World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 Released

Nuclear power report

The WNISR2020 report released late last week indicates nuclear energy is continuing to lose ground to wind and solar power.

The report states there were 408 operating nuclear reactors as at mid-2020 (409 as at September). As at June, the world’s operating fleet was at a 30-year low; 10 less than in 1989 and 30 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438. Total operating nuclear power generation capacity dropped by 2.2 percent from one year earlier to reach 362 GW as of mid-2020.

However, nuclear energy’s share of global gross electricity generation saw a bit of an uptick last year, with a 0.2 percentage-point increase over the 10.15 percent in 2018 to 10.35 percent in 2019. But this is a far cry from its heyday when its share was 17.5 percent in 1996.

The mean age of the world’s nuclear fleet has been increasing steadily for decades and now stands at approximately 31 years; with 20 percent 41 years or older.

Nuclear Power And COVID

The report notes 33 of the 52 units under construction are behind schedule; 12 have reported increased delays and 4 have had documented delays for the first time over the past year. Some of this would be due to the impact of COVID.

But the pandemic is also having some other disturbing effects in the sector. For example, in the USA a site undergoing refueling reported hundreds of infections, and the report says many testing, maintenance and repair activities have been cancelled or suspended – or executed under improper conditions.

“Clearly Losing” To Wind And Solar

The report notes investment in new nuclear is around 10 percent of that invested in wind and solar PV, and the high capital cost of nuclear power plants require they operate almost continually to reduce the capital cost per kilowatt-hour.

“They must therefore compete directly with renewables most of the time or store their output to be used during cloudy, windless periods,” state the forward. “Storage does not relieve the competition with wind and solar, however, because, as renewables expand and storage costs come down, they too will have increasing incentives to store their excess output.”

Over the last five years, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of nuclear has risen by over 50 percent, while renewables have now become the cheapest of any type of power generation. The report says nuclear power has become the most expensive form of generation, except for gas peaking plants.

What About Small Module Reactors?

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) have received a lot of attention; but their major challenge is they cost more per kilowatt than large reactors.

“.. in the case of SMRs, most designs are purely theoretical ones, and no real reactors have been constructed based on that design,” state the authors. “Going by current trends, they are unlikely to ever be constructed beyond a few prototypes.”

The full World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 can be downloaded here.

Closer to home, the House Of Representatives released a report on nuclear energy in Australia late last year, which stated nuclear is a good idea assuming Australians are happy with it – and that’s not likely.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. Ronald Brakels says

    Because it’s a common misunderstanding, I’ll mention that — where a design has gotten to the point where they’ve bothered to do a costing — Small Modular Reactors are more expensive per kilowatt than conventional large reactors. Any benefit is suppose to come from a reduction in cost blowouts. Given that new nuclear is not cost competitive when everything goes right, that’s not a good look.

    • Ronald,
      You state: “Given that new nuclear is not cost competitive when everything goes right, that’s not a good look.”

      The Foreword by Jungmin Kang, former Chair of South Korea’s Nuclear Safety & Security Commission, and Frank von Hippel, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the nuclear industry:

      “As this report makes clear, globally, nuclear power continues to be in stasis. In Western Europe and the United States (U.S.), the rate of retirements is increasing while the few new construction projects have had catastrophic cost overruns and schedule slippages.”

      On SMRs:

      “A few may be bought by the government to provide power to large government installations such as army and navy bases and national nuclear laboratories but, as WNISR2020 concludes, “there is no need to wait with bated breath for SMRs to be deployed” on a large scale.”

      It’s a worry to see in the Key Insights section to see the effects of COVID on the nuclear industry, with descriptors including:
      – “unprecedented”;
      – “large outbreaks”;
      – “degraded safety and security”;
      – “critical staff issues”;
      – “staff shortages”;
      – “long work hours”;
      – “onsite inspections … suspended”; and
      – “hard hit economically”.

      Is there another Chernobyl in the making? Let’s hope not.

  2. Erin Stanton says

    While I can understand investments going towards wind and solar – renewable energy should be researched and utilized too – I think we should be pushing 10x harder for nuclear R&D. Yes, the cost of nuclear power can be higher, but the benefits of nuclear far outweigh the benefits of wind or solar. Nuclear consumes 1,000x less material than solar or wind and is 3 million times more efficient than fossil fuel. Nuclear energy also has the highest capacity factor of any other energy source – about 2.5-3.5x more reliable than wind and solar plants. [1]

    I recently saw a lecture from The Energy Impact Center’s founder, Bret Kugelmass, who explained the cost of nuclear doesn’t come from the energy source itself, it comes from poor business management and planning [2]. He explained that in order to decrease the cost of implementing nuclear, construction of plants needs to take less than 2 years and there’s a cap on construction labor costs. Along with those two huge factors, nuclear energy plants need to be manufacturable – which The Energy Impact Center and their OPEN100 project are working on now, alongside several other huge names in the nuclear industry.


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