Should the government subsidize nuclear power

Nuclear power: creeping end or renaissance?

413 nuclear reactors are currently in operation in 32 of 195 states. According to the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), nuclear power covered around 10 percent of global electricity demand in 2019. In 1996 the proportion was highest and was 17.5 percent.

Most reactors were built between 1968 and 1986, mainly in Europe, the USA, the former Soviet Union and Japan. The global average age of the reactors is 31 years.

USA: Future of nuclear power uncertain

There are currently 94 nuclear reactors in operation in the US to generate electricity - more than any other country in the world. In 2019 they covered 20 percent of the electricity demand.

Most reactors were operational by 1985 and only one in the past 20 years. Construction of two reactors began in 2013. These are way behind schedule, but should go online in the next few years. The US has the oldest reactor fleet in the world with an average age of 40 years.

The future of nuclear power in the US is uncertain. It remains to be seen whether new reactors will be built to generate electricity. Although there are concepts for a new generation of reactors, it is questionable whether they could one day generate electricity as cheaply as with renewable energies.

There is no repository for highly radioactive waste in the USA. It is stored on site at the power plants.

In 1986, after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the construction of reactors around the world was stopped

Russia wants to export nuclear power plants

In Russia there are currently 38 nuclear reactors producing electricity. In 2019, they covered around 20 percent of the electricity demand. Ten new reactors have been connected to the grid in the last ten years. Two reactors have been under construction since 2018 and 2019 and should follow in the next few years. The average age of the reactors is 28 years.

Russia no longer wants to subsidize the construction of nuclear power plants in its own country. The start of new construction projects in Germany is therefore uncertain. The state-owned company Rosatom wants to earn money with the construction of reactors abroad and offers reactors including financing. According to WNISR, ten Russian reactors are currently under construction abroad; two each in Bangladesh, India, Turkey and Slovakia, one each in Iran and Belarus.

Russia does not have a repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste. Critics criticize the lack of transparency in dealing with nuclear waste.

Start of construction (2004) of a so-called fast breeder in India. It won't be finished in 2021 and will be much more expensive.

Nuclear power is becoming too expensive in India

In India there are currently 21 reactors generating electricity. In 2019, the share of nuclear power in the grid was three percent. Three reactors went online in the last ten years and six more are being built. The average age of the reactors is 23 years.

However, the expansion of nuclear power has been significantly delayed and has therefore become more expensive. Nuclear power from new reactors is thus becoming the most expensive energy.

In 2012, the Indian planning commission assumed that the total output of all reactors would increase from just under five gigawatts (GW) to up to 30 GW by 2027.

Today reactors with an output of less than seven GW are on the grid. The reactors under construction have a total capacity of four GW. Since the construction time of reactors in India is more than ten years, a maximum of eleven GW will be on the grid in 2027, almost three times less than planned.

India does not have a repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste.

In 2011, four reactors in Fukushima, Japan, were destroyed by an explosion and core meltdown

China: More renewables instead of nuclear power

China is the world leader in the construction of new nuclear power plants. In the past ten years, 37 reactors have been connected to the grid. According to WNISR, 49 reactors were generating electricity in early 2021 and 17 more reactors are currently being built. The share of nuclear power in the electricity mix was five percent in 2019.

But China also built significantly fewer reactors than originally planned in the five-year plan. At the same time, the expansion of renewable energies in China is increasing rapidly.

According to the national energy authority, 72 GW of wind power, 48 GW of photovoltaics and 13 GW of hydropower were connected to the grid in 2020. In the same year, nuclear power plants only contributed two GW of new capacity.

China has no repository for highly radioactive waste and is exploring one in the Gobi desert. The nuclear waste is currently being temporarily stored at the reactor sites.

France: billion grave atomic economy

Like no other country in the world, France has relied on nuclear power in the last few decades. 56 power plants are currently still in operation, one is under construction. In 2019, almost 71 percent of the electricity demand was covered by nuclear power. The power plants have an average age of 36 years; the last reactor was connected to the grid in 1999.

