London — Some 105 GW of nuclear capacity would need to start up this decade to maintain the technology's end-2019 market position, according to Mycle Schneider Consulting's World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020.
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This implied the need to more than double the annual build rate of the past decade at a time when construction starts are in decline, the report, published Sept. 24, said.
"The required number of new units might be even higher because many reactors are being shut down long before their licenses are terminated," the report said. "The mean age at closure of the 17 units taken off the grids between 2015 and 2019 was 42.4 years."
The average age of the world's operating reactor fleet has continued to rise, reaching 30.7 years in July.
"A total of 270 reactors, two-thirds of the world's operating fleet, have operated for 31 or more years, including 81 (20% of the total) that have operated for 41 years or more," the report said.
While global operating nuclear capacity declined 2.2% from one year earlier to reach 362 GW as of mid-2020, nuclear production was up in 2019.
Global nuclear output reached 2,657 TWh in 2019, a 3.7% increase over the previous year and only 3 TWh below nuclear's historic peak in 2006.
Half of 2019's increase was due to China's nuclear output increasing by over 19%. Five nuclear generating countries (the US, France, China, Russia and South Korea) generated 70% of all nuclear electricity in the world in 2019.
Two countries, the US and France, accounted for 45% of 2019 global nuclear production, two percentage points lower than in the previous year as France's output shrank by 3.5%, it said.
Nuclear energy's share in the global generation mix edged up 0.2 percentage point to 10.35% in 2019. It peaked at 17.5% in 1996.
"Nuclear power plants are usefully producing a little less than one third of global low-carbon-emission electric power," a foreword to the report by US academic Frank von Hippel and South Korean nuclear official Jungmin Kang said.
"Increasingly, therefore, the issue is not one of nuclear new-builds but nuclear life extension. Even there, however, nuclear is struggling."
In the US, 30-year-old plants whose capital costs had been paid off could not compete economically with new renewable power plants, it said.
The operating costs of nuclear plants were high in part because 100-200 workers and guards were required on site per reactor at all times in case of accident or terrorist attack.
"Subsidies justified by their low carbon emissions have become critical to the continued operation of many US nuclear power plants," it said.