Growth remains nuclear's future

15 June 2011

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) sees a decade of growth for nuclear power with only a marginal impact from the Fukushima accident. 


Some of the accident's policy effects have been large and far-reaching - such as the radical abandonment of nuclear power seen in some European countries - but other nations will pursue nuclear technology essentially as before, said a report released this week under the title The Future of Nuclear Energy.


Overall, the London-based magazine's researchers reduced their expectations for global nuclear capacity in 2020, but the figure still grows by 27% compared to 2010. Germany's early closure of eight reactors, with the rest following before 2022, makes the only real dent in capacity but this is offset by equivalent new build in France and the USA.
Furthermore, far larger new build programs are coming from Russia, India and of course China, which on its own will add almost five times the capacity that Germany plans to shut by 2020.


The reasons for this are that, "Nuclear energy is a response to long-term trends, and hence not easily abandoned or replaced. The need for new sources of electricity to power economic growth persists, and the promise of nuclear in bolstering energy security and reducing carbon emissions makes it an appealing option."


Net nuclear capacity, GWe

2010 2015 2020
USA 101.1  103.4  109.0 
France 63.3  64.8  66.4 
Japan 46.8  45.0  44.7 
Russia 22.7  29.7  41.0 
Germany 20.5  11.7  9.0 
South Korea 18.7  24.2  28.1 
Ukraine 13.1  13.1  16.2 
Canada 12.6  12.6  15.0 
UK 11.0  9.6  12.7 
China 10.1  37.1  63.1 
Top ten users   319.8  351.2  405.2 

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit


China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the USA remain resolutely committed to nuclear power, given appropriate revisions to safety regimes. The big unknown among major users is Japan, which is committed to coming up with a new energy policy 'from scratch'. A bill is going forward to the Diet (parliament) that would enable feed-in tarriffs for renewables, which are meant to become a 'pillar' of energy supply alongside nuclear and fossil fuels.


"The underlying rationale behind Japan's adoption of nuclear energy remains intact," the report noted, before predicting "stagnation" as the trend that will replace previous growth forecasts. Four reactors have been wrecked in the Fukushima accident, with two more at the site set for closure. Researchers thought that some of the planned new build would go ahead but this would be balanced by the shutdown of some older and less well protected reactors to leave capacity in 2020 about one gigawatt below today's figure.


One of the main problems for nuclear power in the next decade remains financing the large nuclear construction costs in markets like Canada, the UK and the USA. Separately, Brazil could face public opposition to its expansion plans in its heavily populated southeast, although neither of these issues are sure to be worsened by the Fukushima accident.


Meanwhile, the EIU thinks China's slowdown in new plant approvals may be used as an excuse to lower targets for 2020, as already foreshadowed by articles in official publications. The report put China's likely 2020 nuclear capacity at 63 GWe, compared to the current official target of 80 GWe.


The EIU said the "doom and gloom" currently surrounding nuclear power is "misplaced" and gave the report the subtitle, One Step Back, Two Steps Forward. 

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News