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The Nuclear Conundrum [Chart]

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The Nuclear Conundrum [Chart]

The Nuclear Conundrum [Chart]

Median age of all operating nuclear reactors is 28.8 years and counting.

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

The nuclear sector today certainly has its immediate challenges. Costs had already been a long problem, but the incident at Fukushima complicated matters even further. The industry and regulators were forced to take a second look at its safety practices and plant designs, creating uncertainty for the sector. As of today, 2006 still remains a peak for global nuclear power generation in terms of total output, and it has steadily declined since then.

There is also another creeping issue for the industry that is raising eyebrows. According to The World Nuclear Report, there are 391 nuclear reactors in operation throughout the world. However, the median age of these reactors is now 28.8 years, due to the majority of power plants being built between 1970 and 1985.

The design specifications for most nuclear reactors envision an operating lifespan of 30 to 40 years. In the U.S. specifically, nuclear utilities are initially licensed for 40 years. Near the end of that initial timeframe, they can apply for an additional 20 years.

While there are many experts who believe that older reactors are not a problem, it is hard to imagine many families feeling safe living next to aging nuclear reactors. Furthermore, with recent evens, even more questions have surfaced about the wisdom of keeping aging reactors plugged into the grid. The Fukushima Daiichi units (1 to 4) were first commissioned between 1971 and 1974, and the license for the first unit had been extended for another 10 years in February 2011. This was just a month before the disaster took place.

Right now, most operators are doing what they can to extend the life of their reactors. However, at some point it won’t be enough.

This brings us to a challenging fork in the road: will we move forward with a fleet of aging reactors, or will we bite the bullet to build new ones? If we decommission them without replacement, how will that power supply be replaced?

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The World’s Biggest Nuclear Energy Producers

China has grown its nuclear capacity over the last decade, now ranking second on the list of top nuclear energy producers.

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A cropped chart breaking down the biggest nuclear energy producers, by country, in 2022.

The World’s Biggest Nuclear Energy Producers

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

Scientists in South Korea recently broke a record in a nuclear fusion experiment. For 48 seconds, they sustained a temperature seven times that of the sun’s core.

But generating commercially viable energy from nuclear fusion still remains more science fiction than reality. Meanwhile, its more reliable sibling, nuclear fission, has been powering our world for many decades.

In this graphic, we visualized the top producers of nuclear energy by their share of the global total, measured in terawatt hours (TWh). Data for this was sourced from the Nuclear Energy Institute, last updated in August 2022.

 

 

Which Country Generates the Most Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy production in the U.S. is more than twice the amount produced by China (ranked second) and France (ranked third) put together. In total, the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of global nuclear energy output.

However, nuclear power only accounts for one-fifth of America’s electricity supply. This is in contrast to France, which generates 60% of its electricity from nuclear plants.

RankCountryNuclear Energy
Produced (TWh)
% of Total
1🇺🇸 U.S.77229%
2🇨🇳 China38314%
3🇫🇷 France36314%
4🇷🇺 Russia2088%
5🇰🇷 South Korea1506%
6🇨🇦 Canada873%
7🇺🇦 Ukraine813%
8🇩🇪 Germany652%
9🇯🇵 Japan612%
10🇪🇸 Spain542%
11🇸🇪 Sweden512%
12🇧🇪 Belgium482%
13🇬🇧 UK422%
14🇮🇳 India402%
15🇨🇿 Czech Republic291%
N/A🌐 Other2198%
N/A🌍 Total2,653100%

Another highlight is how China has rapidly grown its nuclear energy capabilities in the last decade. Between 2016 and 2021, for example, it increased its share of global nuclear energy output from less than 10% to more than 14%, overtaking France for second place.

On the opposite end, the UK’s share has slipped to 2% over the same time period.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has heavily relied on nuclear energy to power its grid. In March 2022, it lost access to its key Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station after Russian forces wrested control of the facility. With six 1,000 MW reactors, the plant is one of the largest in Europe. It is currently not producing any power, and has been the site of recent drone attacks.

 

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