2015 was not a banner year for the global nuclear power industry, despite the start-up of 10 new reactors—the most in a quarter-century—according to an annual review funded by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the MacArthur Foundation, and three European partners.
Eight of the 10 new reactors were located in China, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016 prepared by Mycle Schneider Consulting. China also accounted for six of the year’s eight new reactor construction starts. But the country’s US$18 billion in commitments to nuclear power last year paled in comparison to the US$100 billion it invested in renewables.
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Even with a significant increase in China’s nuclear generation, the sector’s global output inched up by just 1.3% last year—while wind production grew by 17% and solar by nearly twice that much. “Brazil, China, India, Japan, and the Netherlands now all generate more electricity from wind turbines alone than from nuclear power plants,” the report notes.
Thirty-one countries operated a total of 402 power reactors in 2015, the review found, down by 36 from the 438 recorded in 2002, the industry’s peak year.
The number of new nuclear plants under construction also fell around the world, for the third year running, and “in nine of the 14 building countries, all projects are delayed, mostly by several years.” In three extreme cases, projects remain incomplete after more than 30 years. Several countries also postponed nuclear investment decisions in 2015.
Other jurisdictions, including Japan and the United States, opted to close nuclear stations early, the report observes. (Earlier this month, a former Ontario energy minister called on the provincial government to follow those jurisdictions’ example by shutting down the aging Pickering nuclear station.)
The report singles out French nuclear giant Areva as a poster child for the industry’s financial woes. After accumulating US$11 billion in losses over 60 months, and losing 95% of its market capitalization since its shares peaked in value in 2007, the company was broken up under orders of the French government. That country’s state utility, which gets three-quarters of its generation from nuclear sources and carries an accumulated debt of US$41.5 billion, had its credit downgraded.