with their current estimate put at £18 billion (US$22 billion).445 However, they are also hoping that the financing costs of Sizewell-C can be reduced by shifting from the CfD mechanism to the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) model. EDF have suggested that with a better financing model and no “first-of-a-kind costs”, they could “peel away” the strike-price by £36/MWh

(US$44.5/MWh),446 as a result of EDF’s “base case” for Sizewell C’s cost being £20 billion (US$24.8 billion), with 60 percent financed by loans.447 In its planning documents, EDF confirmed construction costs of £20 billion (US$24.8 billion), despite previously suggesting that costs would be 20 percent lower than HPC thus limited to £18 billion (US$22.3 billion).448 However, without the development of a new financing model and confidence that the problems that have plagued the construction of all EPRs around the world, it is unlikely, especially in the current economic climate, that Sizewell C will proceed.

In March 2021 EDF’s financial report for 2020 said a Final Investment Decision (FID) was likely to be made in mid-2022, but used cautious language on the whole about the project, stating “EDF aims to ensure that risk sharing with the U.K. government in the as-yet un-validated regulatory and financing scheme will make it possible to find third party investors during the FID and avoid consolidating the project (including the economic debt calculation adopted by rating agencies). To date, it is not clear whether the Group will reach this target.” It went on to say

EDF’s ability to make a FID on Sizewell C and to participate in the financing of this project beyond the development phase could depend on the operational control of the HPC Point C project, on the existence of an appropriate regulatory and financing framework, and on the sufficient availability of investors and funders interested in the project. To date, none of these conditions are met. Failure to obtain the appropriate financing framework and appropriate regulatory approval could lead the Group not to make an investment decision or to make a decision in less than optimal conditions.449

Bradwell

EDF is allowing China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) to use the Bradwell site it had bought as back-up, if either the Hinkley Point or Sizewell sites proved not to be viable. CGN plans to build with its own technology, the Hualong One (or HPR-1000) at this site, with EDF taking a 33.5 percent stake,450 up to the point of getting the Generic Design Assessment (GDA), going forward the plant will need a new consortium. In January 2017, the U.K. Government requested that the regulator begin the GDA of the HPR-1000 reactor,451 and by February 2020 the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) had completed Step 3 of the GDA, with the final Step expected to be completed by the end of 2021, with a closure stage potentially taking another year.452 The key moment in the GDA, when specific issues are identified, is Step 4. In December 2020, the U.K.’s gas and electricity markets regulator, Ofgem, granted an electricity generating license to the Bradwell Power Generation Company Ltd.453

In August 2019, the U.S. blacklisted CGN for allegedly diverting the country’s nuclear technology for “military uses”. The Federal Register added the state-owned Chinese firm and three subsidiaries to its “Entity List”. This makes it virtually impossible for American companies to supply CGN without specific licenses.454 This and the increasing breakdown in the relationship between China, the U.S. and to some extent Europe, may well impact on the development of Bradwell as will the current economic climate and the likelihood of a global recession. In particular for the U.K., there is ongoing and growing concern over the situation in Hong Kong. Consequently, it has been suggested that as nuclear power plants “are part of the U.K.’s strategic national infrastructure, and China is no longer a friend to be trusted with such levers of power” it is impossible to envisage the government approving the Bradwell station.455 Furthermore, there is increased attention on the Bradwell project with the cancellation of negotiations about future nuclear projects in the Czech Republic and Romania due to security concerns with China.

Despite this, the project still has inertia and remains within the licensing process. From a Chinese perspective having the Hualong reactor design approved in the U.K. would be valuable as it seeks to sell its technology in other parts of the world. Therefore, it is likely that the process will continue, despite the U.K. Government making it clear that it sees no more than one nuclear project being approved in the lifetime of the current Parliament, ending 2024.

Moorside

In June 2014, NuGen finalized a new ownership structure with Toshiba-Westinghouse (60 percent) and Engie – then GDF Suez – (40 percent), as Iberdrola sold its shares to Toshiba-Westinghouse. The group planned to build three Toshiba-Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactors at the Moorside site, with units proposed to begin operating in 2024.456 The AP1000 design completed the GDA process. However, Westinghouse, after its financial collapse, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. in March 2017. The perilous state of the project also led to Engie selling its remaining 40 percent to Toshiba-Westinghouse for US$138 million, who were contractually obliged to buy at the pre-determined price. In late April 2017, Toshiba started mothballing the project.457

Toshiba was initially in with both South Korea’s KEPCO, a nationally owned utility and reactor vendor, and CGN of China, as potential buyers of NuGen. However, in November 2018, Toshiba announced that it was winding down NuGen, without finding a buyer. This could have opened up the opportunities for others to buy the Moorside site and build their own reactors—but this has not yet occurred. In the meantime, the Moorside site has reverted to the U.K.’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Wylfa and Oldbury

The other company that was involved in the proposed nuclear new-build is Horizon Nuclear Power, which was bought by the Japanese company Hitachi-GE from German utilities E.ON and Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) for an estimated price of £700 million (US$1.2 billion) in 2012. The company submitted its Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) design for technical review and it completed the GDA, whilst at the time making it clear that its continuation in the project would depend on the outcome of the negotiations with the Government.458

Hitachi was looking for partners in their project, hoping to reduce their stake to 50 percent and, if no other investors could be found, the company would have to withdraw. An internal review had found that the construction cost was likely to reach US$27.5 billion, considered too big a risk for the company on its own. In January 2019, Hitachi announced that it was suspending the project and that this decision was taken “from the standpoint of economic rationality”; in doing so the company accepted a ¥300 billion (US$20192.75 billion) impairment.459 Horizon CEO Duncan Hawthorne wrote in a 27 January 2021 letter to the U.K. Planning Inspectorate withdrawing Horizon’s application for a Wylfa Newydd development consent order.460 The site will revert to the NDA.

United States Focus

Overview

With 93 commercial reactors operating as of 1 July 2021, the U.S. continues to possess by far the largest nuclear fleet in the world. Two reactors were closed in the year since WNISR2020. Duane Arnold-1 in the state of Iowa was closed on 10 August 2020, following significant storm damage, and four months earlier than scheduled.461 The Indian Point-3 reactor closed on 30 April 2021, bringing to an end nuclear generation at the site, which is located on the Hudson River, 48 km from Manhattan, New York.462 Unit 2 at the site was disconnected from the grid on 20 April 2020.463

Construction continued on the one new nuclear plant in the U.S., the twin AP-1000s at Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, in the state of Georgia. As in previous years, evidence has continued to emerge of the enormous scale of the problems with the Vogtle project, owned by Georgia Power. In June 2021, an expert witness to the Georgia Public Service Commission testified that the startup of the new Vogtle reactors would likely be delayed until at least the summer of 2022, and that the plant owners’ schedules “are unachievable and cannot be relied upon.”464 This is even later than the most recent prediction from Georgia Power of January 2021, which was five years later than originally planned.

On 23 July 2020, the former executive vice president of SCANA Corporation pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in connection with the construction of the V.C Summer nuclear plant project in South Carolina which was halted in 2017.465 Documents released in 2019 allege that the CEO and other officials conducted, “a years-long cover-up to hide huge losses in then-ongoing construction at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.”466 This follows the July 2017 decision to terminate construction of the twin V.C. Summer AP-1000 reactor project.467 According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the SCANA executive, Stephen A. Byrne, was aware as early as June 2016 that the V.C. Summer construction schedule and completion dates were unrealistic and unlikely to be achieved.468 Consequently, V.C. Summer Unit 2 and 3 would not meet the construction completion deadline entitling them to federal nuclear production tax credits worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars per year.469 Byrne’s false and misleading statements contributed to SCANA’s success in obtaining state rate increases to finance on-going construction. In February 2021, the former CEO of SCANA also pleaded guilty to conspiracy fraud charges involving a cover-up of financial problems with the V.C Summer project.470

The guilty pleas follow Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) criminal investigations into the failed nuclear project, which cost South Carolina power customers billions of dollars. FBI investigations during the past year have been ongoing, extending beyond SCANA to include amongst others, the Westinghouse corporation, the designer and supplier of the AP-1000 V.C Summer reactors. In May 2021, Westinghouse’s most senior executive managing the nuclear construction project was charged with the felony offence of lying to the FBI over his role in the scandal with SCANA.471

During the past few years, utilities have both succeeded and failed in their ongoing efforts to secure state financial support for operating nuclear plants, with the balance being in the industry’s favor. As of July 2020, 13 reactors in the U.S. were receiving or are eligible for subsidies as a result of state legislation such as Zero Emission Credits (ZEC) or equivalent: Nine Mile Point, FitzPatrick and Ginna in New York; Clinton and Quad Cities in Illinois; Salem and Hope Creek in New Jersey; Millstone in Connecticut; and Davis Besse and Perry in Ohio (now rescinded with termination of HB6).

Attempts to secure further financial support for the U.S. nuclear industry have made significant progress in the past year following the election of President Biden. On 24 June 2021, Democratic Senators presented the Zero-Emission Nuclear Power Production Credit Act of 2021 (S. 2291)472 which would make existing merchant nuclear power owners/operators eligible for a tax credit of US$15/MWh.473 Estimates have projected that if applied to eligible nuclear plants across the nation, it could yield US$50 billion in additional revenue for utilities by 2030.474 The subsidies on offer have emerged with the renewed commitment of the Biden administration to reduce emissions and establish a “100% clean electric grid”. As one insider noted to Reuters news agency, “There’s a deepening understanding within the administration that it needs nuclear to meet its zero-emission goals’.475 With no prospects of major nuclear plant construction in the coming years,476 the legislative efforts have focused on providing subsidies to prevent further reactor closures. Industry lobbying efforts of Congress and the promotion of nuclear energy as necessary for emissions reductions appear to be paying off.477

As of 1 July 2021, the final status of nuclear subsidies legislation remains unknown; however, there is every prospect of significant financial gain for nuclear utilities from 2022. Thus, while it is inevitable that the size of the U.S. nuclear fleet will continue to decline, the decline is likely to be slowed down, perhaps substantially, by the proposed direct subsidies.

The U.S. reactor fleet provided 789.9 TWh in 2020, a drop of 2.4 percent over 2019. Nuclear plants provided a stable 19.7 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2020, though about 3 percentage points below the highest nuclear share of 22.5 percent, reached in 1995.

With only one new reactor started up in the past 20 years, the U.S. fleet continues to age, with a mid-2021 average of 40.7 years—exceeding 40 years for the first time—amongst the oldest in the world: 44 units have operated for 41 and more years (of which three for more than 51 years) and all but three for 31 and more years (see Figure 34).

Sources: WNISR, with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Extended Reactor Licenses

As of 1 July 2021, 85 of the 93 operating U.S. units had already received 20-year Initial License Renewals, which permits reactor operation during the period 40–60 years. In the past year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) did not issue any additional 20-year license renewals. Four reactors are currently listed as intending to apply for license extension in the period 2022–2024. 478 Under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954, as amended, and NRC regulations, the NRC issues initial operating licenses for commercial power reactors for 40 years. NRC regulations permit license renewals that extend the initial 40-year license for up to 20 additional years per renewal. However, in July 2017, the NRC published a final document describing “aging management programs” that allow the NRC to grant nuclear power plants operating licenses for “up to 80 years”.479 As of 1 July 2021, the NRC has granted Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses to six reactors, which permit operation from 60 to 80 years. A further seven reactors have their applications still under review.

The NRC on 4 December 2019 issued its first ever Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for Turkey Point-3 and -4. The license grants Florida Light and Power (FL&P) permission to operate the reactors for a total of 80 years.480 The reactors are located 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Miami and their previous 20-year license extensions, which were granted in 2002, had allowed them to operate until 2032 and 2033. FL&P applied for an additional 20 years of operation in May 2018.481

On 5 March 2020, the NRC granted Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for the Peach Bottom Unit 2 and Unit 3 owned by the Exelon Generation Company, LLC (Exelon).482 Prior to this decision, Peach Bottom Unit 2 had an operating license until 8 August 2033, while the license for Peach Bottom Unit 3 was to run until 2 July 2034.483 Exelon applied to the NRC on 10 July 2018 for subsequent license renewal for the reactors.484 Peach Bottom-2 and -3 were both connected to the grid in 1974 and are General Electric MK1 Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs). With the additional extension of 20 years, the reactors are licensed to operate until 8 August 2053 and 2 July 2054 respectively.

The Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for Peach Bottom-2 and-3 were contested by the organization Beyond Nuclear.485 In evidence, seeking a review by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB), expert witness David Lochbaum contends that Exelon in its application to the NRC had failed to provide evidence of adequate aging management programs and on how operating experience will be applied during the 60–80 year period of operation of Peach Bottom-2 and -3. Lochbaum added: “Abundant evidence also speaks to gaps, deficiencies, and uncertainties in present understanding of aging degradation mechanisms.” 486 The ASLB on 20 June 2019 denied the request for a review. A new filing to the NRC related to non-compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and NRC regulations 10 CFR § 51.71 was filed in September 2019.487 On 12 November 2020, the NRC upheld its decision granting the licenses stating that it was correct to rely on NRC’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) for license renewal.488 Notably, two of the NRC Commissioners dissented from the decision, arguing this interpretation violates the NRC’s obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).489

On 5 April 2021, the NRC granted Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for Surry-1 and -2 in the state of Virginia, owned by Dominion Energy, which will permit operations at the plant until 2052 and 2053 respectively.490 On 24 August 2020, Dominion also submitted its application for Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for North Anna-1 and -2.491 On 7 June 2021, Duke Energy submitted an application for Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for its Oconee-1, -2 and -3.492 If granted the reactors would be licensed to operate until 2053 and 2054 respectively.

While not guaranteeing reactors continued operation, multiple applications are expected over the coming years for subsequent license renewals. On 17 March 2021, Florida Power & Light Company notified the NRC that it intends to apply for Subsequent Renewed Operating Licenses for its St Lucie-1 and -2 reactors before the end of 2021.493 Duke Energy Corporation has said it plans to seek license extensions for all 11 of its reactors.494 The Congressional moves to provide extended financial support for reactor operations is likely to encourage additional applications for 80-year operational licenses.

Reactor Closures

As a result of storm damage incurred on 10 August 2020, the 622 MW Duane Arnold-1 reactor did not return to service and was permanently closed, the plant’s majority owner, NextEra Energy Resources announced 25 August 2020.495 It was previously scheduled for closure on 30 October 2020.

