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Misleading claims about nuclear energy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr. Mark Diesendorf ‒ Honorary Associate Professor, Environment & Governance Group, University of New South Wales

This article is a reply to claims made by Prof. Gerry Thomas on national radio on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Science Show on 2 November 2019.1 In her presentation with the theme that fear of ionising radiation and nuclear power is 'irrational', she made several misleading statements and serious omissions and at least one scientifically irrational statement. For example:

1. Chernobyl deaths

Thomas focused on rapid deaths from acute radiation exposure and only the least dangerous cancer, thyroid cancer.2 Her prediction of about 160 cancer deaths from Chernobyl, apparently all thyroid, is dwarfed by the estimate of all cancer deaths excluding thyroid by a team from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Cardis et al. 2006).3 Their prediction covers the period up to 2065. It is made up of 14,100 (95% UI 6200-32,100) for all cancers excluding leukaemia, thyroid cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer (Cardis, Table I) plus about 1700 from leukaemia (Cardis, p.1230).

Thomas omits to mention the IARC results, which carry more scientific credibility than hers re cancers other than thyroid.4 Instead, the listener was led to compare her claim with the straw person of a popular film about Chernobyl, played at the beginning of the interview. Comparing a scientific presentation with a popular one, instead of with another scientific one, misleads listeners.

The generally poor quality of health and radiation exposure data in eastern Europe entails that even a much larger number of non-thyroid cancer deaths resulting from Chernobyl would be undetectable against the much larger background of cancers due to other causes.

2. "Nuclear has far less illness associated with it [compared with renewables]"

The studies upon which this claim is based use techniques such as ignoring the vast majority of cancers induced at Chernobyl (Item 1), omitting risks with (possibly) low probability but very high impacts (see Item 5), and exaggerating the land use of renewables and minimising the land-use of nuclear (see Item 7). For example, the claims by Brook and Bradshaw5, that nuclear is better than renewables on environmental, safety, health and land use grounds, have been refuted in three independent peer-reviewed responses including mine.6-8

3. Thomas' claim that 'green' electricity is mostly hydro, or hydro plus nuclear

Misleading! Denmark already generates about 50% of its electricity from wind, supplemented by some bioenergy from agricultural residues. It is on track towards its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035. It has no nuclear.

South Australia generates about 50% of its electricity from wind, balanced by gas turbines, a low-capacity interconnector to Victoria, a few large batteries and (soon) off-river pumped hydro. It is heading for 100% renewables by 2030. It has no nuclear.

Scotland generates the majority of its electricity from wind, supplemented by hydro and nuclear.

Germany and five US states each already generate over 30% of their electricity from renewables, mostly wind.

Nuclear power is a poor partner for wind and solar PV, because it is inflexible in operation. Better complements with fast responses are hydro (both once-through and pumped), batteries, concentrated solar thermal, open cycle gas turbines using renewable fuels and demand response.

4. Irrational claim: "If our bodies couldn't deal with radiation, we wouldn't be here"

This piece of simplistic pro-nuclear propaganda is bad science and reveals that Thomas' desire to campaign for radiation exposure and nuclear power sometimes overrides her scientific knowledge. She must know this is nonsense, yet she utters it. Homo sapiens continues to exist despite many harmful natural agents, e.g. malaria, poisonous snakes and mushrooms, arsenic contamination of groundwater.

5. Omission of the contribution of nuclear power to the proliferation of nuclear weapons

Several countries have already used nuclear power as a cloak to either develop nuclear weapons ab initio (India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Africa) or to supplement their military nuclear weapons stockpile (UK, France).

In addition, the following countries have attempted to use nuclear power as a cloak for developing nuclear weapons, but fortunately discontinued their programs before completion: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Libya, South Korea and Taiwan. In most cases they planned to use spent fuel from nuclear power stations, although in a few cases they followed the uranium enrichment pathway. This is documented in detail by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and the Nuclear Weapons Archive; for Australia in books by Richard Broinowski and by Wayne Reynolds.

A realistic perspective on proliferation is that the more countries that have nuclear power à the more countries have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons à the greater the risk of nuclear war.

A scientific approach to risk expresses it as the probability of an event multiplied by its impact. It's possible that the above probability may (or may not) be small, but the potential impact could be huge. Deaths and injuries from the blasts, firestorms and radiation exposures of a nuclear war could be counted in hundreds of millions, but deaths from Nuclear Winter's impact on global agriculture could be counted in billions.

Most proponents of nuclear power take an unscientific approach to risk by simply ignoring potential events that they want to believe have low probability, despite the enormous potential impacts of such events. The latter include major nuclear accidents as well as nuclear war resulting from proliferation of nuclear weapons.

6. Trivialising the risks of nuclear power

Thomas does this by using a true but trivial statement, namely that low-level radiation from coal-fired power stations is greater than from normally operating nuclear power stations, to deflect attention away from the principal radiation risks of nuclear power: exposure to low-, medium- and high-level radiation from nuclear accidents (see Item 1), managing high-level nuclear wastes, and the contribution of nuclear power to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and hence increased probability of nuclear war (Item 5).

7. Land use

Thomas mentioned that nuclear power plants are compact in terms of land use. However, this has been achieved by failing to allow for an adequate exclusion zone to reduce the impact of major nuclear accidents. Taking an exclusion zone of radius, say, 20 km (as at post-accident Fukushima), would make nuclear power quite a large land user.5

Some proponents of nuclear power, who are also critics of renewable energy, exaggerate the land use by renewable energy as follows:

  • They count the area of land spanned by a wind farms instead of the land actually occupied. The latter is typically 1-3% of the former. Agricultural land between wind turbines is farmed.
  • They ignore the fact that a large proportion of solar systems is on rooftops and so occupies no land.
  • Although ground-mounted solar farms generally occupy significant land, there is a move to mount future solar farms that are built on agricultural land on higher support structures, thus allowing animals to graze beneath them.


Thomas' interview contains several misleading statements and serious omissions and the irrational statement that "If our bodies couldn't deal with radiation, we wouldn't be here". Therefore, it has low credibility.



2. Thyroid cancer can be prevented by filling the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine before exposure to radioactive Iodine-131.

3. Cardis E et al. 2006. Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident. International Journal of Cancer 119:1224–35,

4. Thomas’ expertise on cancer appears to be limited to thyroid cancer, a trivial part of the risk from Chernobyl.

5. Brook BW & Bradshaw CJA. Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology 2015;29:702–12. doi:10.1111/cobi.12433,

6. Diesendorf M. Subjective judgments in the nuclear energy debate. Conservation Biology 2016;30:666–9. doi:10.1111/cobi.12692,

7. Henle K et al. Promoting nuclear energy to sustain biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change: Response to Brook and Bradshaw 2015. Conservation Biology 2016;30:663–5. doi:10.1111/cobi.12691,

8. Hendrickson O. Nuclear energy and biodiversity conservation: Response to Brook and Bradshaw 2015. Conservation Biology 2016;30:661–2. doi:10.1111/cobi.12693,

Cyber vulnerability of Kudankulam nuclear plant: risks more pronounced than the current episode reveals

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor of

October 31 ‒ It has been over 48 hours since Pukhraj Singh, a former officer in the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), India's key federal agency that deals with cybersecurity and other intelligence challenges, sounded an alert about a 'domain-controller level access' at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) located at the country's southernmost tip.1

Singh based his claim on a report made public by cyber-security website VirusTotal.2 He also claims that he had notified the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) almost two months ago, on September 3rd, about witnessing a massive cyber attack breaching India's crucial infrastructure.3 This attack apparently included other targets, at least one of which was more frightening than the KKNPP, according to Singh.4

Besides getting publicized widely in the media, Pukhraj Singh's attempt to highlight the development was lauded and retweeted by renowned national and international security experts5, including Google's Security Researcher Silas Cutler.6 The opposition MP Shashi Tharoor also raised the issue and demanded that the government put out a public explanation.7

Meanwhile, online media dug out a few more facts about the episode.8 The security firm, Kaspersky had stated in September that it had detected a spy-tool named DTrack infiltrating India's financial institutions and research centers. DTrack can be used as a malicious 'Remote Administration Tool (RAT)', Kaspersky said.

Official flip-flop, wordplay and unanswered questions

The immediate response from the Indian authorities was one of outright denial. KKNPP's operator, the government-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), issued a press statement on October 29 terming the revelation 'false'. The NPCIL claimed that since KKNPP control systems are stand-alone, meaning they are not connected to the network, they are not vulnerable to any such breach.9 In doing so, the NPCIL skirted two crucial issues – first, stand-alone systems are not immune to intrusions – as was seen in Iran's Bushehr reactor; and second, the NPCIL statement did not rule out the presence of malware in its IT-based 'domain control systems' that are outside the core Power Plant Control Systems and which are still crucial for running the reactors.10

Understandably, this denial did not quell the widespread apprehensions, speculations and questions which were being voiced by citizens on social media. Soon, the Indian Express quoted 'senior government officials' as having admitted that a recent audit, whose report is yet to be published, had in fact, found a cyber breach.11

As the cacophony grew louder, the NPCIL put yet another statement on its website, hyperlinked plainly as 'press release' on its home page, perhaps to purposefully downplay the episode, while admitting to the infiltration by the malware.12 This press statement raises more questions than it answers. It states for instance, that while a personal computer of a 'user' who was connected to the IT-enabled administrative network had been infiltrated, the critical internet network of the plant itself remained isolated. Cybersecurity company, VirusTotal has dumped the data scraped by it in this case on its Twitter handle where the user has been identified as 'KKNPP administrator'.13

While the NPCIL's late admission raises crucial issues about administrative probity and laxity, the more alarming aspect is the admission that "identification of malware in NPCIL system is correct". This might imply, given the NPCIL's habitual wordplay, that not just the KKNPP, but the administrative and domain control systems of all nuclear plants and other facilities run by the NPCIL across India might have suffered from or have been vulnerable to this cyber-attack. An analysis in Asia Times claims that the DTrack found in this episode is highly sophisticated and was customized for the KKNPP.14 However, after the NPCIL's press statement, it cannot be ruled out that the nation-wide administrative network of India's nuclear facilities might have been compromised.

The NPCIL's claim that the breach is confined to the administrative network and the control and safety network remains untouched is hard to digest. Last year, the Nuclear Threat Initiative's (NTI) report underscored that cybersecurity risks to powerplants have multiplied since the Stuxnet episode in 2010.15 Stuxnet's biggest target was India although the Iranian case attracted more international attention for geopolitical reasons.16 At the time, Forbes Magazine had carried a story suggesting that Stuxnet had killed India's communication satellite.17

More recently, a Chatham House report delved deeper into cybersecurity challenges for nuclear plants and highlighted "low levels of cyber incident disclosure, creating a false sense of security" as a crucial challenge for the nuclear sector.18

The Indian authorities' flip-flop does not inspire any confidence in this context. The NPCIL has been notorious for its opacity19 and cover-ups20. Within four days of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the NPCIL's top-brass organized a press conference in Mumbai and claimed that "there was no nuclear accident" at Fukushima, even as the accident in Japan took a turn for the worse and the Japanese government had remained tight-lipped.21

Kudankulam: Threats beyond Dtrack 

While some commentators seem justifiably concerned about the DTrack being ransom-ware as in Sony's case earlier and being a reason for the unprecedented and frequent shut-downs of the KKNPP ever since it was commissioned in 2013, amid massive grassroots protests, the network-related vulnerabilities of the Russian-imported nuclear plant might run deeper.22

All that NPCIL has clarified so far, is that in the current episode, the compromised windows PC, known for its vulnerabilities and Microsoft's voluntary collaborations with US security agencies, was not connected to the KKNPP's internal network system. However, even for the reactor-level information network, the Kudankulam plant uses imported Operating Software (OS) that opens up ways for infiltration and even deliberate manipulation by external forces.

While the automated control systems in Kudankulam have been supplied by the Rosatom affiliate Automated Control Systems (RASU)23, this subsidiary of Rosatom is just a system integrator ‒ it sources software and systems from other corporations such as Areva, Mitsubishi and Seimens.24 Areva, the French nuclear giant, has been supplying major Instrumentation and Communication Systems (ICS) to the Russian nuclear industry for a long time.

For the Novovorenzh II reactor in central Russia, which is based on Kudankulam-type VVER design, Rosatom sources Instrumentation and Control Systems from Areva.25 This suggests that TELEPERM XS, the digital reactor protector system developed by Areva NS is used in the new generation VVERs. Similarly, the German company Siemens has also supplied its SPPA digital systems for VVER type nuclear plants in several countries of the world.26

While there might not be anything inherently scandalous in the Indian nuclear operator using foreign-supplied crucial digital systems, the case of Kudankulam and NPCIL begs a series of questions that begin thus: Why is the NPCIL so secretive about the imported digital systems being used in Kudankulam? Making public such information is almost a norm globally, and is meant to instill confidence among citizens.

During the intense people's protests in the run-up to the commissioning of the Kudankulam plants between 2011 to 2013, the local citizens' organization, Peoples' Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) had filed repeated Right To Information (RTI) queries asking for the safety assessment report and other important documents pertaining to plant safety, and had reiterated its demands when the government initiated a dialogue with citizens which later turned out to be nothing more than an exercise in public relations as well as an attempt to buy more time prior to the regional elections before unleashing brutal violence against the peacefully protesting communities.

Both the NPCIL itself and the official delegation deputed for the purported 'dialogue' had refused to meet this basic demand. India's then Chief Information Commissioner, Sailesh Gandhi, even wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling the protesters' demands a fundamental democratic right and expressing dismay over the government's unyielding attitude.27

In the KKNPP, either the Russian corporation Rosatom is using Areva's or Siemen's ICT systems or has installed an independent system purely built by itself. The reactors in Kudankulam have been supplied to India on a turn-key basis so it can be assumed that India has not used an indigenous ICT system. Whatever might be the case, the Instrumentation and Control Systems are crucial parts of a nuclear reactor's functioning and any trouble in them can potentially lead to major accidents and even meltdowns. Failures or weaknesses of ICTs can definitely compound any other problems in the power plant and situations can spiral out of control.

