Nuclear Power Recovers Slightly, But Global Future Uncertain

Global nuclear generation capacity increased by 4.2 gigawatts (GW), or 1.1 percent, to 373.1 GW in 2012.1 (See Figure 1.) The number of operational reactors also increased in 2012 by two units, or 0.46 percent, to a total of 437 nuclear reactors worldwide.2 The increases are net figures: three reactors with a total capacity of 1.3 GW were shut down in Canada and the United Kingdom, while three new plants in China and South Korea with a total capacity of just under 3 GW came online.3 In addition, two Canadian reactors (with 772 megawatts (MW) each) returned to service after 15 years off-line.4 

Since 1987, expansion of the world’s nuclear power generating capacity has slowed considerably. Just 75 GW were added over the last 25 years, compared with 296 GW during the preceding 25 years.5 Indeed, nuclear power is the only mainstream energy technology that does not show rapid growth. Its share of the world’s primary energy supply fell from 6.4 percent in 2001 and 2002 to just 4.5 percent in 2012, about the same share as in 1985.6 (See Figure 2.)

Although nuclear power is dispersed widely across the globe, it is most heavily used in industrial countries. Of the 10 currently leading nuclear nations, 8 are established industrial countries, while China and South Korea are emerging industrial nations.7(See Figure 3.) 

Nuclear Energy Figure 1

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