Nuclear energy worldwide 2022
Worldwide, different paths are followed regarding the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation. Roughly, three groups can be distinguished: While some are striving to phase out nuclear energy, others are keeping their nuclear power plants (NPPs) running, while still others are expanding their nuclear energy structures or promoting the development of new reactor concepts. Among others, the following arguments are put forward: For example, supporters refer to the reliability with which nuclear energy is supplied or point to its comparatively low CO2 footprint during operation, which is seen as an advantage in the fight against climate change – among forms of electricity generation that do not emit CO2 during operation, nuclear energy ranks second globally. Opponents cite, for example, the existing accident risk, the issue of radioactive waste disposal, or the comparatively high financial cost and time needed for the construction of the plants.
The differing opinions are currently reflected exemplarily in the discussion about the European Union’s taxonomy to define which economic activities in the EU are considered as sustainable investments. The fact that nuclear energy is likely to be one of them met with a divided response.
This dossier provides an overview of nuclear energy worldwide. It is updated once a year and republished on the GRS website.
There are currently 439 nuclear reactors in operation worldwide with an average age of 31 years; 52 units are currently under construction, 199 have been decommissioned or are currently being dismantled. The average age figures in this text are based on the date commercial power operation started and reflect the January 2022 status from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR); the number of reactor units here and the figures below were taken from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The WNISR arrives at a somewhat lower number of operating reactors. This is because the IAEA figures include the so-called long-term shutdown reactors. These are reactors shut down for the long term but not finally decommissioned yet. The majority of these reactors are located in Japan.
The figures relating to the electricity mix worldwide and for the respective continents were taken from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and reflect the status in 2019; the figures relating to the electricity mix of the individual countries were taken from the WNISR. However, the percentage decline is not due to less electricity being produced in NPPs. It is rather due to the fact that the relative share has fallen because renewable energy generation facilities have been expanded, but above all because fossil-fuel power plants produce significantly more electricity in absolute terms than in previous years and decades.
Accordingly, the average age of reactors in Asia is comparatively low. New reactor units also have a greater average output than those that have been decommissioned so that despite a decline in the number of reactor units, the installed capacity can increase. The so-called small modular reactors (SMRs) are an exception: The “NPPs in mini format” are expected to play an important role in the medium-term planning of low-CO2 and decentralised electricity production in some countries.
The following overview shows the situation according to continent (Europe, America, Asia and Africa). Australia/Oceania is not included, since no NPPs are operated there. After a brief summary, a few countries are presented for each continent that either operate a particularly large number of reactors or where new developments have taken place or are emerging. For a more detailed list of all countries, please refer to the IAEA's Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) or the World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
In Europe, nuclear energy accounted for approximately 23 % of the total electricity production in 2019. A total of 173 reactors are in operation in Europe, with an average age of 34.5 years. 16 reactors are currently under construction, 120 are being dismantled.
Situation in Germany
In Germany, 3 reactors have remained on the grid since the beginning of 2022: Emsland, Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim II; they will be finally shut down at the end of this year. The average age of the 3 reactors is 33.5 years. The Brokdorf, Grohnde and Gundremmingen C NPPs were shut down at the end of 2021. Together, the 6 NPPs produced 13.3 % of net electricity for public supply last year.
NPPs, however, are not the only nuclear facilities in Germany. The 6 research reactors currently in operation are allowed to continue operation after 2022. The same applies to the so-called nuclear fuel cycle facilities. In addition to the storage and disposal facilities for radioactive waste, these include the fuel fabrication plant at Lingen and the uranium enrichment plant at Gronau.
Nuclear energy accounts for the largest share in the electricity mix in France; in 2020, 67.1 %. Moreover, with 56 reactors, France is also the European leader in this respect. However, the last reactor was connected to the grid in 1999 and the average age is 35.1 years. A new unit is currently being built at the Flamanville NPP. The construction project began in 2007 and was originally scheduled for completion by 2012. However, the schedule was extended several times, and costs have multiplied since then. At the beginning of this year, for example, the planned start of operation was postponed from the end of 2022 to the second quarter of 2023; costs rose from 12.4 to 12.7 billion euros (the original forecast was 3.3 billion euros).
Nuclear energy is also to play an important role in France's climate protection plans. At the presentation of the “France 2030” investment plan, Emanuel Macron described the promotion of nuclear energy as a primary objective. One billion euros are to be allocated for the development and commissioning of an SMR by 2030. At the same time, 6 next generation EPR2 reactors are to be built, and plans are also to be presented for 8 other sites and reactors. Macron also announced that reactor lifetimes will be extended to 50 years or more – provided that safe operation is ensured. In addition, France continues seeking to export its EPR technology.
