The number of nuclear reactors operating worldwide has increased significantly over the past year, according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Nevertheless, says Mycle Schneider, the project coordinator and publisher of the 323-page report released yesterday at the Central European University in Budapest, nuclear energy is growing too slowly to guarantee its survival. “The world is experiencing an undeclared ‘organic’ nuclear phaseout,” Schneider says.
Nine new reactors started up in 2018, and four more came online during the first half of 2019, a modest upturn mostly driven by China. However, the total number of reactors worldwide, 417, falls short of the historic peak of 438 reactors in 2002—and the number of reactors under construction is now declining. The new report calculates that the building rate would have to roughly triple over the coming decade just to maintain the current number of reactors as aging units retire. The average nuclear reactor is now more than 30 years old.
The status report, which each year offers an independent assessment of the nuclear industry, has in recent years also analyzed the potential for nuclear power to mitigate climate change. There, too, nuclear power comes up short.
Some of the more optimistic scenarios for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius rely on a rapid expansion of nuclear power. At a time when the industry is facing major economic challenges, that seems increasingly unlikely.
Editor’s note: The Global Nuclear Power Database—an interactive visualization of world nuclear power reactor construction from 1951 to Jan. 1, 2017—can be found here.