It is important to recall that Kudankulam is among the several reactors for which sub-standard equipment was supplied between 2007 and 2010, owing to a major corruption scandal that had blighted the Russian nuclear industry involving a supplier named Zio-Podolsk.28 This crucial issue was raised by the protesters, independent experts as well as the retired head of India's nuclear regulatory board, Dr. A Gopalakrishnan.29 Although these concerns were brushed aside by the government then, the companies supplying digital systems for the KKNPP must have taken it into account and may have insisted that they did not want to get embroiled in a future crisis, especially since the Indian Nuclear Liability Act has an exceptional clause holding suppliers liable in case of an accident.

If, in this scenario, the NPCIL has an arrangement with foreign ICT suppliers, which is less-than-formal and discreet and is therefore shrouded in secrecy, it might also lead to issues such as reliability of regular updating of the digital systems in the KKNPP's crucial plant control systems. Cybersecurity is a dynamic challenge and India must ensure that its systems are reliable, upgradable and that, suppliers remain accountable.

On the contrary, the Modi government has been attempting to dilute the Nuclear Liability Act as both the domestic and international nuclear vendors and suppliers have been insisting on a playing field free of liability.30 Additionally, the Modi government has introduced amendments to the Right to Information Act that will allow the NPCIL to be more opaque.31 India's nuclear establishment had been militating against the RTI Act ever since it came into existence.32

Thus, the NPCIL's opacity has far more serious implications than imagined in the current mainstream discourse. revealed, back in 2013, the connection between Kudankulam and Stuxnet, and the much deeper cyber vulnerabilities and safety challenges that it implies: "At Kudankulam NPP the same turbines of type К-1000-60/3000, made by Power Machines, are used as they are in Iran's reactor at Busher, the alleged target of the virus. Siemens owns 26% of Power Machines. Software made by Siemens is used to steer these turbines, Stuxnet expert Langner presumes."33

To put things in perspective, the Stuxnet infiltration in the Iranian reactor at Bushehr was widely believed to have happened via the Russian nuclear vendor Atomsroyexpert's systems.34

The NPCIL must come clear on the larger issue of suppliers and systems involved in the KKNPP. Transparency is a pre-requisite when the safety of millions of Indian citizens is at stake. Also, the foreign control of crucial infrastructure is an important aspect that simply cannot be ignored.

Reprinted from, 31 Oct 2019:




































An undeclared 'organic' nuclear power phase-out

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

There was a striking increase in the number of nuclear power reactor construction starts in the late 2000s ‒ 50 from 2006‒2010 compared to just 13 in the preceding five years.1 Some of that momentum spilled over into the post-Fukushima years ‒ 32 construction starts from 2011‒2015.2 But construction starts have dried up dramatically ‒ just 13 from Jan. 2016 to Nov. 2019, averaging 3.1 per year.2

In January 2019, the World Nuclear Association expected that 15 power reactors would enter commercial operation this year.3 But as of early November, only eight have either commenced operation (three) or are expected to by the end of the year (five).2

That pattern has been repeated in recent years: delays have been the norm and estimated dates for grid-connections have been pushed back.

In the broad sweep of things, this pattern probably means that the earlier spike in construction starts probably won't result in a spike (or even a mini-spike) in operational reactors. Instead, for the next decade or so, we'll likely see a continuation of the stagnation that has been evident for the past quarter-century.4

After that, the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning will be upon us, characterized by a decline in the number of operating reactors; an increasingly unreliable and accident-prone reactor fleet as aging sets in; countless battles over lifespan extensions for aging reactors; an internationalization of anti-nuclear opposition as neighboring countries object to the continued operation of aging reactors; and escalating battles over and problems with decommissioning and waste disposal.5

Construction starts in recent years have averaged just over three per year but, as discussed on Nuclear Monitor #871, there will likely be an average of 8-11 permanent reactor shut-downs per year over the next few decades.6 The industry will attempt to bridge the gap by increasing the rate of construction starts and by deferring permanent reactor shut-downs. But its efforts will most likely only slow rather than stop what seems an inevitable decline. The aging of the reactor fleet is the elephant in the room: the average age of the fleet has just passed 30 years.7

Permanent reactor shut-downs can be deferred ‒ at some cost, and at some additional risk ‒ but they cannot be deferred indefinitely. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anticipates 325 gigawatts (GW) of retirements by 2050 ‒ that's more than 80% of current global capacity.8 The IAEA estimates the closure of up to 139 GW from 2018‒2030 ‒ that's one-third of current global capacity.8

Jim Little, a veteran of the US nuclear industry, put the problem bluntly in mid-2017 with these rhetorical questions:9

"Would you be willing to continue investing in an established business with flat revenues, increasing costs while competing against an agile field of competitors who enjoy a market advantage of lower costs, quicker deployment schedules and the support of government subsidies and favorable public opinion? Should you stay the course and focus on addressing those challenges or divest? This is the stark choice facing the nuclear power industry today."

World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019

Mycle Schneider, coordinator of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) states: "There can be no doubt: the renewal rate of nuclear power plants is too slow to guarantee the survival of the technology. The world is experiencing an undeclared 'organic' nuclear phaseout."10

As always, the recently-released edition of the annual WNISR has much of interest and value.7 Some points of interest from WNISR-2019 are noted here:

Global nuclear operating capacity increased to 370 GW in 2018 (excluding 25 GW in long-term outage). That is a new historic maximum, slightly exceeding the previous peak of 368 GW in 2006. But that just means that the 25-year pattern of stagnation is still in evidence:

  • as of mid-2019, there was one less power reactor in operation than in 1989.
  • worldwide nuclear electricity generation of 2,563 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2018 was 3.7% below the historic peak in 2006.
  • the number of operating reactors ‒ 417 as of mid-2019 ‒ remains significantly below the historic peak of 438 in 2002.
  • the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix (10.15% in 2018) is well down on the peak in 1996 (17.5%)
  • the number of power reactors under construction peaked in 1979, while construction starts peaked in 1976.

The number of power reactors under construction globally declined for the sixth year in a row in 2018, from 68 reactors at the end of 2013 to 46 by mid-2019, of which 10 are in China. At least 27 of the 46 units under construction are behind schedule, mostly by several years.

The average age of the world operating nuclear reactor fleet reached 30.1 years by mid-2019, exceeding the figure of 30 years for the first time. A total of 272 reactors, two-thirds of the world fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 80 (19%) that have reached 41 years or more.

The average construction time of the latest 63 power reactors in nine countries (including 37 in China) that started up since 2009 was 9.8 years.

Between 1970 and mid-2019, a total of 94 (12% or one-in-eight) of all construction projects were abandoned or suspended in 20 countries at various stages of advancement.

As of mid-2019, 162 of the 181 closed power reactors in the world are awaiting or are in various stages of decommissioning; only 19 have been fully decommissioned. WNISR-2019 discusses the "soaring costs" associated with decommissioning, with challenges coming to the fore as a growing number of nuclear facilities are being shut down.


  • Still no construction start of any commercial reactor in China since December 2016.
  • China will by far miss its Five-Year-Plan 2020 nuclear targets of 58 GW installed and 30 GW under construction.
  • China spent a record US$146 billion on renewables in 2017 ‒ more than half of the world's total ‒ and saw a decline to US$91 billion in 2018, but still close to twice the U.S., the second largest investor with US$48.5 billion.
  • In 2018, electricity production from wind (366 TWh) far exceeded that from nuclear (277 TWh), with solar power catching up quickly (178 TWh). (The same phenomenon is seen in India, where wind power (60 TWh) outpaced nuclear (35 TWh) in 2018, with solar (31 TWh) fast catching up with nuclear.)

Four newcomer countries are building reactors ‒ Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and the UAE. The first reactor startup in UAE is at least three years behind schedule. The first unit in Belarus is at least one year delayed. At the Turkish Akkuyu site, cracks were identified in the foundation of the reactor building, leading to replacement work and likely to delays. The project in Bangladesh only started recently.

Small Modular Reactors: The WNISR-2019 chapter on SMRs concludes with these words:

"Although policymakers in many countries continue to be interested in SMRs, it has become evident that they will be even less capable of competing economically than large nuclear plants, which have themselves been increasingly uncompetitive. Thus, even if a few SMR projects get built over the next decade or beyond, typically as a result of massive support from one or more governments, it is unlikely that SMRs could play any significant role in the future electricity sector."

Nuclear power vs. renewables:

  • A record 165 GW of renewable capacity were added to the world's power grids in 2018, up from 157 GW added the previous year. Globally, wind power output grew by 29% in 2018, solar by 13%, nuclear by 2.4%.
  • Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) analysis for the US shows that the total costs of renewables are now below of coal and combined cycle gas. Between 2009 and 2018, utility-scale solar costs came down 88% and wind 69%, while new nuclear costs increased by 23%.
  • In 2018, the reported global investment decisions for the construction of nuclear power totaled around US$33 billion for 6.2 GW, which is less than a quarter of the investment in wind and solar individually (US$134 billion in wind power and US$139 billion in solar).
  • Ten of the 31 countries operating nuclear power reactors generated more electricity in 2018 from non-hydro renewables than from nuclear power (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, South Africa and the UK). That is one more, South Africa, than in 2017.


1. IAEA, 2018, 'Nuclear Power Reactors in the World',


3. World Nuclear Association, January 2019, 'Plans For New Reactors Worldwide',


5. Nuclear Monitor #856, 29 Jan 2018, '2017 in Review: Nuclear Power',

6. Nuclear Monitor #871, 'Nuclear power: 2018 in review',

7. Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt, Sept 2019, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019',

8. International Atomic Energy Agency, 2018, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

9. Jim Little, 18 July 2017, 'Nuclear's Fork in the Road',

10. 24 Sept 2019, 'WNISR2019 Assesses Climate Change and the Nuclear Power Option',

Nuclear power: 2018 in review

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Here are the key nuclear power numbers for calendar year 2018:

Nine power reactor grid connections, seven in China and two in Russia, all of them conventional large PWR reactors.1,2 Those reactors added 10.4 gigawatts (GW) of capacity (compared to 178 GW of new renewable capacity added in 20173 and probably a similar amount in 2018).

Six permanent power reactor shut-downs (3.8 GW)4: Chinshan-1 and 2 in Taiwan, Oyster Creek in the US, Leningrad-1 in Russia, and Ikata-2 and Onagawa-1 in Japan.

Four power reactor construction starts (or five if Hinkley Point C in the UK is included): one each in Turkey, Russia, Bangladesh and South Korea.2

49 reactors under construction ‒ the first time the number has fallen below 50 in a decade, down four from the end of 2017, down 19 since 2013, and the number has decreased for five years in a row.5

2009‒2018 grid connections, construction starts and permanent reactor closures:












10-year total

Reactor grid connections












Construction starts












Permanent shutdowns












Main source: IAEA, PRIS database,

According to the World Nuclear Association, 41 reactors will enter commercial operation in the four years from 2019‒22 (15 in 2019, 11 in 2020, 6 in 2021, and 9 in 2022).6 Then the pre-Fukushima mini-renaissance (38 construction starts from 2008‒2010) slows dramatically with an estimated total of just nine reactor start-ups in the four years from 2023‒26.6 The 49 reactor construction starts in the five years from 2009‒13 more than doubled the 22 construction starts from 2014‒18.7

Currently, nuclear power reflects two contradictory dynamics: the mini-renaissance is in full swing but will subside by the mid-2020s, and the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning8 has begun and will be in sharp focus by the mid-2020s.

Over the past decade ‒ and over the past two decades ‒ the number of operable reactors has increased marginally or decreased marginally depending on whether reactors in long-term outage (almost all of them in Japan) are included in the tally:




31 Dec. 19989



31 Dec. 20089



31 Dec. 2018

WNA (including reactors in long-term outage)10

WNISR (excluding reactors in long-term outage)5







Mycle Schneider, coordinator of the World Nuclear Industry Status Reports, notes that the total of 417 reactors (excluding reactors in long-term outage) is up 12 from a year ago (including both reactor grid-connections and restarts of some reactors in long-term outage) but still below pre-Fukushima levels and 21 reactors lower than the historic peak of 438 in 2002.5

No country generated nuclear power for the first time in 2018 while one country ‒ Turkey ‒ began construction of a power reactor for the first time. Four newcomer countries are building reactors ‒ Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and the UAE. The World Nuclear Industry Status Report noted in September 2018 that new-build plans had recently been cancelled in Jordan, Malaysia and the US or postponed in Argentina, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.11 In November 2018, State Secretary for Energy José Dominguez announced that Spain's seven operable reactors will be permanently shut down when they reach their 40-year lifespan and thus Spain will be nuclear free by 2030.12

Aging reactor fleet

The industry faces severe problems, not least the aging of the global reactor fleet. The average age of the fleet continues to rise and reached 30 years in mid-2018 according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report.11

There will likely be an average of 8-11 permanent reactor shut-downs annually over the next few decades:

  • The International Energy Agency expects a "wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors" and an "unprecedented rate of decommissioning" ‒ almost 200 reactor shut-downs between 2014 and 2040.13
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anticipates 320 GW of retirements from 2017 to 2050.14
  • Another IAEA report estimates up to 139 GW of permanent shut-downs from 2018‒2030 and up to 186 GW of further shut-downs from 2030-2050.15
  • The reference scenario in the 2017 edition of the World Nuclear Association's Nuclear Fuel Report has 140 reactors closing by 2035.16
  • A 2017 Nuclear Energy Insider article estimates up to 200 permanent shut-downs over the next two decades.17

So an average of 8‒11 construction starts and grid connections will be required to maintain current nuclear output. Yet construction starts have averaged just 4.5 over the past five years.

Grim prospects

For the first time in many years, perhaps ever, the IAEA was up-front about the grim prospects for nuclear power in a September 2018 report.18 The IAEA said:19

"Nuclear power's electricity generating capacity risks shrinking in the coming decades as ageing reactors are retired and the industry struggles with reduced competitiveness … Over the short term, the low price of natural gas, the impact of renewable energy sources on electricity prices, and national nuclear policies in several countries following the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 are expected to continue weighing on nuclear power's growth prospects ... In addition, the nuclear power industry faces increased construction times and costs due to heightened safety requirements, challenges in deploying advanced technologies and other factors."

