With the rising focus on renewable energy and the falling perception of nuclear power, the industry has had a difficult time recently. But is the negative perception of the industry grounded in any reality? In this article, we team up with HTL Group, specialists in controlled bolting, to review the headlines and the current performance within the sector.
The current state of nuclear
The reliance on nuclear power has increased over the last few years. According to the World Nuclear Performance Report 2017, created by the World Nuclear Association, the world’s new nuclear capacity experienced its largest annual increase in 25 years back in 2016, as more than 9 GWe of new nuclear capacity was made available. The number of reactors increased globally, from 441 at the start of 2016 to 448 at the turn of 2017.
In 2017, 15 nuclear reactors provided 21% of the UK’s electricity demand. The reactors have a combined capacity of 9.5 GWe. Despite this, there are plans for half of this capacity to be retired by 2025, largely a result of aging reactors. New generation plants will be created in their place and are expected to come online by 2025. By 2030, the government aims to have 16 GWe of new nuclear capacity in operation.
The global use of nuclear power rose again in 2016 to 2441 TWh, increasing for the fourth year in a row. Asia’s share of nuclear output rose most significantly in 2016 — 72 TWh higher than the average growth across the previous five years.
60 new nuclear power plants came under construction in April 2017, spanning over 15 countries. Of the ten reactors that were connected to the grid in 2016, half were constructed in China. India, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the USA each connected one reactor.
China lead the way in term of the efficiency of their builds, as five of the six reactors built in the shortest timeframe were done so in China.
Back in 2011, Japan suffered the force of a magnitude nine earthquake and tsunami, which caused the melt-down of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima Daiichi. The event naturally shocked the world, triggering many governments — not just Japan’s — to rethink their attitudes to nuclear power.
Prior to the accident, the 442 reactors around the globe produced 14% of the world’s electricity. In the aftermath of the event in 2012, 15 reactors exited service and electricity production fell to 11%.
The disaster sent the nuclear industry into its own melt-down, as Germany, Japan, and Switzerland all began to question their nuclear strategies after the earthquake. Switzerland even vowed to phase out its nuclear production by 2034. To this day, many are still not convinced about the potential offered by nuclear power, due to safety concerns around meltdowns and how waste is disposed of.
But not everyone reacted the same way. With their determination unwavering, France and the USA all endeavoured to continue their reliance on the power source. Likewise, by 2050, India aims to supply 25% and Russia 45% of their electricity from nuclear power. In addition, Brazil plans on building five new nuclear reactors by 2030, while China plans to operate 20 nuclear reactors by 2020.
Confronting the problem
There is a clear divide in the current levels of support for nuclear power. However, before the sector can move forward, considerations must be made to address its existing drawbacks.
The time it takes to build a nuclear power plant compared to a wind farm is certainly stark. Nuclear power plants can take between five and 20 years to build — or sometimes more. In contrast, a large wind farm (50 MW) can be constructed in just six months. We need to bridge this construction time gap without compromising on safety, or at the very least, get to a point where nuclear power stations are built at such a rate that they’re able to better support the UK’s energy use.
A key benefit of nuclear is its contribution towards reducing carbon emissions. However, for the UK to get the greatest benefit from emissions reductions, we need to make a decision around how we can best make use of nuclear power. Only then can nuclear power sway its critics and help us move forward.