The United Kingdom also continues to rely on nuclear energy – around 14.5% of the electricity produced there currently comes from NPPs. 11 reactor units are in operation, 2 more are under construction (Hinkley Point C) and 33 reactor units are being dismantled. At the Sizewell site, 2 more units are to be built. The British government has therefore decided to invest 100 million pounds in preparing the Sizewell C site. According to the Johnson government's “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”, SMRs and advanced modular reactors (AMRs) are to play an important role in the energy mix in the future. For example, the Rolls-Royce group has announced plans to produce SMRs. The smaller-scale reactors are expected to find customers both in the Kingdom and abroad starting from the early 2030s.
In addition, Belgium is particularly noteworthy, where 7 reactors cover almost half of the electricity needs. The Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors are scheduled for shutdown in 2022/2023. The other reactors, which are on average 47.6 years old, are to follow by 2025 at the latest. However, the government has made this subject to the proviso that this will not jeopardise the supply of electricity in Belgium. From the point of view of the Belgian regulatory authority, there is nothing to argue against the continued operation of the Doel 4 and Tihange 3 reactor units, provided they are brought up to the latest safety standards. Regardless of the shutdown plans, a return to nuclear energy is not ruled out: 100 million euros are planned to be invested in research and development work for SMRs. In the neighbouring Netherlands, 2 new reactor units are to be built according to the new coalition agreement in addition to the one in Borssele; the government is providing 5 billion euros for this. The operating life of the only NPP currently in operation is to be extended beyond the already from 40 to 60 years extended period.
All in all, no major expansion activities can be seen in Western Europe. Apart from France and the UK, only Finland will connect another unit (Olkiluoto 3) to the grid in addition to the 4 units in operation, which will reduce the average age of currently 41.8 years. The reactor unit first reached criticality at the end of last year, and commercial operation will start soon. For the construction of another reactor unit at the Hanhikivi site, the construction site has been prepared and the application for a construction permit submitted.
All current new construction projects in Western Europe have in common that the originally calculated costs and construction times have massively increased.
Central and Eastern Europe
Ukraine's 15 reactors produce more than 50 % of the country's total electricity. The government's energy strategy is to maintain this level until 2035. To achieve this, the reactor units Khmelnitsky 3 and 4 are to be built as AP-1000. Their construction began in 1986 and 1987, respectively, but has been interrupted since 1990 due to a moratorium. The average age of the reactors, currently 31.9 years, will then fall. In addition, agreements were signed with the US company Westinghouse for the construction of further reactors. Lifetime extensions of some of the reactors currently in operation have been approved.
In Slovakia, in addition to the 4 reactors currently in operation, which produce 53.1 % of the total electricity, 2 more VVER-440s are to be commissioned in the near future. Final appeals against this were recently dismissed. The situation is similar in Hungary, where nearly half of its electricity is currently supplied by 4 reactor units. Here, preparations are underway for the construction of 2 new reactor units.
In Belarus, the first reactor unit has been in operation for one year, the second will start commercial operation this year. In Turkey, 2 reactors are currently under construction, and the construction permit for a third reactor was recently granted.
New reactors are planned in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and Poland plans to enter the nuclear energy market with six reactors.
In Russia, 20.6 % of the electricity mix is produced by 38 reactors, whose average age is 28.4 years. In the last decade, 9 new reactors have been commissioned, including the Akademik Lomonosov floating NPP. Construction of two land-based SMRs in Siberia has begun. Other units of various types are planned or under construction (e.g., VVER-TOI or BREST-300). Russia is also very active abroad: in addition to Hungary and Belarus, Russia is planning or building new reactors for example in Finland, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, India, China and Bangladesh.
In 2018, nuclear energy accounted for approximately 15 % of the total electricity mix in the Americas, where 119 reactors with an average age of 40.2 years are in operation. However, there is a clear north-south divide: While 112 reactors are in operation in the USA and Canada, there are only 7 south of them. 4 units are currently under construction on the American continent and 46 are being dismantled.
The United States operate 93 reactors, more than any other country in the world, providing 19.7 % of the electricity. The average age is 41.2 years. This figure is likely to rise in the coming years: Life extensions of a majority of the reactors from 40 to 60 years have already been decided, a further extension to 80 years has already been approved for 6 reactor units, and extending operating licences to 100 years is at least being considered. However, since in some cases the retrofits required for such lifetime extensions would have been too expensive, several plants were shut down, most recently the third and last unit at Indian Point in New York State. Nuclear energy is to play a greater role in the Biden administration's energy planning. Accordingly, the development of new reactor concepts, especially SMRs, is to be promoted. In addition, American companies are again increasingly interested in reactor projects abroad, such as in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
Almost 15 % of the electricity mix is produced by the 19 reactors (average age 38.5 years) in Canada. Although no new reactor units are under construction here yet, the site for a first commercial SMR has already been determined; completion is planned for the end of this decade.