The single unit General Electric (GE) designed Mark-1 Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), the same as Fukushima Daichi unit 1, is located in Palo, 13 km northwest of Cedar Rapids and is the only commercial reactor in the mid-west U.S. state of Iowa.496 The reactor cooling towers were significantly damaged in strong winds from a derecho, a straight-line storm of up to hurricane force, which caused offsite power loss and automatic reactor shutdown.497

The 46-year-old reactor was connected to the grid in May 1974.498 In 2010, the NRC granted an additional 20-year operating license permitting operation until 2034.499 In July 2018, NextEra Energy announced that it would close Duane Arnold in 2020 after renegotiation of a power purchase agreement that terminated a contract with the reactor as of October this year. Under the agreement, NextEra agreed to supply electricity to the Iowa grid from its lower cost wind energy capacity, which will save customers US$300 million in electricity costs, on a net present value basis, over 21 years, according to NextEra.500

In the other reactor closure during the past year, and forty-five years after first being connected to the grid, the Indian Point-3 reactor closed on 30 April 2021, bringing to an end nuclear generation at the site which is located on the Hudson River, 48 km from Manhattan, New York.501 Long considered a major safety risk to millions of people, the closure of the reactors was secured under the terms of a historic agreement in January 2017 between the nuclear plant owner, Entergy, the non-governmental organization Riverkeeper and the state of New York.502 Indian Point-2 closed on 30 April 2020.503

Entergy had invested over US$1 billion in the two remaining 1000 MW Units 2 and 3 in recent years. Unit 1, a smaller 250 MW reactor, was closed in 1974 just 12 years after it had started up. Indian Point-2 was connected to the grid on 26 June 1973, and Unit 3 on 27 April 1976. In closing the last reactor, Entergy highlighted that it had surpassed the world record for continuous operation of a light water reactor, having operated since refueling in April 2019 for 751 days.504

In April 2007, Entergy filed a license renewal application with the NRC for Indian Point-2 and -3, which were subsequently subject to sustained opposition from citizens groups over the following decade.505 Operations of the two remaining Indian Point units were challenged on two basic environmental requirements: a coastal zone management certification and a water permit application. While Entergy had declared that it was exempt from needing the coastal zone management certification, New York State disagreed, and the issue continued in the Court of Appeals. According to the 2017 agreement, Indian Point-2 was required to close no later than April 2020 and Unit 3 one year later.

In terms of multiple safety issues with the Indian Point-2 and -3 over the decades, the most serious in recent years was the discovery of major corrosion in steel bolts on the reactor core baffle which surrounds the fuel and directs cooling water entering the reactor vessel.506 If the baffle and former assembly do not remain intact, water can enter and leave the reactor vessel without passing through and cooling the core.

In highlighting the significance of the closure of Indian Point, Riverkeeper pointed to the energy efficiency and renewable energy projects implemented in New York State between the agreement for closure in 2017 and 2025, which will provide nearly triple the total amount of power Indian Point once generated.507 The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) stated:

Indian Point was sited in the wrong place some 50 years ago—a location where a severe accident would jeopardize the health of millions of people and where no large-scale evacuation plan would be remotely feasible. The closure of Indian Point this week ends this risky chapter. The retirement will happen on schedule with no red flags from reliability monitors at NYISO [New York Independent System Operator], and against the backdrop of accelerated climate and clean energy progress in New York State that was almost unimaginable when the debate over Indian Point began decades ago.508

Entergy has also stated that low natural gas prices and increased operating costs of the reactors were key factors in its decision to close Indian Point.509 A recent study highlighted that rather than increasing natural gas electricity generation to meet New York State 2025 clean energy targets, there will have to be a buildout of renewables, storage, and energy efficiency far exceeding the loss in generation from the Indian Point reactors.510

The average age of the six reactors closed in the U.S. over the five-year period 2016–2020 was 46.2 years (see Figure 35), which remains far below their licensed lifetimes of 60 years.

Sources: WNISR with IAEA-PRIS, 2021

Reactor Construction

Simply stated, it is to develop an unachievable plan, fail relatively quickly,

and repeat the process to develop a new (and still unachievable) plan.

Don Grace, Vice President of Engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group,

on behalf of the Georgia Public Service Commission Public Interest Advocacy Staff,

on Southern Company approach to Vogtle Construction

June 2020511

The Vogtle Debacle

Only two commercial reactors are currently under construction on one site in the U.S., the AP-1000 reactors Vogtle-3, which officially began in March 2013, and Vogtle-4, which began in November 2013.512 The reactors are being built in Burke County, near Waynesboro, in the state of Georgia, in the southeastern U.S. and are owned by Southern Company (parent company of majority Vogtle plant owner, Georgia Power).

In 2017, Southern Company gave fuel-loading times as November 2021 for Unit 3 and November 2022 for Unit 4, which compares with original planned startup dates in 2017 and 2018. However, the operational dates from Southern are at variance with the assessment made by the Georgia Public Services Commission (PSC) staff in its December 2016 quarterly progress report, which indicated a credible completion date of 2023.513

While the project during the past year has passed certain construction milestones, as in previous years and as reported in WNISR, evidence continues to emerge that reveals the enormous scale of the Vogtle project failure.

As of July 2021, construction of Unit 3 was 98 percent complete according to Southern Company, compares with 81.2 percent completed as of March 2020.514 In the case of Unit 4, Southern Company reported that it was 84 percent complete.515

Critics of the Vogtle project had long predicted that there would be delays and that costs would be much higher.516 The original project cost approved by the Georgia PSC was US$6.1 billion in 2009, which corresponds to a cost of US$2,440/kW (gross), whereas the 2017 estimate of US$23 billion translates to a cost of US$9,200/kW. The revised 2018 estimates in the range of US$28 billion have increased costs to US$11,200/kW, a 4.6-fold increase over the approved original estimate.517 These costs compare with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 2009-assessment of the prospects for new nuclear power based on overnight costs of US$20074,000/kW (US$20184,800/kW).518

As WNISR2018 reported, in December 2017, the Georgia PSC, following the recommendation from Southern Company, decided to continue to support the project. The Georgia PSC has backed the Plant Vogtle project from the start, including awarding the generous Construction Work In Progress (CWIP), where all construction costs incurred by Georgia Power are passed directly on to the customer. The Georgia Nuclear Energy Financing Act, signed into law in 2009, allows regulated utilities to recover from their customers the financing costs associated with the construction of nuclear generation projects—years before those projects are scheduled to begin producing benefits for ratepayers.

As a result of the CWIP legislation, out of Georgia Power’s original estimated US$6. billion Vogtle costs, US$1.7 billion is financing costs recoverable from the ratepayer. The utility began recovering these financing costs from its customers starting in 2011. For that first year, the rule translates to Georgia Power electric bills’ rising by an average of US$3.73 per month. Georgia Power estimated that this monthly charge would escalate so that by 2018, a Georgia Power residential customer using 1,000 kWh per month would have seen his/her bill go up by US$10 per month due to Vogtle-3 and -4. As a result of increased costs of the project and approval by the Georgia PSC, ratepayers had already paid US$2 billion to Georgia Power as of November 2017.519 But given the long timescale of the project, including planned operational life, the actual costs to ratepayers will be much higher.

Under the financing terms agreed with the Georgia PSC, the longer the Vogtle plant takes to construct, the higher its costs, which have invariably been passed on to Georgia ratepayers, resulting in higher income streams for Georgia Power and therefore Southern. In reporting 2018 Southern earnings, CEO Thomas A. Fanning stated that 2018, “was a banner year for Southern Company (...) All of our state-regulated electric and gas companies delivered strong performance with full-year 2018 earnings of US$2.23 billion, compared with earnings of US$842 million in 2017.520

WNISR2019 reported extensively on the economics of the Vogtle project. According to an expert testimony to the PSC on 5 June 2020,

The Staff CTC (cost to complete) analyses, which ignore the US$8.1 billion already incurred by the Company (Georgia Power) as of December 31, 2019, indicate that it is economic to complete the Project if the Company adheres to its current construction cost and the November 2021 and November 2022 regulatory COD [Commercial Operation Date] forecasts. The Staff analyses indicate that it is not economic to complete the Project if there is a delay of 24 months or longer beyond the current regulatory CODs.521

There were major doubts before this year that Georgia Power would meet its COD target dates, but this was confirmed during 2020–2021, including in relation to the start and completion of Hot Functional Tests (HFT).522 In 2019, PSC staff had concluded that “at this time the status of the Project is uncertain,” with major uncertainties whether the target date of HFTs scheduled for Unit 3 on 31 March 2020 could be achieved.523 Fuel loading at that time was scheduled for 14 October 2020.

On 30 April 2020, Thomas Fanning, CEO of Georgia Power, stated that, “cold hydro testing is planned to begin in June or July, with hot functional testing beginning in August or September.”524 This schedule changed again, when in June 2020, Southern announced that cold testing would take place “this fall” to then be followed by hot testing.

Credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s said in a statement:

The unexpected, late-stage changes to these planned activities is credit negative for Georgia Power because it signals that challenges with the project continue, increasing the likelihood of additional cost overruns and further schedule delays.525

HFT was then supposed to begin in January 2021 but was delayed and considered the primary cause for delay in commercial operation of the reactor. HFT of Vogtle-3 finally began on 25 April 2021 and was planned to be completed within 6–8 weeks.526 Apparently, Southern Company reported to investors on 29 July 2021 that HFT had been completed.527

On 18 May 2021, Southern Company informed the Georgia Public Service Commission that delays in testing of the Vogtle-3 reactor would mean that operation would not start before January 2022, at the earliest.528 The Commission was told that Unit 3 was 98 percent complete, but Southern Nuclear Vice President Aaron Abramovitz said risk of delays and problems doesn’t go away. “I would expect risk to decrease,” he told regulators. “I would not expect risk to go to zero.”529

While COVID-19 has impacted workers on the site, delays have also been caused by the need to replace electrical components and other work that the “company decided wasn’t up to standard.” Georgia Power told Commissioners that there was evidence “that contractors were declaring work complete without testing for deficiencies, relying on inspectors to catch it and fix any problems later.” The company is currently engaged in hot functional testing of the first reactor and has encountered more expansion of metal parts as systems were heated up than anticipated. “There’s a chance we may need to make some adjustments to the structural supports” Stephen Kuczynski, President and CEO of Southern Nuclear, told Commissioners of the thermal expansion issues. The PSC was informed that the current schedule for operation of Unit 4 was November 2022.

“Ratepayers will pay substantially more both prior to and after the Units begin providing service due to the delays and cost overruns.”

Less than one month later, in June 2021, expert witness testimony from the lead analyst and consultant for the PSC Staff Public Interest Advocacy Team for Vogtle Construction Monitoring challenged Southern Company’s projection for start of operations of Vogtle-3. Steven D. Roetger and William R. Jacobs, Jr gave evidence that cast major doubts on the reliability of schedules given by Southern.530 This included the fact that in the three months between July 2020 and October 2020 the schedule for work slipped by three months, leading Roetger and Jacobs to conclude that, “Considering the Company’s lack of performance regarding schedule adherence, the assumption that Hot Functional Testing (HFT) would ‘start near the beginning of next year’ was highly optimistic and not founded on past performance.”531

“The primary drivers for the delay in the Commercial Operation Date (COD) from the Company’s Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) 23rd testimony are the delays in starting HFT, the extended duration of HFT and the duration between completion of HFT and Fuel Load,” according to Roetger’s and Jacobs.532 The detailed reasons for the delays were provided to the PSC but were redacted from public disclosure, but relate to the “late completion and turnover of plant systems required for HFT.”

Under the CWIP, electricity rates for Georgia consumers have gone up 3.4 percent to pay for earlier costs and Georgia Power projects rates will rise at least another 6.6 percentage points for a total increase of 10 percent.

Georgia Power is currently expected to recover approximately US$3.9 billion under the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery (“NCCR”) tariffs imposed on customers during the construction period. “This is nearly double the US$2.1 billion the Company would have collected if the Units had been completed in accordance with the certification schedule of 11 April 2016 and 2017.”533 Under the NCCR, Georgia Power is permitted to request to add US$8.0 billion to its rate base once Units 3 and 4 are in commercial service. The Georgia PSC points out,

This amount is more than 80 percent greater than the US$4.4 billion assumed at certification. This additional US$3.6 billion in rate base will increase ratepayer revenue requirements by approximately US$12 billion over the 60-year life of the Units and increase annual revenue requirements by an average of US$380 million and US$350 million during the first five and ten years in operation, respectively. In conclusion, ratepayers will pay substantially more both prior to and after the Units begin providing service due to the delays and cost overruns.534

Lawsuits Against the Vogtle Project

Multiple lawsuits against the Vogtle project initiated over the years have continued through the courts. As reported in WNISR2018, on 13 February 2018 a coalition of groups filed in Fulton County Superior Court a complaint challenging the Georgia PSC decision, declaring that it was unlawful, violating the PSC’s own guidelines and Georgia state law.535 On 21 December 2018, the court found that dissatisfied customers cannot raise concerns about the unfairness of Georgia PSC’s process “until 2022 or later, after the project is complete... The court dismissed the appeal on technical grounds without addressing its substance,” attorney Kurt Ebersbach of Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) stated.536 “The people of Georgia have been pre-paying for this mismanaged project since 2011, while the price tag has ballooned and the project timeline has slipped again and again,” Liz Coyle, executive director of Georgia Watch said. “Unless the court reverses the commission’s decision, Georgia Power customers remain exposed to significant financial risk with seemingly no end in sight.”537

In October 2019, the Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the lower Court to determine whether the citizens groups had met their burden to show that postponing their appeal until after the project is finished would not provide them an adequate remedy.538 In April 2020, Fulton County Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the case until the reactors’ construction is finished.539

The most recent challenge to the Vogtle construction project was in May 2020, when the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) filed a challenge to an NRC License Amendment request from Southern.540 BREDL contends that, under the guise of a one-inch change in the seismic gap between two critical walls in the Vogtle Unit 3 reactor, Southern has admitted to a much more serious structural problem, the “dishing” of the nuclear plant’s concrete foundation which creates instability.541 Southern contends that it’s just a minor construction flaw, whereas BREDL expert witness, nuclear engineer Arne Gundersen, stated “that the sheer weight of the nuclear island building is causing it to sink into the red Georgia clay.”542 During a preliminary oral hearing of Southern’s License Amendment request, the case was heard by the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) on 1 July 2020. On 10 August 2020, the ASLB issued Memorandum and Order, denying BREDL’s intervention, and dismissing the two contentions and terminating the proceeding.543 On 4 September 2020 BREDL filed with the NRC seeking Commission review of the ASLB decision.544

Vogtle Federal Loan Guarantees

Under the terms of the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Guarantee Program, owners of nuclear projects are able to borrow at below-market Federal Financing Bank rates with the repayment assurance of the U.S. Government. DOE loan guarantees permitted Vogtle’s owners to finance a substantial portion of their construction costs at interest rates well below market rates, and to increase their debt fraction, which significantly reduced overall financing costs. In justification for the loan guarantee to Vogtle, the Obama administration stated in 2010 that the Vogtle project represents an important advance in nuclear technology technology. Other innovative nuclear projects may be unable to obtain full commercial financing due to the perceived risks associated with technology that has never been deployed at commercial scale in the U.S. The loan guarantees from this draft solicitation would support advanced nuclear energy technologies that will catalyze the deployment of future projects that replicate or extend a technological innovation.545

The loan-guarantee program has therefore played a critical role in permitting the Vogtle project to proceed but has failed to catalyze a nuclear revival, with no prospects of further new large nuclear plants being built in the U.S. in the coming decades. Oglethorpe Power Corporation (OPC), which has a 30-percent stake in Vogtle, confirmed in August 2017 that it had submitted a request to DOE for up to US$1.6 billion in additional loan guarantees. The company already had a US$3 billion loan guarantee from DOE. The other owners—Georgia Power and Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG)—have secured US$8.3 billion in separate loan guarantees from DOE since 2010, when they were approved by the Obama administration. Both of these companies confirmed in August 2017 that they were seeking additional loan guarantee funding.

