Skip to main content
Ex: Europe, Middle East, Education
Energy / Sustainable development

Nuclear Power’s Global Evolution: The Cases of China, Japan and Europe

BLOG - 2 October 2018

By Institut Montaigne

On 11 March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident occurred. After this disaster, many countries decided to replace this energy source in their mix with renewable energies and/or an increase in their use of fossil energy, including coal. In 2012, for the first time in three decades, the nuclear energy’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation dropped below 11%. How is the global nuclear energy market evolving?

The current state of nuclear energy in the world

The global nuclear energy track record is contrasted, as emphasized by the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2018. In 2017, the share of nuclear energy in the world consumption mix decreased by 0.5%. Nuclear energy production grew by 1%, while wind power output grew by 17% in 2017, and solar energy by 35%. 

In 2017, 31 countries were operating nuclear power reactors, and the world nuclear fleet generated 2,503 net terawatt-hours of electricity.

In 2017, nuclear energy production grew by 1%, while wind power output grew by 17%, and solar energy by 35%. 

The number of unities under construction decreased globally for the fifth year in a row, and went from 68 reactors at the end of 2013 to 50 by mid-2018, 16 of which are in China. Among the construction projects currently in progress, many delays and additional costs are reported. Hinkley Point in the United Kingdom and Olkiluoto in Finland are two examples of new EPR power plants with several years of delay and additional costs worth several billions.

More than half of the world's reactors are over 25 years old. The older a reactor is, the more costly maintenance and safety are, which inevitably leads to a loss of productivity.

Only four new reactors were launched in 2018: three in China and one in Pakistan.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "nuclear energy may be struggling to maintain its current position in the global energy mix" for the next decade. In recent years, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland announced they would gradually phase out of nuclear power. In the United States, construction projects have been temporarily put on hold and a number of plants considered unprofitable are being stopped prematurely.

Why has the global generation of electricity through nuclear energy increased by 1%, despite several countries having decided to remove this source from their energy mix? The answer lies within a small group of countries where nuclear energy remains a stable source of energy, or, in some cases, increases year by year. Today, China has one of the most ambitious markets for nuclear energy. 

China, the new land for nuclear energy

Most of China's electricity is produced from fossil fuels, predominantly from coal (73% in 2015). An increasing demand generated a rapid increase of consumption and sparked power shortages. Reliance on fossil fuels led to significant air pollution. According to the World Bank in 2007, the combined health and non-health cost of air and water pollution for China's economy amounted to approximately $US 100 billion a year (i.e. approximately 5.8% of the country's GDP). 

Nuclear power plays an important role in the Chinese energy transition, especially in the coastal areas and in areas where the economy is developing rapidly. Nuclear plants can generally be built close to centers of demand. China launched its first nuclear plant in 1994. In 2005, in the eleventh five-year plan, the industry entered a phase of rapid growth. The technology was mainly imported from France, Canada and Russia. There are now 36 reactors in operation, and another 20 under construction. Four have been approved, and many more are currently being designed. By 2030, 9% of Chinese power should be nuclear. This share has already increased from 2% in 2012 to 3.9% today. 

As one of 16 key national science & technology projects, nuclear energy policy is monitored at a high level in China. It thus takes advantage of China's economic and diplomatic influence to ensure a sufficient security of supply.

The first two operational reactors were recently put to use: the European Pressurized Water (EPR) reactor at Taishan was connected to the grid on 29 June 2018, and the AP1000 reactor at Sanmen was connected on 30 June 2018. As Xavier Ursat (CEO of French company EDF) tweeted at the opening of the Chinese EPR, "this is great news for the nuclear industry", but also a great economic opportunity. 

The timid renaissance of nuclear energy in Japan

After the Fukushima accident in 2011, all power stations were closed. In July 2017, four reactors were reactivated, out of the nine that were reactivated overall since the accident. In 2017, nuclear power production reached 29 TWh, thus contributing 3.6% of the nation’s annual output, which is 10 times less than in 1998. With nine reactors operating in 2018, the nuclear share will reach 6.5%, compared with 29% in 2010. 

