IAEA sees slow but sure nuclear growth

08 September 2015

World nuclear generating capacity is set to continue expanding over the coming decades, although at a slower pace than previously anticipated, according to newly published International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) projections.

Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the period up to 2050 is the 35th edition of the IAEA's annual publication, based on actual statistical data from the agency's Power Reactor Information System and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The country-by-country projections it contains are based on national projections supplied by countries to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and projections made by other international organizations, taking into account possible licence renewals, planned shutdowns and foreseeable construction projects. These are used to produce two scenarios: a low case, described as "conservative but plausible", which assumes that current market, technology and resource trends continue with few policy changes to affect nuclear power; and a high case, which assumes that current rates of economic and electricity demand growth continue.

Nuclear power is projected to reach 385.3 GWe by 2030 in the IAEA's low growth projection - an expansion of 2.4% from the 2014 figure of 376.2 GWe. The high scenario projects a 2030 nuclear capacity of 631.8 GWe, representing a growth of 68%. The wide range is accounted for by uncertainty related to energy policy, licence renewals, shutdowns and future construction, according to the IAEA. Both figures are down from the 2014 edition of the report which projected increases of between 7.7% and 88%.

Low natural gas prices, renewable energy subsidies, the global financial crisis, implementing safety improvements in response to the Fukushima Daiichi accident and the deployment of advanced technologies are highlighted as contributing factors which are affecting the growth rate. Furthermore, with over half of the world's 438 operating reactors now more than 30 years old, the effects of future retirements have also been factored in.

The IAEA nevertheless remains confident that nuclear will continue to maintain its role in the world's low-carbon energy mix. "Our low-case projections show that for every unit of capacity retiring, another unit will be built somewhere in the world by 2030; and in the high case, about 1.7 times the capacity will be constructed," David Shropshire, head of the IAEA's planning and economic studies section, said.

Eastern growth

Regionally, the strongest nuclear expansion is projected in the Far East, especially in China and South Korea, where total capacity for 2030 is forecast at 131.8 GWe in the lower case and 219.0 GWe in the higher case, up from 87.1% in 2014. Growth is also projected in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates' project to build its first nuclear power plant, South Asia, with six reactors under construction in India, and Eastern Europe, with reactors under construction in Russia and Belarus.

The biggest decline is projected for Western Europe. Partially reflecting Germany's reaction to the Fukushima accident by announcing a complete phaseout of nuclear energy, Western Europe is the only region where nuclear capacity is projected to decrease by 2030 under both low and high scenarios, to between 62.7 GWe and 112.0 GWe from 2014 capacity of 113.7 GWe. North American capacity is also forecast to decrease under the low scenario, from a 2014 figure of 112.1 GWe to 92.0 GWe, although under the high estimate North American capacity increases to 139.7GWe.

The IAEA emphasises that its projections are not intended to be predictions and should be viewed as representing a plausible range of nuclear energy growth. "The estimates should be viewed as very general growth trends, the validity of which must be constantly subjected to critical review," IAEA energy system analyst Andrii Gritsevskyi said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: IAEA, Energy policy