Global Status of Commercial Nuclear Power

Vojin Joksimovich, PhD*

It is highly questionable and misleading to characterize the global status of nuclear power as “Dawn or Dusk” as Mycle Schneider asserted in the April 2014 issue[1]. This author asserts that it is neither dawn nor dusk. It is a temporary stagnation with almost certain rapid rise in the longer term. Current nuclear electricity generation has been distorted by closure of eight German plants and 48 idled Japanese plants after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. In April 2014 the Japanese cabinet has given its approval to an energy policy, three years in the making, which recommends restart of idled plants.

Nuclear power plants were commercialized in the early 1960s. The construction (new builds) peaked in the late 1970s. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US and the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine led to phase-outs, slowdowns and moratoriums in a number of countries, mostly OECD countries. The need for base-load power, excellent performance of operating plants, economics and carbon-free electricity led to a nuclear renaissance in the 2005-2006 timeframe. The Great recession of 2007-2008, ongoing conservation efforts and subsequently the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan have resulted in yet other slowdowns, moratoriums and phase-outs in some western countries. In the US cheap natural gas has been a key economic factor.

However, the current stagnation is temporary. Global electricity demand is expected to increase 50% by 2025. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has projected nuclear capacity to increase from the existing 371 GW to 578 GW[2].

According to the Nuclear News, as of 12/31/2013 there were 430 operating plants worldwide and 110 were forthcoming[3]. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) lists 68 units under construction. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) lists 160 units on order or planned. Planned units are those with approvals, funding or major commitments in place, mostly expected in operation within 8-10 years. Current planning doesn’t reflect  that many climate change experts predict that limiting global warming to less than 2°C cannot be achieved without nuclear power nor does it reflect some recent developments. In the US the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced guidelines to cut power plant carbon emissions by 30% of the 2005 figures by 2030. Nuclear power’s role in the future US energy mix will likely be the key to achieving this goal. The European Commission (EC) study concluded that nuclear power enhances energy security and should be expanded[4]. Recently G7 named nuclear power as an energy security asset[5]. The Czech government has expressed the common view of ten EU members (Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, UK) in favor of nuclear power in a letter to the European Commission[6].

It must be recognized that momentum in future nuclear development has shifted to the developing world away from the OECD countries. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) among the plants under construction as of 6/26/2013 58.2% are being built in the Far East, 18.7% in Eastern Europe and only 5.2% in North America and 4.8% in Western Europe [7]. With regard to operating plants, the US and Western Europe contribute 30.7%

As an illustration, France has provided the world nuclear leadership for over two decades and continues to be a key player with 58 operating plants generating 75% of French electricity as well as nuclear exports to China, Finland, UK, India and elsewhere. France’s Areva and EDF signed agreements to support Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program. The French government recently announced a policy to cap nuclear energy at the current level of 63.2 GW and to be limited to 50% by 2025. The leadership has been passed on to China and Russia, India, South Korea, and nuclear novices such as UAE, Belarus, Turkey, Bangladesh, Vietnam and others. It is also important to understand the impact of the Fukushima accident.

Fukushima Accident
On March 11, 2011 the 9.0 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake produced a 13-15m tsunami which crashed over the seawalls and disabled the electrical equipment needed to run the plant cooling systems. The reactors overheated causing triple meltdowns and triple hydrogen explosions. This is the worst accident in the 55-year history of commercial nuclear power. Although about 16,000 died from the quake/tsunami, none of these were from radiation. This writer has delivered twelve Fukushima accident presentations and presented a paper at the 2012 ANS semi-annual conference[8].

The accident conclusively demonstrated the inaccuracies of long-standing overstatements of public risks from nuclear accidents. Testimony of Prof. Wade Allison, based on his landmark book Radiation and Reason[9], as well as reports by the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the Fukushima Medical University (2 million resident surveys) have all concluded that there are no observable health effects. The highest doses reported were 10-50mSv compared to the dose of 30-40mSv this writer has received in a hospital in one evening. Modern radiobiology provides scientific explanations.

The Fukushima accident, like the 1986 Chernobyl accident, has demonstrated that mandatory forced evacuations are counterproductive. The Japanese authorities have used the chronic dose of 20mSv/yr as the evacuation criterion, which is 10,000 times lower than the monthly dose of Japanese radiotherapy patients. In the Fukushima Prefecture, more than 1605 evacuees from their homes have died [10], none from radiation. Indoor sheltering, distribution of potassium iodide pills and a ban on contaminated milk are sufficient to protect the residents.

However, radiophobia (irrational fear of radiation) continues to dominate public perceptions.  As a result, 48 Japanese plants have been idle (~30% nation’s electricity) awaiting regulatory restart. The regulator, NRA, has introduced the most stringent nuclear safety regulations in the world. Thus far, 17 applications for restart have been filed with the NRA, Sendai units 1&2 have received the safety approval for the restart, and a number of restarts are expected later this year. Ongoing reliance on imported fossil fuels has had an impact on the greenhouse CO2 emissions as well as the trade deficit. Domestic uses of electricity have seen a 19.4% increase, while industrial users have seen a 28.4% increase.

In Germany, 17 nuclear plants generated ~25% of the nation’s electricity. Eight of them were ordered to be shutdown 5 days after the Fukushima accident entirely for political reasons. Chancellor Merkel, claiming to be an electoral pragmatist, was concerned that the Green Party would benefit in upcoming state elections and would take the votes away from her Christian Democratic Party. The remaining plants are due to be phased out by 2022. The cost of energy transition, Energiwende, to 80% renewables by 2050, was estimated at 1 trillion euros[11].

No other nation has decided to phase out nuclear power. Italy has abandoned resumption of a nuclear program. Belgium and Switzerland have tentatively decided not to replace aging plants. In the US, France, China, Sweden, Finland and some other countries, the regulatory agencies have arrived at a package of safety enhancements reflecting lessons learned.  In the opinion of this writer, the most significant were decisions to establish regional response centers ready to supply portable backup equipment (pumps, generators, hoses) to any of the country’s nuclear plants facing an emergency situation. The firstAmerican response center is now in operation at Tolleson near Phoenix, Arizona. In France, the EDF hasestablished four regional centers and a central response team to supplement 58 power plants. China has announced a 300-member strong response team to supplement regional response centers.

China has approached nuclear power as it did high speed rail, i.e. take the best from around the world: French Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs), American Westinghouse AP1000 PWRs, and Russian VVERs (Russian PWRs) technology followed by technology transfer agreements to develop domestic expertise and capabilities. The transfer of Westinghouse (W) AP1000 and French PWR technologies is illustrated.

In 2007, W and its partners the Shaw Group received authorization to build four AP1000 units in China: Sanmen 1&2 and Haigyang 1&2. The AP1000 design, Generation III+ advanced evolutionary and passive reactors, has been certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). W has licensed its AP1000 technology to the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation (SNPTC), which has standardized the design, provided construction feedback and added some safety enhancements. AP1000 became CAP1000, C standing for Chinese. CNPTC became the reactor vendor for the Lufeng 1&2 CAP1000 plants, which are under construction with four other units to come. The CAP1000 design was then used as a basis for the conceptual design of a scaled up version of CAP1400 in 2010. In 2011, the basic design of CAP1400 was accomplished with consulting input from W. In April 2014, the first concrete was poured for the base mat at the Shidaowan 1 plant, the first of two demonstration CAP1400 units, scheduled to be connected to the grid in 2018. Conceptual design of yet another scaled up version of CAP1700 is now complete and CAP1400 is intended to be deployed in large numbers across the country. SNPTC has “independent intellectual rights” over the design paving the way for exports. The Shidaowan site is part of the Rongcheng Nuclear Power Industrial Park at which the prototype modular High Temperature Reactor (HTR) or HTR-PM is already under construction. Another 19 of the 210 MW units could follow. The French were initially contracted to build two reactors each at Daya Bay and Ling Ao. After the technology transfer the Chinese launched a program of 20 CPR1000s, which are now either operating or under construction.

China has accomplished unprecedented growth of their nuclear power from 15 units in operation generating 13.5 GW in 2012, or 1% of the nation’s electricity, to 18 units in 2013 generating 19.6 GW, or 2% of total electricity generated. Further expected increase is to 58 GW operating in 2020 or 6% with 30 GW in construction, to 200 GW in 2030 or 16%, and to 400 GW in 2050. 28 plants are currently under construction.

