Nuclear Power: Go Big or Go Home

Even as Japan waffles on tearing its plants down, other countries are doubling down on their nuclear bets

3 min read
Nuclear Power: Go Big or Go Home

Japan made news this week with rumors and a subsequent announcement of a plan to abandon nuclear power by 2040. Then it made news again by backing off that promise thanks to industry pressure, instead saying the government would "engage in debate" about the issue. We've reported on the long line of countries aiming to phase out nukes in the wake of the Fukushima disaster here, but it's easy to forget that there are numerous countries building numerous nuclear plants and planning to build others. Here's a rundown of the ups and downs of nuclear reactors over the coming decades. Note that this isn't meant to break down the natural lifespans of reactors that may or may not be replaced, only those that countries have specifically stated will be phased out in recent years.

Baseline: The world currently has 435 nuclear reactors operating in 31 countries (according to August 2012 World Nuclear Association data). They provided 13.5 percent of the world's electricity demand in 2011.

Reactors on their way OUT:

Japan: The latest phaseout news came from Japan, the epicenter of nuclear distrust since the earthquake and subsequent meltdowns in 2011. If Japan follows through on the now-tenuous promise to phase out, that would mothball 54 reactors.

Germany: The other major power to abandon nukes since Fukushima is Germany. Some of the country's reactors are already offline and will stay that way, and for the remainder, their final fission will be by 2022, in spite of warnings of costs that could spiral into the trillions. That's another 17 reactors gone.

Belgium: Belgium joined the post-Fukushima European exodus, though nuclear has provided more than half the country's power. In total, Belgium will phase out 7 reactors by 2025 if a suitable power replacement can be found.

Switzerland: This country's five nuclear reactors, providing just under 40 percent of Switzerland's power, will be allowed to fizzle out at the end of their 50-year lifespans. This means that by 2034, 5 fewer nukes.

France: This one came as some surprise. After doubling down on nuclear power soon after Fukushima with big investments, news came from President Francois Hollande recently that France will scale back its massive nuclear capacity from around three-quarters of the country's total supply to closer to half. This could mean closing as many as 24 of 58 reactors by the mid 2020s, though the total will likely be lower. 

Total possible phased out reactors: 107

Selected reactors on their way IN:

China: China has an astonishing 26 reactors currently under construction, and the WNA says "many more are likely to be so in 2012." No country is more firmly in the pro-nuclear construction camp than China.

India: Another country leaning heavily on nukes for their future power supply is India, with 20 working reactors, current construction of another 7, and 20 more planned beyond that.

South Korea: This country plans to have nine new reactors online by 2021, with a general plan to jump from around 30 percent of electricity generation to 60 percent by 2035.

Russia: Ten new reactors are under construction in Russia, with 14 more planned.

Other countries with a handful of reactors under construction each include the United States, Finland, Slovakia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Total reactors under construction: 60—at least, with dozens more planned.

Looking at actual construction, that's more OUT than IN, but adding the planned reactors shifts the balance the other way. So it seems at this point that nuclear power will rise rather than fall, at least on a global basis.

The latest joint report from the UN's Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency found that nukes will expand between 44 and 99 percent by 2035. Over the next 10 or 15 years, a world map of nuclear plants will basically show a bunch of dots moving out of Europe and into Asia, with more dots added than subtracted.

Image via Bill & Vicki Tracey

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