On 29 September 2017, DOE Secretary Perry announced approval of additional US$3.7 billion loan guarantees for the Vogtle owners, with US$1.67 billion to Georgia Power, US$1.6 billion to OPC, and US$415 million to MEAG.546 A decision on terminating the Vogtle project would raise the prospect of repayment of the previous US$8.3 billion loan to Southern.547 In April 2019, the DOE provided an additional loan guarantee of US$3.7 billion to Plant Vogtle construction, only the second loan guarantee issued under the Trump administration and the second to Plant Vogtle.548 This brings the total loan guarantees provided for the Vogtle project by the DOE to US$12.03 billion.549

Guilty Pleas and On-going FBI Investigations Over V.C. Summer Project

This guilty plea shows that the investigation into the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle did not end with the former SCANA executives… we are committed to seeing this case through and holding all individual and corporate wrongdoers accountable.

Acting United States Attorney DeHart

10 June 2021.550

As reported in previous WNISR editions, the decision on 31 July 2017 by Santee Cooper and SCANA Corporation (the parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas or SCG&E) to terminate construction of the V.C. Summer reactor project has seen ongoing financial and legal fallout for the companies and ratepayers of South Carolina during the past three years. At the time of cancellation, the total costs for completion of the two AP-1000 reactors at V.C. Summer was projected to exceed US$25 billion—a 75 percent increase over initial estimates.551 The conspiracy to deceive regulators and ratepayers, which has been revealed by federal investigations, was intended to allow SCANA to apply for numerous rate increases to help pay for ongoing reactor construction. The rate increases were “fraudulently inflated bills to customers for the stated purpose of funding the project,” according to federal filings.552 Under legislation passed by the South Carolina Public Services Commissioners in 2008—but strongly opposed by civil society groups—construction costs for the V.C. Summer reactors were to be paid by state ratepayers. When SCANA was taken over by Dominion Energy in January 2019 it “committed to make extensive remedial efforts to redress ratepayers,” which is estimated to be approximately US$4 billion. Exactly what this means remains unclear, as under current plans Dominion will be charging South Carolina ratepayers an additional US$2.3 billion over the next two decades for the collapsed V.C. Summer project.553 The 8 June 2020 filing made it clear that Dominion will not be prosecuted, with a utility spokesman stating that “We have no further comment regarding this matter or the investigation”.554

During the past year, executives from both SCANA and Westinghouse have been found guilty of unlawfully withholding information for years about the failure of the V.C Summer project both from regulators and shareholders.

As of 1 July 2021, final sentences in these cases are pending. Former SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh, and others, according to the prosecutors, had participated in an illegal abuse of public trust by engaging in a deliberate plan to hide the extent of SCANA’s financial troubles at the nuclear project from the public, from regulators and from investors in the publicly traded utility. United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy in the Marsh case told the press in February 2021, “What is most exciting about today is that justice has been served. For years, institutions and individuals have abused the public trust with little to no accountability. This includes corporations that have increased profits at the expense of their customers.”555

The Director of Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch) Tom Clements stated stated that “The [US]$5 million fine is really like a traffic ticket to him…I assume he (Marsh) is going to suffer for two years in prison, but he really deserves a much longer prison sentence for what he’s done to the state of South Carolina,” said Clements, who predicted more people will eventually be charged.556 Although agreeing to two years prison time, the final sentencing of the former SCANA CEO will not take place for months or even years as he is cooperating with FBI investigators as they continue gathering evidence for possible charges against others at SCANA, Westinghouse and beyond.

In the case brought against Carl Dean Churchman, former vice President of Westinghouse Electric Corporation and the director of the V.C. Summer project for the company, it was found that he was communicating “with colleagues from the Westinghouse Electric Corporation through multiple emails in which they discussed the viability and accuracy of (completion dates) and thereafter, he reported those dates to executives of SCANA and Santee Cooper during a meeting held on Feb. 14, 2017.”557 On 10 June 2021, Churchman, who was Westinghouse’s vice-president of new plants and major projects at the time, pleaded guilty to the felony offence of lying to the FBI, prompting FBI Special Agent Susan Ferensic to state that “Today’s plea highlights the FBI’s determination to conduct a comprehensive investigation that yields the truth…We will continue to ask important questions and identify all involved in this failed nuclear project.”558

A parallel legal case, brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against SCANA executives, was settled in December 2020. They were accused of civil fraud in being at the center of a scheme that artificially inflated SCANA’s stock price in the period 2014-2017. The proposed settlement, announced by the SEC on 2 December 2020, requires SCANA to pay a US$25 million civil penalty, and SCANA and SCE&G to pay US$112.5 million in disgorgement plus prejudgment interest.559

Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart stated in June 2021, “It’s clear that our investigation into the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle didn’t end with the SCANA case,” he said. “Our office is committed to seeing this investigation through and holding all individuals and companies who participated in this fiasco accountable.”560

The cancellation of the V.C. Summer project adds to the history of 40 other stranded nuclear reactor projects in the United States whose construction started mostly in the 1970s and which were abandoned between 1977 and 1989.

Securing Subsidies to Prevent Closures

As WNISR has reported in recent years, utilities have been actively lobbying for state legislation and contracts that would provide significant financial support for the operation of their uneconomic reactors (see WNISR2018 – Annex 4). Between 2009 and 2025 a total of 25 reactors were scheduled for early retirement, of which 12 have already been closed, three more are scheduled for closure, six will close unless they can access new subsidies and two had their closure delayed following subsidy programs (see Figure 36 and Table 6).

As of 1 July 2021, legislation in five states (Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Ohio) had been enacted, (with one redaction in Ohio as a result of the FirstEnergy corruption scandal, see below) which in total provided state subsidies to 13 reactors at ten nuclear plants. All of these five states have unbundled, retail-choice electricity markets, where generators do not receive cost recovery from state regulatory commissions. These account for 9 percent of the utility-scale generating capacity in those five states and 13 percent of the U.S. nuclear generating capacity.561

Central to the future of nuclear power in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection LLC (PJM) wholesale electricity market are the rules expected to be proposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).562 In June 2018, FERC invalidated the PJM market rules.563 The FERC order relates to how the PJM sets the price of capacity it procures through its capacity market, known as the Reliability Pricing Model (RPM). They will affect how state subsidies, including ZECs, will be considered in the wholesale market. At issue is whether the subsidies being received by utilities for their nuclear plants will be factored into the capacity auction pricing. As reported in previous WNISRs, much of the legislation passed in the five states has been Zero Emission Credits or ZECs, which have evolved from small-scale renewables to thousands of megawatts from larger nuclear units. FERC has noted that “With each such subsidy, the market becomes less grounded in fundamental principles of supply and demand.”564

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Notes:

* Crystal River: No production after 2009 (WNISR considers it closed as of this date). Official closure announced in 2013. Renewal application submitted in 2008, withdrawn in 2013. See U.S. NRC, “Crystal River – License Renewal Application”, Updated 9 December 2016, see https://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal/applications/crystal-river.html, accessed 8 September 2020.

** Reactors to be closed in 2021 in case Exelon is not able to secure subsidies. See Exelon, “Exelon Generation Submits Decommissioning Plans for Byron and Dresden Nuclear Plants”, 28 July 2021, see https://www.exeloncorp.com:443/newsroom/exelon-generation-submits-decommissioning-plans-for-byron-and-dresden-nuclear-plants, accessed 31 July 2021.

*** License Renewal Application cancelled in 2018. See FENOC, “Perry Nuclear Power Plant—Change of Intent to Submit License Renewal Application”, First Energy Nuclear Operating Company, 27 November 2018, see https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1833/ML18331A155.pdf, accessed 8 September 2020.

In December 2019, FERC released an order565 directing PJM566 to significantly expand its minimum offer price rule (MOPR) to mitigate the impacts of state-subsidized resources on the capacity market. The ruling has the potential to undermine renewable energy development and as such is likely to be legally challenged by renewable energy industry associations and environmental groups, which are particularly concerned about the ruling’s de-facto support for continued fossil fuel use.567 It was utilities with significant nuclear capacity that were most concerned by the FERC ruling. Dependent on capacity market revenues, ZECs or equivalent exist in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Ohio (subsequently rescinded) and provide state subsidies to reactors.

Table 6– 19 Early-Retirements for U.S. Reactors 2009–2025

Reactor

Owner

Decision Date

Closure/

Expected Closure Date
(last electricity generation)

Age at Closure
(in years)

NRC 60-Year License Approval

Oyster Creek

Exelon

8 December 2010

December 2019 brought forward to 17 September 2018

49

Yes

Crystal River-3

Duke Energy

5 February 2013

26 September 2009

32

Application withdrawn

Kewaunee

Dominion Energy

22 October 2012

7 May 2013

39

Yes

San Onofre-2 & -3

SCE/SDG&E

7 June 2013

January 2012

29 / 28

No application

Vermont Yankee

Entergy

28 August 2013

29 December 2014

42

Yes

Pilgrim

Entergy

13 October 2015

31 May 2019

47

Yes

Diablo Canyon-1 & -2

PG&E

21 June 2016

November 2024 & August 2025

40

Suspended

Fort Calhoun

OPPD

26 August 2016

24 October 2016

43

Yes

Palisades

Entergy

8 December 2016/

28 September 2017

2022

51

Yes

Indian Point-2

Entergy

9 January 2017

30 April 2020

47

Yes

Indian Point-3

30 April 2021

44

Three Mile Island-1

Exelon

30 May 2017

September 2019

45

Yes

Duane Arnold

NextEra

27 July 2018

30 October 2020
Brought forward

to 10 August 2020

46

Yes

Byron-1 & -2

Exelon

28 July 2021(a)

September 2021

36 / 34

Yes

Dresden-2 & -3

November 2021

51 / 50

Yes

Sources: Various, compiled by WNISR, 2021

Notes

Early closure decisions for four reactors (Beaver Valley-1 and -2, Davis-Besse and Perry) have been reversed and those reactors have been removed from the table since the WNISR2020 version.

(a) - Exelon, “Exelon Generation Submits Decommissioning Plans for Byron and Dresden Nuclear Plants”, 28 July 2021, see https://www.exeloncorp.com:443/newsroom/exelon-generation-submits-decommissioning-plans-for-byron-and-dresden-nuclear-plants, accessed 31 July 2021.

The long-expected FERC order did not offer an exemption for existing nuclear plants that currently receive state support. The FERC decision would require reactor operators receiving state zero-emission credit568s and much other subsidized resources, including energy procured through a state renewable portfolio standard, to bid their capacity into PJM without factoring in the subsidies. That could raise their capacity market bid price leading to them to fail to clear the auction and thereafter stop receiving capacity market fees. Nuclear plants would have to bid into the capacity market at their net Avoidable Cost Rate (ACR), which equals a predetermined ACR minus any expected net revenues from the energy and ancillary services markets. The proposed ACR numbers (from 2018) show that nuclear had the highest possible ACR value of any technology, at US$631/MW-day.569 If this number is set at a level too high, the result could be that the reactors do not clear the capacity market, with resulting risk of closure.570

As noted in an analysis by Resources for the Future, the FERC order also applies to resources that are eligible to receive state subsidies, which potentially include reactors that currently do not receive state financing.571 Exelon, the largest nuclear reactor operator in the U.S., called the FERC decision “stunning”, and that “by granting the request of fossil generators, this order completely undermines state clean and renewable energy programs and will cost thousands of jobs, increase air pollution and unnecessarily raise electricity bills by US$2.4 billion annually”.572

The complex impact of the FERC MOPR ruling has been to raise questions over the future of the PJM capacity market, with the possibility of states deciding to withdraw from the regional market.

One consequence of the FERC ruling was a delay to the 2021 PJM auction (which are held twice annually). When it was held in June 2021, nuclear generation cleared the most additional capacity compared to the previous capacity auction, with an additional 4,460 MW.573 Industry analysts noted that Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (PSEG) and Exelon’s Salem plant in New Jersey and PSEG’s Hope Creek plant in New Jersey likely secured contracts by appealing for PJM’s unit-specific exemption to the MOPR, which allows them to bypass default numbers PJM may assign a resource because of its status as a state-subsidized resource.574 One explanation for the more successful auction for nuclear plants compared to the previous auction was the impact of the Biden administration’s active support for nuclear power.575 This was despite the 64-percent reduction in the auction price compared to 2018, with PJM confirming that for the period 2022–2023 the price was US$50/MW-day compared to the US$140/MW-day three years ago.576

Exelon, in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, revealed that its Byron, Dresden and Quad Cities nuclear plants in Illinois all failed to sell their power at the PJM auction, losing out to other power plants and energy resources.577 Two reactors each at the Byron and Dresden sites are currently slated to be closed in September and November 2021 respectively, while Quad Cities is in receipt of Illinois state subsidies. PJM confirmed that the four reactors can retire without putting overall grid reliability at risk.578

A proposal from the PJM to the FERC MOPR ruling was issued on 30 June 2021.579 Under the PJM proposal, state policies providing out-of-market payments to generating resources, such as nuclear plants, would be recognized as being a legitimate exercise of a state’s authority over the electric supply mix. Those policies would not be subject to the MOPR “so long as the policy does not constitute the sale of a FERC-jurisdictional product that is conditioned on clearing in any RPM [Reliability Pricing Model] auction,” the grid operator said in its proposal summary.580 The proposals from PJM are planned to be incorporated into the next auction which to be held in December 2021, for the period 2023–2024.

While efforts to secure ZEC legislation stalled in Pennsylvania, the decision by the state Governor to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has led to the choice to reverse the decision to close the Beaver Valley Units 1 and 2. Plant owner Energy Harbor Corp. notified the PJM Interconnection grid operator that it would rescind its March 2018 deactivation notices. The reactors were owned previously by Energy Solutions which had filed for bankruptcy in 2018. Beaver Valley Units 1 and 2 were scheduled to close in May and October 2021. The RGGI is a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

“The decision to rescind the deactivations for Beaver Valley was largely driven by the efforts of Governor Wolf’s administration to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative... and will begin to help level the playing field for our carbon-free nuclear generators” and will help it market “carbon free energy” to customers”, said Energy Harbor President and Chief Executive Officer John Judge on 13 March 2020.581 Analysis in October 2019 reported that a carbon price of US$3 to US$5 per ton would be enough to keep nuclear plants in Pennsylvania economically viable for the foreseeable future.582 Carbon allowances were sold at US$5.65 per ton in the RGGI’s most recent quarterly auction.583 The states that are in the RGGI are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Jersey; Virginia in early 2020 passed a law that paves the way for it to join.