The IAEA's low and high projections for global nuclear power capacity in 2030 are both 36% lower than the same projections in 2010, the year before the Fukushima disaster.20

Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted in an August 2018 article:21

"The current upward spike in reactor commissioning certainly looks impressive (at least compared with the recent past) but there are few signs that here will be a further uplift in the 2020s. What we see today is largely the result of rapid growth in the Chinese industry, which has now seemingly ended. ... In Asia, the sharp downturn in Chinese interest in nuclear is unlikely to be replaced by India or by a combination of the other populous counties there. It is clear that without a strong lead from the established nuclear countries, a worldwide uplift in reactor construction is not going to happen."

And therein lies a fundamental problem for the nuclear industry: it is in a frightful mess11 in the three countries that accounted for 56% of global nuclear capacity just before the Fukushima disaster: the US, France and Japan.22


2018 was a "positive year for nuclear power" according to the World Nuclear Association.1 And indeed it was ‒ compared to 2017, which was one of the industry's worst-ever years.8 The Association cited nuclear power's net gain in 2018 (9 grid connections, 6 permanent shut-downs).

Bright New World, an Australian pro-nuclear lobby group (that accepts secret corporate donations) listed these gains in 2018:23

1. Taiwanese voters voiced support for overturning legislation to eliminate nuclear power.

2. Poland announced plans for a 6‒9 GW nuclear sector.

3. China connected the world's first AP1000 and EPR reactors to the electrical grid.

4. Some progress with Generation IV R&D projects (Terrestrial Energy, NuScale, Moltex), and the passing of the US Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act which aims to speed up the development of advanced reactors.

Those are modest and pyrrhic wins. To take each in turn:

1. Taiwan's government remains committed to phasing out nuclear power although the 2025 deadline has been abandoned following a referendum in November 2018.24

2. Poland might join the club of countries producing nuclear power ‒ or it might not. Currently it is a member of a group of countries that failed to complete partially-built power reactors and have never generated nuclear power, along with Austria, Cuba, the Philippines, and North Korea.25

3. China's nuclear power program has stalled ‒ the country has not opened any new construction site for a commercial reactor since December 2016.1

4. Generation IV fantasies are as fantastical as ever. David Elliot ‒ author of the 2017 book Nuclear Power: Past, Present and Future ‒ notes that many Generation IV concepts "are in fact old ideas that were looked at in the early days and mostly abandoned. There were certainly problems with some of these early experimental reactors, some of them quite dramatic."26

One example of the gap between Generation IV rhetoric and reality was Transatomic Power's decision to give up on its molten salt reactor R&D project in the US in September 201827 ‒ just weeks before the public release of the New Fire propaganda film that heavily promotes the young entrepreneurs who founded Transatomic.28 The company tried but failed to raise a modest US$15 million for the next phase of its R&D project.

An article by four current and former researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Engineering and Public Policy, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in July 2018, argues that no US advanced reactor design will be commercialized before mid-century. Further, the authors systematically investigated how a domestic market could develop to support a small modular reactor industry in the US over the next few decades ‒ including using them to back up wind and solar, desalinate water, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases ‒ and were unable to make a convincing case.29

Long-time energy journalist Kennedy Maize recently argued in POWER magazine that Generation IV R&D projects are "longshots" and that the "highest profile of the LWR apostates is TerraPower ... backed by Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire Bill Gates. Founded in 2006, TerraPower is working on a liquid-sodium-cooled breeder-burner machine that can run on uranium waste, while it generates power and plutonium, with the plutonium used to generate more power, all in a continuous process."30 TerraPower recently abandoned its plan for a prototype reactor in China due to new restrictions placed on nuclear trade with China by the Trump administration.31

Bright New World might have cited some other pyrrhic wins in 2018. The French government abandoned previous plans to reduce nuclear power to 50% of total electricity generation by 2035 ... but still plans to shut 14 reactors by 2035.32 The Vogtle project in the US state of Georgia came close to being abandoned but it was rescued despite monumental cost overruns (the estimate for two AP1000 reactors has risen from US$14 billion to US$28 billion) and multi-year delays.33


1. World Nuclear Association, 4 Jan 2019, Weekly Digest,

2. IAEA, PRIS database,

3. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report',

4. World Nuclear Association, 4 Jan 2019, Weekly Digest,

5. Mycle Schneider, 3 Jan 2019, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2019',

6. World Nuclear Association, January 2019, 'Plans For New Reactors Worldwide',

7. IAEA, 2018, 'Nuclear Power Reactors in the World',

8. Nuclear Monitor #856, 29 Jan 2018, '2017 in Review: Nuclear Power',

9. IAEA, 'Nuclear Power Capacity Trend',

10. World Nuclear Association, 'World Nuclear Power Reactors & Uranium Requirements',

11. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',

12. Sam Morgan, 15 Nov 2018, 'Spain to nix nuclear and coal power by 2030',
13. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Energy Outlook 2014 Factsheet',

14. International Atomic Energy Agency, 28 July 2017, 'International Status and Prospects for Nuclear Power 2017: Report by the Director General',

15. International Atomic Energy Agency, 2018, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

16. World Nuclear Association, 2017, 'The Nuclear Fuel Report',

17. Karen Thomas, 25 Jan 2017, 'OECD expands decommissioning cost benchmarks ahead of closure surge',

18. International Atomic Energy Agency, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

19. IAEA, 10 Sept 2018, 'New IAEA Energy Projections See Possible Shrinking Role for Nuclear Power',

20. Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018, 'New IAEA report sees "possible shrinking role" for nuclear power',

21. Steve Kidd, 29 Nov 2018, 'Nuclear power – is there another blueprint?',

22. World Nuclear Association, Jan 2011, 'World Nuclear Power Reactors & Uranium Requirements Archive',

23. Ben Heard, 6 Jan 2019, 'What way forward in 2019? Reflections from Bright New World founder Ben Heard',

24. Nuclear Monitor #87, 19 Dec 2018, 'Taiwan's goal to become nuclear free remains unchanged: President Tsai',


26. David Elliott, 25 May 2017, 'Back to the future: old nukes for new', Nuclear Monitor #844,

27. Nuclear Monitor #867, 15 Oct 2018, 'Transatomic Gen IV startup shuts down',

28. Nuclear Monitor #866, 24 Sept 2018, 'Film review: 'The New Fire' and the old Gen IV rhetoric',

29. M. Granger Morgan, Ahmed Abdulla, Michael J. Ford, and Michael Rath, July 2018 'US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge', Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,

Media release, 2 July 2018, 'The vanishing nuclear industry',

30. Kennedy Maize, 1 Jan 2019, 'Debate Continues: Can New Technology Save Nuclear Power?',

31. Reuters, 2 Jan 2019, 'Bill Gates' nuclear venture hits snag amid U.S. restrictions on China deals: WSJ',

32. Nuclear Monitor #870, 19 Dec 2018, 'French President announces energy roadmap',

33. Nuclear Monitor #867, 15 Oct 2018, 'Vogtle's reprieve: snatching defeat from the jaws of defeat',

Vogtle's reprieve: snatching defeat from the jaws of defeat

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

Last year, the V.C. Summer twin-reactor AP1000 project in South Carolina was abandoned after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion. The project was initially estimated to cost US$9.8 billion1; when it was abandoned, the estimate was around US$25 billion.2

Last month, the last remaining reactor project in the US ‒ the Vogtle twin-reactor AP1000 project in Georgia ‒ came close to being abandoned due to massive cost overruns. The construction cost blowout at Vogtle is just as bad as that in South Carolina:

  • c.2008: US$9.5 billion 'initial' budget for the twin-reactor Vogtle project according to electric power utility JEA.4
  • 2008: US$10.4 billion5
  • 2009: US$14‒14.3 billion6,7
  • 2013: US15.5 billion8
  • Aug. 2017: US$25‒30 billion. Total Vogtle cost likely to exceed US$25 billion and could exceed US$27 billion according to a Southern Co. filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.9 An analysis by the Augusta Chronicle found that total costs could approach US$30 billion.10
  • Aug.‒Sept. 2018: US$27‒30+ billion: In August, Southern Co. announced US$2.3 billion in additional cost overruns for Vogtle.4 S&P estimates the cost to be US$27‒28 billion including financing costs5 and states that "significant risks remain … and additional overruns or project delays are possible."11 JEA estimates total costs of "more than $30 billion" and notes that there is "no guarantee that this amount will not continue to increase".12 Morgan Stanley analysts say there is a "very high likelihood" of additional cost overruns.16

The current cost estimate for Vogtle reactors #3 and #4 is 10 times greater than Westinghouse's 2006 estimate of US$1.4‒$1.9 billion to build one AP1000 reactor.3 To find another blowout of that magnitude you'd need to go back to … Vogtle #1 and #2! Built in the 1970s and 1980s, the cost of the first Vogtle twin-reactor project skyrocketed 13-fold, from US$660 million to US$8.7 billion (around US$18 billion on today's money).13

The Vogtle project is 5.5 years behind schedule: planned startup dates of April 2016 and April 2017 have been pushed back to November 2021 and November 2022.

The project was 69.9% complete as of the end of July 2018, and construction 55.3% complete.14 Thus there is plenty of scope for further cost increases and delays.

Near-death experience

Vogtle's recent near-death experience began with the latest multi-billion-dollar cost increase: a US$2.3 billion increase announced in August. That automatically triggered a Project Adverse Event under the terms of the Vogtle Joint Ownership Agreement, requiring a vote by the four project owners ‒ Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (30%), MEAG (22.7) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%) ‒ about whether to go ahead or to abandon the project.15 Georgia Power, MEAG and Dalton agreed to proceed. Oglethorpe held out for concessions but eventually agreed to proceed after several extensions to a deadline for a decision.

Under the revised agreement, Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power would pay an increased share (55.7% ‒ an additional 10%) of cost overruns up to US$1.6 billion beyond the current cost estimate and 65.7% of costs up to US$2.1 billion over the current estimate. Beyond that, minority owners would have the right to sell a portion of their stake in the project to Georgia Power, unless Georgia Power chose to abandon the project.15 Morgan Stanley analysts say there is a "very good chance" that future cost increases could exceed US$2.1 billion.16

Overall, the three smaller project partners (Oglethorpe, MEAG and Dalton) won minor risk reductions in relation to the inevitable future cost increases, but cost increases will no longer trigger a Project Adverse Event or another vote on the project.19 The minor partners were steamrolled according to the Energy and Policy Institute and "now only have one option for recourse; wait until costs go up by another $2.1 billion and forfeit their investment."19

The revised agreement also includes a provision to address a lawsuit from Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA), which is doing everything it can to exit a Vogtle power purchase agreement it signed with MEAG.6 If JEA succeeds in exiting its agreement, Georgia Power would provide MEAG with up to US$250 million in loans to finance the plant's completion.17

JEA's legal filing against MEAG bemoans its "unlimited obligation to fund the exorbitant and ever-ballooning cost of constructing units of a nuclear power plant that JEA does not own, over which it has no control and which will be owned and controlled by private enterprises."18 It goes on to say: "JEA must satisfy this open-ended obligation to pay for MEAG's yet unknown and uncapped debt service regardless of the amount, regardless of whether the Additional Units are ever built or ever become operational, and regardless of whether JEA ever receives any electricity, capacity, or benefit whatsoever from the Additional Units."12

Carrots and sticks from the federal government have been important. Federal tax credits will amount to a subsidy of around US$2 billion. In addition, the federal government has provided loan guarantees to Vogtle project partners of US$8.7 billion, and has offered additional loan guarantees of US$3.7 billion. Last month, the Department of Energy lobbied the project partners to go ahead with Vogtle and warned that: "If the owners decide to cancel the project, the Department is prepared to move swiftly to fully enforce its rights under the terms of the Loan Guarantee Agreements, including the repayment provisions."12

Snatching defeat from the jaws of defeat

US Department of Energy spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes said the revised Vogtle agreement "will reaffirm America's international leadership in nuclear technology and ... mark the beginning of a nuclear renaissance in America."15

Yeah, right.

Long before the latest multi-billion-dollar cost increase, in May 2017, Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalists wrote: "Years behind schedule, billions over budget, and with a key contractor's bankruptcy clouding its future, the troubled Vogtle project near Augusta is fast becoming Exhibit A for why no U.S. utility before Atlanta-based Southern had tried building a new reactor in 30-plus years."20

Exhibit B is the abandoned V.C. Summer project in South Carolina.

Bloomberg opinion columnist Liam Denning argued that Southern Co. "snatched defeat from the jaws of a different kind of defeat" with the revised project agreement.21 He continued:

"While Vogtle may well be completed due to sheer political doggedness, it won't be for any reasonable economic reason. Even assuming no further overruns, it will already cost more than $11,000 per kilowatt of capacity, multiples of what a new gas-fired plant or utility-scale solar array would cost. …

"Nuclear power proponents rightly point out that it provides vast quantities of carbon-free, uninterrupted energy. They also raise concerns about the U.S. falling behind on nuclear technology. That may be a valid concern, but does rather raise the question as to why the good ratepayers of Georgia should be saddled with the costs of maintaining national security.

"The problem, however, is that these plants are gigantic, one-off projects prone to cost overruns and requiring years of planning and construction before they generate a cent of revenue. This is just an unacceptable risk for most commercial operators, and why government assistance in the form of regulated cost recovery, price guarantees or finance is so often crucial to getting them built."


1. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba-Westinghouse: The End of New-build for the Largest Historic Nuclear Builder',

2. Brad Plumer, 31 July 2017, 'U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned',

3. Jon Gertner, 16 July 2006, 'Atomic Balm?',

4. Ross Williams, 19 Sept 2018, 'Vogtle fate rests in key vote, deadline Monday',

5. Peter Maloney, 2 Oct 2018, 'S&P downgrades Georgia Power's partners in Vogtle nuclear project',

6. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 20 Sept 2018, 'A Series of Unfortunate Events for Plant Vogtle – last new nuclear project in turmoil',

7. Ryan Alexander, 17 Aug 2017, 'Nuclear Waste for Taxpayers',

8. Sonal Patel, 24 Sept 2018, 'How the Vogtle Nuclear Expansion's Costs Escalated',

9. Gavin Bade, 3 Aug 2017, 'Vogtle nuke cost could top $25B as decision time looms',

10. Tom Corwin, 2 Sept 2017, 'Subsidizing new nuclear power such as Vogtle reactors in nation's interest, says expert',

11. Will Robinson, 30 Sept 2018, 'Credit rater downgrades JEA over Plant Vogtle exposure', Jacksonville Business Journal,

12. Will Robinson, 26 Sept 2018, 'Plant Vogtle's fate finally decided in latest vote',

13. David Schlissel, Michael Mullett, Robert Alvarez, March 2009, 'Nuclear Loan Guarantees Another Taxpayer Bailout Ahead?', Union of Concerned Scientists,

14. Georgia Power, 31 Aug 2018, 'Nineteenth Semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report',

15. World Nuclear Association, 27 Sept 2018, 'Vogtle owners vote to continue construction',

16. Matt Kempner and Anastaciah Ondieki, 28 Sept 2018, 'After wrangling over Georgia nuclear plant, cost concerns remain', The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

17. Gavin Bade, 26 Sept 2018, 'Vogtle nuclear plant owners agree to continue construction',

18. Times-Union Editorial Board, 23 Sept 2018, 'Sunday Editorial: Grand jury must get to the bottom of JEA's terrible contract',

19. Daniel Tait, 4 Oct 2018, 'Georgia Power Steamrolls MEAG, Oglethorpe in New Vogtle Agreement',

20. Russell Grantham and Johnny Edwards, 19 May 2017, 'Plant Vogtle: Georgia's nuclear 'renaissance' now a financial quagmire', The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

21. Liam Denning, 28 Sept 2018, 'Nuclear Power's Big Problem Isn't That It's Nuclear',

Vogtle 3

New IAEA report sees "possible shrinking role" for nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has released its latest projections for the future of nuclear power.1 For the first time in many years, perhaps ever, the IAEA is up-front about the grim prospects for nuclear power. The article promoting the new report is titled: 'New IAEA Energy Projections See Possible Shrinking Role for Nuclear Power'.2

Comparable IAEA reports in September 2016 and August 2017 were headlined 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Growing Through 2030'3 and 'Long-Term Potential of Nuclear Power Remains High'.4

The recent IAEA article states:2

"Nuclear power's electricity generating capacity risks shrinking in the coming decades as ageing reactors are retired and the industry struggles with reduced competitiveness …

"Over the short term, the low price of natural gas, the impact of renewable energy sources on electricity prices, and national nuclear policies in several countries following the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 are expected to continue weighing on nuclear power's growth prospects, according to the report. In addition, the nuclear power industry faces increased construction times and costs due to heightened safety requirements, challenges in deploying advanced technologies and other factors."

The IAEA report presents low and high projections. The high projection is best ignored: the IAEA has previously assessed its own performance and found that even its low projections tend to be too high!5,6

The IAEA report notes that in its latest low projection, nuclear generating capacity falls by more than 10% from 392 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2017 to 352 GW in 2030. The high projection of 511 GW in 2030 is 45 GW less than that predicted by the IAEA just a year ago.

The IAEA has sharply reduced its low and high projections since the Fukushima disaster, so much so that its current high projection for 2030 is 35 GW lower than its 2010 low projection for 2030:






Low estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GW)




‒194 GW

High estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GW)




‒292 GW

Actual nuclear capacity (including idled reactors) (GW)




Actual nuclear capacity (excluding idled reactors) (GW)

375 (approx.)



According to the IAEA report, nuclear's share of global electricity generation in 2017 remained at about 10.3% while the share of renewables (including hydropower) was 25.1%.1 In the IAEA's low projection, nuclear's share will fall to 7.9% in 2030.1

The IAEA report notes the high degree of uncertainty about reactor retirements: in its low projection, 139 GW of nuclear capacity is retired by 2030 compared to 55 GW in the high projection.

The average age of the reactor fleet has been steadily rising and reached 30 years in mid-2018 according to the latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR).8

The WNISR doesn't make projections about the future of nuclear power, but it includes calculations based on assumptions about reactor lifespans. WNISR-2018 notes that if one assumes a 40-year reactor lifespan (and ignoring 81 reactors already past that lifespan, and also ignoring 32 reactors in long-term outage), 216 reactors will enter the post-operational phase by 2030.8

WNISR-2018 states: "If all currently operating reactors were shut down at the end of a 40-year lifetime ‒ with the exception of the 81 that are already operating for more than 40 years ‒ by 2020 the number of operating units would be 12 below the total at the end of 2017, even if all reactors currently under active construction were completed, with the installed capacity declining by 2 GW. In the following decade to 2030, 190 units (168.5 GW) would have to be replaced ‒ three and a half times the number of startups achieved over the past decade."8

Here are the IAEA's regional low projections:2

  • Northern America: Nuclear capacity decreases by almost one-third by 2030.
  • Latin America & the Caribbean: Increase by 2030 but nuclear's role will remain small.
  • Northern, Western and Southern Europe: Decrease by as much as 30%.
  • Eastern Europe: Maintain current levels.
  • Africa: Remain at current low levels.
  • Western Asia: Significant increase.
  • Southern Asia: Continued growth.
  • Central and Eastern Asia: Significant increase.


1. International Atomic Energy Agency, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050: 2018 Edition',

2. IAEA, 10 Sept 2018, 'New IAEA Energy Projections See Possible Shrinking Role for Nuclear Power',

3. IAEA, 23 Sept 2016, 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Growing Through 2030',

4. Irena Chatzis / IAEA, 7 Aug 2017, 'Long-Term Potential of Nuclear Power Remains High: IAEA Report',

5. IAEA, 2007, Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power: Developments and Projections − 25 Years Past and Future', tables 33 and 34, p.56,

6. Nuclear Monitor #811, 23 Sept 2015, 'Fanciful growth projections from the World Nuclear Association and the IAEA',

7. IAEA series: 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates',

8. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., Sept 2018, 'The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018',

Nuclear power falls below 10%, overtaken by non-hydro renewables

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Nuclear power accounted for 9.8% of global electricity generation in 2017 (2,5031 / 25,5702 terawatt-hours). That's a big drop from nuclear's historic peak of 17.6% in 1996.3

Renewables accounted for 26.5% of global electricity generation in 2017.4 Thus renewables generated 2.7 times more electricity than nuclear power. Non-hydro renewables (10.1%) generated more electricity than nuclear (9.8%) for the first time in decades.

Global nuclear power capacity increased by 5.4% from Dec. 2007 to Dec. 2017 (from 372 GW to 392 GW) if including idled reactors (mostly in Japan).5 However, including those reactors in the count of 'operable' or 'operational' reactors is, as former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd states, "misleading" and "clearly ridiculous".6 If idled reactors are excluded, nuclear capacity as of Dec. 2017 was 353 GW7 and fell by 5.1% from 2007 to 2017.

Whether or not idled reactors are included in the count, nuclear capacity changed little from 2007 to 2017 (up or down by about 5%). Compare that to renewables: global renewable power capacity more than doubled in the decade 2007-2017, and the capacity of non-hydro renewables increased more than six-fold.4

Bloomberg NEF New Energy Outlook 2018

Bloomberg NEF has published the 2018 edition of its annual New Energy Outlook.8 The report focuses on electricity generation worldwide. Its long-term projections assume that existing energy policy settings around the world remain in place until their scheduled expiry, and that there are no additional government measures. The 150-page report draws on detailed research by a team of more than 65 analysts around the world, including modeling of power systems country-by-country, and of the evolving cost dynamics of different technologies.

Wind and solar are set to expand to almost 50% of worldwide electricity generation by 2050 on the back of cost reductions and the advent of cheaper batteries that will enable electricity to be stored and discharged to meet shifts in demand and supply. The report predicts a 17-fold increase in solar PV capacity worldwide, and a six-fold increase in wind power capacity, by 2050.

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from new solar PV plants is forecast to fall a further 71% by 2050, while that for onshore wind drops by a further 58%. These two technologies have already seen LCOE reductions of 77% and 41% respectively between 2009 and 2018. Solar PV and wind are already cheaper than building new large-scale coal and gas plants.

Batteries are also dropping dramatically in cost. Bloomberg NEF predicts that lithium-ion battery prices, already down by nearly 80% per megawatt-hour since 2010, will continue to tumble as electric vehicle manufacturing builds up through the 2020s.

Seb Henbest, lead author of the New Energy Outlook report, said: "The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear."

Coal shrinks to just 11% of global electricity generation by 2050, from 38% currently. Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at Bloomberg NEF, said: "Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run. Beaten on cost by wind and PV for bulk electricity generation, and batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables – coal gets squeezed out."

Gas consumption for power generation increases modestly out to 2050 despite growing capacity, as more and more gas-fired facilities are either dedicated peakers or run at lower capacity factors helping to balance variable renewables, rather than run flat-out around-the-clock. Gas-fired generation is seen rising 15% between 2017 and 2050, although its share of global electricity declines from 21% to 15%. 

Electric vehicles add around 3,461 TWh of new electricity demand globally by 2050, equal to 9% of total demand. Time-of-use tariffs and dynamic charging further support renewables integration: they allow vehicle owners to choose to charge during high-supply, low-cost periods, and so help to shift demand to periods when cheap renewables are running.

The New Energy Outlook report predicts US$11.5 trillion being invested globally in new power generation capacity between 2018 and 2050, with US$8.4 trillion (73%) of that going to wind and solar and a further US$1.5 trillion (13%) to other low-carbon technologies such as hydro and nuclear, with gas investments at US$1.3 trillion (11.3%) accounting for most of the remainder.


1. IAEA, 2018, 'Nuclear Power Reactors in the World',

2. IEA, March 2018, 'Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2017',

3. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 12 Sept 2017, World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2017,

4. REN21, June 2018, 'Renewables 2018 Global Status Report', p.40-41,


6. Steve Kidd, 13 Oct 2016, 'Nuclear power in the world – pessimism or optimism?',

7. Mycle Schneider / World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 9 Jan 2018, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2018',

8. Bloomberg NEF, June 2018, 'New Energy Outlook 2018',

Has India really scaled down its nuclear power ambitions?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Kumar Sundaram ‒ Editor,

Last month, it was reported that the Indian government plans to cut nuclear capacity additions by two-thirds.1 These reports quoted a statement by Jitendra Singh, the State Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, which directly presides over the country's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Most journalists and analysts highlighted a scaling down from the previous projection of India achieving nuclear capacity of 63,000 MW by the year 2030 to 22,480MW in the same period, or roughly two-thirds.2

A closer look at the Minister Jitendra Singh's statement, however, reveals a totally different story.3

The government's announcement actually does not talk about cutting back nuclear power or cancelling any projects that have been discussed. In fact, two projects that have essentially been rejected figure in the list provided by the minister to the Indian parliament, under the category 'Green field sites, accorded 'In-Principle' approval'.3 One is at Mithivirdi in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district where US corporation Westinghouse was allotted a project for six nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) abandoned it last year after the project failed to acquire environmental clearance.4 Similarly, the Haripur Nuclear Power Project proposed in Bengal, for which the state government under Mamata Bannerjee has denied land ever since it came to power and continues to rule out the project5, is present in Jitendra Singh's list under 'Green field sites, accorded 'In-Principle' approval'.

The reality is the nuclear program has been delayed, not slashed as assumed. Such huge delays and under-performance have been the hallmark of India's Department of Atomic Energy. In the early 1950s, the DAE estimated that it would achieve nuclear capacity of 20,000 MW by the year 1980, whereas capacity was merely 540 MW when that year arrived. Again, DAE hoped that by 2000 it would have installed capacity of 10,000 MW, but it achieved only 2,720 MW.

After 2000, the DAE's capacity addition increased slightly, but again immensely exaggerated future projections were made. In 2007, the DAE thought capacity of 20,000 MW by the year 20206 was achievable and 30,000 MW by 20307 was an achievable target. These ambitions took a massive jump in 2008 after the culmination of the Indo-US deal under which India got an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) and re-entered global nuclear commerce. In 2008, projections were made for achieving 63,000MW by 20308 and a whopping 275,300 Gigawatts by 2052.9

However, despite the NSG exemption in 2008 and subsequent agreements with the US, France and other countries for the supply of nuclear reactors, not a single imported nuclear project has taken off. Construction is yet to begin in places like Jaitapur and Kovvada, despite the Indian government's rush to violently force local communities to give away their land and provide consent for environmental clearance. This has to do on the one hand with the terminal crisis of the global nuclear industry after Fukushima, leading to financial meltdowns and bankruptcies; as well as the reluctance of nuclear suppliers to accept India's nuclear liability law.10 The latter reveals much about the nature of multinational nuclear companies: the law caps the total liability in the case of a potential nuclear accident to an amount that is much less than the potential cost of an accident or the price tag of a nuclear power plant. The Modi government has tried every trick in the book to dilute even that.11

The Indian minister's statement should be viewed in this context. Since imported rectors have not progressed at the pace that the country's nuclear establishment hoped for, it is now focusing on expanding the fleet of "indigenously-designed" reactors to several existing and new nuclear power plant sites. These 700 MW Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) are in essence scaled-up models of a reactor design called the CANDU imported from Canada.

The recent statement, in fact, envisages a 'realistic' and determined shift in the strategy to expand nuclear power in India, although at a slower pace than advertised before. The Minister's announcement includes setting up ten 10 'greenfield' PHWR/CANDUs of 700 MW each by 2024 (four each in Gorakhpur and Mahi-Banswara and two in Chutka) for which administrative approval and financial sanction have been granted already. These constructions will result in an additional electricity generation capacity of 13,460 MW (PHWRs plus Russian VVERs), besides the 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), which the DAE has been claiming to commission 'this year' for the past several years.

