Nuclear Renaissance

The global energy mix cannot be reconciled without nuclear power

Western countries, such as France, the US, England, and Russia, were the leading players in the nuclear power industry. Today, the construction of new power units and the development of technology are going by leaps and bounds in Asia, where China and India are vying for leadership. The region's growing role in the nuclear industry has to do, among other things, with political management and economic planning. Both Beijing and New Delhi are soberly aware that meeting the growing needs of the middle class, stimulating rising living standards and maintaining geopolitical ambitions is impossible with the current energy mix. Now, this has become particularly evident at a time of energy crisis.

There are currently 440 reactors operating in 32 countries. They provide 2,553 TWh, representing 10% of the world's electricity consumption. Some 55 more reactors are now under construction. Once started to operate, they will increase the total capacity of nuclear power plants worldwide by about 15%. In general, many countries with no nuclear power plants still meet part of their electricity consumption with nuclear power through regional transmission grids.

European uncertainty

The share of nuclear energy in the consumption of some countries is exceptionally high. For example, in Europe, France has a 71% share. Not surprisingly, Paris has fought to recognise nuclear power as green energy. The country has 56 operating nuclear reactors with a capacity of 61 GW. One more plant with 1,750 MW is under construction in Flamanville. Though in 2015, the French authorities decided to reduce the share of nuclear power plants in the energy mix to 50% by 2025, those plans have now been relieved to be forgotten. Macron even declared during his election campaign that "this is a fascinating field for young people, where a lot of their talents can be realised".

Germany also embarked on a phase-out of nuclear power, which has slightly corrected the current energy collapse. The country has three nuclear reactors with a total capacity of 4.1 GW, representing 11.3% of total electricity. Authorities were due to shut down these plants this year but have changed their minds. According to recent polls, 87% of the country's population supports the state's operation of nuclear power plants.

In Western Europe, there are 11 reactors in the UK, seven in Spain and Belgium, six in Sweden, five in Finland, four in Switzerland and one in the Netherlands. Moreover, Switzerland relies heavily on its nuclear power plants, accounting for almost 33% of its energy mix. Another new generation nuclear power plant is currently under construction in the UK.

Thanks to the Soviet Union, nuclear power is well developed in Eastern Europe. For example, there are 15 units in Ukraine (over 50% of the country's electricity), six operating in the Czech Republic (37.3% of the country's electricity), four in Hungary (48.0% of the country's electricity), two in Bulgaria (40.8% of the country's electricity) and two in Romania (19.9% of the country's electricity) and so far one each in Armenia and Belarus. In Turkey, the first power plant is due to appear in 2023.

Far Eastern perspectives

Globally, dozens of countries use nuclear power plants to supply a third to half of their electricity needs. Japan has the same situation before the Fukushima disaster. Tokyo is now planning to ramp up its generation to this level. Most of the residents of Fukushima have already returned to their home areas. An advertising campaign with top politicians and pop stars actively promoting the fish caught off the coast of Fukushima is in full swing in the country.

Japan's nuclear renaissance is also being fostered by industry lobbyists alarmed by rising oil, gas, and coal prices. In addition, the Japanese have endured a series of very severe cold winters. This lends credence to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's calls to restore nuclear power instead of relying on expensive fossil resources for the island nation.  

Other Asian countries are also increasingly aware of the benefits of nuclear energy. For example, India has been implementing a program to increase its capacity in this field since 2010. At the beginning of 2022, the country was building eight reactors with a total capacity of 6.0 GW. And the country has 22 reactors producing 6.8 GW, which covers 3.3% of the country's balance sheet. Pakistan has six reactors, China is building one more reactor, and Russia is building the first reactor in Bangladesh.

Large-scale construction

While developed countries argue about the safety of the peaceful atom and ponder the fate of their power units, the construction of new nuclear power plants in Asia is in full swing. China is leading the way. The desire to improve urban air quality and cut greenhouse gas emissions is due in no small part. As of the beginning of this year, China was building 18 of the 57 reactors under construction around the world. China's 54 operating nuclear reactors generate 52.2 GW, covering 4.9% of the country's energy needs. China and Russia also dominate the world market for new nuclear power plants.