The future of Exelon’s nuclear fleet in Illinois remains unclear. In April 2021, a study for the state legislature reviewed the economics and resulting policy choices for state support for Exelon’s Byron, Dresden, Braidwood, and LaSalle reactors for the periods 2021–2025 and 2021–2030.584 The report concludes by noting that Illinois could consider a subsidy rate of US$1.00/MWh for Byron and US$3.50/MWh for Dresden which “would ensure that 95 percent of the five-year expected Net Present Values for each plant remains above zero at the Synapse discount rate in the Monte Carlo analysis,” noting that “a US$3.00/MWh rate would collect approximately $100 million per year from ratepayers for the two plants.” The authors recommend to Illinois legislatures that

any subsidy for the output of the two plants should be based on each plant’s financial need. No subsidy should be paid without demonstration of actual need. Such need could be determined by either actual costs and revenues or based on projected energy prices relative to the projections developed in this analysis. This process should occur annually and should be transparent and formulaic for all parties.

Given the track record and distinct lack of transparency on the part of Exelon and other nuclear utilities when seeking state subsidies, including ZECs, it is not clear that they will be able to meet these conditions.

Democratic Governor Pritzker has led efforts to pass an energy bill that would provide US$540 million in subsidies for Exelon’s nuclear plants. But as of 1 July 2021, the bill was not voted on before the end of the state legislature session. In a filing to the SEC, Exelon warned that even two nuclear plants that successfully bid to provide power in the PJM auction remain in danger of “premature retirement.” Exelon claims that this is due to “unfavorable market rules that favor (carbon) emitting generation.”585 Braidwood-1 and -2 and LaSalle-1 and -2 would be kept in operation through May 2023 in order to “provide time for the significant logistical and technical planning necessary to ensure a safe and orderly retirement.”586 The Braidwood reactors have secured operational licenses to 2046 and 2047 respectively, while the LaSalle reactors are licensed to 2042 and 2043 respectively. However, Exelon warned that early shutdown would take place “in the event policy changes are not enacted”.587 However, there is every possibility that either Exelon will be successful in its lobbying strategy at state level and secure subsidies to secure continued operation of most of its Illinois fleet, or equally, the successful lobbying of Congress members in Washington DC will secure Federal tax credits and other support sufficient to avoid closure.

Ohio Corruption Scandal Terminates Nuclear Subsidies Legislation

FirstEnergy’s core values and behaviors include integrity, openness, and trust. As an organization, we are redoubling our commitment to live up to these values and the standards that we know our stakeholders expect of us.

Steven E. Strah, FirstEnergy president and chief executive officer

22 July 2021.588

In July 2020, the speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Larry Householder, was arrested by the FBI on charges of racketeering. It was alleged at the time that 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, Householder, pushed through a huge bailout of two nuclear plants and several coal plants that were losing money.589

As a result of the leadership role of Householder, in 2019, legislation House Bill 6 (HB6) was passed and FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse and Perry reactors were granted US$1.3 billion of taxpayer-money to 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.590 Householder pleaded not guilty. In the year since, the scandal has escalated, leading to the admission of guilt by FirstEnergy, and the termination of HB6 and nuclear subsidies.

In October 2020, when FirstEnergy was still denying its guilt, it continued its efforts to prevent further disclosures, leading Miranda Leppla, Vice President of Energy Policy for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, to state, “FirstEnergy’s lack of transparency is a continuation from its resistance to prove it even needed the bailout it received in House Bill 6, despite requests from lawmakers during HB 6 hearings.”591

Tom Bullock, executive director of the Citizen Utility Board, warned that “Ohio consumers have been harmed by HB 6, and the damage gets much worse on January 1 [2021] when US$150 million [in] nuclear bailout charges kick in…FirstEnergy says it’s not complicit in alleged HB 6 bribery, but it’s using legal maneuvers to block transparency, deny consumer refunds, and keep nuclear bailout money. Consumers need PUCO [Public Utilities Commission] to side with us and order FirstEnergy to cooperate.”592

On 16 November 2020, FBI agents raided the home of Ohio PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo.593 He was appointed by Governor DeWine in February 2019, prior to which he was a longtime lawyer for the utility industry. In mid-July 2021, it was disclosed that FirstEnergy admitted in a deferred prosecution agreement that it paid Randazzo US$22 million between 2010 and 2019, prior to his appointment to chair of PUCO.594 The Ohio PUCO, also in November 2020, began an audit of FirstEnergy to see whether the company broke any laws or regulations regarding its interactions with an ex-subsidiary while the companies pushed to secure HB6.

“FirstEnergy agreed to pay a US$230 million fine

for bribing key Ohio officials”

On 29 December 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered a halt to electric utilities collecting monthly fees under HB6.595

In March 2021, FirstEnergy informed Ohio regulators that it would refuse to refund customers US$30 million collected from revenue generated under the HB6 legislation.596 The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel had called on the Ohio PUCO to order FirstEnergy to “remedy what would be a miscarriage or perversion of justice” if the company was allowed to keep the rate guarantee money. “As we see it, the PUCO or the legislature shouldn’t allow FirstEnergy to walk away from the House Bill 6 scandal with even a penny of Ohioans’ money, and certainly not with the $30 million it charged consumers for recession-proofing,” Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston said in a statement.597

On 31 March 2021, Ohio Governor DeWine signed House Bill 128, which permanently cancels nuclear power subsidies paid under HB6.598 FirstEnergy, also on 31 March 2021, reversed its previous position and agreed to refund US$26 million to consumers for charges it collected through HB6.

On 22 July 2021, it was announced that FirstEnergy agreed to pay a US$230 million fine for bribing key Ohio officials in its efforts to secure the HB6 US$1-billion ratepayer-funded bailout for two nuclear plants. The U.S. Department of Justice detailed that in court filings, FirstEnergy had admitted that

it conspired with public officials and other individuals and entities to pay millions of dollars to public officials in exchange for specific official action for FirstEnergy Corp.’s benefit. FirstEnergy Corp. acknowledged in the deferred prosecution agreement that it paid millions of dollars to an elected state public official through the official’s alleged 501(c)(4) in return for the official pursuing nuclear legislation for FirstEnergy Corp.’s benefit.

The company also acknowledged that it used 501(c)(4) entities, including one it controlled, to further the scheme because it allowed certain FirstEnergy Corp. executives and co-conspirators to conceal from the public the nature, source and control of payments.

FirstEnergy Corp. further acknowledged that it paid $4.3 million dollars to a second public official. In return, the individual acted in their official capacity to further First Energy Corp.’s interests related to passage of nuclear legislation and other company priorities.599

The fine is the “largest criminal penalty ever collected, as far as anyone can recall, in the history of this office,” acting U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel said.600 However, the fine is less than a quarter of the US$1 billion in earnings in 2020, and FirstEnergy’s stock price soared after the three-year deferred prosecution agreement was announced.

The agreement with the Justice Department details how FirstEnergy bought key Ohio public officials—notably former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo—with millions of dollars funneled through the dark money group Generation Now, controlled by Householder. Between 2017 and March 2020, FirstEnergy Corp. and FirstEnergy Solutions, now called Energy Harbor, donated US$59 million to Generation Now.601 Householder led efforts to pass HB6 to bail out the nuclear plants and bankrolled a counter campaign to stop a ballot initiative that would have challenged HB6.

With the termination of Ohio subsidies for the two reactors at Davis-Besse and Perry, it remains unclear what impact it will have on any closure. The reactors are now operated by Energy Harbor, which was formed following the bankruptcy of FirstEnergy Solutions. The reactors were originally scheduled to be closed in May 2020 and May 2021, respectively. With the prospect of federal tax-credits legislation, there is a possibility both reactors will move from receiving state subsidies to federal support and continue to operate.

Progress Towards Securing Federal Subsidies

We’re not going to be able to achieve our climate goals if our nuclear power plants shut down. We have to find ways to keep them operating.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

6 May 2021.602

The nuclear industry has made considerable progress during the past year to securing major Federal level financial support which could significantly improve the profitability of a large number of reactors in the existing U.S. nuclear fleet. Signs of increased support to the nuclear fleet emerged during the latter stages of the 2020 Presidential campaign, including Biden’s US$2 trillion clean energy plan, which was designed to achieve a carbon emissions-free energy sector by 2035, and which includes keeping existing reactors in operation.

As WNISR2020 noted at the time, the plan itself was more circumspect on what it actually means for continued operation of reactors in the U.S. Several legislative initiatives in Congress have now made it clearer what support could potentially mean.

In the months following the election of Joe Biden, White House officials and newly appointed members of Cabinet, as well as Democratic Party members of Congress, have signaled the need to support existing nuclear reactors and to prevent further closures. On 6 May 2021, in House Appropriations subcommittee hearings for the Energy Department Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request, DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated that “The DOE has not historically subsidized plants but I think this is a moment to consider and perhaps in the American Jobs Plan or somewhere to make sure that we keep the current fleet active.”603

On 1 August 2021, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a near US$1 trillion infrastructure bill, which would invest billions of dollars in transmission and grid infrastructure, new advanced nuclear plants and current nuclear facilities, electric vehicle infrastructure, carbon capture and other clean energy resources. The 2,700-page bill was passed by 67-32 and is to advance to legislation.604 The vote to advance the bill included the support of 17 Republicans. In terms of nuclear power, it allocates US$6 billion for the Department of Energy in the form of credits to be allocated to existing nuclear plants based on MWh electricity generation and to be available over a period from 2022–2026. The DOE Secretary is required to assign credits to each reactor that applies, and there is the option to extend for a further five years to 2031, which would bring the total to US$12 billion. It also sets aside an additional US$6 billion in funding for microreactors, small modular reactors and advanced nuclear reactors.605

John Kotek, senior vice president of policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) called the bill “a welcome step forward,” but, “additional action must be taken” to retain the existing fleet of nuclear power plants, including through a production tax credit.606

In what would be a major financial gain for utilities over the coming decade, Senate Democrats and House Democrats and Republicans are proposing S. 2291/H.R.4024, called the “Zero-Emission Nuclear Power Production Credit Act of 2021”, which would establish tax credits for production of electricity using nuclear power at a rate of US$15/MWh.607

Covering the period from 2022–2031, the legislation would reduce utility tax burdens proportional to the amount of nuclear electricity generated. Utilities eligible to apply are those operating reactors in the deregulated (merchant) electricity market. Welcoming the efforts of Senate and House Democrats, an industry coalition, including Westinghouse, Toshiba and Framatome, as well as the NEI and American Nuclear Society (ANS), noted that, “Federal action is urgently needed to preserve nuclear energy, the country’s largest source of carbon-free electricity because energy markets and state and federal policies currently do not properly value nuclear’s carbon-free power.”608

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) reports that around half of the U.S. reactor fleet operate in the merchant market. Analysis from the Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) reports 40 reactors in the deregulated market, but that seven of these would likely not qualify for the credits.609 These include four reactors in New York state (FitzPatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point-1 and -2) that are already in receipt of credits under ZEC state legislation which are at a higher rate per MWh than proposed by Congress. In addition, as NIRS notes, the closure of Palisades in Michigan in 2022, and the two reactors at Point Beach in Wisconsin which have secured high value contracts until 2032, would exclude these from being eligible.610

One consequence of the Congressional efforts, if successful, would be the likely cancellation of State level ZECs. NIRS details that eight reactors in Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey that are currently receiving credits would likely terminate their agreement and opt for the more lucrative Federal subsidies. On the basis that 33 reactors would be able to secure credits under the proposed legislation, NIRS calculates that the total cost could be US$4.6 billion/year or US$45.6 billion through 2031.611

Deliberations on the Congressional legislation are set to resume from September 2021 when both House and Senate reconvene.

Fukushima Status Report · Ten Years After

Overview of Onsite and Offsite Challenges

Introduction

A decade has passed since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster began. Work to remove the spent fuel from the cooling pool of Unit 3 has finally been completed, while the work to remove the fuel debris has not yet begun on any reactor. In April 2021, the Japanese government decided that the contaminated water containing tritium (and other radioisotopes) would be discharged into the ocean, which caused national and international outrage. While the decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture is continuing, tens of thousands of citizens remain displaced.

Onsite Challenges612

Current Status of Each Reactor

The injection of water into Fukushima Daiichi Units 1–3, where core-melt accidents took place in March 2011, is continuing. As of 1 July 2021, a total of 228 cubic meters per day were being circulated through the Units 1–3.613 The temperature in the lower part of the reactor pressure vessel and the containment vessel is maintained at 14–20 degrees Celsius. The temperature in the storage pool, where the spent nuclear fuel is stored, is similar to last year at about 17-23 degrees Celsius614. The radiation level in the air has been decreasing little by little but remains high in the vicinity of the buildings; for example, a dose rate of 0.75 mSv/h has been detected near Unit 3.615 The radiation dose inside the buildings is still extremely high. As the radiation dose inside the building continues to be excessively high, it has not been possible to carry out measurements at all locations.

The removal of spent fuel at Unit 4 was completed in December 2014. Work began in Unit 3 on 15 April 2019 and was completed on 28 February 2021, which is the first time that this task was completed for a reactor that suffered a core meltdown. Units 1 and 2 are still in the preparatory stage for debris removal from the pools. According to the latest schedule announced in December 2019 (maintained as of March 2021), the spent fuel removal for Unit 1 will begin by FY2027–28, and for Unit 2 by FY2024–26. Originally scheduled to begin at both reactors in 2023, spent fuel removal from all six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi is planned to be completed by 2031.616

A decade after the Fukushima disaster began, the government is still examining how to remove the fuel debris from Units 1 and 2 and has not even begun to look into the methodology for Unit 3. According to the government’s medium- to long-term roadmap, the removal of fuel debris from Unit 2 was scheduled to start by the end of 2021.617 However, according to TEPCO’s action plan, the removal is “expected to be delayed by about one year due to the spread of COVID-19.”618

In March 2021, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) issued a report on the draft results of its investigation and analysis of the accident.619 This report showed that the radiation dose near the top of the containment vessel lid (shield plug) was extremely high.620 It is estimated that Cs-137 is present at about 0.1–0.2 PBq621 in Unit 1, at least 20–40 PBq in Unit 2, and 30 PBq in Unit 3.

Contaminated Water Management

According to TEPCO, the amount of contaminated water generation has been reduced to about 140 m3/day on average in FY2020 (compared to about 540 m3/day, the level in FY2014 before measures like an underground wall and a frozen soil barrier were implemented). The amount of groundwater and rainwater flowing into the basements of the buildings has been reduced to about 100 m3/day (compared to about 350 m3/day, the level before measures were implemented).

In terms of contaminated water stored in over 1,000 tanks on the Fukushima Daiichi site, while concentrations of radioisotopes such as, strontium, iodine and cesium have been reduced through the use of several Advanced Liquid Processing Systems (ALPS), the operations have been plagued with problems. The result of which is that as of November 2020 at least 73 percent of the water was required to be processed again through ALPS in an attempt to reduce concentrations to a level permissible for discharge under Japanese regulations.622 According to TEPCO data, as of August 2021, there was a total of 69 percent or 832,900 cubic meters of water that would undergo secondary processing in ALPS.623 This is expected to take several years.