The statement also lists another category of new projects – greenfield sites for whom 'in-principle' approval has been obtained and the DAE doesn't see any external obstacle. By 2031, this category of planned projects would bring 22,480 MW of additional capacity online. These include – Jaitapur (6 x 1650 = 9,900 MW), Kovvada (6 x 1208 = 7,248 MW), Mithi Virdi (6 x 1,000 MW = 6,000 MW) and Haripur (6 x 1,000 = 6,000 MW), besides a newly included project at Bhimpur in Madhya Pradesh (4 x 700 = 2,800 MW). The Minister's statement also mentions that pre-project activities are underway at these sites.

This new focus on PHWRs has severe consequences for communities at sites that have so far not been directly subject to nuclear risks. This includes Gorakhpur in Haryana, Mahi-Banswara in Rajasthan, and Chutka in Madhya Pradesh. In Chutka, the local communities have waged an intense agitation against their second displacement.12 They were first displaced for the Bargi dam on Narmada river in 1990, and now they have been served eviction notices. The government agencies have again approached them with the same promises – jobs, electricity, development, rehabilitation and welfare measures, but they know the reality. In Gorakhpur, the NPCIL is constructing a 2,800 MW plant merely 150 km from the national capital New Delhi with a population of 24 million –the plant depends on a small canal for the supply of water for cooling the reactors in normal operation and even during potential accidents.13

Therefore, the much-touted 'cut-back' is far being a reflection of any rethink in the Indian nuclear establishment. Moreover, the zeal to trample all safety, environmental and democratic norms continues unabated as reflected in the recent police atrocities against peaceful anti-nuclear protests in Chutka14 and Jaitapur15. It will be ironic for the villagers who continue to face fabricated sedition charges for their peaceful protest to find their government winning praise internationally for the sanity of an illusory nuclear cut-back.

The author is thankful to Dr. M.V. Ramana and Peter M. for their insights.

















Pro-nuclear perspectives on the nuclear industry crisis ‒ 'an unusually grim outlook'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

The nuclear industry and its supporters have responded in varying ways to the crises facing nuclear utilities and the industry's broader problems. Some opt for head-in-the-sand delusion and denial. Others are extremely pessimistic about the industry's future. Others are more optimistic, painting a picture of serious but surmountable problems.

In broad terms, there is agreement that nuclear industries in the US, Japan and the EU ‒ in particular their nuclear export industries ‒ are in deep trouble. A February 2017 EnergyPostWeekly article says "the EU, the US and Japan are busy committing nuclear suicide."1 Michael Shellenberger, from the Breakthrough Institute and sundry other pro-nuclear lobby groups, notes that: "Nations are unlikely to buy nuclear from nations like the US, France and Japan that are closing (or not opening) their nuclear power plants."2

The Japanese government's plan to establish a major nuclear export industry is greatly weakened by Toshiba's demise. Hitachi isn't in nearly the same mess, but it has taken a hit on a failed laser enrichment venture and may struggle to fund projects such as the plan for two reactors at Wylfa in Anglesey, Wales.

Westinghouse, Toshiba's US-based subsidiary, hoped to build dozens of AP1000 reactors around the world but its prospects are greatly weakened by the disastrous AP1000 projects in Georgia and South Carolina.

French EPR reactors have been worse than AP1000s, with multi-year delays and multi-billion dollar overruns in both France and Finland. Bloomberg noted in April 2015 that Areva's EPR export ambitions are now in "tatters".3 That point still holds, and now Areva itself is in tatters.

Shellenberger said: "From now on, there are only three major players in the global nuclear power plant market: Korea, China and Russia. The US, the EU and Japan are just out of the game. France could get back in, but they are not competitive today."4

That's good news for the nuclear industries in South Korea, China and Russia. But they might end up squabbling over scraps ‒ there were just three reactor construction starts last year. South Korean companies have failed to win a single contract since the contract to build four reactors in the UAE.4 Likewise, China has made no inroads into export markets other than projects in Pakistan and Argentina.4

Russia's Rosatom has countless non-binding agreements to supply reactors ‒ and loan funding ‒ mostly in developing countries. But Russia can't afford the loan funding and most of the potential customer countries can't afford to pay the capital costs for reactors. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd says it is "highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".5

Pro-nuclear responses

There has been more than the usual amount of head-in-the-sand delusion and denial from the nuclear lobby in recent weeks. First prize for alternative facts goes to the Breakthrough Institute. Last year was "another record year" for nuclear power, according to the Institute's Jessica Lovering, with 10 reactors coming online around the world.6 But as many reactors came online in 2015, and 10 or more reactors came online in 20 years between 1967 and 1990.7 There will be many "exciting new additions" to the global reactor fleet in 2017, according to Lovering, and the UAE will be the first country to join the nuclear power club since China in 1991 (in fact the most recent newcomer countries were Romania in 1996 and Iran in 2011). Lovering has nothing to say about the crises facing nuclear utilities, or the aging of the global nuclear fleet and the hundreds of exciting reactor shutdowns expected over the next quarter-century, or any of the other problems facing the industry.

The Breakthrough Institute also offers alternative facts to its own alternative facts, with this cataclysmic assessment by Michael Shellenberger:8

"Nuclear energy is, simply, in a rapidly accelerating crisis:

  • Demand for nuclear energy globally is low, and the new reactors being built may not keep up with the closure of nuclear plants around the world. Half of all U.S. nuclear plants are at risk of closure over the next 13 years.
  • Japan has only opened two of its 42 shuttered nuclear reactors, six years after Fukushima. Most experts estimated it would have two-thirds open by now. The reason is simple: low public acceptance.
  • While some still see India as a sure-thing for nuclear, the nation has not resolved key obstacles to building new plants, and is likely to add just 16 GW of nuclear by 2030, not the 63 GW that was anticipated.
  • Vietnam had worked patiently for 20 years to build public support for a major nuclear build-out before abruptly scrapping those plans in response to rising public fears and costs last year. Vietnam now intends to build coal plants.
  • Last month Entergy, a major nuclear operator, announced it was getting out of the nuclear generation business in states where electricity has been de-regulated, including New York where it operates the highly lucrative Indian Point."

And more cataclysm from Shellenberger in another article on the "crisis that threatens the death of nuclear energy in the West":9

"The looming insolvency of Toshiba has set off a chain reaction of events that threatens the existence of nuclear power in the West:

  • Britain's plan to build six new nuclear plants ‒ based on four different plant designs ‒ in order to phase out coal by 2025 is now up in the air.
  • Britain's turmoil creates uncertainty for the French and Chinese nuclear industries ‒ as well as for another Japanese company, Hitachi ‒ that had won contracts to build other British plants.
  • In response to Toshiba's failings, one of India's leading nuclear policy experts is calling for the government to scrap existing plans with Areva, Westinghouse and Russia's Rosatom, and "Make Nuclear Indian Again" by scaling up the country's indigenous design.
  • On Wednesday [Feb.15] Mitsubishi's CEO told the Financial Times that the company is not considering a merger with Toshiba. The reason? Toshiba's nuclear design "is a totally different technology" from Mitsubishi's. 
  • A proposal by Southern Company to build a third nuclear plant based on Toshiba's Westinghouse AP1000 design in Georgia is increasingly unlikely."

Also at the ultra-gloomy end of the spectrum is this assessment by pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman in a February 5 post:10

"A sense of panic is emerging globally as Toshiba, troubled by extensive losses and fake financial reports, heads toward a complete exit from the commercial nuclear energy industry. The two countries that will be hardest hit by the expected actions will be the UK and India. Unlike the situation following the Fukushima crisis, in which the Japanese government in effect nationalized TEPCO, no bailout of Toshiba is expected to come to its rescue. ...

"After nine years of writing about the global nuclear industry, these developments make for an unusually grim outlook. It's a very big rock hitting the pond. Toshiba's self-inflicted wounds will result in long lasting challenges to the future of the global nuclear energy industry.

"Worse, it comes on top of the French government having to restructure and recapitalize Areva, its state-owned nuclear power corporation, so that it can complete two 1650 MW EPR reactors that are under construction in Europe and to begin work on the Hinkley project the UK. ...

"The risks that Westinghouse faces even if the reactor division is able to establish itself as an independent vendor to EPC [Engineering, Procurement, and Construction] firms and investors include keeping its work force intact during what could be a lengthy transition. Layoffs and cost cutting could reduce the core competencies of the firm and its ability to meet the service needs of existing customers much less be a vendor of nuclear technologies for new projects."

Will Davis, a consultant and writer for the American Nuclear Society, doesn't downplay the nuclear industry's problems but he sees them as surmountable teething problems, a "start-from-scratch scenario" for countries and companies that have largely lost the necessary expertise and infrastructure to build nuclear plants over the past generation.11

Davis notes that Toshiba will probably end its venture into nuclear power plant design and construction, that Toshiba/Westinghouse AP1000 projects in the US are "not going according to plan", that AREVA's construction of EPR plants in Finland and in France "is also not going well", and that "AREVA has collapsed, and a bailout is in progress" while "Toshiba is approaching that possibility."11

Davis offers this explanation for the troubled AP1000 and EPR projects:11

"All are FOAK or First Of A Kind Plants. Both the AP1000 and the EPR are overall new nuclear power plant designs which supposedly incorporate some previous experience and some new design features (such as modular unit construction, for example) meant to mitigate previously experienced delays in construction. Any "first ever" project ‒ even one intended to simplify things ‒ is likely to run into unforeseen delays and complications, which then should be translated as "lessons learned" to the later projects of the exact same design to fully achieve efficiencies. The first of either of these types of plants has not even been finished even though they've been under construction for years, so that what exactly the sum total of lessons learned is, is not yet even fully perceived.

"All are FOAG or First Of A Generation. By this I mean that both the AP1000 and the EPR are intended to be "Gen-III+" plants, in which certain design features, additions, or improvements deeply reduce the chances of a core damage accident when compared with previous light water reactors. This factor's full impact is not yet known or perhaps even fully analyzed, but it becomes quite significant when one realizes that the plain Gen-III plants being built by South Korea and by China are not experiencing any construction delays. It will only be after the Gen-III+ projects are completed that a full assessment can be made as to whether or not this particular point is a factor, but for historians it's already clear that this is a comparison that needs to be monitored, fully analyzed and recorded.

"All are being built by nations which have a multi-decade gap in the process of designing and constructing nuclear power plants. It only takes a generation to lose the base to successfully construct nuclear power plants, as was plainly put by Framatome in the 1970's (this was AREVA's predecessor) when it implored the French government to order a nuclear plant a year "or else lose the whole nuclear enterprise." This did not occur, and the enterprise was lost. By "enterprise" I mean the institutional knowledge gained from years of constant nuclear plant building, which really is a "design-construct-learn-design-construct-learn" process that requires constant work. The loss of institutional knowledge, industrial capability and construction capability is keenly felt now in both nations' projects. It should be noted that decades of continuous work have been going on in China and South Korea, and their projects are running vastly better than the US and French projects.

"The factors above are quite enough by themselves to lead any new nuclear project into distress if they're present, and as we see all of the US construction is in trouble to some degree as are the EPR projects. ... Finally it should be pointed out that none of this indicates that large, gigawatt-class light water reactor nuclear power plants are "dead." In fact, it points out that nations which think nuclear is important should make moves to never halt fully the construction of nuclear power stations. The Chinese, and South Koreans are, once again, delivering on time ‒ so it IS possible with large light water plants. The important thing is to realize that the skills and industry required will evaporate quickly once the last light goes out ‒ and wishing to return and turn the light back on, one will find the whole building missing. It almost is a start-from-scratch scenario."


Many of the proposals from the nuclear industry and its supporters involve sacrificing safety in order to reduce costs. Such proposals include weakening safety regulations; abandoning Generation 3/3+ reactors in favour of Generation 2 reactor types (or redefining Generation 2 reactor types as Generation 3/3+); and overturning the established scientific position that even the smallest doses of ionizing radiation can cause morbidity and mortality.

How to convince the public to accept reduced nuclear safety standards? In a word: spin. The game-plan is to sell reduced safety standards dressed up in euphemisms like 'improving social acceptance' or overcoming the 'paradigm of fear'. Shellenberger, for example, wants "higher social acceptance" but he also wants weakened safety regulations such as the repeal of a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule designed to strengthen reactors against aircraft strikes.8 He squares the circle between higher social acceptance and weakened safety regulations with spin and sophistry, claiming (without evidence) that the NRC's Aircraft Impact Rule "would not improve safety" and claiming (without evidence) that the NRC "caved in to demands" from anti-nuclear groups to establish the rule.

Shellenberger rails against the "$500 million annual [anti-nuclear] lobby that does everything it can to deliberately make nuclear expensive."9 He argues that nuclear power "almost never harms anybody" so "it's simply not clear that making [nuclear] plants any safer is actually possible".9 So nuclear critics were wrong to call for strengthened regulation, and strengthened earthquake and tsunami protections, before the Fukushima disaster? Shellenberger claims that the "overwhelming amount of harm caused by accidents are due to fear and panic, not radiation exposure."9

The weak skills base is widely acknowledged to be a problem. Vast numbers of staff, skilled across a range of disciplines, need to be trained and employed if the nuclear power industry is to move ahead (or even survive). But utilities and companies are firing, not hiring, and making a perilous situation much worse ... possibly irretrievable. As we've seen over the past decade, a weak skills base leads to reactor project delays and cost overruns, and that in turn leads one after another country to abandon plans for new reactors.

Many of the proposals from nuclear advocates involve massive government / taxpayer subsidies to prop up ailing nuclear companies and reactor projects. Some advocate capitalism in its pure form (socializing losses and privatizing profits) with socialism (nationalization of troubled companies and direct government investment in nuclear projects) as a back-up plan.