South Africa is the only African country with nuclear power generation. It has two reactors with a total capacity of 1.9 GW, representing 5.9% of the country's electricity. If it were not for financial constraints, the country would continue to increase the number of its nuclear power plants.

Only Iran has an operating reactor in the Middle East, with a capacity of 0.9 GW, providing just 1.7% of the country's electricity. Russia is building the second unit. The UAE has two 2.7 GW units, with two more currently under construction.

Public corporations

In Asian countries and Russia, nuclear power is at the mercy of state corporations. However, China considers it is promising to gradually develop the share of private business in constructing its atomic power plants. For example, the Chinese authorities sold 2% of one of the nuclear power plants to the China Energy Investment Corporation, a significant investment company.

Russia is one of the world leaders in nuclear power generation and constructing nuclear power plants. 37 reactors operate there with a total helpful capacity of 27.7 GW, which generates 20.6% of the country's electricity. In addition, Moscow has a significant share of the export markets for constructing new reactors. The Russian state corporation Rosatom has projects in Belarus, China, Hungary, India, Iran and Turkey, as well as interests in Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, South Africa, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Private business

Unlike Russia and China, private companies in Western countries are the key players in nuclear power, which compete economically with gas and coal. These companies receive state funding occasionally and sometimes even come under state control. This happened just a fortnight ago with French EDF, which controls some 60 nuclear power units in the country.

One of the world's main French nuclear power plant builders is the Orano group. For example, in Finland, the Orano group is building the third unit, "Olkiluoto", with a record capacity of 1,600 MW. The project has been running for 15 years and was connected to the grid in March.

South Korean KEPCO is another strong global player. It is completing the construction of a four-unit Barakah nuclear power plant in the Arab Emirates with a capacity of 1,400 MW each unit. South Korea itself has 25 reactors with a total capacity of 24.4 GW. In 2020, nuclear power will cover 29.6% of the country's needs. It has been decided to increase this share and sell 10 atomic power units abroad by 2030.

The decline of the North American giant

The most significant North American contributor to the peaceful atom market is the United States. The country has 92 reactors with a total capacity of 94.7 GW, accounting for about 20% of the country's electricity. Two more reactors are now under construction, and the construction of two more has been frozen due to a common strategy for many Western countries to increase capacity and improve the operation of their existing nuclear plants. In addition, the West has very strict, sometimes even prohibitive, environmental regulations.

In neighbouring Canada, 19 operating nuclear reactors produce 13.6 GW, representing 14.6% of the country's electricity. In South America, there are three reactors in Argentina and two in Brazil. Their share of the country's energy mix is insignificant.

The leading builder of nuclear power plants in the Americas is Westinghouse. Now, the company is considered to be Canadian. It is one of the pioneers of atomic technology. Westinghouse once built reactors in Japan, China and many countries worldwide, but now has fallen on hard times due to loss of market share and frequent changes in ownership. The company currently concentrates mainly on managing and operating nuclear power plants.

Future of the peaceful atom

In addition, there are many small start-up companies around the world. They are involved in new technologies in the peaceful atom field, such as small and microreactors. Some start-ups have attracted funding of USD 2 and even USD 3 billion from prominent people in business such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Google top executives.

Microreactors are one of the most promising trends in nuclear power. We are talking about systems up to 10 MW, which are manufactured in a factory and can be transported to their destination in a standard container. They are very promising for use to power remote military bases or isolated villages in the far north. Microreactors are considered relatively safe and do not require much personnel to maintain them. Such projects are now under construction in Japan, the US and Russia.

In recent decades, nuclear power has been characterised by a very close interpenetration of technologies. For example, an African reactor can be assembled from South Korean, German and Russian components. At the same time, the uranium enriched in the Netherlands comes from Australia or Namibia. The nuclear industry supports this initiative in every way possible and favours sharing experiences. There are many international organisations worldwide, primarily the IAEA, and international forums for this purpose. This plays an essential role in the industry.

Meanwhile, building and operating nuclear power plants offers vast advantages at the geopolitical level, allowing some countries to project their influence on others by providing ready-made solutions in the nuclear industry. However, political support is essential to be successful in this market, in addition to fuel and technology. Consistent training, technological research, or long-term investments are impossible without this intangible resource.

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