South of the USA, reactors are operated in only three countries: 3 in Argentina and 2 each in Mexico and Brazil. The share in the electricity mix in these countries is between 2.1 and 7.5 %. In Argentina, an SMR is currently under construction, the contract to build a Hualong One at the Atucha site was signed with China in early February 2022: In Brazil, work on a third unit was resumed after a six-year interruption.
In Asia, nuclear energy accounts for just 4 % of the total electricity production; seven countries have 145 reactors, but only 120 of them are currently in operation. The difference is mainly due to the 23 Japanese reactors that have been shut down since the Fukushima accident. The average age of the reactors in operation is 16.6 years. In addition, 32 units are under construction here. On the other hand, 33 reactors are being dismantled. On no other continent, nearly as many new NPPs are being built. Here, it is to be taken into account that Asia's share of the world's population is more than 50 % and that energy needs have not multiplied as much on any other continent in recent decades. A correspondingly large number of other (especially fossil-fired) power plants have been built, which also explains the relatively low share of nuclear energy in the electricity mix.
Nuclear energy accounts for 4.9 % of the total electricity mix in China, which is generated by 54 reactors with an average age of just 8.7 years. 3 new reactors were commissioned last year, including an SMR with spherical fuel elements; 14 new reactor units of various types are currently under construction – nuclear energy plays an important role in China's efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. This is also reaffirmed in the current 5-year plan, according to which further new reactors are planned. China is also pushing into new markets to sell its technology and expertise; especially in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, but China is also active in other regions. For example, in the UK, a generic safety review has been completed with a positive result for the Hualong One reactor type, and in Pakistan, one of 2 Chinese Hualong One reactor units was connected to the grid last year.
In South Korea, the share of nuclear energy in total electricity generation is much higher: 29.6 % is produced by the 24 reactors currently in operation. Although the government plans to phase out nuclear energy, the 4 reactor units under construction will be completed. 12 reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2043. South Korea is also trying to get involved in construction projects in various countries. It is already active in the United Arab Emirates, and talks are being held with the Czech Republic and Ukraine, for example.
Japan, of course, is one of the countries whose nuclear industry has been strongly affected by Fukushima. Before the day of the disaster, 54 reactors were in operation there, covering almost 30 % of the country's electricity needs. These were all initially shut down after the disaster, 10 of which are now back on the grid. On the other hand, there are 27 reactors that are currently being dismantled. The current share in the electricity mix is around 5 %. The remaining reactors are still shut down until further notice, and 2 reactor units are currently under construction.
Taiwan has decided to phase out nuclear energy after the events in Fukushima. The remaining 4 reactors are to continue generating electricity until 2025 before they will be decommissioned; they currently produce 12.7 % of the country's electricity.
The situation is different in India, where 8 more units are under construction in addition to 23 reactors in operation. The share of 3.3 % in the total electricity mix is thus expected to increase. These are India's own developments based on the CANDU reactor type as well as Russian type reactor units. There are also plans to build 6 reactor units of Western design.
Near and Middle East
Nuclear energy is also used to generate electricity in Pakistan, where 5 reactor units cover 7.1 % of the electricity needs. Last year, a Hualong One was commissioned at the Karachi site, and 1 more is under construction. In Iran, the first reactor unit has been in operation for a good ten years, and 1 more is under construction here, too.
In Asia, there are also a number of countries that are nuclear newcomers. These include Bangladesh, where 2 Russian design reactor units are currently under construction, and the United Arab Emirates: the second reactor started commercial operation there last year, with 2 more to follow shortly.
Only two reactors are operated in Africa, producing about 2 % of the total electricity mix. They are both located in South Africa, where nuclear energy accounts for 6.7% of the electricity mix. Both plants were built at the same time and connected to the grid in 1984 and 1985, respectively, resulting in an average age of 37.1 years. There are currently no plans for other construction projects in South Africa.
However, since the power grids on the continent will have to be expanded in the coming years, nuclear energy could play a greater role here in the future. This also makes the continent interesting for foreign investors. For example, the construction of a total of 4 Russian reactor units in Egypt is a done deal, with construction work scheduled to begin in July.