At the same time, ALPS was not designed to remove radioactive tritium or carbon-14,624 After debating the handling of tritiated water from both technical and social perspectives, on 13 April 2021, the relevant ministerial meeting of the government decided to discharge the tritiated water into the ocean. According to the basic policy, the tritiated water will be diluted by a factor of at least 100 and will be released starting in 2023 and is expected to take at least three decades to discharge. In attempt to reduce opposition to the plans, the Japanese government has reached agreement that an IAEA Task Force will provide assistance to Japan during the preparation and implementation of the planned discharges.625 Fishermen unions, local municipalities, citizens groups and environmental organizations have consistently opposed the government’s decision.626 Various countries, including China, South Korea and the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), have also voiced concern and opposition to the release plan.627 Three independent United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement that, “The release of one million tons of contaminated water into the marine environment imposes considerable risks to the full enjoyment of human rights of concerned populations in and beyond the borders of Japan”.628

Worker Exposure and COVID-19 Infections

As of February 2021, of the 6,822 workers involved in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 931 were TEPCO employees and 5,891 (86 percent) were employees of subcontractors. The maximum cumulated effective dose of external exposure was 6.10 mSv for TEPCO employees and 11.67 mSv for employees of subcontractors.629 According to TEPCO, as of August 2021, 75 TEPCO employees and 140 subcontractors have been infected with COVID-19.

Offsite Challenges

Current Status of Evacuation

As of April 2021, 35,478 residents of Fukushima Prefecture are still living as evacuees (7,093 are living within the prefecture, 28,372 are living outside the prefecture, and 13 are missing).630 The number of evacuees has decreased by about 3,000 since last year. According to Fukushima Prefecture, the peak number of evacuees was 164,865 as of May 2012.631

In the areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, the number of people who have returned to their hometowns hardly increased over the past year. According to a survey of five towns conducted by the Reconstruction Agency, in Okuma Town—where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located—the evacuation order was partially lifted in April 2019, but the return rate is still only 2.5 percent (1.8 percent in 2020). Even Tomioka Town, where the evacuation order was partially lifted in April 2017, has a return rate of only 9.2 percent (7.5 in 2020).632

Food Contamination

Nationwide inspections for food contamination continue, with a total of 54,412 samples analyzed in FY2020, according to preliminary data, April 2020–February 2021, of which 127 samples exceeded the legal limits633 (157 cases in FY2019).634 In Fukushima Prefecture, 25 items were found to have high levels, of which 24 were game meat (wild boar, bear, pheasant) and one was an agricultural product.

The situation of food exports to foreign countries is still severe today. Of the 54 countries that began imposing import restrictions (e.g. banning Japanese food without certificate of origin or certificate of analysis for radioactivity) after the beginning of the disaster, as of March 2021, only 40 have lifted their restrictions (34 as of the previous fiscal year), while 14 countries/regions including the EU, the U.K., China, and South Korea continue to impose restrictions.635

Decontamination

The decontamination work for the Special Decontamination Area of Fukushima Prefecture under the direct control of the national government636 was completed in March 2018, and the decontamination work for relevant municipalities including the rest of Fukushima Prefecture637 was completed in March 2017 (this decontamination work did not include the Difficult-to-Return Zones). However, the reality is that decontamination has only been conducted over a small percentage of the overall land area contaminated.638 Meanwhile, the management of the decontamination waste generated by these projects is now a major issue. The contaminated soil from the temporary storage sites639 in Fukushima Prefecture is currently being transferred to intermediate storage facilities in eight areas. As of April 2021, 10.7 million m3 of the total 14 million m3 had been delivered (76 percent of the total amount).640

The law stipulates that the government is responsible for disposing of the waste at a final disposal site outside Fukushima Prefecture, to be carried out by a company wholly owned by the government, within 30 years after starting the interim storage of the waste.641 However, at present, the government has taken no specific action toward the final disposal of contaminated waste generated due to the Fukushima disaster.

Conclusion

The tenth anniversary-year since the disaster began occurred in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The Japanese government has emphasized progress made in decommissioning and decontamination, but the reality is that Japan is still in the early stages of managing the consequences of the accidents. Although the current overall plan for decommissioning remains unchanged, with scheduled completion between 2041 and 2051, it is still not widely publicly debated in Japan that the feasibility of this plan is being questioned.642 The population most impacted by the disaster, the citizens of Fukushima, by majority have low confidence in the current plans, and give the government low ratings for their handling of the disaster until now.643 The government’s decision to discharge contaminated water into the ocean has raised protests far beyond Japan. As for offsite management, the resettlement policy has turned out a failure as the very low return rates illustrate.

Health Effects of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster

Introduction

The Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused widespread radioactive contamination in eastern Japan. In Fukushima Prefecture, the area up to 20 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant was designated as an evacuation zone as the annual exposure dose was estimated to exceed 20 mSv and the area between 20–30 km was designated as an indoor evacuation644 zone. However, residents who were worried about radiation exposure self-evacuated from beyond the official evacuation zone, and the number of evacuees reached more than 160,000.

Before the accident, the public exposure dose limit was 1 mSv per year, but the government has lifted the evacuation order for areas that have been decontaminated to some degree and are estimated to entail a dose of less than 20 mSv per year. In March 2017, the government terminated housing support for evacuees from outside the evacuation zone and encouraged residents to return to their homes. However, estimates of the number of evacuees who have not taken up the return option range from about 36,000 according to Fukushima Prefecture, and more than 67,000, according to local governments in the prefecture.645, 646 Most of the people who have returned to the evacuation zone are the elderly, and the return rate among the younger generation concerned about the health effects of radiation exposure, particularly for the children is less than 10 percent.647

Principles of Radiation Health Effects

Health effects of radiation are determined by the exposure dose. For example, a dose of 7 Sievert (Sv) to the whole body in a short time will kill more than 99 percent of people, and 3–4 Sv will kill about 50 percent. Exposure to 1 mSv means that an average of one radiation beam passes through the nucleus of a cell648 that contains DNA, the blueprint of the body. A dose of 7 Sv means that 7,000 beams penetrate the nucleus, cutting the DNA into pieces and thus killing the cells.649 Complex DNA damage may occur even when a single radiation track passes through a cell, and the number of damages increases in proportion to the dose650.

Mutations occur if the damage is repaired incorrectly,651 which can cause cancer.

The so-called Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model assumes that there is no threshold for carcinogenesis and that the risk increases linearly with dose, because DNA damage can occur with a single radiation beam and increases with dose. The LNT model has been adopted by the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP)652, the World Health Organization (WHO)653, and others as it is supported by epidemiological studies and experimentally.

Since cells that are actively dividing are more sensitive to radiation, children are significantly more susceptible to radiation damage than adults, and within an individual, cells in organs that are actively dividing, such as bone marrow and lymphatic cells, are more likely to be damaged than cells in other organs.

Diseases Other Than Cancer Caused by Radiation Exposure

Studies of A-bomb survivors have revealed that mortality from cardiovascular disease increases linearly with dose.654 According to a Ukrainian government report, 25 years after the Chernobyl accident655, there were more deaths from cardiovascular diseases than from cancer (see also Chapter on Chernobyl – 35 Years After the Disaster Began). Cataracts are a definite effect of radiation and increase linearly with dose from less than 100 milli-gray to 2 gray656. Non-neoplastic diseases with high incidence among adult evacuees from Chernobyl included thyroiditis, neurological diseases, digestive diseases, and urological diseases. Immunity is carried out by cells of the myeloid and lymphoid lineages, and bone marrow cells and lymphocytes, are highly radiosensitive, thus exposure increases immune system diseases.

Survey on Health Effects

The following is an overview of the health effects that have been revealed in Fukushima Prefecture, the prefecture most affected by the 3/11 disaster.

Thyroid Radiation Dosimetry and Potassium Iodine

According to the Japanese Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Guide657, the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) was supposed to issue an order to take iodine if the dose to the thyroid gland reached 13,000 counts per minute (cpm),658 which is equivalent to 100 mSv. It was also decided that the person should be decontaminated in that case. Therefore, evacuees from the evacuation area had to undergo a contamination test, and if the contamination was above the limit, they had to be decontaminated before they could enter the shelter.

Many of the residents from the evacuation area were contaminated at levels exceeding 13,000 cpm, but it was very cold at that time and there was not enough hot water to decontaminate people or provide clothes to change for all of them. This is why the decontamination standard was raised to 100,000 cpm. As far as records are available, 102 residents exceeded 100,000 cpm and 900 were in the range of 13,000–100,000 cpm.659 However, no iodine tablets were systematically distributed to the population. These initial measurements were not used for exposure-dose estimation, and it was concluded that no one was exposed to more than 100 mSv.

A fax the NSC had sent to the medical team of the Local Nuclear Emergency Response located in the evacuation zone Headquarters (NERHQ) went missing. That fax reportedly contained instructions to call on the general public to take iodine tablets. The Local NERHQ did not receive the fax, so it did not issue any instructions to the public. The governor of Fukushima Prefecture was also supposed to give the order, but he was not aware of it. In the absence of instructions from NERHQ or the governor, the heads of the municipalities were allowed to issue their own orders to take iodine tablets, but only four towns issued such orders. As a result, only about 10,000 residents took the iodine tablets even though Fukushima Prefecture had ample stockpiles.660 In July 2020, the closed minutes of the Fukushima Medical University Disaster Response Headquarters were made public, revealing that the distribution of iodine tablets to children in Hamadori and Nakadori had been discussed, and by 19 March 2011, the tablets had been distributed on a municipal basis. However, no instructions were given to take the iodine tablets because Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who later became an advisor on radiation health risk management, had suggested that there was no need to take them.661

The Fukushima Prefectural Health Management Survey and the Thyroid Examination Program

Commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), Fukushima Prefecture decided to conduct a prefectural residents’ health survey. To estimate the exposure dose, information on individual behavior from the occurrence of the accidents to the end of June 2011 was collected by questionnaire, and the external exposure dose was estimated based on the behavioral records and environmental radiation dose.

The response rate of the questionnaire was 27.7 percent (568,632 persons) by March 2020. The effective doses due to the accidents were below 1 mSv in 62.2 percent of the cases, 1–2 mSv in 31.6 percent, 2–3 mSv in 5.5 percent, 3–4 mSv in 0.3 percent, and 4–5 mSv in 0.1 percent, with the maximum dose being 66 mSv, the mean value 0.9 mSv, and the median 0.6 mSv. It was decided to conduct a detailed survey on thyroid, mental health, lifestyle, and pregnant and nursing mothers.

The prefectural government outsourced everything from the planning of the thyroid examination to the analysis of the results to Fukushima Medical University (FMU). About 380,000 children at the age of 18 or younger (including in utero) at the time of the accident are eligible for thyroid examinations. Examinations are carried out every two years until the age of 20, and every five years thereafter using ultrasound equipment. If a nodule of 5.1 mm or more in diameter is found in the primary examination, a secondary examination is recommended, and if necessary, a fine-needle aspiration cytology662 is performed. When the cells are malignant or suspected to be malignant, the case is reported by the FMU to the Fukushima Health Management Survey Oversight Committee (FHMSOC), the advisory body of Fukushima Prefecture, and made public at the same time.

High incidence of thyroid cancer and a flawed examination program

In July 2021, it was reported that a total of 260 malignant or suspected malignant cases were detected: 219 underwent surgery, and 218 were diagnosed as cancer (see Table 7). Since pediatric thyroid cancer is an extremely rare disease, usually diagnosed in one or two cases per million people per year, already in 2016, the Oversight Committee admitted that the number of cases is several dozen times higher than usual.663 Furthermore, Table 7 shows that among the 135 patients diagnosed with cancer or suspected cancer in the second through fourth rounds, there were 46 patients whose prior examination results from two years earlier were in the A1 category, i.e. no detectable ultrasound findings. This suggests that thyroid cancer grew from undetectable to at least 5.1 mm within two years, indicating a fast growth rate.

Table 7 – Thyroid Cancers Identified in the Fukushima Prefectural Health Management Survey

Round 1

(FY2011–2013)

Round 2

(FY2014–2015)

Round 3

(FY2016–2017)

Round 4

(FY2018–2019)

For age 25

(FY2017–202)

Total

Malignant or

suspected

116

71

31

33

9

260

Previous Round Results

Round 1 results:
A1: 33
A2: 32
B: 5
Not examined: 1

Round 2 results:
A1: 7
A2: 14
B: 7
Not examined: 3

Round 3 results:
A1: 6
A2: 18
B: 6
Not Examined: 3

Round 4 results:

A2:2
B:2
Not Examined: 5

Male / Female

39 / 77

32 / 39

13 / 18

14 / 19

2 / 7

Age as of 3/11

6–18

5–18

5–16

0–12

6–18

(Average Age)

(14.9±2.6)

(12.6±3.2)

(9.6±2.9)

(7.9±2.9)

(17.1±0.7)

Confirmed

102

55

29

27

6

219

Histologic Type

PTC: 100

Poorly differentiated TC: 1

Benign nodule: 1

PTC: 54

Other type of TC: 1

PTC: 29

PTC: 27

PTC: 5

FTC: 1

Confirmed as TC:
218

Participants

(Participation rate)

300,472

(81.7%)

270,540

(71.0%)

217,921

(64.7%)

183,298

(62.3%)

7,621

(8.7%)

Sources: FHMSOC, July 2021664

Notes:

TC: Thyroid Cancer; PTC: Papillary Thyroid Cancer; FTC: Follicular Thyroid Cancer

A1: No nodule / cyst - A2: Nodules ≤ 5.0mm or cysts ≤ 20mm - B: Nodules ≥ 5.1mm or cysts ≥ 20.1mm

FY: Fiscal Year

Participation Rate: Number of participants/target population

In March 2017, it was discovered that the thyroid examination program planned by the Fukushima Medical University (FMU) was flawed. This was revealed by the 3.11 Fund for Children with Thyroid Cancer (FCTC), a non-profit organization that supports children who have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer following the disaster. If a case is not diagnosed with malignancy or suspected malignancy directly during the secondary examination yet requires a closer observation, the patient is then transferred to a “clinical” follow-up, which is considered “ordinary” medical care utilizing national health insurance. It came to light that the patients who were diagnosed with cancer during this follow-up period, outside the framework of the Fukushima Health Management Survey, were not reported back to the Oversight Committee. In response to criticism that this would not give an accurate number of the affected people, FMU announced in July 2018 eleven additional cancer cases as of June 2017, but these consisted only of patients who had been operated on at FMU. It is now known that there are 19 such “unreported” cases as of December 2018, but no further effort has been made to update the unreported data. In addition to these 19 patients, the Fund for Children with Thyroid Cancer is aware of 18 patients who were not covered by the survey. The age, gender, and region of the 19 people were not disclosed, and it is uncertain if there is any overlap with the 18 people known to the Fund. If there is no overlap, FMU is analyzing the causal relationship between exposure and thyroid cancer while excluding 12.6 percent of the patients.

Thyroid radiation dose and causal relationship analysis between radiation dose and thyroid cancer incidence

The measurement of children’s thyroid radiation doses was conducted under the direction of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Despite the fact that the half-life of radioactive iodine-131 is eight days, measurements started only about two weeks after the release events, and only a total of 1,080 children665 were measured at three locations beyond 30 km distance from the site. At all locations the environmental radiation levels were high. Thyroid exposure dose should have been the thyroid dose minus the air dose666, but in all locations, the dose at the shoulder of the clothing was subtracted from the measured thyroid dose. In case of a negative value, the exposure dose was assumed to be zero. The results showed no exposure of more than 100 mSv, so no further measurements were made.

