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IAEA: slower nuclear growth after Fukushima

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

The Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident will slow growth in nuclear power but not reverse it, according to the latest projections by the IAEA. The 2011 updates take into account the effects of the 11 March 2011 accident. But this projection means that the market share of nuclear power in the world's total generation of electricity may more than halve to just over 6 percent by 2050 despite growth in the number of reactors in use.

The IAEA publishes annually two updated projections for the world's nuclear power generating capacity, a low projection and a high projection. But even in the high-growth scenario the market share will not change much from last year's 13.5 percent of total electricity generation, rising to 14 percent in 2030 before falling to 13.5 percent in 2050, the IAEA forecast said. This reflects an anticipated rapid increase in total electricity output in the world over the coming four decades - expected to more than triple by 2050.

In the updated low projection, the world's installed nuclear power capacity grows from 367 gigawatts (GW) today to 501 GW in 2030, down 8% from what was projected last year. In the updated high projection, it grows to 746 GW in 2030, down 7% from last year. A GW equals one billion watts (1000 MW) of electrical power.

The number of operating nuclear reactors increases by about 90 by 2030 in the low projection and by about 350 in the high projection, from the current total of 433 reactors. Most of the growth will occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants.

Projected growth is greatest in the Far East notably in China and India. From 81 GW at the end of 2010, capacity grows to 180 GW in 2030 in the low projection and to 255 GW in the high. These levels are, however, lower than last year's projections by 17 GW and 12 GW respectively.

Western Europe shows the biggest difference between the low and high projections. In the low projection, Western Europe's nuclear power capacity drops from 123 GW at the end of 2010 to 83 GW in 2030. In the high projection, nuclear power grows to 141 GW, but that is 17 GW below the growth projected last year.

In North America, the low case projects a small decline, from 114 GW at the end of 2010 to 111 GW in 2030. The high projection projects an increase to 149 GW, still 17 GW below last year's projection.

Other regions with substantial nuclear power programs are Eastern Europe, which includes Russia, and the Middle East and South Asia, which includes India and Pakistan. Nuclear power expands in both regions in both the low and high projections - to only slightly lower levels than projected last year. The same is true for regions with smaller programs - Latin America, Africa and South East Asia.

The low projection assumes current trends continue with few changes in policies affecting nuclear power. But it does not necessarily assume that all national targets for nuclear power will be achieved. It is a "conservative but plausible" projection.

The high projection assumes that the current financial and economic crises will be overcome relatively soon and past rates of economic growth and electricity demand would resume, notably in the Far East. It assumes stringent global policies to mitigate climate change.

The low and high projections are developed by experts from around the world who are assembled by the IAEA each spring. They consider all the operating reactors, possible license renewals, planned shutdowns and plausible construction projects foreseen for the next several decades. They build the projections project-by-project by assessing the plausibility of each in light of, first, the low projection's assumptions and, second, the high projection's assumptions.

IAEA's optimism. IAEA has always been over-optimistic about the future of nuclear power. In 1975 the IAEA made a forecast of 1,600 GW (1 GigaWatt = 1000MW) by the year 1990. In reality, nuclear power installed in 1990 was 325 GW. Their prognosis in 1975 for the year 2000 was 2,300 GW installed nuclear energy (which was half of the expectations a year before!). In 1997 the IAEA expected an installed capacity for the year 2000 of 360 GW. In December 2000, 438 nuclear power plants were in operation with a net stalled capacity of 351 GW. The 1995 IAEA prognosis assumes an increase of nuclear power by 50% in 20 years, from 345 GW in 1995 to 515 GW in 2015 (2.5%/year). Today's installed capacity is 367 GW.

Source: Reuters, 20 September 2011 /  IAEA September 2011: "Energy, electricity and nuclear power estimates for the period up to 2050" available at: