Nuclear power generation to reach record high next year, IEA forecasts

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Global nuclear power generation is set to reach an all-time high next year, according to the latest forecasts from the International Energy Agency, marking a resurgence for the technology and boost for efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions.  

Output from nuclear power plants is expected to rise by about 3 per cent both this year and next to 2,915TWh, overtaking the previous peak of 2,809TWh in 2021, and by a further 1.5 per cent in 2026, the IEA said.

Growth will be driven by new reactors in China and India as well as the return of plants in France that were shut down last year for maintenance.

More nuclear power as well as the rapid growth of renewables such as wind and solar are helping to push fossil fuels out of the electricity system, according to a report on global electricity markets published by the IEA on Wednesday. 

It believes that growth in electricity demand over the next few years will now be met by low-emission sources, with the share of global supply delivered by fossil fuel generators set to fall to a record low of 54 per cent in 2026. 

IEA executive director Fatih Birol noted the power sector currently “produces more carbon dioxide emissions than any other [sector] in the world economy” so the trends were encouraging. 

“This is largely thanks to the huge momentum behind renewables, with ever cheaper solar leading the way, and support from the important comeback of nuclear power, whose generation is set to reach a historic high by 2025,” he said. “While more progress is needed, and fast, these are very promising trends.”

It marks a revival for nuclear power after the disaster in Japan in 2011, when reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were damaged by a tsunami, prompting Germany and Japan to pull back from the sector.

The industry has been helped by the global push to cut carbon dioxide emissions, as well as widespread concerns about energy security in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which disrupted gas markets. 

At the UN’s COP28 climate summit in Dubai last year, more than 20 countries, including the US, the UK and France, agreed to try to triple global nuclear power capacity by 2050. 

However, the growth until 2026 is set to be concentrated in China and India, which are expected to account for more than half of the 29 gigawatts of expected new capacity, the IEA said. 

The rapid growth of the technology in China means it now accounts for 16 per cent of global nuclear generation, up from 5 per cent in 2014, while the country is aiming to increase its installed capacity from about 56GW to 70GW by 2025, according to the report.

Meanwhile, both China’s and Russia’s influence in the sector is growing, the IEA added, with the two countries providing the technology for 70 per cent of the reactors under construction. 

Projects in China face fewer delays than those in Europe and the US, the IEA noted, warning that construction delays for large nuclear projects are a “major global concern”. 

On Tuesday, France’s state-owned nuclear developer EDF announced further delays to the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant it is building in Somerset, England.

The 3.2GW project is now not due to start producing electricity until 2029 at the earliest, compared with an initial start date of 2025, and could cost £35bn, nearly twice its original budget.

The UK government and EDF are looking to attract external investors to build a second new plant in Britain, the planned £20bn Sizewell C project in Suffolk.

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