In addition, a professor at Hirosaki University started conducting his own measurements, but the Fukushima Prefectural Government stopped him, arguing that it would make the population feel uneasy.667

The causal relationship between exposure and thyroid cancer has been analyzed for the first and second rounds of the survey. The exposure doses used in the FMU analysis were estimated based on the contamination level of the affected people’s residential areas measured from aircraft at the end of March 2011, which were classified into four areas in the order of descending doses: the Evacuation zone (13 municipalities), Nakadori, Hamadori and the Aizu region.

In the first round of analysis, no correlation between the level of contamination of the area and the thyroid cancer incidence was established, so the Oversight Committee announced that the high incidence of thyroid cancer was unlikely to be caused by radiation.

In the second round of analysis, the results correlated with the level of contamination (see Figure 37–A). After these results were reported, FMU changed the regional classification according to the radiation dose estimated by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), as shown in Figure 37–B, and re-analyzed the results by dividing the patients into two groups: those aged 6-14 years and those aged 15 years and older, excluding, without explanation, one 5-year-old child.

As shown in Figure 37–B, under these assumptions, no dose-proportional increase of thyroid cancer was identified. On the basis of this result, FMU and the Oversight Committee announced that “no association between the thyroid cancers and exposure can be recognized”, ignoring the regional differences demonstrated in Figure 37–A. In addition, the result showing a decreasing cancer incidence rate with increasing radiation dose among those over 15 years of age raises questions about the analytical method, but no explanation was provided.668

Sources: Fund for Children with Thyroid Cancer, FHMSOC, 2021669

Notes:

• The Odds ratio is a statistical measure of the likelihood of an event occurring in two groups. An odds ratio of 1 in group A and group B means that the number of people in group A and group B with thyroid cancer is the same, group A/B greater than 1 means that more people in group A have the disease, and group B less than 1 means that fewer people have the disease.

• The segmentation shown in Figure B corresponds to the exposure range of 6–14-year-old children.

The Oversight Committee points to the possibility of over-diagnosis as the cause of the high incidence, suggesting ultrasound examination diagnosed many cancers that will not be clinically diagnosed or linked to death in the future. However, over-diagnosis has been ruled out by surgeons who have performed most of the surgeries based on their surgical findings.670

The results of the analysis by researchers other than FMU using the data published by the Oversight Committee showed that there was a causal relationship with exposure.671 The difference in the analytical methodology is that the first and second rounds were combined and analyzed, or the regional classification was changed or both. The UNSCEAR 2020 report672 does not mention the “unreported” patients, but uncritically evaluates the paper published by FMU and criticizes the results of other papers.

Reports on the Nuclear Hazard Impact Study from the Ministry of the Environment673

Survey on health effects of radiation as part

of the Nuclear Hazard Impact Study Project

To examine the impact of the 3/11 disaster on disease and mortality trends, the Ministry of the Environment has set up a comparative survey of the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, lifestyle-related diseases, congenital abnormalities, and suicides between pre-3/11 and post-3/11 situations in Fukushima, in seven additional prefectures with partially contaminated areas (Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, and Chiba), and Fukushima’s neighboring prefectures of Yamagata and Niigata.674

Site-specific cancer-incidence and mortality rates in these 10 prefectures have been reported. While mortality rates have continued to decrease and morbidity rates have remained flat or decreased in all sites, incidence rates in Fukushima Prefecture seem to be on the rise since 2012 for thyroid, cervical, prostate, and breast cancer. However, the increase in morbidity from 2011 to 2012 in several sites in Fukushima Prefecture may be due to voluntary screening visits.675

In terms of diseases other than cancer, deaths from acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) increased by 10-20 percent in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 for both men and women in the age groups of 40-69, and 70 and over. Despite a downward trend thereafter, it remained highest among the 10 prefectures until the final year of survey (2015). Within Fukushima Prefecture, in March 2011, cardiac-related deaths were the highest in the evacuation areas and decreased in the partial and non-evacuation areas, in that order.676

Insurance billing for heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes among people aged 40 and older has increased significantly in Fukushima Prefecture for both men and women since 2011. The rate of metabolic syndrome677 is around 14.5 percent nationwide, but amongst people displaced from the evacuation zone, the rate increased from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 18.1 percent in 2011. In 2017, it had gone up to 20.7 percent, which remains the highest in the prefecture. There may be an effect of radiation exposure, but it remains uncertain because the doses have not been examined. The evacuees have lost their jobs, their families have been split up, and they have been forced to live in poor conditions in temporary housing, so it is possible that their sudden change in lifestyle has affected them.

The incidence of congenital anomalies in Fukushima Prefecture is reported to be the same as the national average.

According to the White Paper on Suicide and Prevention678 the number of suicides in Japan had been decreasing nationwide since 2009 but increased in 2011 in the prefectures most affected by 3/11. In 2011, the number of suicides per million citizens was 13.1 in Iwate, 2.4 in Miyagi, 0.3 in Ibaraki and 5 in Fukushima. In 2012, the numbers began to decline in most prefectures and, in 2019, reached 2.5 in Iwate, 0.4 in Miyagi, zero in Ibaraki but increased to 6.5 in Fukushima. The nine-year total is 53 in Iwate, 57 in Miyagi, one in Ibaraki and 115 in Fukushima. Within Fukushima Prefecture, the rate increased the most amongst people displaced from the evacuation areas and remains the highest through 2019.

The number of deaths and missing persons due to the earthquake and tsunami is 1,466 and 1,275 respectively in Fukushima, compared to 8,745 and 6,674 in Miyagi, and 4,243 and 3,479 in Iwate679. On the other hand, the total number of disaster-related deaths680 in the nine and a half years after the earthquake was 2,319 in Fukushima compared to 469 in Iwate and 929 in Miyagi.681

Health Problems of Nuclear Power Plant Workers

Of 24,832 workers who worked on the accident site during the six months following the initial accidents, the maximum exposure dose was 679 mSv, and 174 workers (0.7 percent) are documented to have been exposed to more than 100 mSv. The average exposure dose was 12.4 mSv682,683. However, reliability of these values is questionable because the radiation doses immediately after the accident were only measured in groups due to the lack of individual dosimeters.684

The Study Group on Long-Term Healthcare of Workers at the TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant685 has been established to conduct a health survey of 20,000 workers, but only 35 percent of the workers have responded to the survey. Most of the workers are employed by subcontractors, so they have to take time off work in order to be included in the survey and receive regular health checkups686. In the ten years since the accidents, no coherent health survey report on workers has been released.

An additional low-dose external and internal exposure has been incurred from the decontamination work triggered by the 20-mSv return policy as well as the work associated with handling, shipment, and storage of millions of cubic-meters of the contaminated soil which have been removed from farmland and residential areas and even reused for roadbed construction, embankments, etc.687 This poses a major health issue with its effects yet to be known.

Conclusion

Japan has been under a state of emergency for the 10 years since the Fukushima disaster began, but nobody has officially taken responsibility for the events. Residents who evacuated to various areas have filed more than 30 lawsuits against TEPCO and the Japanese government for compensation for damages caused by the evacuation (see Section on Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents). While there is no doubt about cancer rates, especially thyroid cancer, dozens of times above national average, TEPCO and the Japanese government keep denying any causal link with the events of 3/11.

As government witnesses, 17 experts including Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, submitted a joint opinion in 2016 that stated that health effects below 100 mSv could not be proven.688 Several co-authors of this joint opinion are now in charge of the Environment Ministry’s study on the health effects and disease trends due to 3/11.689

Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who a few days after 3/11 said that “The effects of radiation do not actually come to people who are smiling and laughing. It comes to those who are crying and worrying”690, as Director General of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences now heads the Core Center for coordinating and guiding four Advanced Radiation Emergency Medical Support Centers691. Thus, the same experts that have been downplaying post-accidental low-dose exposure risks today hold key positions that drive current radiation protection policies. These circumstances have contributed to the increasingly widespread perception that the risk of low-dose exposure would be unprovable in the Fukushima case—despite clear evidence such as the high incidence of childhood thyroid cancer.

Estimated Costs of Fukushima Disaster: Official and Independent Assessments

Introduction

Ten years after the catastrophic accidents happened at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the full picture of the consequences remains unclear. However, it is important to estimate how much the disaster will cost to understand the full range of impacts. This chapter attempts to provide a best estimate based on the methodology and assumptions developed by the independent think-tank Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) in two recent reports.692, 693 The total costs of the Fukushima accident considered here include: decommissioning of Fukushima reactors, treatment and disposal of contaminated water, final disposal of radioactive waste, and compensation to victims of the accident as well as to the local community, which is broader than the government estimate. Please note that the cost estimate does not include indirect costs such as: costs to replace nuclear generation due to the accident, additional costs due to early decommissioning, lost value of utility stocks etc. Although there is still much uncertainty in the assumptions, it is useful to consider an independent cost assessment. The purpose is to inform the public and policy makers of the scale of the disaster through critical analysis of the government estimates done in 2016 and in 2021.

Estimates by the Government in 2016 and 2021

The earliest cost estimate of the Fukushima accident was done by the TEPCO Management and Finance Investigation Committee set up after the accident in 2011. The report, published on 3 October 2011, estimated that total economic costs will be ¥5.7 trillion (US$202174 billion). The breakdown of the cost estimate was: decommissioning ¥1.2 trillion (US$15.6 billion) and compensation ¥4.5 trillion (US$58.6 billion), including a one-time compensation of ¥2.6 trillion (US$34 billion) and continuous compensation of ¥1.9 trillion (US$25 billion). This estimate does not include any expenses for decontamination nor any costs of final disposal of radioactive waste.694

“Government estimates are neither complete nor do they appear reliable, as their methodologies are not transparent for analysis.”

A 2014-estimate increased 55 percent over the initial 2011-assessment to ¥11.6 trillion (US$115 billion) with the following breakdown: decommissioning ¥2 trillion (US$19.8 billion), decontamination ¥2.5 trillion (US$24 billion), interim storage facilities for contaminated soil ¥1.1 trillion (US$10billion), compensation ¥6 trillion (US$59.3 billion)695.

The third 2016-cost estimate was elaborated by a new Committee for Reforming TEPCO and Overcoming 1F [Fukushima Daiichi] Challenges established by the Japanese Government. The total estimated cost was ¥22 trillion (US$206 billion), and its breakdown is the following: decommissioning ¥8 trillion (US$75 billion), compensation ¥8 trillion (US$75 billion), decontamination 6 trillion (US$56 billion)696.

On 13 July 2021, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) released its latest cost estimates for various power generation sources, including nuclear power.697 The total power generating costs now include so-called “government administration costs” which correspond to public expenditures on nuclear power and were estimated to be ¥23.8 trillion (US$224 billion).

The report also contains a new estimate of the accident costs. Other costs were slightly modified but remained close to the 2016 data (see Table 8).

Table 8 – Summary of Government Estimates of Fukushima Disaster Costs 2012–2021 (in US$2021 Billion)

2011

2014

2016

2021

Decommissioning

15.6

19.8

75.1

75.0

Decontamination

NA

35.6

56.3

52.5

Compensation

58.6

59.3

75.1

74.0

Others

NA

NA

NA

21.6

Total

74.3

114.7

206.5

223.1

Sources: TEPCO Management and Finance Investigation Committee, 2011;

NHK News, 2014, The Committee for Reforming TEPCO and Overcoming 1F Challenges, 2016 and METI, 2021.698

However, these government estimates are neither complete nor do they appear reliable, as their methodologies are not transparent for analysis. Apparently, they are based on informal hearings or on preliminary analysis based on limited sources of information.699

As Table 8 shows, the 2016 estimate of US$ 206.5 billion is almost the double of the previous one and close to three times the original estimate, and the government admitted for the first time that some of the costs will be paid for by the Japanese taxpayer.

Table 9 – Government Cost Sharing Scheme as of 2016 (in percent)

TEPCO

Other

Utilities

Independent

Power Producers

Tax

Total

Decommissioning

100.0

0

0

0

100

Decontamination

48.5

48.5

2.9

0

100

Compensation

66.7

0

0

33.3

100

Total

71.9

18.0

1.1

9.0

100

Sources: The Committee for Reforming TEPCO and Overcoming 1F Challenges, “Recommendations for Reforming TEPCO”, 20 December 2016

Table 9 summarizes the cost-sharing scheme of the Fukushima disaster costs as planned by the government in 2016. Although TEPCO will share more than 70 percent of the total cost, it became clear for the first time that 9 percent of the total cost could be charged to Japanese citizens through taxes. This raised more questions about the government estimates, and independent cost assessments appear indispensable.

An Independent Estimate by JCER in 2017

In 2017, the Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) came up with a different cost estimate based on their own methodology and assumptions. The report concluded the cost could rise to ¥50–70 trillion (US$460~660 billion). (See Table 10)

Table 10 – JCER Estimates (2017) versus Government Estimate (2016) (in US$2021 billion)

Gov (2016)

JCER-A

JCER-B

Decommissioning

75

103

301

Decontamination

56

282

282

Compensation

75

78

75

Total

207

463

658

Sources: METI, 2016; JCER, 2017700

Assumptions for the above estimates are the following.

  • Decommissioning. The government estimate is based on the decommissioning cost of Three Mile Island (TMI), which was a partial meltdown in 1979 and the molten fuel was contained in the pressure vessel. In the Fukushima case, the three meltdowns at Units 1–3 led to the fuel penetrating the pressure vessels making the basic situation technically much more complex. Also, the government estimate does not include final disposal of radioactive waste from the decommissioning. Typically, only 1–2 percent of the total waste volume being generated by the decommissioning of a reactor is radioactive. JCER assumes that all the waste produced by the decommissioning of Units 1–3 will become radioactive waste. Accordingly, the total decommissioning cost increases from US$75 billion to US$103 billion.
  • Contaminate Water Management. For option A, JCER assumed that the over one million tons of contaminated water will be released to the sea according to the government plan, so no additional cost is added, although costs may increase if further separation of other radioisotopes is needed (which is highly likely for a large part of the stored water). For option B, instead of releasing the contaminated water to the sea, JCER assumed separation of tritium from the treated water, but again does not add any cost estimate for further separation of other isotopes. The cost of tritium separation is estimated based on the costs experienced at Fugen (prototype ATR) facility, which is ¥20 million/ton (~US$0.19 million/ton)701. Assuming the total tritium water is about 1 million tons, another ¥20 trillion (~US$190 billion) was added for Option B.
  • Additional compensation. For option A, due to releasing the tritium water to the sea, JCER assumed additional compensation to the local fishermen with a population of about 1,500 persons. They assumed a compensation amount of ¥10 million (~US$94,000) per person in the initial year and gradually declining to zero over a 40-year period. Then the total additional compensation amount reaches to ¥300 billion (~US$2.8 billion).
  • Decontamination. The government estimate does not include final disposal cost of contaminated soil and other radioactive wastes coming out of decontamination work in the Fukushima area. Total volume is assumed to be 22 million tons (as of 2017) and JCER applied the actual cost of low-level waste disposal at Rokkasho village of ¥8–19 billion for 10,000 tons. So JCER’s estimate was ¥30 trillion (US$282 billion).