A contrary view was expressed by Neil Collins in the Financial Times: "It's telling that after 60 years of mostly successful operation, commercial viability still eludes the nuclear power industry. ... Appealing for fresh state aid looks like a desperate last throw of the nuclear dice. If an industry cannot finance its own projects after half a century of development, it may be time to try another industry."12


1. Karel Beckman, 10 Feb 2017, 'The OECD's nuclear suicide',

2. Michael Shellenberger, 13 Feb 2017, 'Why its Big Bet on Westinghouse Nuclear is Bankrupting Toshiba',

3. Carol Matlack, 17 April 2015, 'Areva Is Costing France Plenty',

4. Kana Inagaki, Leo Lewis and Ed Crooks, 15 Feb 2017, 'Downfall of Toshiba, a nuclear industry titan',
5. Steve Kidd, 6 Oct 2014, "The world nuclear industry – is it in terminal decline?",

6. Jessica Lovering, 7 Feb 2017, 'Another Record Year for Nuclear Power',


8. Michael Shellenberger, 13 Feb 2017, 'Why its Big Bet on Westinghouse Nuclear is Bankrupting Toshiba',

9. Michael Shellenberger, 17 Feb 2017, 'Nuclear Industry Must Change ‒ Or Die',

10. Dan Yurman, 5 Feb 2016, 'Toshiba's Nuclear Projects Falling Like a Row of Dominos',

11. Will Davis, 5 Feb 2017, 'New Large Light Water Construction, USA and France',

12. Neil Collins, 17 Feb 2017, 'Dash for gas ‒ and move on from nuclear power folly',

2016 in Review: The nuclear power renaissance ‒ blink and you'll miss it

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Global nuclear power capacity increased by 9.2 gigawatts (GW) in 2016.1 By contrast, renewable electricity capacity growth was 153 GW in 20152 and almost certainly greater in 2016.

In broad terms, nuclear power has been stagnant for the past 20 years. Using figures from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency, global nuclear capacity has grown 12.7% over the past 20 years and 5.7% over the past decade. But those figures include idle reactors in Japan and the inclusion of those reactors is, as former WNA executive Steve Kidd states, "misleading" and "clearly ridiculous".3 The World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) excludes 34 idle reactors in Japan (and one each in Taiwan and Sweden) from its calculations of current nuclear capacity. Using WNISR figures, nuclear capacity has grown 1.7% over the past 20 years and it has declined by 4.6% over the past decade.



Dec. 19964

347 GW

Dec. 20064

370 GW

Dec. 2016

391 GW (WNA ‒ including reactors in long-term outage)1

353 GW (WNISR ‒ excluding reactors in long-term outage)5

If we look more closely at recent figures, the picture is a little confusing. Global nuclear power capacity increased "slightly" in 2016 according to the pro-nuclear WNA1 while the anti-nuclear WNISR said that a "significant" number of new reactors came online.5 If there's some confusion now as to the trajectory of nuclear power, that confusion is likely to grow in the next few years. To explain, let's first look at WNA figures on reactor construction starts.


Jan. 2007

Jan. 2008

Jan. 2009

Jan. 2010

Jan. 2011

Jan. 2012

Jan. 2013

Jan. 2014

Jan. 2015

Jan. 2016

Jan. 2017

























The nuclear power 'renaissance' never materialized in the since that the number of 'operable' reactors has hovered between 430 and 450 for the past 20 years, with no clear trend in either direction.6 (The number of operating reactors is currently 406 according to the WNISR, which excludes reactors in long-term outage.5).

But we can see the 'renaissance' manifest in the sharp increase in construction starts in the few years preceding the March 2011 Fukushima disaster. Those reactors are starting to come online, and more will come online in the next few years. Thus 10 reactors came online in both 2015 and 2016 (a number not previously reached since 1990). And the number of grid connections over the past five years (32 from 2012‒2016) was considerably greater than during the five years before that (17 from 2007‒2011).

How will this play out in the coming years? Here are predicted start-up (grid connection) figures compiled by the World Nuclear Association:7

2016: 12 grid connections (only 10 reactors were grid connected)

2017: 18 grid connections anticipated

2018: 10 grid connections anticipated

2019: 8 grid connections anticipated

2020: 7 grid connections anticipated

We may have been premature in declaring the nuclear renaissance dead. Indeed we're right in the middle of the renaissance. It will likely span 2‒3 years and it will be a damp squib. Last year, 10 reactors were grid connected and four were permanently shut down. In 2017‒18, the World Nuclear Association anticipates 28 grid connections7; even if the number falls short of that figure (as it will), grid connections will exceed permanent shut-downs.

But that's as good as it gets for the nuclear industry. In truth, the industry is in a world of pain.

The reactor fleet is aging; most reactors are late middle-aged. The average age of the world's nuclear reactor fleet is 29 years, and more than half have operated for more than 30 years.8 Recent statistics on reactor shutdowns are heavily shaped by the 2011 Fukushima disaster ‒ there were 13 permanent shutdowns in that year alone. In the five years before 2011, there were 15 shutdowns; in the five years after 2011, 22 shutdowns. That trend is certain to continue:

  • The World Nuclear Association estimates 132 reactor shut-downs by 2035.9
  • The International Energy Agency anticipates a "wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors" and an "unprecedented rate of decommissioning" ‒ almost 200 reactor shut-downs between 2014 and 2040.10
  • According to a recent Nuclear Energy Insider article, up to 200 reactors are set to go offline in the next two decades.11

Thus 6‒10 reactors will need to be commissioned each year for the next 20‒25 years just to maintain current nuclear capacity.

The number of reactors under construction is slowly dropping. Using WNA figures, 71 reactors were under construction in January 2014 compared to 60 in January 2017. According to WNISR figures, the number is down from 67 to 55 over the same period. Again, that trend seems near-certain to continue because of a sharp drop in reactor construction starts: 50 from 2007‒2011 compared to 31 from 2012‒2016.12 Last year, there were just three construction starts.12


1. World Nuclear Association, 3 Jan 2017, 'Worldwide nuclear capacity continues to grow in 2016',

2. IEA, 2016, 'Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report: Executive Summary',

3. Steve Kidd, 13 Oct 2016, 'Nuclear power in the world – pessimism or optimism?',


5. Mycle Schneider, 9 Jan 2017, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2017',

6. IAEA, 'Nuclear Power Capacity Trend',

7. World Nuclear Association, April 2016, 'Plans For New Reactors Worldwide',

8. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., 2016, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016',

9. World Nuclear Association, 'The Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2015-2035', Table 2.4,

10. IEA, 2014, 'World Energy Outlook 2014 Factsheet,

11. Karen Thomas, 25 Jan 2017, 'OECD expands decommissioning cost benchmarks ahead of closure surge',

12. Data compiled from IAEA,

Hinkley: A dramatic turn of events

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Pete Roche

On July 28 the UK Government stunned the energy industry when it announced a further review of the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station just a few hours after EDF's Board meeting in Paris agreed to approve the 'Final Investment Decision'. Executives at EDF had been expecting the Government to sign a subsidy deal for the £18 billion (US$23.4b) plant the following day. Greg Clark, the UK Business and Energy secretary, said that he needed until September to study the subsidy contract.

150 VIPs had been invited to Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England on Friday to celebrate the go-ahead for a third nuclear power station on the site. But on Friday morning the marquee was being packed away and the guests were nowhere to be seen. A delegation from the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) which had already flown into Britain expecting to sign the finalised documents to allow them to invest around one third of the project's cost, turned around and went straight back to China.

We may never know exactly what has gone on behind the scenes but it is clear that EDF had moved its final investment decision forward from September in order to bounce the new UK Government into giving its approval quickly before mounting problems become even more obvious to everyone.1

Stop Hinkley spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said: "Much of the media seems to think this is just a temporary pause and that Hinkley Point C will eventually go ahead, but if Theresa May gives this scheme just a cursory glance she will see that we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke."

According to the Financial Times2 the head of EDF, Jean-Bernard Lévy gave his fellow board members only two days to read 2,500 pages of contracts for a deal which one investment analyst described as "verging on insanity".3

The decision to review the project has been attributed by some to security concerns about Chinese involvement in the sector expressed by Mrs May's chief of staff, Nick Timothy. The Stop Hinkley Campaign has itself expressed concerns in the past about making nuclear deals with a country with such a poor health and safety record.4

Writing on the Conservative Home website last October, Timothy said the Hinkley deal could lead to the Chinese designing and constructing a third nuclear reactor at Bradwell in Essex. Security experts – reportedly inside as well as outside government – are worried that the Chinese could use their role to build weaknesses into computer systems which will allow them to shut down Britain's energy production at will.5 For those who believe that such an eventuality is unlikely, the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation – one of the state-owned companies involved in the plans for the British nuclear plants – says on its website that it is responsible not just for "increasing the value of state assets and developing the society" but the "building of national defence." MI5 believes that "the intelligence services of … China … continue to work against UK interests at home and abroad."

Mandiant, a US company that investigates computer security breaches around the world, looked into the operations of just one Chinese cyber espionage group, believed to be the Second Bureau of the People's Liberation Army of China, or 'Unit 61398'. Mandiant found that Unit 61398 has compromised 141 different companies in 20 major industries. There were 115 victims in the United States and five in the UK. The intellectual property stolen included technology blueprints, manufacturing processes, test results, business plans, pricing documents, partnership agreements, and emails and contact information.6

Timothy said "evidence like this makes it all the more baffling that the British Government has been so welcoming to Chinese state-owned companies in sensitive sectors. The Government, however, seems intent on ignoring the evidence and presumably the advice of the security and intelligence agencies. But no amount of trade and investment should justify allowing a hostile state easy access to the country's critical national infrastructure. Of course we should seek to trade with countries right across the world – but not when doing business comes at the expense of Britain's own national security."6

EDF's future threatened

Perhaps of more immediate concern is that a go-ahead for Hinkley could threaten the future of the company itself. EDF is a company in a very precarious financial situation. The ratings agency, S&P, postponed a decision to downgrade its credit rating when the UK Government announced the review.7 EDF has €37 billion (US$41b) of debt. The collapse in energy prices pushed earnings down 68% in 2015. The company needs to spend €50 billion (US$55.4b) upgrading its network of 58 aging reactors by 2025. It is scrambling to sell €4 billion (US$4.4b) of new shares and €10 billion (US$11.1b) of assets to strengthen its balance sheet. EDF is also expected to participate in the €5 billion (US$5.5b) bailout of Areva, the bankrupt developer of EPR technology, by taking a 75% stake.8 About the last thing it needs is a new €15 billion (US$16.6b) millstone around its neck.9

Roy Pumfrey said: "The EDF Board should take the opportunity presented by this pause to see that its Nuclear SatNav has taken the Company down a dead end; it's only a matter of time before we hear that voice saying "At the next opportunity, turn around!"'

He continues: "Perhaps most disappointing if not unexpected has been the reaction of the big UK Union leaders. Whilst confessing themselves 'baffled' by the government's 'bonkers' decision, they should ask why the French union leaders representing EDF's own workers were (and are) solidly and vocally opposed to HPC. This project involves a reactor which many of EDF's own staff regard as unconstructable, selling off the family silver to fund it and putting EDF and therefore their own livelihoods at risk."

Over recent months several different alternatives to building Hinkley Point C have been detailed.10 Most recently consultancy firm Utilitywise has described the proposed nuclear station as an "unnecessary expense". Energy efficiency measures could save the equivalent amount of electricity along with £12bn.11

Roy Pumfrey said: "This Government review of Hinkley Point C provides us with a wonderful opportunity to turn Somerset into a sustainable energy hub for England. The alternatives would be better for jobs, better for consumers, would reduce the mountain of dangerous waste we don't know how to deal with and save Somerset from a decade of disruption caused by one of the biggest construction projects in the world. The sooner EDF and the UK Government come to their senses the better."

Anti-Hinkley Tories

Perhaps most interesting amongst recent events has been the emergence of Conservative figures calling on the government to call time on the Hinkley proposals. The think-tank Bright Blue, whose advisory board includes former ministers Francis Maude and Nicky Morgan and former energy minister Greg Barker, has said the government needs a new "plan A". The group stresses that its position is not necessarily endorsed by all members of the organisation, which includes more than 100 parliamentarians. "The Government should abandon Hinkley C – pursuing it in light of all the evidence of cost reductions in other technologies would be deeply irresponsible," said Ben Caldecott, associate fellow, Bright Blue. "We need a new 'Plan A'. This must be focused on bringing forward sufficient renewables, electricity storage, and energy efficiency to more than close any gap left in the late 2020s by Hinkley not proceeding. This would be sensible, achievable, and cheap." Zac Goldsmith, also a Bright Blue member, has welcomed the government's rethink.12

Caldecott, writing on the Conservative Home website, said "we seem to be re-entering reality, there is an opportunity to develop a new 'Plan A' … A range of technologies can easily fill the envisioned capacity that Hinkley would have provided in the late 2020s had it been successfully delivered on the current (and already significantly delayed) construction schedule. They can also do this much more cheaply. Cancelling Hinkley would provide greater certainty for investors in other technologies thereby encouraging investment in new capacity today."13

He said the price of onshore wind is already much cheaper than nuclear (£85/MWh today and expected to fall to £60/MWh by 2020), with large-scale PV (expected to fall to £80/MWh by 2020) and offshore wind (expected to fall to £80/MWh by 2025) set to do the same – all well before Hinkley would start to receive its staggeringly high guaranteed and index-linked £92.50/MWh.

He goes on to say that Bright Blue will be publishing specific recommendations on energy efficiency soon, and that small modular nuclear reactors are very unlikely to be commercially available at all, let alone before the 2030s in any scalable, cost-competitive or politically acceptable way. They are too uncertain in terms of likelihood and cost for us to place too much faith in them yet, apart from perhaps investing in more R&D. "Blind faith in new nuclear and shale gas have yielded precisely zero for UK security of supply, despite constant rhetoric to the contrary, and yet more punts in high risk areas would not be prudent."

