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The nuclear energy industry continues to suffer the consequences of Japan’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in 2011 following which many economies revisited their nuclear energy plans, scaling back on their nuclear dependence. Although nuclear energy consumption dropped in 2012 over the previous year and its share in total global energy consumption fell to its lowest level since 1984, it continues to be a reliable and clean-energy source of electricity for many countries.

Key Points

  • The global nuclear industry continues to suffer from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 where the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan led to an explosion and radiation crisis raising concerns associated with nuclear energy. In 2012, global nuclear output accounted for 4.5% of global energy consumption, the smallest share since 1984;
  • In 2012, global nuclear consumption fell by 6.9% annually to 560 million tonnes of oil equivalent. This was the second consecutive year of decline and the largest drop on record according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 largely due to an almost 90.0% drop in Japan’s nuclear output;
  • Following the crisis in Japan, nuclear energy plans for many countries came under review. Globally, there were 434 nuclear reactors in operation in 2012 down from 442 in 2010. Western Europe saw 11 nuclear reactors (eight reactors in Germany and three reactors in the UK) shut down over the 2010-2012 period – the highest amongst all regions;
  • Nuclear energy, however, continues to be an important source of electricity for many countries globally. About 13.0% of global electricity consumption in 2011 (latest available data) came from nuclear reactors around the world according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA);
  • Despite environmental and political concerns revolving around nuclear energy, it remains amongst the cleanest energy sources producing only 73.0 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from generating 2,518TWh of electricity, compared to 2,236 million tonnes and 1,256 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from coal and natural gas respectively according to the WNA.

Global Nuclear Energy Consumption: 2007-2012

Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013

Global Nuclear Energy Overview

  • In 2012, global nuclear energy consumption fell by 6.9% annually to 560 million tonnes of oil equivalent. This was the second consecutive year of decline and the largest drop on record according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 largely due to an almost 90.0% drop in Japan’s nuclear output;
  • On a regional basis, Europe and Eurasia continue to have the highest consumption of nuclear energy globally at 267 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2012 accounting for 47.6% of total global nuclear energy consumption, followed by North America (36.9%) and Asia (13.9%);
  • On the other hand, the Middle East and Africa region had the lowest consumption of nuclear energy with a share of 3.5% of total global nuclear energy consumption in 2012 as only two countries, South Africa and Iran generated and used nuclear energy. South and Central America had a share of 5.0% of the global total in the same year;
  • Of the 30 countries that produced and consumed nuclear energy, the USA was the leader in production of electricity by nuclear generation and consumption of nuclear energy in the world generating 8,313 hectowatts of electricity. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013, the USA consumed 183 million tonnes of oil equivalent or 32.7% of global nuclear energy consumption in 2012;
  • France and South Korea were also amongst the leaders of consumption of nuclear energy in the world accounting for 17.2% and 6.1%, respectively, of total global nuclear energy consumption in 2012. France is the largest net exporter of electricity in the world according to the WNA and about 75.0% of country’s electricity comes from nuclear energy.

Expansion in Emerging Economies and Scaling Back in Developed Economies

  • Since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 where the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country led to an explosion and radiation crisis, many economies, particularly developed economies have scaled back their nuclear energy expansion plans leading to lower global nuclear output in the following years. In 2012, global nuclear output accounted for 4.5% of global energy consumption, the smallest share since 1984;
  • Globally, there were 434 nuclear reactors in operation in 2012, down from 442 in 2010. Germany shut down eight nuclear reactors during this period – the highest in the world. As a result, electricity generated from nuclear energy in the country dropped from roughly about a quarter of total electricity produced in March 2011 to only about 18.0% in 2012 according to the WNA;
  • Japan witnessed the largest cut in nuclear energy consumption since its crisis in 2011. In 2010, the country was the third largest consumer of nuclear energy in the world consuming 66.2 million tonnes of oil equivalent. In 2012, consumption came down to 4.1 million tonnes of oil equivalent, following the shut down of 5.0 nuclear reactors between 2010 and 2012;
  • Concerns about rapidly growing energy demand and rising fossil fuel prices are leading to strong expansion of nuclear energy in emerging and developing economies like China, India, South Africa and Russia. Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) alone had 44 nuclear reactors under construction in 2012 out of 62 reactors under construction globally;
  • In 2012, China had 15 nuclear reactors in operation and 26 reactors under construction – the highest in the world. According to the WNA, the country has plans to begin the construction of more nuclear reactors over the coming years to give it a four-fold increase in nuclear capacity by 2020;
  • Russia and India had 10 and seven reactors under construction in 2012 respectively – the second and third highest in the world. India has a growing nuclear power program that aims to supply 25.0% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

Nuclear Reactors in Operation and Under Construction in Developed and Emerging and Developing Economies: 2007-2012

Source: Euromonitor International from International Atomic Energy Agency (AEA), World Nuclear Association

Nuclear Energy to Remain Popular Despite the Fukushima Disaster

Developing economies will continue to view nuclear energy as a way to improve their energy security:

  • About 13.0% of global electricity consumption in 2011 (latest available data) came from nuclear reactors around the world according to the WNA. This suggests that nuclear energy will continue to be an important source of energy for many countries globally as it provides a cheaper alternative to consumers and businesses compared to fossil fuels, like crude oil;
  • Despite environmental and political concerns revolving around nuclear energy, it remains amongst the cleanest energy sources producing only 73.0 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from generating 2,518TWh of electricity, compared to 2,236 million tonnes and 1,256 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from coal and natural gas respectively according to the WNA;
  • This can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally and slow down the process of global warming. For example, China had the highest CO2 emissions from the consumption and flaring of fossil fuels globally in 2012, at 9.1 billion tonnes;
  • Developing economies can address their power shortage problems with the expansion of nuclear energy. For example, infrastructure bottlenecks in power supply have caused severe power outages in India in 2012 hampering the business environment.

Prospects

  • According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Japan’s nuclear disaster is expected to slow the growth in nuclear power globally over the coming years but not reverse its growing trend. The world’s installed nuclear power capacity is forecast to grow from 370 gigawatts of electrical power (GWe) in 2012 to 456 GWe in 2030;
  • Despite safety concerns, improving energy security and cutting global greenhouse emissions will be the key driver of growing global nuclear energy, particularly in developing economies like China, Russia, India and Pakistan – all of which will see substantial nuclear power programmes in the coming years;
  • For the USA – the largest producer and consumer of nuclear energy, nuclear energy plans are being revisited not because of the nuclear crisis in Japan but due to the discovery and availability of natural gas at cheaper prices thanks to its shale gas revolution. In 2013, four nuclear reactors were shut down. While two were shut for maintenance, the other two were closed in part owing to low natural gas prices;
  • In October 2013, the UK signed a nuclear power deal with French utility EDF to build the country’s first new generation nuclear plant by 2023. The new reactor will contribute towards providing long term energy security to the country by lowering dependence on imported energy and also help the country achieve its carbon footprint targets;The safety of nuclear reactors and disposal of waste continues to remain a concern for many economies like Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Greece, Denmark and Norway. In these countries, anti-nuclear movements continue to generate a strong opposition to governments and businesses in realising their nuclear power programmes. Germany and Switzerland are amongst those likely to phase out their nuclear programmes over the coming years.
  • The safety of nuclear reactors and disposal of waste continues to remain a concern for many economies like Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Greece, Denmark and Norway. In these countries, anti-nuclear movements continue to generate a strong opposition to governments and businesses in realising their nuclear power programmes. Germany and Switzerland are amongst those likely to phase out their nuclear programmes over the coming years.

 

 

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