World nuclear power production dropped by a record 4.3 percent last year as the global financial crisis and the Fukushima disaster in Japan prompted plant shutdowns and slowed construction of new sites.
Reactors generated 2,518 terawatt-hours of electricity, down from 2,630 terawatt-hours in 2010, according to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2012 published today. Atomic power accounted for 11 percent of all electricity generation.
The meltdown of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March last year drove countries including Germany, Switzerland and Taiwan to announce their withdrawal from nuclear power. Global output was further restricted as nations put new-build plans on hold amid safety concern and economic stagnation, forcing utilities to study extending the lives of current sites.
“The situation is much worse for the industry than after Chernobyl,” said Mycle Schneider, co-author of the report, referring to the 1986 accident in Ukraine. “New projects have a very dull future, but it will put enormous pressure on extending lifetimes and that raises obvious safety issues.”
Seven reactors began operating in 2011 and 19 were shuttered, the report shows. France, Germany, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. -- six of the 31 countries that produce atomic power -- generated more than 70 percent of the total.
At least five nations, including Egypt, Italy and Kuwait, have suspended plans to build their first reactors, according to the report. In the U.K., RWE AG, EON AG, and SSE Plc have all abandoned new-build proposals in the past 12 months, while companies in Japan and Bulgaria have suspended construction. The Fukushima crisis also led to certification and licensing delays.
Even countries such as the United Arab Emirates, intent on using nuclear power to meet a third of electricity demand by 2020, can’t get the financing they need, Schneider said in an interview.
“If banks don’t want to lend the money then where is this supposed to come from?” he said. “The financial situation has dramatically worsened since Fukushima and there is almost no exception to the rule.”
Electricite de France SA, the world’s biggest operator of nuclear reactors, has said a decision to extend the lives of two U.K. plants will hinge on their commercial viability, as well as regulatory safety reviews. All of Britain’s reactors are due to close by 2035, leaving it short of more than 10,000 megawatts of baseload generation.
There are 59 nuclear reactors being built globally and at least 18 are experiencing “multiyear” delays, according to today’s report. Nine have been listed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as “under construction” for more than 20 years, the authors said.