In 2020, nuclear reactors supplied 2,553 TWh of electricity globally, down from 2,657 TWh in 2019. Despite the almost 4% decline, the nuclear power sector demonstrated resilience and flexibility responding to the overall decrease in electricity demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to the fact that nuclear reactors were increasingly being called upon to provide load-following support to the growing share of variable renewable generation.

According to the World Nuclear Association Performance Report 2021, there were 441 operable nuclear reactors at the end of 2020 with a combined capacity of 392 GWe. This total capacity has remained almost unchanged for the last three years, with new capacity additions being matched by the amount of nuclear capacity being permanently shut down. Despite some reactors curtailing generation to account for reduced demand or to offer load-following services, the global capacity factor in 2020 was still high at 80.3%, down from 83.1% in 2019, but maintaining the high performance seen over the last 20 years.

Between 2018 and 2020 there have been 26 reactors permanently shut down with a total capacity of 20.8 GWe, compared with 20 new reactors starting up, with a total capacity of 21.3 GWe. The median time for construction of reactors that are grid-connected in 2020 was 84 months, down from 117 months in 2019.

The annual performance trends are supplemented by four case studies highlighting the contribution nuclear energy makes to greenhouse gas emissions reduction. These case studies include the Grohnde nuclear power plant in Germany, which has produced 400 TWh of low-carbon electricity, the Haiyang nuclear plant in China, which is providing district heating, the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the first to be built in Turkey, and Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3 in Pennsylvania, which have been approved to operate for 80 years.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com