This is the last in my mini-series on global nuclear power. There are 441 reactors operational world wide today with an average age of 29.3 years. The current fleet is ageing. The oldest reactors in service today are 47 years old. By assuming that reactors will close aged 50 and by making simple assumptions about the commissioning of reactors under construction and those planned I estimate that come 2036 the fleet will comprise 424 units. The number is slightly down on today but the increase in mean power rating suggests that installed capacity will increase by about 25%.
Let me begin by thanking Russian commenter Syndroma for extracting the reactor data for me from the World Nuclear Association web site.
A good starting point is to look at the age distribution of the current fleet of 441 operational reactors* (Figure 1). With a mode of 31-35 years and a life expectancy of 50 years the fleet is getting rather long in the tooth. With only 12 reactors in the 6 to 10 year category it did look as though the global nuclear industry was going to die. But there has been a renaisance in recent years, especially in countries like China, India and Russia. But is this going to be sufficient to turn nuclear fortunes around?
[* note by using the term reactor I mean a nuclear power station that may contain more than one reactor. For example, in the UK today, most nuclear power stations have two reactors.]
Figure 1 The current age distribution of the global nuclear fleet.
Table 1 The current distribution of global reactors by design type.
Table 1 shows that the current fleet is dominated by pressurised and boiling water reactors. The majority of these are Generation II reactors though some Generation III boiling water reactors were operational in Japan.
So how do we work out what the future holds? The proper way to do this would be to assemble actual data for every reactor but I have neither the time nor inclination to do that for a blog post. Instead I have assumed that reactors will be retired at age 50. Some of course will go sooner and some later. I have further assumed that the 60 reactors currently under construction will become operational in the next 10 years. (note that despite over runs at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France, that the mean time to construct a reactor is 7.5 years). I have further assumed that the 172 reactors currently planned will come into operation 10 to 20 years from now. There is of course scope for this number to grow. And finally I have ignored what is going on in Japan.
Doing this creates the following pictures for operational reactors in 2026 (Figure 2) and 2036 (Figure 3).
Figure 2 Come 2026, the number of operational reactors has declined by 7 to 434 as current new build is insufficient to replace retirement of those reactors currently in the 41 to 50 year bracket.
Figure 3 Come 2036 the number of operational reactors has declined by a further 10 units to 424.
The broad picture is one of general stability in the size of the global nuclear fleet with a slow decline in reactor numbers being compensated by a growth in the average operating capacity.
The average power rating today is 868 MWe. Hence total capacity =
441 * 868 = 383 GWe
Come 2036, 249 reactors operational today will be retired and replaced by 232 larger Generation III reactors which have a mean power rating of 1350 MWe. The capacity of the future fleet therefore will very roughly be
(192*868)+(232*1350) = 480 GWe
That represents a significant capacity increase of 25% (Figure 4).
Figure 4 The distribution shown in Figure 3 weighted for average capacity. 0 to 20 years = 1350 MW per reactor. 21 to 50 years = 868 MW per reactor.
Finally, looking further into the future we see there is just one more large cohort of reactors awaiting retirement in 2036 (Figure 3). Once those are gone the number of annual retirements falls to <30 / year. If new build continues at 80+ per year then the contribution from nuclear power to the global energy mix will rise significantly beyond 2041. I will be 84 years old and ready for retirement too 😉
The nuclear mini-series
For those wondering where the world’s 6 operational 47 year old reactors are, here ya go.