    An Updated Estimate by JCER in 2019

While the government has not updated its own estimate of total accidental costs since 2016, JCER made an updated estimate in 2019.

This time, given it is not clear whether TEPCO can take out all melted fuel debris from the reactors, JCER came up alternative case of postponement of decommissioning of the reactors 1–3 for 40 years (Option C). In addition, JCER updated tritium separation cost due to increase in volume of treated water from 1 million tons to 2 million tons (Option E). JCER also updated the cost of decontamination due to decrease in volume of radioactive waste from 22 million tons to 14 million tons. Option D is an updated version of Option B in 2017. As a result, JCER’s estimates are now US$322 billion (Option C), US$385 billion (Option D) and US$758 billion (Option E). (See Table 11.)

Table 11 – Updated JCER’s Estimate (2019) and Original Estimate (2017)

2017-A

2017-B

2019-C

2019-D

2019-E

Decommissioning

103

301

40

103

476

Decontamination

282

282

186

186

186

Compensation

78

75

96

96

96

Total

463

658

322

385

758

Sources: JCER, 2017, 2019

The new estimates above (rounded) are based on the following assumptions:

“JCER’s 2019-cost estimate ranges

from US$322 billion to US$758 billion”

  • Decommissioning. In scenario 2019-C, JCER assumed that decommissioning will be delayed until 2050, so that decommissioning costs would be minimum. If decommissioning is postponed, which would be a significant change from the current plan to take out all debris and clean up the land as soon as possible, JCER assumed that it would be necessary to purchase land owned by residents of “difficult-to-return zones”. Land purchase prices of all lands is estimated to total ¥1.1 trillion (US$10 billion). For option C, decommissioning cost would be ¥3.25 trillion plus ¥1.1 trillion thus ¥4.3 trillion (US$40 billion). This estimate does not include potential additional costs after 2050, and costs of possible measures like the construction of a containment structure are also not included. Therefore, this estimate should be considered as on the lower end for scenario C.
  • For scenario D, JCER assumed the same decommissioning cost as in 2017-A which is ¥11 trillion (US$103 billion).
  • Contaminated Water Management. The assumption on the amount of contaminated water to be managed was increased from one to two million tons. This increase is based upon the hypothesis that cooling of fuel debris will continue until 2030, which results in an additional 800,000 tons. The management cost of treated water, which was not included in the 2017 estimate, is now estimated to be ¥150 billion (US$1.4 billion) by 2030. After 2030, JCER assumed that the management costs will gradually taper off, and will reach zero by 2050. As a result, ¥3.25 trillion (US$30 billion) is added as part of decommissioning cost.
  • For scenario E, JCER considered tritium-separation costs for two instead of one million tons of contaminated water, which is estimated at ¥40 trillion (~US$370 billion). Thus, the total decommissioning cost of scenario E reaches ¥51 trillion (US$476 billion).
  • Decontamination. Since the Ministry of Environment reduced its estimate for the amount of rubble and soil generated in the process of decontamination from 22 to 14 million m³, the estimate of final disposal costs was reduced from ¥30 trillion (US$280 billion) in 2017 to 20 trillion yen (US$186 billion) in 2019.
  • Compensation. The amount of compensation to be paid by TEPCO had already increased to more than ¥8.7 trillion (US$80 billion) by 2017 and is now estimated by METI to reach ¥10 trillion (US$92 billion). Additional compensation to local communities of ¥0.3 trillion (US$3 billion) might have to be added to the compensation. Therefore, the total compensation amount in the three 2019-scenarios is estimated at ¥10.4 trillion (US$96 billion).

In total, JCER’s 2019-cost estimate ranges from US$322 billion to US$758 billion [all in 2021 prices] depending on whether decommissioning will be done by 2050 or postponed to after 2050.

Figure 38 compares the government and JCER estimates.

Sources: METI, 2016; METI, 2021; JCER, 2019

Conclusions

In summary, the government estimate of the cost of the Fukushima disaster of US$200 billion made in 2016 is neither comprehensive nor up to date and clearly underestimates the total costs. Although JCER’s estimates are also based on rough assumptions, they show much higher numbers, depending on a variety of assumptions, ranging from about US$320 billion to US$760 billion. The biggest difference between the government and JCER estimates comes from the fact that the official estimate does not include final disposal costs for radioactive waste generated by decommissioning and decontamination. Another big factor is the cost of water purification. While tritium separation could turn out lower than estimated by JCER, likely additional separation work for other radioisotopes have not been included at all in any cost estimate.

The analysis above entails a number of policy implications.

“It appears critically important to explore a variety of scenarios for decommissioning that provide a sound environmental, health and economic basis for decision-making.”

Exploring Various Options for Decommissioning

The government estimates are based on fixed assumptions and no assessment of various scenarios has been carried out. In its 2017-estimate, JCER explores the option to separate tritium from contaminated water. In its 2019-estimate, JCER considered the option to postpone decommissioning of the reactors until 2050. This option has never been publicly discussed by the government, but it is very unlikely that all fuel debris can be removed from the site in the timeframe envisaged by the government and TEPCO (see Fukushima Status Report: Overview of Onsite and Offsite Challenges). Both of JCER’s option assessments suggest that different choices could significantly impact costs upwards or downwards. Therefore, it appears critically important to explore a variety of scenarios for decommissioning that provide a sound environmental, health and economic basis for decision-making.

Economic Competitiveness of Nuclear Power Reflecting the Total Costs of the Disaster

The generation costs of nuclear power in Japan have not been reassessed based on the new cost estimates of the Fukushima disaster. The most recent nuclear electricity cost-estimate by the government (METI) was carried out in 2021 and estimated at >¥11.5/kWh (>US$¢10.8/kWh)702. This included estimated costs associated with the 3/11 events and assumed then those total costs would be limited to ¥23.8 trillion (US$223 billion). It was translated into ¥15.7 trillion (US$147 billion) for a model plant703. As a result, for the first time, the estimated nuclear generation costs are no longer the cheapest power generation source in Japan. According to the new government estimates, the lower end of the indicated range704 represents rooftop solar as the cheapest source at ¥9.5–14.5/kWh followed by LNG at >¥10.5–14.5/kWh.

JCER reassessed the estimated generation cost for nuclear power based on its 2017-estimate for the costs of the Fukushima disaster. JCER assumed construction cost would double to ¥740,000/kW (US$6,770/kW) up from ¥370,0000/kW (US$3,390/kW). Accordingly, the estimated cost of nuclear electricity generation increased by almost half to ¥14.7/kWh (US$c13.5/kWh).

Access to Information and Independent Oversight

There is a lack of access to information on the implications—economic, but also environmental and societal in general—of the decommissioning process. There is also a lack of an effective, independent oversight organization. The government 2016-cost estimate, officially released by METI, was carried out by the TEPCO Committee for Reforming TEPCO and Overcoming 1F [Fukushima Daiichi] Challenges and the underlying assumptions were never fully disclosed. It is therefore impossible to scrutinize those numbers. Besides, no update has been carried out since.

Judicial Decisions on Damages and Criminal Liability for the Fukushima Nuclear Accidents

Introduction

Over the past decade, since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster began, many court cases have been filed by residents around nuclear power plants. The present chapter provides an overview of some of the most significant lawsuits, including attempts to establish a link between the responsibilities for the disaster and complaints filed against Fukushima owner-operator TEPCO and the Japanese Government. Another series of cases has been filed against all operating reactors and restart attempts by nuclear operators except for one (Higashidori). Some were lost by the plaintiffs, some succeeded. These cases have been profoundly impactful and continue to reshape the judicial decision-making in the nuclear sector in Japan.705

Historic Ikata Case: Japanese Supreme Court Demands High Level of Nuclear Safety

During Japan’s first nuclear power plant lawsuit, brought against the Ikata nuclear power plant, Hideo Uchida, Chairman of the Nuclear Reactor Safety Review Board of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) at the time of his testimony, and then the first Chairman of the former Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), testified that the safety of nuclear power plants was absolutely assured, citing the “Rasmussen Report”706 on nuclear power plant safety.707 The plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed by the Supreme Court in 1992.708

The decision appears to be flawed in its interpretation of nuclear safety as the court limited the matters to be judged in administrative litigation to basic design, where relative safety should be ensured, and its judgement gave significant discretion to the government.

However, this ruling did include some important content, specifically:

  • that nuclear power plants have the potential to cause serious disasters;
  • that the government’s examination of nuclear power plants is designed to prevent such a disaster from occurring under any circumstances (“not even one in ten thousand times” in the Japanese idiom);
  • that the judiciary should make decisions based on current scientific knowledge, not based on outdated knowledge at the time of licensing; and
  • that the burden of proof for safety is on the government, not the plaintiffs.

    Fukushima Case: Judicial Decisions Regarding the Responsibility of TEPCO and the State

On 11 March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake (hereafter 3/11) occurred, causing a total loss of power at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, submersion of the emergency diesel power system, and a series of meltdowns in Units 1–3 (see Fukushima Status Report: Overview of Onsite and Offsite Challenges).

In July 2002, the National Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion (a government institute) raised the issue in its “long-term assessment” that a consensus of leading earthquake and tsunami scientists acknowledge three major tsunami-causing earthquakes exceeding magnitude 8 to have occurred in the past 400 years along the Japan Trench between the Tohoku region and the Boso coast, including the area offshore of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and that such tsunami-causing earthquakes were likely to occur again in the future.709

In 2004, a large tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra hit a nuclear power plant in Kalpakkam in southern India. In response to this event, in 2006, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) demanded that electric utilities adopt strict tsunami countermeasures.710 However, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) did not take any additional measures.

In February 2008, at a meeting attended by TEPCO’s top executives, Kazuhiko Yamashita, who was then second in command of the Nuclear Power Division, proposed a plan to implement countermeasures in accordance with the long-term assessment mentioned above, which was approved by the president and other directors.

In March 2008, simulation results based on the long-term assessment showed that a tsunami could potentially reach a height of 15.7 meters, this being almost three times higher than the design basis standard of 5.7 meters above sea level.

This result was reported by TEPCO’s Civil Engineering Research Group to then Vice President Muto in June of the same year, and in response the Vice President instructed them to consider countermeasures for equipment, including a method to reduce the tsunami run-up height to 4-meter ground (ground 4 meters above the Onahama Peil (O.P.)) where the emergency seawater pumps were installed, and to arrange permits for the installation of an offshore breakwater. However, in July 2009, Vice President Muto instructed the Civil Engineering Research Group to postpone the tsunami countermeasures and to ask the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, which is made up of academics with links to the power companies and that receives funding from the power industry, to reexamine the design basis tsunami.

Instead of submitting the results of this simulation to the government and Fukushima Prefecture immediately, TEPCO executives reported the results to the government on 7 March 2011, just four days before the accident.

The primary responsibility for the Fukushima accident lies with TEPCO for failing to adopt tsunami countermeasures in response to the government’s tsunami forecast (the “long-term assessment”), while secondary responsibility lies with the government for not requiring TEPCO to implement tsunami countermeasures based on its own earthquake and tsunami assessment.

Judicial decisions on whether or not the government is responsible for the accident are divided: the Sendai High-Court decision on 30 September 2020 and the Tokyo High-Court decision on 19 February 2021 have acknowledged the government’s responsibility, while a separate Tokyo High-Court decision of 18 February 2021 rejected the responsibility of the state. All three of these cases have been appealed, and the Supreme Court’s decisions are expected to be issued within the coming year. These judgements will be important.711

TEPCO Criminal Case

A manslaughter case against three TEPCO executives sought to establish criminal responsibility for the accident. The Tokyo District Court, presided by Judge Kenichi Nagabuchi, acquitted all defendants on 19 September 2019.712 The court ruled that the safety review standards for nuclear power plants were not based on the premise of ensuring absolute safety. The court also emphasized that there were scholars who disagreed with the “long-term assessment” and concluded that the executives were not obligated to take measures based on the “long-term assessment”. This decision is in direct contradiction to the aforementioned decision that found the government liable for state compensation. This decision can be evaluated as a de-facto rejection of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Ikata case, which ruled that the safety of nuclear power plants must be ensured to prevent serious disasters from occurring.

Despite the acquittal, the facts and evidence uncovered by the criminal trial provided much of the basis for the High Court’s decisions in favor of the plaintiffs in the “Nariwai” and “Chiba” civil lawsuits, in which the government was found liable.

TEPCO Civil Liability Case713

The TEPCO shareholder representative lawsuit, which has been underway to clarify the civil liability of TEPCO executives, began intensive witness examination in February 2021. The former head of the Volcano and Earthquake Department of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), who was also a member of the Long-Term Assessment Subcommittee, testified clearly that the “long-term assessment” was highly reliable.

Meanwhile, Yukinobu Okamura, who was a member of NISA’s safety review committee while working on tsunami deposits at a government-established research institute, told TEPCO officials who said they wanted to continue the tsunami deposit survey: “The scale of the Jogan tsunami [of 869 AD] will never decrease, even if you continue the survey. Continuing the survey is of no further use. You should start countermeasure work right now”.

These two important testimonies point to the responsibility of TEPCO.

Furthermore, Atsuo Watanabe and Masashi Goto, former Toshiba nuclear power plant engineers, testified that waterproofing and sea walls to prevent tsunami inundation were technically easy to implement and that such countermeasures could have been implemented by the time of the accident.

Five former TEPCO executives are currently being questioned by the court.

The Tokyo District Court has decided that judges will visit the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in October 2021. According to TEPCO, this will be the first time that judges visit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant site.

More than 50 TEPCO shareholders have sued five former executives for compensation over damages caused by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and the shareholders have asked the judge to visit the site.

The judge said, “I would like to see the location of the nuclear power plant firsthand before making a decision on responsibility for the accident”.

Judges have inspected the surrounding area on a number of occasions in civil trials over compensation for the nuclear power plant accidents, but they have never visited the Fukushima Daiichi site itself.

In the first trial of the criminal case in which the three former TEPCO executives were forcibly indicted, the designated lawyer acting as the prosecutor requested the judge to inspect the site. However, the judge rejected the request.

Residents Win Lawsuits, Preventing Restarts

After 3/11, citizens who had doubts about the safety of nuclear power plants swiftly launched actions against almost all nuclear power plants in Japan, filing civil suits, provisional injunctions, and administrative actions against the operation of one or more reactors.

As of April 2021, there have been eight court decisions that have accepted the opinions of the plaintiffs and suspended the operation of nuclear power plants.

The first of these was a decision by the Fukui District Court on 21 May 2014, presided by Judge Hideaki Higuchi, to stop the operation of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant.714

This decision was based on the following principles:

  • that the foundational personal rights of human life are of supreme value;
  • that the operation of nuclear power plants falls under the category of freedom of economic activity, and economic rights should be subordinated to the right to life and health; and
  • the fact that earthquakes exceeding the base earthquake ground motion have occurred five times in the past clearly shows that the method of determining the base earthquake ground motion is wrong.715

This decision can be evaluated as a milestone in which the judiciary acknowledged the severity of the Fukushima nuclear accident. On 14 April 2015, Judge Higuchi issued a provisional injunction order against the operation of Takahama Units 3 and 4, thereby halting the operation of reactors that were actually in operation. This decision was critical of the fact that it was difficult to find any rationality in basing the design basis earthquake ground motion for nuclear power plants on an average concept of earthquakes, and it had been shown to be unreliable not only in theoretical terms, but also in terms of its actual performance.