Many Japanese citizens continue to oppose the use of nuclear energy and the restart of power plants. In a recent polling, 48% of respondents said they were opposed to nuclear restart, while 32% said they supported restart.

Prime Minister Abe’s government stated in 2015 that, by 2030, 20-22% of power generation would come from nuclear, 22-24% would come from renewable energy, and 56% would come from fossil fuels. The Japanese government started working on the revision of its Strategic Energy Plan in 2017, and the latter was approved by Cabinet on July 2018. The government announced that nuclear power would be reestablished, yet without clearly stating what its share within the energy mix would be.

The current government wants reactors to be reactivated as soon as possible. However, the amount of nuclear reactors to be re-launched still depends on several external factors. Among them, economic factors, including a cost-benefit analysis led by utilities on the implications of restart or shutdown, local political and public opposition, and the impact of electricity deregulation and intensified market competition. 

The future of nuclear power will then depend on the decisions important producing countries will take, as well as on their ability to renew and export their technology.

Resilience of nuclear energy in Europe

The European Union, through the European Commission, plays a key role in the ecological transition, as it establishes strategies and binding instruments such as the Energy Roadmap 2050. Current goals for 2020 include cutting GHG emissions down by 20%, producing 20% of renewable energy in the EU and improving energy efficiency by 20%.

The Energy Roadmap 2050 is a communication campaign launched in 2011 by the European Commission, and its goal is to tackle climate change and energy issues. It recalls the European Union’s top three priorities regarding energy: competitiveness, security and sustainability. It explores two possible scenarios for the decarbonization of energy systems, the goal being to reduce greenhouse emissions down to 80-95% below the levels of 1990 by 2050. 

According to the European Commission, nuclear energy is an important contribution to these goals. It established a strategy regarding this energy source: the Communication on a Nuclear Illustrative Program (PINC). 

The European Union’s top three priorities regarding energy: competitiveness, security and sustainability.

The number of unities under construction decreased globally for the fifth year in a row, and went from 68 reactors at the end of 2013 to 50 by mid-2018, 16 of which are in China. Among the construction projects currently in progress, many delays and additional costs are reported. Hinkley Point in the United Kingdom and Olkiluoto in Finland are two examples of new EPR power plants with several years of delay and additional costs worth several billions.The PINC was provided by Article 40 of the EURATOM Treaty: "the Commission shall periodically publish illustrative programmes indicating in particular nuclear energy production targets and all the types of investment required for their attainment". After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the European Commission updated this overview of investments in the European Union for all the steps of the nuclear lifecycle in 2017. Over half of the European Union’s electricity is produced with low-carbon energy and the PINC’s goal is to discuss the ways in which nuclear energy can contribute to the European Union’s medium- and long-term low-carbon targets. The Communication takes the current security level and future investments into account. 

Nuclear energy represents 28% of the energy production in the European Union, and 129 nuclear power plants in 14 Member States are 30 years old on average. As nuclear power plants must be stopped after 50 years of activity, the replacement of almost all plants, along with some European countries’ political decisions, will lead to the decline of nuclear power in the energy mix over the period 2020-30, which is consistent with the current trend. Nuclear power will most certainly rise from its ashes later on, when new construction projects will involve better technologies. The European Commission needs to discuss the safety of aging nuclear power plants, as well as investments during and after their lifecycle. According to the Communication, the latter will amount to approximately 3 trillion of euros by 2050. 

 

Written by Tennessee Petitjean

Crédit photo : Charly Triballeau / AFP 

 

Add new comment

Commentaire

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type='1 A I'> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id='jump-*'> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Only images hosted on this site may be used in <img> tags.

Envoyer cette page par email

L'adresse email du destinataire n'est pas valide
Institut Montaigne
59, rue la Boétie 75008 Paris

© Institut Montaigne 2017