Take action

Friends of the Earth – Scotland is asking people to write to Theresa May to express opposition to Hinkley Point C going ahead:

Greenpeace UK is asking supporters to sign a petition to Chancellor Philip Hammond to help convince him to abandon the project and back renewable energy instead:

This is an expanded version of an article published in nuClear News No.87, August 2016,


1. Times 30 July 2016

2. FT 1 Aug 2016

3. Guardian 7 March 2016


5. Times 16 October 2015

6. Conservative Home 20 October 2015

7. Reuters 29 July 2016

8. Times 7 May 2016

9. The Street 25 April 2016

10. Stop Hinkley 16 May 2016 See also Environmental Research Web 6 Aug 2016

11. Edie 1 August 2016

12. Solar Portal 29 July 2016

13. Conservative Home 30 July 2016

Hinkley Point-B2

Nuclear power down for the count

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Author: Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor editor

Ten new power reactors began supplying electricity last year (eight of them in China), and eight reactors were permanently shut down.1 Thus nuclear power's 20-year pattern of stagnation continues.

At the end of 1995, there were 434 operable reactors2; now there are 439. Moreover the 439 figure includes 41 reactors in Japan that have been shut-down for several years, and not all of them will be restarted. Current global nuclear capacity of 382 gigawatts (again including those 41 reactors in Japan) is 12% higher than the 1995 figure of 341 GW (an annual growth rate of 0.6%).













Construction began on seven reactors last year, and a total of 67 power reactors are now under construction.1

The nuclear power industry's malaise was all too evident at the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris in December. Former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd noted:

"It was entirely predictable that the nuclear industry achieved precisely nothing at the recent Paris COP-21 talks and in the subsequent international agreement. ... Analysis of the submissions of the 196 governments that signed up to the Paris agreement, demonstrating their own individual schemes on how to reduce national carbon emissions, show that nearly all of them exclude nuclear power. The future is likely to repeat the experience of 2015 when 10 new reactors came into operation worldwide but 8 shut down. So as things stand, the industry is essentially running to stand still."3

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, only seven out of 196 countries mentioned nuclear power in their climate change mitigation plans prepared for the COP21 conference: China, India, Japan, Argentina, Turkey, Jordan and Niger.4

China's great leap forward

With 30 operable reactors, 24 under construction, and many more in the pipeline, China remains the only country with significant nuclear expansion plans.5 China is unlikely to meet any of its targets – 58 GW by 2020, 110 GW by 2030 and up to 250 GW by 2050 – but growth will be significant nonetheless. Growth could however be derailed by a serious accident, which is all the more likely because of China's inadequate nuclear safety standards, inadequate regulation, lack of transparency, repression of whistleblowers, world's worst insurance and liability arrangements, security risks, and widespread corruption.

Over the next 10–20 years, global nuclear capacity may increase marginally, with strong growth in China more than masking patterns of stagnation and decline elsewhere. Beyond that, the aging of the global fleet of power reactors will be sharply felt: the International Energy Agency anticipates almost 200 permanent shut-downs by 2040.6 Steve Kidd notes that the industry is running to stand still, and it will have to run faster to stand still as the annual number of shut-downs increases.

Growth elsewhere?

India is the only other country where there is a possibility of significant nuclear growth in the nearish-future. But nuclear growth in India has been modest – six reactor start-ups over the past decade7 – and may remain so. In early 2015, India claimed to have resolved one of the major obstacles to foreign investment by announcing measures to circumvent a liability law which does not completely absolve suppliers of responsibility for accidents.8 But those claims were met with scepticism and a capital strike by most foreign suppliers is still in effect. Strong public opposition – and the Indian state's brutal response to that opposition – will likely continue to slow nuclear expansion.9

In mid-January 2016, the latest auction of solar energy capacity in India achieved a new record low price of 4.34 rupees/kWh (US$0.064; €0.059). Energy minister Piyush Goyal said: "Through transparent auctions with a ready provision of land, transmission and the like, solar tariffs have come down below thermal power cost."10

Russia has 35 operating reactors and eight under construction (including two very low power floating reactors).11 Only six reactors have started up over the past 20 years, and only four over the past decade. The pattern of slow growth will continue.

As for Russia's ambitious nuclear export program, Steve Kidd noted in October 2014 that it "is reasonable to suggest that it is highly unlikely that Russia will succeed in carrying out even half of the projects in which it claims to be closely involved".12

South Korea has 25 operable reactors and three under construction.13 Six reactors have started up over the past decade.

South Africa plans 9.6 GW of new nuclear capacity to add to the two Koeberg reactors. But the nuclear program is more theatre than reality. Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman states:

"South Africa's plans to build 9.6 GW of nuclear power will continue to be embroiled in political controversy and be hobbled by a lack of realistic financial plans to pay for the reactors. Claims by both Rosatom and Chinese state nuclear firms that they have won the business are not credible. Even if written down on paper, these claims of contracts cannot be guaranteed in the long term due to the political twists and turns by South African President Jacob Zuma. Most recently, he burned through three finance minister over differences about whether the country could afford the cost of the reactors said to be at as much as US$100 billion including upgrades to the electrical grid. Additionally, Zuma is distracted by political and personal scandals."14

Brazil's nuclear industry provided some theatre in 2015 with the arrest of Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, the former CEO of Brazil's nuclear power utility Eletronuclear, for allegedly accepting bribes to fix the bidding process for the Angra 3 reactor under construction 100 km from Rio de Janeiro.15 Fourteen other people were also charged as a result of the federal police's Operation Radioactivity. "The arrest is a tragedy for the industry," said former Eletrobras' chief executive Luiz Pinguelli Rosa. "The industry was already in crisis, but now the corruption concerns are bound to delay Angra 3 further and cause costs to rise even more."

Newcomer countries: The World Nuclear Association claims that "over 45 countries are actively considering embarking upon nuclear power programmes."16 There's no truth to the claim. Only two 'newcomer' countries are actually building reactors − Belarus and the United Arab Emirates. Other countries might join the nuclear club but nuclear newcomers will be few and far between. Moreover, some countries are phasing out nuclear power. Countries with nuclear phase-out policies include Germany, Belgium, Taiwan, and Switzerland. Other countries – e.g. Sweden – may phase out nuclear power partly as a result of deliberate government policy and partly because of natural attrition: aging reactors are being shut down without replacement.

Stagnation and decline

Patterns of stagnation or slow decline in north America and western Europe can safely be predicted. In 2014, the European Commission forecast that EU nuclear generating capacity of 131 GW in 2010 will decline to 97 GW in 2025. The European Commission forecasts that nuclear's share of EU electricity generation will decline from 27% in 2010 to 21% in 2050, while the share from renewables will increase from 21% to 51.6%, and fossil fuels' share will decline from 52% to 27%.17

The most important nuclear power story of 2015 was legislation enacted in the French Parliament in July that will reduce nuclear's share of electricity generation to 50% by "around" 2025, and caps nuclear capacity at the current level of 63.2 GW. The legislation also establishes a target of 32% of electricity generation from renewables by 2030, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 20% reduction in overall energy consumption by 2030.18,19,20

In April 2015, a report by ADEME, a French government agency under the Ministries of Ecology and Research, shows that 100% renewable electricity supply by 2050 in France is feasible and affordable.21

French EPR reactor projects in France and Finland are three times over budget and many years behind schedule. In April 2015 it was revealed that EPRs under construction in France and China may have cracked pressure vessels.22,23

A January 2016 update to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report discusses the miserable state of the French nuclear industry:

"The French state-controlled AREVA, having announced an outlook of a further "heavy loss" in 2015, was downgraded by credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's to B+ ("highly speculative"). On 29 December 2015, the company plunged to a new historic low on the stock market (€5.30 compared to €72.50 eight years ago). On 7 December 2015, Euronext ejected the French heavy weight Électricité de France (EDF), largest nuclear utility in the world and "pillar of the Paris Stock Exchange", from France's key stock market index, known as CAC40. One day later, EDF shares lost another four percent of their value, which led to a new low, a drop of over 85 percent from its 2007 level. ... The French nuclear industry's international competitors are not doing much better. AREVA's Russian counterpart Atomenergoprom as well as the Japanese controlled Toshiba-Westinghouse were both downgraded to "junk" ("speculative") by credit-rating agencies during the year."24

In the United States, utilities announced two more reactor shut-downs in 2015: the FitzPatrick reactor in New York will be shut down in 2016, and the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts will be closed between 2017 and 2019. Five reactors are under construction but a greater number have been shut down recently or will be shut down in the next few years. The last reactor to start up was in 1996. In August 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency released its final Clean Power Plan, which failed to give the nuclear industry the subsidies and handouts it was seeking.25

A decade ago, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was flooded with applications for US$127 billion (€117b) worth of reactor projects. Now, obituaries for the US nuclear power renaissance are being written.26

The situation is broadly similar in the United Kingdom − the nuclear power industry there is scrambling just to stand still. It should be clear by the end of this year whether the extraordinarily expensive Hinkley C EPR project will go ahead. According to the World Nuclear Association, most of the UK's reactors are to be retired by 2023.27 If other projects prove to be as expensive and difficult as Hinkley C, it's unlikely that new nuclear capacity will match retirements.

In Japan, only two of the country's 43 operable reactors are actually operating. Perhaps half or two-thirds of the reactors will eventually restart. Five reactors were permanently shut down in 2015, and the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have been written off. Before the Fukushima disaster, Tokyo planned to add another 15−20 reactors to the fleet of 55, giving a total of 70−75 reactors. Thus, Japan's nuclear power industry will be around half the size it might have been if not for the Fukushima disaster.

New reactor types to the rescue?

Rhetoric about super-safe, better-than-sliced-bread Generation IV reactors will likely continue unabated. That said, critical reports released by the US and French governments last year may signal a shift away from Generation IV reactor rhetoric.

The report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) − a government authority under the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health − states: "There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen."28 IRSN is also sceptical about safety claims: "At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors ... "

The US Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2015 on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other 'advanced' reactor concepts in the US.29 The report concluded:

"While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges. Both SMRs and advanced reactors require additional technical and engineering work to demonstrate reactor safety and economics ... Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs [light water reactors] or power plants using other fuels ... Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant."

According to a US think tank, 48 companies in north America, backed by more than US$1.6 billion (€1.48) in private capital, are developing plans for advanced nuclear reactors.30 Even if all that capital was invested in a single R&D project, it would not suffice to commercialize a new reactor type.

Dan Yurman notes in his review of nuclear developments in 2015: "Efforts by start-up type firms to build advanced reactors will continue to generate a lot of media hype, but questions are abundant as to whether this activity will result in prototypes. For venture capital firms that have invested in advanced designs, cashing out may mean licensing a design to an established reactor vendor rather than building a first-of-a-kind unit."14


1. WNN, 4 Jan 2016, 'World starts up 10, shuts down eight, nuclear reactors in 2015',


3. Steve Kidd, 8 Jan 2016, 'After COP-21 - where does nuclear stand?',
4. Miklos Gaspar, 18 Dec 2015, 'Q&A: What's Next After COP21?',

5. Andrew Topf, 27 Dec 2015, 'China's $1 Trillion Nuclear Plan',

6. International Energy Agency, 2014, 'World Economic Outlook 2014',


8. 30 Jan 2015, 'A breakthrough with India's nuclear liability law?', Nuclear Monitor #797,

9. Kumar Sundaram, 15 Oct 2015, 'Koodankulam nuclear plant in India is not working', Nuclear Monitor #812,

10. Giles Parkinson, 21 Jan 2016, 'India energy minister says solar power now cheaper than coal',


12. Steve Kidd, 6 Oct 2014, "The world nuclear industry – is it in terminal decline?",


14. Dan Yurman, 20 Dec 2015, '2016 Look Ahead for Nuclear Energy',

15. 23 Sept 2015, 'Brazil's nuclear power program in crisis', Nuclear Monitor #811,


17. WNN, 9 Jan 2014, 'Policies hold European nuclear steady',

18. Tara Patel, 23 July 2015, 'France Passes New Energy Law Quadruples Carbon Price',

19. WNN, 23 July 2015, 'French energy transition bill adopted',

20. Michael Stothard, 26 Nov 2015, 'France's nuclear industry on back foot over new energy law',

21. Terje Osmundsen, 20 April 2015,

L'Agence de l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie (ADEME), 2015, 'Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvelable en 2050',

22. 15 Oct 2015, 'EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK', Nuclear Monitor #812,

23. 7 May 2015, 'European Pressurized Reactors − a negative learning curve on steroids', Nuclear Monitor #803,

24. 4 Jan 2016, 'World Nuclear Industry Status as of 1 January 2016: Mind the China Effect',

25. Tim Judson, 18 Aug 2015, 'US EPA takes nuclear out of the Clean Power Plan', Nuclear Monitor #808,

26. Dan Yurman, 8 Jan 2016, 'What happened to the U.S. nuclear renaissance?',


28. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems',

Direct download:

29. U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652,


Mainstreaming the nuclear exit

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service

It's no great revelation to say that the mainstream media, fractured though it may be these days, holds great power. It's not direct power; the media can't make actual decisions. Rather, the media grabs a theme − a meme if you want − and holds on to it, and repeats it, and provides slight twists to it so it can be repeated again, until it becomes accepted wisdom. While the media, especially the mainstream media, is often behind the curve, behind reality, once it catches up and snares and spreads that meme, it doesn't take long for it to establish itself. And once a concept becomes accepted wisdom, then the actual decisions tend to follow in unison. As a group, politicians rarely stray far from accepted wisdom.

For many years, from the 1950s through the '70s, the accepted wisdom was that nuclear power was safe, advanced, and a great asset to society. Then reality crashed the party with Three Mile Island and the nation's most trusted person Walter Cronkite's terrifying (although incorrect) statement that radiation was coming through the walls of the containment building, and the accepted wisdom began to turn away from nuclear power; Chernobyl was too distant in both distance and political structure to end the industry entirely, but it was icing on the cake. And thus nuclear power began a period of decline that reached a nadir in 2000 when there was not a single reactor under construction anywhere in the western world.

But then, the media − which loves a man bites dog story − latched onto the idea pitched by nuclear PR flacks and backed by a couple dozen (in retrospect, mostly bogus) construction application licenses, that a nuclear "renaissance" was in full swing. Once again, nuclear was not only acceptable, it was a preferred energy source, free of carbon emissions. That notion − and forced payment from ratepayers by Public Service Commissions more supportive of industry than those same ratepayers − was enough to get the construction cranes set up at Vogtle and Summer at least. Limited reactor construction also resumed in Europe, and China joined the pack too.

Reality showed its cruel face again, however, as costs for those reactors spiraled upward and construction schedules indicated that for each month of construction, the utilities gained nothing − they were still the same amount of months away from completion. Adding to the crush of the "renaissance" was Fukushima, which brought the legitimate fears of the nuclear age to a new generation.

While the "renaissance" fizzled, at least the industry could take comfort in the fact that it could continue to rely on, and make money from, its large number of paid-off reactors. Except as those reactors aged and as they confronted new costs from required Fukushima-related upgrades (although those have been extremely modest, especially in the U.S.), their operating and maintenance costs increased. Even more importantly, the costs of competing electricity generation sources plummeted at the same time. The result was an ever-increasing number of existing reactors are either now losing money or on the verge of doing so.

And the mainstream media has finally picked up on that reality: that it's not just that nuclear reactors have safety issues and radioactive waste problems and the like but that nuclear power can no longer compete with the alternatives. Moreover, the changes in energy costs that cause that reality are not only making nuclear power obsolete, they are making the entire utility system and its reliance on baseload power obsolete. And the more that reality is repeated and becomes accepted wisdom, the more real decisions reflect that.

Thus, you get the EPA's Clean Power Plan dropping its intent to prop up existing reactors. The EPA's Gina McCarthy may still be giving lip service to the nuclear industry1, but where it counted the EPA did what clean energy advocates wanted, not the nuclear industry.

That's one example of a real decision.

So was the Washington DC Public Service Commission's scuttling of the proposed Exelon takeover of Pepco. Behind that decision was sincere concern both about Exelon's reliance on a failing fleet of nuclear reactors and its hostility to renewables. Exelon is now trying to sweeten the deal2 but what it doesn't seem to understand is that its roadblock is Exelon itself − perhaps the epitome of the utility of the past.

Recently there have been a plethora of articles picking up the same theme: alternatives to nuclear are cheaper than existing reactors, and that means big changes ahead for the entire utility industry.

Consider this passage from an article in U.S. News, once the most staid and Republican of the three big weekly news-magazines: "Cheap natural gas, together with plummeting prices for wind and solar, has upended the energy sector – not only making nuclear plants' huge upfront costs, endless regulatory approvals and years-long construction especially prohibitive, but undercutting the very idea of a centralized power system."3

That's exactly the kind of sentence that sparks nightmares in utility suites, especially those most dependent on nuclear and coal power.

The previous accepted wisdom, that if nothing else nuclear reactors are "carbon-free" or nearly so, and that closing them would mean giving up on fighting climate change, is also beginning to bow to reality. Because while cheap and dirty gas is indeed a competitor today, in the longer run (and not much longer), the real competition is clean renewables.

A piece from Politico − about as mainstream as it gets − focused on the perspective of a UBS analyst on Entergy's troubled Fitzpatrick and Ginna reactors. Consider how this article ended:

"The loss of the Ginna plant alone could drive the state's air emissions up 7 percent, that earlier analysis found. Losing another plant, or possibly two, will make it harder to meet tough new federal pollution standards. However, to offset the loss of New York's nuclear facilities, the state could place increasing emphasis on growing the renewable industry. 'If retirements move forward as contemplated, we see a real corresponding uplift to the renewable industry as this becomes the growing source of 'plugging' for any further holes in meeting prospective carbon targets,' he wrote."4

In other words, we don't need to worry that carbon reduction goals can't be met if reactors like Ginna close. Renewables will take their place, and will do so quickly. Indeed, the shutdown of reactors actually opens up the market for a deluge of new renewables.

There were other articles with a similar bent − one from Motley Fool, for example. The mainstream media have finally caught on. It's not just GreenWorld and a few other clean energy blogs anymore. Nuclear power can't compete. Moreover, there is no downside to that. In fact, it's all upside. Closing reactors will hasten the clean energy future and the transformation of electric utilities generally.

The long-sought phase-out of nuclear power began in 2013. It's taken a short break since then, but it's about to resume (indeed it has resumed with Entergy's October 13 announcement that the single-reactor Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts will close by mid-2019). Over the next 18 months or so, state legislatures and regulatory bodies will be making decisions about bailing out a host of troubled reactors. But for the nuclear industry, those decisions are coming too late. Their timing couldn't be much worse. It's not just that bailing out big baseload reactors (and old coal plants for that matter) no longer makes economic sense, it's that the very existence of those obsolete reactors stands in the way of clean energy expansion. Understanding that, and for politicians knowing that it is accepted wisdom, makes the decisions very easy.






Fanciful growth projections from the World Nuclear Association and the IAEA

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

The 17th edition of the World Nuclear Association's biennial 'Nuclear Fuel Report' has been released.1 According to the WNA, the report is "definitive reference source of the world industry" and is available for £870 (US$1340, €1200). Some would say the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report is the definitive source − and it's free!2

"Nuclear electricity output is set to increase at a faster rate over the next five years than we have seen for more than two decades," said WNA director general Agneta Rising.3 The claim is disingenuous given that growth over the past two decades has been negligible − there was 438 operational reactors at the end of 2014 compared to 434 in 1995.4

The WNA provides three scenarios for nuclear power from 2015 (379 gigawatts capacity) to 2035. In the 'reference' and 'upper' scenarios, nuclear reaches 552 GW and 720 GW respectively − growth of 46−90% over 20 years. In the 'lower' scenario, nuclear capacity stagnates until 2030 and then declines with "many" reactor closures in the period to 2035.

The middle 'reference' scenario in such reports is typically promoted as being the most credible − by industry bodies themselves and by the mainstream media. Thus Reuters reported: "The World Nuclear Association Nuclear Fuel report forecasts global nuclear capacity will grow to 552 gigawatts equivalent (GWe) by 2035 from 379 GWe currently, as many countries build new plants as a lower-carbon option and for energy security."3

However, based on long experience, a rule of thumb to apply to projections from nuclear promotional bodies is to ignore the upper and middle/reference scenarios but give some credence to the low scenario. Even the WNA's reference scenario of 46% nuclear capacity growth in 20 years − a compound annual growth rate of 1.9% − is modest and falls well short of matching industry rhetoric about a nuclear 'renaissance'.

The WNA states:

"In both established and potential markets, nuclear power faces an increased competitive challenge from other modes of generation especially in deregulated markets, while continuing to face regulatory and political hurdles. Electricity demand growth is low in most of the countries where nuclear power is well-established, but remains strong in many developing countries and it is in these countries that the great majority of nuclear capacity growth is to be expected."1

The WNA's wishful thinking is at odds with a recent assessment by Steve Kidd, an independent consultant and economist who worked for the WNA for 17 years. Kidd writes:

"Looking forward, despite the many forecasts that point to sustained growth of nuclear, there will be a substantial number of reactor closures. ... Closures for economic reasons are increasingly worrying. Electricity markets are changing rapidly and grids are getting integrated. The incursion of cheap shale gas and lots of renewable power is beginning to cause acute problems for today's operating nuclear units. Loadfollowing, which is economically sub-optimal, will become essential for some reactors to continue. Even where production costs are maintained at low levels, revenues become unstable and reactors can start losing money. Incentives for zero-carbon and reliable operation are found to be insufficient. It is almost certain that further units in the US will close for these reasons. In Europe, the same is likely to happen as the renewable power input surges upwards. ...

"We have learned one thing for certain: it's a lot easier to shut a reactor down than to build a new one. There are alternatives to nuclear for power generation and the competition is getting continuously stiffer. Hence well-researched and articulate critiques against the concept of any nuclear growth ... such as the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report, are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The combination of aging operating reactors, delayed construction plans combined with escalating costs of new units and competition from renewable power technologies is becoming a compelling story to any lay reader. ...
"Whether the number of reactor start-ups exceeds the number of closures depends on China. Over the next few years, the number of start-ups (five to six per annum) combined with Japanese reactors returning to service should certainly outweigh the number of closures. But in the 2020s things get more unpredictable for both closures and start-ups. Most people's expectations of Chinese growth in nuclear have been cut back substantially. ... Russia's domestic program has also slowed, while many of the claimed reactor export deals are little more than statements of intent. India remains something of an enigma, but it shows few signs of overcoming general problems in completing major infrastructure projects, including local land rights and volatile public opinion."

"The optimistic view that nuclear will eventually take up the substantial place allocated for it in energy scenarios that mitigate climate change (e.g. some of the scenarios in the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook or the main case in the IEA/OECD-NEA Technology Roadmap − Nuclear Energy) holds increasingly little water."

IAEA report

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has produced the 35th edition of its publication, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050'.5 The report provides estimates of energy, electricity and nuclear power trends up to the years 2030 and 2050. The IAEA has yet again downwardly revised its projections of nuclear power growth, and now projects capacity growth by between 2.4% and 68% from 2014 to 2030 (average annual capacity growth of 0.1−3.3%). Uncertainty related to energy policy, license renewals, shutdowns and future constructions accounts for the wide range, the IAEA states.

The IAEA notes numerous "challenges":

"Over the short term, several factors are weighing on the growth prospects of nuclear power, leading to temporary delays in deployment of some plants, according to the report. These factors include low prices for natural gas, subsidized renewable energy sources, and the global financial crisis, which presents hurdles for capital-intensive projects. Heightened safety requirements as a result of stress tests introduced in the wake of the Fukushima accident and the deployment of advanced technologies have also contributed to delays."6

Effects of the Fukushima accident include "earlier than anticipated retirements, delayed or possibly cancelled new construction, and increased costs owing to changing regulatory requirements".5

For many years the IAEA has indulged in the subterfuge of talking about 'operable' reactors, including those that are not operating but might one day be restarted. In its latest report the IAEA is even more disingenuous − all 'operable' reactors are now described as being 'in operation' even though a good number are not (in particular, 42 reactors in Japan).

The IAEA notes that more than half of the world's 438 power reactors 'in operation' are over 30 years old. Despite the need to replace "scores" of retiring reactors, the IAEA claims that nuclear power is still set to maintain − and possibly increase − its role in electricity generation. "In order to maintain such a role, each retiring reactor would need to be replaced," said David Shropshire, the mathematically-challenged head of the IAEA's Planning and Economic Studies Section.6

In fact, nuclear power accounted for 17.6% of world electricity generation in 1996 but just 11.1% in 2014, and it will not maintain that share unless fanciful growth projections are realized and/or total electricity generation and demand stagnate. According to the IAEA report, nuclear accounted for 11.1% of total world electricity generation in 2014 (in terrawatt-hours) and will account for 8.6−11.3% in 2030 and 4.2−10.8% in 2050.

The report provides regional projections:

  • Middle East and South Asia: current capacity of 6.9 GW projected to reach 25.9−43.8 GW by 2030.
  • Eastern Europe: current capacity of 49.7 GW projected to reach 64.1−93.5 GW by 2030.
  • 'Far East' (including China and South Korea): current capacity of 87.1 GW projected to reach 131.8−219 GW by 2030.
  • Western Europe: current capacity of 113.7 GW to fall to 62.7−112 GW by 2030.
  • North America: current capacity of 112.1 GW, projected capacity in 2030 of 92−139.7 GW.

The IAEA notes that its projections out to 2050 are all but meaningless given the high degree of uncertainty: "Given all the uncertainties, these estimates should be considered as suggestive of the potential outcomes."5

The report states that that nuclear power accounted for 4.6% of the world's total energy requirement in 2014, and estimates that nuclear's contribution will be 4.1−5.3% in 2030 and 2.3−4.8% in 2050.

The IAEA's 'low' scenario − negligible 2.4% growth of global nuclear capacity from 2014−2030 (0.1% annual growth) − is designed to produce "conservative but plausible" estimates, the IAEA states, and assumes a continuation of current market, technology and resource trends with few changes to policies affecting nuclear power.

To its credit, the IAEA has published data demonstrating its habit of overestimating nuclear power growth.7 The IAEA's 'high' forecasts have consistently proven to be ridiculous. For example:

  • In 1985, the IAEA's high estimate was 702 GW capacity in the year 2000, but actual capacity in 2000 was 350 GW (50% of the estimate).
  • In 1990, the IAEA's high estimate was 528 GW capacity in the year 2005, but actual capacity in 2005 was 368 GW (70% of the estimate).

Even the IAEA's 'low' forecasts are too high − by 13% on average. For example:

  • In 1985, the IAEA's 'low' estimate was 502 GW capacity in the year 2000, but actual capacity in 2000 was 350 GW (70% of the estimate).
  • In 1990, the IAEA's 'low' estimate was 450 GW capacity in the year 2005, but actual capacity in 2005 was 368 GW (82% of the estimate).

The data compiled by the IAEA shows that only one of the IAEA's forecasts has proven to be accurate − and that was just a five-year 'low' forecast of growth from 2000 to 2005.

The IAEA's forecasts have been sharply reduced since 2010 as the following table shows.

IAEA series: 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates' (






Low estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GWe)





High estimate 2030 nuclear capacity (GWe)





Estimate 2030 nuclear share of elec. generation capacity (%)(6.2% in 2014)





Estimate 2050 nuclear share of elec. generation capacity (%)





The IAEA's current 'low' estimate for 2030 (385 GWe) is down 29.5% from the pre-Fukushima, 2010 'low' estimate of 546 GWe. The high estimate (632 GWe) is down 21% from the pre-Fukushima, 2010 high estimate of 803 GWe.


1. WNA, 2015, 'The Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2015-2035', 17th edition,


3. Nina Chestney, 10 Sept 2015, 'World nuclear capacity set to grow by 45 percent by 2035',

4. IAEA, 'Nuclear Power Capacity Trend',

5. IAEA, 2015, 'Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050',,

6. Jeffrey Donovan / IAEA, 8 Sept 2015, 'IAEA Sees Global Nuclear Power Capacity Expanding in Decades to Come',

7. IAEA, 2007, Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power: Developments and Projections − 25 Years Past and Future', tables 33 and 34, p.56,