2020 saw resilience in nuclear capacity despite COVID-19; Report

By Arya M Nair, Intern Reporter
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Nuclear Reactors
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Nuclear reactors produced a turnover of 2553 terawatt hour (TWh) of power in 2020, down from 2657 TWh in 2019, according to the World Nuclear Association’s latest World Nuclear Performance Report.

According to the report, the total drop of about 1 percent in global electricity consumption in 2020 induced by the COVID-19 epidemic had a significant impact on nuclear output. Moreover, nuclear reactors were being called upon more and more to provide load-following support to the growing share of variable renewable generation.

The global fleet’s capacity factor remained strong in 2020, at 80.3 percent, down from 83.1 percent in 2019, but it maintained the outstanding performance recorded over the past 20 years. Last year, over two-thirds of reactors, had a capacity factor of more than 80 percent.

Sama Bilbao y León
Sama Bilbao y León
World Nuclear Association

“In 2020 the world’s nuclear reactors have shown resilience and flexibility, adapting to changes in demand while ensuring stable and reliable electricity supply. There is no age-related trend in nuclear reactor performance. The mean capacity factor for reactors over the last five years shows no significant overall variation with age. With some reactors now being licensed to operate for 80 years, the consistency in the performance of reactors regardless of age is notable.”

There were 441 functional nuclear reactors at the end of 2020, with a combined capacity of 392 Gigawatts electrical (GWe). For the past three years, this total capacity has remained nearly steady, with new capacity additions being matched by the amount of nuclear capacity that has been permanently shut down.

During 2020, five new reactors with a combined capacity of 5521 MWe started up, Barakah 1 in the UAE, Ostrovets 1 in Belarus, Leningrad II-2 in Russia, and, Fuqing 5 and Tianwan 5 in China. However, six reactors with a combined capacity of 5165 Megawatts electric (MWe) were shut down including Fessenheim units 1 and 2 in France, Indian Point 2 and Duane Arnold in the USA, Leningrad 2 in Russia, and Ringhals 1 in Sweden.

The report, which uses data from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Power Reactor Information Service database, also includes country reports that summarize recent events in each country having operational or under construction reactors.

The report also includes four case studies that highlight the role of nuclear energy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions such as the Grohnde nuclear power plant in Germany, which has produced 400 TWh of low-carbon electricity, the Haiyang plant in China, which provides district heating, Turkey’s first Akkuyu plant, and Peach Bottom units 2 and 3 in the US, which have been approved to operate for 80 years.

Related: UAE’s Nawah starts up second unit of Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant