The nuclear industry loathes the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Reports (WNISR). The authoritative WNISRs1 provide detailed factual information on the status of nuclear power worldwide. As such, they undermine the industry's claims that nuclear power is going well and will only get better.
The industry's irritation is exacerbated by the commentary of former World Nuclear Association executive Steve Kidd, who regularly debunks industry propaganda. Last year, for example, Kidd wrote:
"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."
In response to the growing recognition and authority of the annual WNISRs, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has decided to strike back with the release of the World Nuclear Performance Report 2016, the first in what promises to be an annual series.2
The nuclear industry generally relies on a few cherry-picked factoids which skate around the simple fact that nuclear power has flatlined over the past decade, along with fanciful projections of future growth. And for the most part, that's just what the WNA report does.
But given that it purports to be a factual analysis of the status of nuclear power, the WNA report has to present some inconvenient facts ... such as the fact that nuclear power now generates "roughly 10% of the world's electricity". As WNISR-2015 notes, nuclear's current share is well down from the peak of 17.6% in 1996.3
The nuclear power industry is "growing", the WNA report claims. Which is a round-about way of saying that the industry isn't growing. Even including 41 operable-but-not-actually-operating reactors in Japan, there are no more operable reactors now than there were 20 years ago. And the WNA report itself states that nuclear power generation "has shown a slow decline since the turn of the century."
Nuclear reactors generated 2,441 terrawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2015, according to the WNA report. But as WNISR-2015 notes, the near-identical figure of 2,410 TWh in 2014 was 9.4% below the historic peak in 2006.3
The WNA notes that nuclear accounts for "around one-third of the world's low-carbon electricity supply". Which is a round-about way of acknowledging that renewables generate more than twice as much electricity as nuclear. The WNA report is silent about the spectacular growth of renewables over the past decade.
While the WNA does its best to put a positive spin on nuclear power's precarious situation, there's also some realpolitik such as this:
"[T]he situation facing the nuclear industry globally is challenging. Established fleets in several European countries face public acceptance issues and a negative policy environment; there are tough economic conditions for operators not only in some deregulated energy markets such as in parts of the USA, but also in European countries where electricity prices have been depressed by a growing share of renewable technologies subsidised to produce regardless of whether their electricity is needed or not."
The WNA report claims that nuclear power in Europe "is appearing more attractive in the face of the EU's measures to reduce carbon emissions and the Energy Union goal to increase collective energy security." Yet every serious analysis of nuclear power in Europe projects decline in the coming decades, most recently the European Union's 'PINC' report.4
The WNA itself acknowledges that there are just four reactors currently under construction in western and central Europe and that all of them are behind schedule.
The WNA claims that the future of nuclear power in Japan is "crystallising" with the first reactor restarts last year. But the future of nuclear power in Japan is as clear as mud. Twelve of Japan's power reactors have been permanently shut down in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster (including the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors). Of the 43 'operable' reactors, only two are operating. Perhaps one-third will eventually restart, perhaps two-thirds, perhaps less, perhaps more.
The WNA claims that "substantial progress" has been made towards the commercialization of small and advanced reactor designs. Which is a round-about way of saying that substantial progress has not been made towards the commercialisation of small and advanced reactor designs. Reports released last year by the French and U.S. governments give the lie to the WNA's claims.
The report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety 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."5 The US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other 'advanced' reactor concepts in the US concluded:6
"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."
More reactors came online last year than at any time in the past 25 years, the WNA report states. Yes, 10 reactors came online last year, but there were also eight shut-downs. As Steve Kidd wrote in January 2016: "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."7
The WNA report states: "Construction times for new reactors have improved over the last 15 years, with reactors coming on line in 2015 having an average construction time of around six years." But a large majority of those reactors came online in China. WNISR-2015 noted that the average construction time of the latest 40 reactors (in nine countries) that started up since 2005 was 9.4 years.3
The WNA report states that more reactors are under construction than at any time in the last 25 years. But as WNISR-2015 noted, at least three-quarters of all reactors under construction worldwide are delayed; and 16 of 18 Generation III+ reactors (AP1000, Rosatom AES-2006, EPR) are delayed.3
And the WNA report has little to say about the aging of the global reactor fleet and reactor closures. The International Energy Agency expects a "wave of retirements" ‒ almost 200 closures by 2040.8
The WNA report claims that 158 reactors are in the planning stage ‒ approval has been granted and/or funding has been committed by a developer. However a good number of those reactors will never the light of day. For example the WNA lists9 18 planned reactors in the USA, 9 in Japan, 25 in Russia, and 24 in India. But nuclear power is in retreat in the USA and Japan, and growth has been very slow in Russia and India.
The WNA report claims that "older plants operate as well as younger plants." But the aging of nuclear plants is creating all sorts of problems. The industry faces an escalating battle to keep aging reactors running as about a quarter of components and computer systems become obsolete, according to nuclear plant owners. A recent survey of people employed in the industry found 86% thought the age of the plants was having a moderate or significant effect on efficiency.10
Funding safety upgrades for old reactors is another problem. In France, for example, it's anyone's guess how the nuclear utilities will fund new reactors as well as the €100 billion required by 2030 to upgrade the existing fleet.11
2. World Nuclear Association, June 2016, 'World Nuclear Performance Report 2016', http://world-nuclear.org/our-association/publications/online-reports/wor...
3. Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt et al., July 2015, 'World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2015', www.worldnuclearreport.org/-2015-.html
4. 21 April 2016, 'The steady decline of nuclear power in Europe', Nuclear Monitor #822, www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/822/steady-decline-nuclear-pow...
5. IRSN, 2015, 'Review of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems', www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Pages/20150427_Generation-IV-nuclear-energy...
Direct download: www.irsn.fr/EN/newsroom/News/Documents/IRSN_Report-GenIV_04-2015.pdf
6. U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 2015, 'Nuclear Reactors: Status and challenges in development and deployment of new commercial concepts', GAO-15-652, www.gao.gov/assets/680/671686.pdf
7. Steve Kidd, 8 Jan 2016, 'After COP-21 - where does nuclear stand?', www.neimagazine.com/opinion/opinionafter-cop-21---where-does-nuclear-sta...
8. International Energy Agency, 2014, www.iea.org/media/news/2014/press/141112_WEO_FactSheet_Nuclear.pdf
10. Paul Brown, 6 June 2016, 'Nuclear plants face crisis of ageing', http://climatenewsnetwork.net/nuclear-plants-in-crisis-over-ageing-parts/
11. World Nuclear News, 11 Feb 2016, 'EDF faces €100 billion reactor upgrade bill, says audit office', www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-EDF-faces-EUR100-billion-reactor-upgrade-b...