Air quality has reached a crisis point with over a million dying each year prematurely as a result of coal burning. Ted Quinn, Past President of the American Nuclear Society stated: “The Real China Syndrome is Bad Air” [12]. Coal plants constitute 75% of generating capacity. The mortality rate from coal in China amounts to 280,000 deaths/trillion kWhr. China contributes to 28.5% of the global CO2 emissions compared to 15% in the US. China, which has built 350 coal plants in the last 7 years, is finally ramping coal down in favor of nuclear, gas and renewables. In December 2013, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDNC) proposed to speed up the development of hydro, nuclear, wind, solar and biomass energy. China intends to invest $4 trillion to double the generating capacity by 2030 to 1500 GW. It intends to reduce dependency on coal and hence is pursuing a strategy of building nuclear and renewables as fast as they can. There is no competition between nuclear and renewables.

The Chinese have introduced innovations in construction enabling them to build plants in 56-60 months after the first concrete poured [FCP]. Fuquing units 1&2 are running 3 months ahead of schedule. However, some delays have occurred in building the first-of-the-kind plants like Sanmen 1&2 and Taishan 1&2. For Sanmen 1 the FCP took place in April 2009, the control room was declared operational in April 2014 and the plant is expected to start up in October 2014, while Haiyang is slated for startup in December 2014. Four AP1000s are currently under construction in the US: Vogtle 3&4 in Georgia and Summer 2&3 in South Carolina. They are scheduled for operation in 2017-2019, Vogtle-3 will start commercial operation in the fourth quarter of 2017 with Vogtle-4 a year later.

Another objective of the Chinese program has been to provide a setup for exports. Thus far China has been successful exporting plants to Pakistan. Two CNP-300s are in operation, while two other units are under construction. In November 2013, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the Karachi Coastal Nuclear Power Project for two 1100 MW ACP1000 plants to be built on turn-key basis by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Recently the Chinese have purchased utility interests in the UK, including 30-40% ownership of the Hinkley Point C. EDF Energy is contracted to build two 1.6 GW French EPRs in China.

Nuclear technology is a leading industry, the first nuclear electricity was generated at Obninsk in 1954. As of the end of 2013, 33 units generated 23.64 GW, 11 plants are being built, and the startup of 3 units are scheduled in 2014. VVERs constitute about 65% of the reactor mix. At Beloyarsk, two 1200 MW fast reactors are planned. Like in the US, life extensions and upgrades are under way. 51 GW is projected by 2020, with 40-50% electricity generation by 2050. In addition to Russia, VVERs are operating in Ukraine, China, India, Iran, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Armenia and Finland.

Rosatom, the state corporation consisting of 250 entities, runs the nuclear industry. It is the only complete fuel cycle company in the world. Rosatom’s order book for the coming decade is approaching $100B. It includes the following exports of power plants: Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Finland, Hungary, India, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and probably Iran and Jordan. The order book also includes a range of nuclear goods and services including uranium and low enriched uranium nuclear fuel for commercial plants worldwide. Rosatom is building a floating plant for 2016 operation, which will supply electricity to the city of Pevek (population 200,000) on the Chukotka Peninsula. Fast reactors feature in long-term plans to move to inherently safe plants with a closed fuel cycle and mixed oxide fuel (MOX). Russia is also developing the lead cooled BREST fast reactor and lead-bismuth cooled SVBR.

Because India is outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) due to its weapons program it was largely excluded from international nuclear trade. This continued for 34 years until 2009 after an agreement was reached with the Nuclear Suppliers Group. As a result it relied mostly on domestic Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs).

Presently it needs an increase of 625% in electricity generation, to 5000 units per capita compared to the present 800, in order to maintain its economic growth. Nuclear and solar are the only two sources that can meet the requirement on a sustainable basis. In 2012, nuclear generated 30 TWh, while solar generated 1 TWh[13].

20 power reactors are in operation with a combined capacity of 4.38 GW, while 7 units are under construction adding 4.89 GW. Plans call for nuclear capacity to reach 20 GW in 2020 and 63 GW by 2032. Sites for up to 6 units/site have been approved for imports from France/Areva, Russia/Atomstroyexport, US/Japan: GE/Hitachi and W/Toshiba plus 6 domestic PHWRs.

South Korea
South Korea imports some 97% of its energy resources at an annual cost of around $170B. It has a policy of reducing this dependency while establishing a reliable power system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Like Japan, nuclear power is viewed as domestic energy. The goal for nuclear plants in 2035 is to produce 29% capacity compared to 19% now.

Five APR-1400 plants are under construction and five more are planned. The recently approved Shin Kori units 5&6 are slated for operation in 2019-2021. A consortium of Korean companies (Doosan, KOPEC, Hyandai, Samsung) has been successful in landing a $20B contract to build and operate 4x1400 MW plants in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) at the Barakah site for operations in 2017-2020. Korean Hydro & Nuclear Power Company (KHNP), acting on behalf of the APR1400 consortium, plans to submit application to the NRC for the design certification.

Nuclear Novices
In addition to the UAE and its 4x1400 MW plants, 2 Russian 1200 MW AES-2006 VEERs are being built at Ostrovets in Belarus for 2019-2021 operation, 4x1150 MW AES-2006 VVERs are being built at Akkuyu in Turkey for 2020-2023 operation, and two AES-92 VVERs are being built at Roopur in Bangladesh for 2020-2021 operation. Furthermore, announcements have been made by the following countries: Vietnam for 2x1200 AES-2006 VVERs, Jordan for 2x1000 MW AES-92 VVERs and Turkey for 4x1100 MW Japanese/French Atmea units. Countries planning or considering expansion of nuclear power are: UAE for 10 additional units, Vietnam for 12 additional units, Poland (2), Kenya (2), Kazakhstan (2), Malaysia (2), Morocco (2), Nigeria (TBD), Egypt (2-4), Saudi Arabia (16), Namibia (TBD), and Indonesia (TBD).

Countries with Commercial Plants Considering New Builds
Here is an incomplete list: UK (9) after 30-year pause, US (5+), Argentina (3), Hungary (2), Czech Republic (2), Brazil (1), Bulgaria (1).

Given the information summarized above leads to the assertion that it is neither dawn nor dusk for nuclear power. There is a temporary stagnation primarily due to delayed restart of 48 Japanese plants. The Japanese government supports restart of idled plants. However, the revamped Japanese NRA has been taking too much time reviewing the 17 restart applications submitted. The lessons learned from the Fukushima accident have been analyzed to death and timely implementation is apparent. No plants in the US or France have been idled.

Despite the fact that the future nuclear development has shifted to the developing world from the OECD countries, leadership from China and Russia plus entries of nuclear novices into the market guarantee a bright global nuclear future. Additionally, climate change concerns plus energy security considerations will likely lead to a revival of interest in the OECD countries.

*Vojin Joksimovich, retired nuclear safety consultant with over 40 years of experience in the nuclear industry in Yugoslavia, UK and the US.

[1] Mycle Schneider, The Status of the Nuclear Industry in the World-Dawn or Dusk?, April 2014
[2] World Nuclear News, January 17,2014.
[3] Nuclear News, March 2014.
[4] World Nuclear News, May 29, 2014.
[5] World Nuclear News, May 7, 2014.
[6] World Nuclear News, July 4, 2014
[7] Nuclear Plant Journal, July-August 2013, Vol. 31, No.4
[8] Vojin Joksimovich, Fukushima Insights: Public Risks from Nuclear Accidents Grossly Overstated, 2012 ANS Winter Meeting: Embedded Fukushima Topical.
[9] Wade Allison, Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fear, Wade Allison Publishing, 2009.
[10] Torres, Evacuation-related deaths now more than quake/tsunami in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan Daily Press, Dec.18,2013.
[11] World Nuclear News, February 20, 2013.
[12] Ted Quinn, Growth of Nuclear Power in Mainland China, The World Affairs Council of San Diego, March 6, 2014.
[13] Anil Kakodkar, Former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of India, WNN 14 August 2013.

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.