Subsequently, two further provisional injunctions were issued by the Otsu District Court to stop the operation of the plant due to inadequate earthquake motion assumptions and evacuation plans.

Volcanic Controversy over the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant

Kagoshima District Court Decision

The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant is located in the western part of Kagoshima Prefecture close to a number of volcanoes, including the Aira Caldera and Sakurajima. On 22 April 2015, the Kagoshima District Court, presided by Judge Ikukatsu Maeda, rejected residents’ petition for an injunction against the operation of Units 1 and 2 of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant.716 The decision judged that pyroclastic eruptions (eruptions involving the ejection of rocks) can be predicted long in advance, and while acknowledging that there are a certain number of volcanologists who believe that the possibility of catastrophic eruption activity is not sufficiently small, they do not constitute the majority of the volcanological community, and the court consequently judged the possibility of such volcanic activity to be sufficiently small.

Decision by the Miyazaki Branch of the Fukuoka High Court

On 6 April 2016, the Miyazaki Branch of the Fukuoka High Court, presided by Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa approved the restart of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant and dismissed the residents’ appeal.717 However, the decision acknowledged many of the residents’ factual claims regarding the volcano. Significantly, it judged that the content of the “Volcano Guide” produced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which assumes that the timing and scale of an eruption can be accurately predicted a considerable time in advance, is unreasonable.

It also ruled that the government should, in principle, declare a site unsuitable if there is a volcano thought to have triggered during its largest eruption in the past a volcanic event that cannot be designed against, i.e. a pyroclastic flow reaching the site of the nuclear power plant.

The decision also found unreasonable Kyushu Electric Power’s assessment that the eruption potential of five caldera volcanoes was sufficiently small.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that the only way to determine the risk of volcanic eruptions is to base it on socially accepted notions regarding the extent to which the Japanese society accepts the risk. The court then dismissed the residents’ case on the basis of such socially accepted notions, saying that it is socially accepted to ignore and tolerate the risk of natural disasters whose effects, although extremely serious and severe, have never been experienced in the historical period, unless the plaintiffs prove the possibility of such a disaster occurring.

Controversy Over Ikata and the Aso Eruption

Provisional dispositions filed in four District Courts

In August 2016, the Ikata nuclear power plant located in Shikoku was restarted. In response, provisional injunction cases were filed one after another in the four regions surrounding the plant, in the Hiroshima District Court in March 2016, in the Matsuyama District Court in May 2016, in the Oita District Court in June 2016, and in the Iwakuni Branch of the Yamaguchi District Court in March 2017. While the four injunction cases were eventually defeated, four civil lawsuits aiming at the shutdown of the plant are still pending in the four district courts, as well as a new provisional injunction case filed in March 2020 in the Hiroshima District Court.

In these cases, the location of the Median Tectonic Line as a fault, its distance from the nuclear power plant, its activity, and the angle of the fault were also points of contention, as well as the potential impact of an eruption of Mount Aso on the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant.

Hiroshima High-Court Decision declaring the site unsuitable

On 13 December 2017, the Hiroshima High Court, presided by Judge Tomoyuki Nonoue, issued a provisional injunction against the operation of Unit 3 of the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, for a limited period until 30 September 2018, in an immediate appeal against the decision of the Matsuyama District Court.718 This was the first time that the High Court had granted an injunction against the operation of a nuclear power plant since 3/11.

In accordance with the evaluation procedure of the NRA’s “Volcano Guide”, the decision was based on the fact that the possibility of volcanic activity of Aso Caldera, located 130 km from the Ikata site, could not be judged to be sufficiently small during the reactor operation period, and that the scale of such an eruption could not be estimated. The decision maintained that since it is impossible to estimate the scale of an eruption, the scale of the Aso 4 eruption of approximately 90,000 years ago (volcanic eruption index VEI 7) should be assumed. Since the possibility that the pyroclastic flow of the Aso-4 eruption reached the Ikata site cannot be evaluated as sufficiently small, the location of the nuclear power plant is therefore unsuitable.

The part of the judgment relating to volcanoes cited the opinions of many volcano experts, and the strong backing of experts such as the Volcanological Society of Japan had a great influence on the decision.

Regarding the aforementioned theory of social acceptance, the decision accepted that it may be considered socially acceptable to ignore the risks of a catastrophic eruption in light of the following points: that the frequency of catastrophic eruptions with a volcanic eruption index of VEI 7 or higher is said to be about once every ten thousand years when considering all volcanoes in Japan; that a catastrophic eruption at Aso would cause a crisis of national survival far beyond the damage caused by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident; that natural disasters with a significantly low frequency of occurrence are not written into regulations, with the exception of the “Volcano Guide”; and that the government has not stipulated any countermeasures other than monitoring of volcanic activity, and there has been no significant public concern or skepticism about this.

However, the decision seems to be contrary to the purpose of the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law and the new regulatory standards which change the framework of judgment criteria by making a limited interpretation on the basis of socially accepted notions regarding natural disasters. NRA issued the “Volcano Guide” stipulating it should be based on the latest scientific and technological knowledge.

Subsequently, on 25 September 2018, another judge of the same Hiroshima High Court struck down this objection to the provisional disposition, on the grounds that it was socially accepted to ignore catastrophic volcanic eruptions.719

Hiroshima High Court grants fresh injunction on the grounds of inadequate earthquake countermeasures and volcanic ash countermeasures.

On 17 January 2020, the Hiroshima High Court, in an immediate appeal against the decision of the Iwakuni Branch of the Yamaguchi District Court, granted an injunction against the operation of the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, pointing out the inadequacy of earthquake and volcanic-ash countermeasures in the event of a major eruption.720 This decision represents an important judgement on the level of safety required at nuclear power plants, stipulating the following points:

  • A high level of safety should be required, in the sense that a severe accident like the Fukushima accident should never be allowed to occur;
  • In judging whether or not there is a specific danger from nuclear power plants, it cannot be denied that it is necessary to interpret and apply this principle or the spirit of this principle (exclusion of a Fukushima-type event);
  • When there are conflicting views among experts on an issue, the court should not readily adopt the view representing the less conservative position simply because it is the dominant or prevailing view.

This decision by the Hiroshima High Court could be considered a common-sense and well-balanced judicial decision.

Hiroshima High-Court Decision overturned on appeal

However, on 18 March 2021, the Hiroshima High Court, presided by Judge Kunihiko Yokomizo, reversed the aforementioned Hiroshima High Court decision on immediate appeal.721

This decision places the burden of proving a concrete danger of violation of personal rights on the residents’ side, for reasons such as the court’s lack of expertise in cases where indefiniteness of science exists. This decision constitutes an attempt to overturn even the norm stipulated by the 1992 Ikata Supreme-Court decision mentioned at the beginning of this section (see Historic Ikata Case).

Osaka District-Court revokes license of Ohi Nuclear Power Plant

On 4 December 2020, the Osaka District Court, presided by Judge Hajime Morikagi, ruled to revoke the license for the modification of the installation of Units 3 and 4 of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant.722 This is the first time since 3/11 that residents’ claims have been accepted in an administrative lawsuit.

The main point of contention in this case was the magnitude of the earthquake motion that could hit the plant. In the framework of its decision, the court followed the framework of the 1992-Supreme-Court Decision in the Ikata nuclear power plant case, and judicially examined whether there were any unreasonable points in the regulatory standards, and whether there were any errors or omissions that could not be overlooked in the process of investigation, deliberation and judgement by the regulatory commission.

The plaintiffs’ main point of contention was that the design basis earthquake ground motion of the nuclear power plant had been underestimated. Earthquake ground motion is determined by the characteristics of the rupture at the epicenter, the characteristics of seismic wave propagation, and the characteristics of how the seismic waves are affected by the ground structure near a given point. The plaintiffs criticized the “Irikura-Miyake formula,” which is an empirical formula used at many nuclear power plants to derive the earthquake magnitude based on the area of the fault, saying that most of the data came from overseas, leading to underestimation. They argued that the “Takemura formula”, which is a similar empirical formula, should be adopted instead. The court showed some understanding on this point, saying “there is room to accept a certain degree of rationality in using the Takemura formula”, but ultimately rejected the plaintiffs’ argument.723

Even before 3/11, the standards for the calculation of design basis earthquake ground motion required that the uncertainty of parameters, such as the length and depth of the epicenter fault and the tilt angle of the fault, be considered in combination as necessary in the process. However, in the “Earthquake Motion Review Guide” established by the NRA, a provision was added after 3/11 that the empirical formula gives earthquake magnitude as an average value and that the variation of the empirical formula must be taken into account.724 The court took note.

On 30 January 2020, the Osaka District Court explained that the government should at least take into account this variation using the standard deviation when calculating the design basis earthquake ground motion. In response, as justification for not performing the calculations properly, the defendant—the Japanese government—argued that there was no need to take into account the variability of the empirical equation when the uncertainty in the parameter settings was already taken into account. The Osaka District Court was scathing about this attitude from the government.725

Ten years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, and the critical issue in the subsequent lawsuits over the restart of nuclear power plants has been whether the safety of nuclear power plants can be ensured against predicted earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Judge Morikagi, who wrote the Osaka District Court decision, is an elite jurist who once worked in the Administrative Bureau of the Supreme Court. It is noteworthy that doubts about nuclear power are now emerging among mainstream judges.

Mito District Court Rules Against Restart of Tokai Daini

On 18 March 2021, the Mito District Court, presided by Judge Eiko Maeda, issued an injunction against the operation of the Tokai Daini Nuclear Power Plant.726

Tokai Daini is one of the nuclear power plants directly affected by 3/11, an aging reactor that was first connected to the grid 43 years ago. Many of the local authorities in the surrounding area have expressed their opposition to any restart of the plant, citing doubts about its safety and the difficulty of developing an evacuation plan.

The court ruled the framework for judging the safety of nuclear power plants to be that any gaps or inadequacies in any of the first through fifth levels of defense-in-depth protection represent a concrete danger.

Although no serious flaws were identified with regard to the first to fourth layer of defense-in-depth, with regard to the fifth level of protection, which includes evacuation plans, the court ruled that despite there being 940,000 residents in most exposed priority areas in a nuclear disaster—the Precautionary Action Zone (PAZ) and Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ)727—a feasible evacuation plan and a structure to implement it are far from being in place, and that the plaintiffs who live in this area are in concrete danger of violation of their personal rights.

Close reading of the verdict reveals concerns regarding the approval of the nuclear power plant site in such a densely populated area. Although the court rejected the plaintiffs’ claims regarding earthquakes and volcanoes, the language of the verdict suggests reservations regarding nuclear safety, in effect representing the view that there is no guarantee that a severe accident could never occur. This decision to suspend the operation of the Tokai Daini Nuclear Power Plant may therefore be evaluated as having been made on the grounds that “there is no effective evacuation plan in place” should the worst happen.

The judgement recognizes that it is difficult to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants and that an accident would cause a great deal of damage. This judgement makes it clear that an inability to identify fatal flaws in the first to fourth levels of defense-in-depth protection does not make it acceptable to lay out flimsy evacuation plans.

Conclusion

Since the Japan Supreme Court’s first ruled on nuclear safety in 1992, the judicial system has evolved. But it is the decade since the Fukushima disaster began that brought most of the changes, with judges showing increasing independence from powerful nuclear utilities, with their perceived overwhelming technical expertise, and from the Government.

While legal experts see TEPCO as primarily responsible for the Fukushima disaster, three regional High Court Decisions were split as to Government responsibility. Two courts ruled in favor, one against holding the Government accountable. All three decisions are pending before Japan’s Supreme Court.

Three TEPCO executives were acquitted in 2019 by the Tokyo District Court in a criminal case. The TEPCO shareholder representative lawsuit, launched to clarify the potential civil liability of TEPCO executives, is underway and began witness examination in February 2021.

The decisions pending before the nation’s Supreme Court and the criminal case against TEPCO will provide key jurisprudence for future cases.

In March 2021, for the first time, a court ruled against the restart of a reactor on the grounds of a missing credible evacuation plan.

As of April 2021, there have been eight court decisions in favor of plaintiffs suspending the operation of nuclear power plants.

Chernobyl · 35 Years After the Disaster Began

Introduction

Thirty-five years ago, on 26 April 1986, the world witnessed its worst nuclear accident. At 1:23 (GMT+3) that morning, during a planned safety system test that involved electricity shut down, due to a faulty reactor design and series of operator errors, the reactor core at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a critical power excursion. Within seconds, nominal energy output of the reactor core surged by a factor of more than 100, followed by a steam and then a hydrogen explosion that tore through the roof of the reactor building.728, 729 The resulting fires raged for ten days, spewing radioactive plumes from the molten nuclear fuel and the burning graphite reactor core, high into the atmosphere, spreading over much of the northern hemisphere.

Much has changed since 1986, following the Chernobyl disaster. The country where the accident happened—the Soviet Union—disappeared and fifteen new ones, including Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine, emerged, in no small part due to Chernobyl’s political and social fallout.730 The RBMK reactor design implicated in the accident is no longer in use outside Russia. Thousands lost their lives, hundreds of thousands their homes and livelihoods, millions resigned to live in radioactive contamination. Some 200 villages and towns in Belarus and Ukraine have vanished from the map; more are likely to follow as their inhabitants pass. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on dealing with the aftermath of the accident or were written down as economic loss. After the severe post-Soviet transition crisis, Ukraine, aided by the international community, managed the closure of the other three reactors at Chernobyl and built a long-term confinement for Unit 4. Once restricted to the public, the exclusion zone has become a tourist destination. Yet 35 years on, the story of Chernobyl is far from over. Some of the most formidable challenges lie ahead.

Onsite Challenges

New Safe Confinement (NSC)

In November 2016, the Ukrainian government inaugurated the New Safe Confinement (NSC), an arch-like structure that covers Unit 4 and the old concrete sarcophagus hastily built over the reactor shortly after the accident. The arch is the largest land-based movable structure ever built.731 The NSC is meant to hermetically seal off Unit 4 from the environment and has a projected lifetime of at least 100 years.732

Its construction was financed from the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, established in 1997 and closed in October 2020733, which attracted over €1.6 billion (US$20211.8 billion) in contributions from 45 donor states and organizations, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the largest donor and the manager of the Fund.734 The NSC is complete with auxiliary structures such as a medical and radiation protection facility, integrated system for monitoring radiation data and seismic activities, information on the structural integrity of the old shelter, and other safety parameters important for the operation of the NSC.735

While the completion of the Chernobyl NSC was a widely celebrated milestone, many challenges remain. Ninety-five percent of the original nuclear fuel in the Unit 4 core—some 170 tons of irradiated fuel rods, their zirconium cladding, graphite control rods, and sand dumped in 1986 on the core to extinguish the fire, all melted together to form the so-called Fuel-Containing Materials (FCMs)