By Dawn Stover | October 1, 2021
Although there are 23 fewer nuclear reactors in the world today than at the 2002 peak of 438, the past year saw a small uptick in the number of reactors operating worldwide and a corresponding increase in the global fleet’s net operating capacity.
That’s one data point in the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2021, the latest in a series of annual industry reports compiled by an international team of independent experts led by Mycle Schneider, a consultant based in Paris. The 409-page report, released this week, is packed with information about global and country-specific trends, but several findings stand out, and they don’t bode well for the nuclear energy industry.
First, although nuclear capacity is up, nuclear electricity production is down.
Second, the report throws cold water on the prospects for small modular reactors. These reactors get a lot of media coverage and some public funding “but are so far unavailable commercially and will not be for another 10–15 years—if ever. Pilot projects in Argentina, China, and Russia have been disappointing,” according to the authors.
Third, the report warned that nuclear power is less resilient than renewables to challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. While there is no indication that the COVID-19 pandemic compromised safety at nuclear power plants, the pandemic not only reduced nuclear electricity consumption but also affected some schedules for reactor commissioning and fuel loading.
And finally, the 2021 report for the first time devoted an entire chapter to how criminality is affecting the industry. “There is a real question about the exposure of the nuclear power sector to criminal activities including bribery and corruption, counterfeiting and other falsification, as well as infiltration by organized crime,” the report says.