World Nuclear Will Be Smaller before Getting Bigger

An article in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the magazine founded by Manhattan Project physicists to address global security issues in the widest sense, argues that the world nuclear industry is bound to contract in the coming decades. Though the capacity of the world reactor fleet has continued to increase modestlyâ''by 3 gigawatts per year from 2000 to 2004, then by 2 GW/yr in the following three yearsâ''much of that has resulted from â''uprating,â'' not additional construction. Uprating refers to efficiency improvements made to existing reactors, a process that has added 5 GW to U.S. nuclear capacity since the 1970s

Today, only 35 reactors are under construction worldwide, and even if additional orders are soon placed, new nuclear power plants will not come online fast enough to replace those being retired. Just to stay even, 70 additional plants would have to come into operation by 2015, and another 192 in the decade starting in 2015. Considering the average global lead time for nuclear plant construction is greater than nine years, itâ''s clear that new construction will not outpace retirements at least until late in the next decade.

Note, however, that lead times vary widely by region. In China, India, Japan, and South Korea, it takes just five years to take a nuclear power plant from conception to completion.

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