The world's largest nuclear power producer and state-owned company EDF is in debt with 42 billion euros and has to invest an estimated 100 billion euros in the continued operation of the old reactors by 2030.

It is unclear whether new reactors for nuclear power will be built in France. This decision has been postponed and will be taken by the new French government after the next election in 2022.

There is no repository for highly radioactive waste in France.

The reactor in Flamanville, France, will not be finished until 2023 - it was planned to be commissioned in 2012

Poland: No investor in nuclear power

Poland has been planning to enter nuclear power since 1980 and started building two reactors, but stopped construction after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (1986).

After that there were repeated attempts to restart. In 2014 the government passed a plan to build new reactors. The first should go online by 2024. So far, however, apart from plans, there is little concrete and no investor who still wants to generate electricity with the expensive technology.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Chernobyl after the explosion

    Due to an operator error, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what was then the Soviet Union exploded on April 26, 1986. Huge amounts of radioactive particles were catapulted into the earth's atmosphere and contaminated many countries in Europe with the subsequent precipitation. The global public only learned of the accident after a few days and of the full extent only much later.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Humanitarian disaster

    According to estimates by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the WHO, 4,000 people could have died as a result of the reactor accident. The Journal of Cancer estimates at least 15,000 deaths from cancer. These twins were born after the disaster. You were 16 years old in the photo. The father worked as a "liquidator" in the damaged power station. The mother lived nearby.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Ghost town

    The city of Pripyat is only a few kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Today Pripyat is uninhabitable - a ghost town. 43,000 people once lived here. Many men worked at the nuclear facility. A few days after the explosion, people were evacuated very quickly, leaving almost everything behind. A total of around 350,000 people had to leave their homes.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Wild boar meat is still polluted today

    The eastern border of Germany is 1,100 kilometers from Chernobyl. However, certain areas of Germany were heavily contaminated by the radioactive fallout. Even today, wild boar meat must therefore be tested for cesium 137. Sometimes the measured values ​​are too high and the meat may not be sold.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    New protective cover over the reactor

    In the meantime a gigantic steel dome has been built and pushed over the disaster reactor. The construction cost 2.2 billion euros so far and was financed by 45 countries. The protective cover is not yet tight, however, and completion may take until the end of 2018. Up to 200 tons of uranium and plutonium could be in the destroyed reactor. A long-term recovery is not foreseeable.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Photovoltaics instead of nuclear power?

    Next to the destroyed reactor is a new photovoltaic system. But wind and solar power supply only 1.5 percent of the electricity in Ukraine, 68 percent come from the 15 old reactors. Renewables are to be expanded, but Ukraine continues to rely on nuclear power and is planning to extend the terms. According to many Ukrainians, solar and wind power is more expensive than nuclear power.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    2011: Fukushima nuclear disaster

    A nuclear disaster in the high-tech country Japan was considered by many to be impossible. After a tsunami, however, there was a meltdown in three reactors and hydrogen explosions in 2011. Tokyo was almost heavily contaminated, but was still lucky. Experts reckon with 22,000 to 66,000 additional deaths from cancer. According to the Japanese government, the cost of the accident is 177 billion euros.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Fear of another nuclear accident

    Many nuclear reactors are now old and increasingly prone to failure. According to a study by the nature conservation organization BUND, German reactors are not adequately protected against floods, earthquakes and terror. Germany wants to phase out nuclear power by 2022. In other European countries, however, power plant operators want to extend the running times.

  • The Chernobyl disaster. What follows?

    Atomic bomb needs atomic power

    Electricity production with new nuclear power plants is no longer economical. Nevertheless, some reactors are still being built and planned. One motivation is the desire for the atom bomb. British scientists therefore describe the construction of the reactor at Hinkley Point as a cross-subsidization of the military nuclear program at the expense of British electricity customers.

    Author: Gero Rueter