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How Old Are the World’s Nuclear Reactors?

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nuclear reactors by age visualized

How Old Are the World’s Nuclear Reactors?

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Since the advent of nuclear electricity in the 1950s, nuclear reactors have played an essential role in meeting our rising energy needs.

Nuclear reactors are designed to operate for decades and are typically licensed for 20 to 40 years, and they can last even longer with license renewals.

So, just how old is the world’s current nuclear reactor fleet?

The bubble chart above looks at the age distribution of the 422 reactors operating worldwide as of March 2023, based on data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).

The Age Distribution of the Global Reactor Fleet

Nuclear power saw a building boom in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as countries expanded their energy portfolios and sought to capitalize on the advancements in nuclear technology.

As a result, the majority of the world’s nuclear reactors began operating during this period.

Age Group (years)Number of ReactorsNet Electrical Capacity (megawatts)
0–106766,937
11–202920,964
21–304640,905
31–40155149,638
41–5010788,526
>501810,921
Total422377,891

Data as of March 22, 2023.

Of the total of 422 reactors, 262 reactors have been in operation for 31 to 50 years. In other words, about 62% of all current nuclear reactors were connected to the grid between 1973 and 1992.

Growth in nuclear power slowed down by the turn of the 21st century, with decreasing public support and increasing concern over nuclear safety. As a result, only a small number of reactors fall into the 11 to 20 year age group.

But over the last decade, some countries have renewed their interest in nuclear energy, while others like China have continued to expand their reactor fleets. Some 67 reactors are between zero and 10 years old, accounting for 18% of global nuclear electrical capacity.

The oldest operating reactors (five of them) are 54 years old and entered commercial service in 1969. Two of these are located in the United States, two in India, and one in Switzerland.

How Long Can Nuclear Reactors Last?

Although specific lifespans can vary, nuclear reactors are typically designed to last for 20 to 40 years.

However, reactors can operate beyond their initially licensed periods with lifetime extensions. Extending reactor lives requires rigorous assessments, safety evaluations, and refurbishments.

Some countries have granted license renewals for aging reactors. Notably, 88 of the 92 reactors in the U.S. have received approvals to operate for up to 60 years, and some have applied for additional 20-year extensions to operate for up to 80 years.

With safety concerns addressed, reactors with lifetime extensions can offer various advantages. Without the high capital investments needed to build new reactors, they can produce carbon-free electricity at low and competitive costs, which is especially important as the global power sector looks to decarbonize.

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Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

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A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

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