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The nuclear power ‘renaissance’ … or a dead cat bounce?

nuclear-dead-catNot just Toshiba – the global nuclear industry is in crisis everywhere, Ecologist, Jim Green 3rd February 2017    “……..Global nuclear power text-relevantcapacity increased by 9.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2016. By contrast, renewable electricity capacity growth was 153 GW in 2015 and almost certainly greater in 2016.

In broad terms, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years. Using figures from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency, global nuclear capacity has grown 12.7% over the past 20 years and 5.7% over the past decade. But those figures include idle reactors in Japan and the inclusion of those reactors is, as former WNA executive Steve Kidd states“misleading” and “clearly ridiculous”.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) excludes 34 idle reactors in Japan (and one each in Taiwan and Sweden) from its calculations of current nuclear capacity. Using WNISR figures, nuclear capacity has grown by 1.7% over the past 20 years and it has declined by 4.6% over the past decade.

Year Global nuclear power capacity
Dec. 1996 347 GW
Dec. 2006 370 GW
Dec. 2016 391 GW (WNA – including reactors in long-term outage)

353 GW (WNISR – excluding reactors in long-term outage)

If we look more closely at recent figures, the picture is a little confusing. Global nuclear power capacity increased “slightly” in 2016 according to the pro-nuclear WNA while the anti-nuclear WNISR said that a “significant” number of new reactors came online. If there’s some confusion now as to the trajectory of nuclear power, that confusion is likely to grow in the next few years.

To explain, let’s first look at WNA figures on reactor construction starts:

Year Number of power reactors under construction
2008 34
2011 63
2014 71
2017 60

The nuclear power ‘renaissance’ never materialised in the since that the number of ‘operable’ reactors has hovered between 430 and 450 for the past 20 years, with no clear trend in either direction. (The number of operating reactors is currently 406 according to the WNISR, which excludes reactors in long-term outage.).

But we can see the ‘renaissance’ manifest in the sharp increase in construction starts in the few years preceding the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. Those reactors are starting to come online, and more will come online in the next few years. Thus 10 reactors came online in both 2015 and 2016 (a number not previously reached since 1990). And the number of grid connections over the past five years (32 from 2012-2016) was considerably greater than during the five years before that (17 from 2007-2011).

How will this play out in the coming years? Here are predicted reactor start-up (grid connection) figures compiled by the WNA:

Year Number of anticipated reactor start-ups
2016 12 (but only 10 actual start-ups)
2017 18
2018 10
2019 8
2020 7

We may have been premature in declaring the nuclear renaissance dead. Indeed we’re right in the middle of the renaissance. It will likely span around three years and it will be more a dead cat bounce than a renaissance. Last year, 10 reactors were grid connected and four were permanently shut down. In 2017-18, the WNA anticipates 28 grid connections; the true number will fall short of that figure but grid connections will exceed permanent shut-downs.

But that’s as good as it gets for the nuclear industry. In truth, the industry is in a world of pain.

The reactor fleet is ageing; most reactors are late middle-aged – the average age of the world’s nuclear reactor fleet is 29 years. The number of permanent shut-downs is on the rise and that trend is certain to continue:

Thus 6-10 reactors will need to be commissioned each year for the next 20-25 years just to maintain current nuclear capacity………..

February 4, 2017 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, business and costs, ENERGY

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