Column chart showing that in 2011, 440 nuclear reactors are in operation, with a total capacity of 376 GWe; 61 reactors are under construction, total capacity  of 63 GWe. 154 reactors are planned, total capacity of 171 GWe. 343 reactors are proposed, total capacity of 626 GWe.

The future shines bright for the nuclear industrialists and businessmen. As at July 2011, the plans are to add 558 new nuclear reactors, with a total capacity of 626 GWe, to the currently operating 440 reactors, total capacity 376 GWe. All the reported new capacity should become operational until 2030. At first sight, nuclear power looks indeed as a booming business.

The most ambitious plans are found in China (198 reactors, 211.7 GWe), India (63 reactors, 68.6 GWe), Russia (54 reactors, 53 GWe), United States (35 reactors, 47 GWe). The emergence of the East takes also place in the nuclear realm.

However, 63% of the plans are still in the remote "proposal" stage, and very many bumps can render the journey less quiet than desired by nuclear advocates. While the World Nuclear Association (WNA) was publishing data on the world nuclear outlook, expressing satisfaction with the warm prospects, on 25 May 2011 Switzerland decided to close its reactors by 2034 and discontinue the proposed 3 new reactors. On 30 May, Germany decided to close all nuclear plants until 2022 and become a nuclear-free nation. On June 13th 2011, it was the turn of Italy to decide by people's referendum to abandon the nuclear option, thus letting go of the proposed 10 reactors. Even China, while reasserting its intention to further develop its nuclear capability, announced that it would stall plans to build 28 new reactors before 2020, pending an in-depth revision of safety and security requirements. The bottom line is that one would need more than a crystal ball to read the troubled energy future, torn by intense pro and anti nuclear arguments.

WNA currently boasts "14547 Reactor-Years of Worldwide Experience in Producing Civil Nuclear Power". It is quite an irrelevant claim. The next few minutes, even the next few seconds are more than enough for another reactor to go berserk, producing more and more harmful Chernobyl and Fukushima look-alikes. Nuclear proponents emphasize the low-probability of a nuclear catastrophe — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima "are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 14,400 cumulative reactor years of commercial operation in 32 countries.". They obscure the fact that these 3 instances of core meltdown accidents should not have happened in the first place, because safety requirements are that reactors be engineered for 1 core melt in 100,000 years, the best currently operating plants boasting of about 1 in 1 million years. Unfortunately, apart from the above-mentioned disasters, there have been about ten core melt accidents, mostly in military or experimental reactors from 1952 to 2011 — 13 core meltdowns in a period of 59 years can hardly compare with the boasted 1 core melt in 1 million years. So much for the probabilities.

The heart of the matter, though, is rather the severity of the consequences of a nuclear accident. Chernobyl and Fukushima entailed thousands of square kilometers of contaminated soil, hundreds of thousands of displaced people, thousands of people irradiated by radioactive releases, and many other unmeasured and unreported damages. The nuclear omerta hides away the data on the actual fatalities and the real health and life hazards caused by these accidents to both the direct victims and their descendents. The nuclear industry claims that nuclear power is safe per se and by comparison with other energies. Allegedly, "immediate deaths" amount only to 3 operators in the United States (1961, SL-1, USA experimental, military, 3 MWt) and 47 staff and firefighters (32 immediate) in Chernobyl, Ukraine, 1986. By comparison the coal mining industry is a blood thirsty business, claiming an average of 4,000 lives per year.

Such reasoning is simply preposterous. One must dispute the data : the so-called "immediate deaths" are far from displaying the whole picture. Radioactive releases hit many thousands of people who do not die "immediately", who see their lives shortened by many years, who develop life long diseases that painfully handicap their daily lives and cause suffering and cost to themselves and their close relatives, who give birth to children suffering from malformations or congenital diseases. Alas, the industry did not attempt to make the public aware of the magnitude of these hidden issues. With respect to the comparisons, although it must be acknowledge that coal mining is extremely hazardous both from the health and the safety standpoints, it is questionable to state that 50 deaths is safe and 4,000 annual deaths is unsafe — both situations are unacceptable, and both should be dealt with adequately. The real differences between the two are that, on one hand, a coal mine accident does not cause, neither carcinogen diseases, nor genetic pathologies in those who survive and less so on their descendents and, on the other hand, it is easier, safer, with immediate effect and less dramatic to decommission a coal mine than it is to decommission a Chernobyl or a Fukushima nuclear plant.

All considered, the plans to add 558 new nuclear reactors, with a total capacity of 626 GWe until 2030 are not very reliable. The WNA data below do not integrate the recent post-Fukushima halting or scrapping of nuclear projects in Italy, Japan and Switzerland. The dispute is unlikely to stop. Maybe the industry will succeed by capitalizing on the common man's complacency and forgetfulness. But it is equally probable that growing numbers of people will realize that an ever-growing consumption of energy is nonsensical, and nuclear energy is too risky a toy to be left in the hands of profit-driven businessmen (see also Nuclear power worldwide).


Reactors included in specific plans and proposals and expected to be operating by 2030


Reactors operable¹
1 July 2011

Reactors Under Construction²
July 2011

Reactors Planned³
July 2011

Reactors Proposed*
July 2011

Total reactors planned
July 2011

Nbr. GWe** Nbr. GWe Nbr. GWe Nbr. GWe Nbr. GWe
Argentina 20.93510.74520.77310.7442.258
Armenia 10.3760011.06    01.06
Bangladesh 0000220022
Belarus 0000222244
Belgium 75.94300000000
Brazil 21.90111.405004455.405
Bulgaria 21.9060021.90021.9
Canada  1812.67921.533.333.888.6
Chile 00000044.444.4
China 1411.2712628.715259.99120123198211.7
Czech Republic 63.7220022.411.233.6
Egypt 0000111122
Finland 42.72111.7002334.7
France 5863.1311.7211.7211.134.54
Germany 1720.33900000000
Hungary 41.88000022.222.2
India 204.38553.91815.740496368.6
Indonesia 0000224466
Iran 00112210.343.3
Israel 00000011.211.2
Italy  00000010171017
Japan 5044.64222.7561013.77256.761723.288
Jordan 000011      11
Kazakhstan 000020.620.641.2
Korea DPR (North) 00000010.9510.95
Korea RO (South) 2118.71655.868.4001114.2
Lithuania 00000011.711.7
Malaysia 00000011.211.2
Mexico 21.600002222
Netherlands 10.48500001111
Pakistan 30.72510.3410.342242.68
 Poland  0000660066
Romania 21.310021.3110.65531.965
Russia 3223.084108.96141630285452.96
Slovakia 41.81620.880011.232.08
Slovenia 10.69600001111
South Africa 21.8000069.669.6
Spain 87.44800000000
Sweden 109.39900000000
Switzerland 53.25200003434
Thailand 00000055.655.6
Turkey 000044.845.6810.4
Ukraine 1513.1680021.92022.82224.7
United Arab Emirates000045.61014.41420
United Kingdom 1910.9620046.689121318.68
United States104101.22911.21867.22838.63547.018
Vietnam 00002212131415
¹ Operable = Connected to the grid.
² Under construction = first concrete for reactor poured, or major refurbishment under way.
³ Planned = Approvals, funding or major commitment in place, mostly expected in operation within 8-10 years.
* Proposed = Specific program or site proposals, expected operation mostly within 15 years.
** GWe = Gigawatt electrical, as distinct from thermal.
*** The world total includes 6 reactors operating on Taiwan with a combined capacity of 4.927 GWe, which generated a total of 39.9 billion kWh in 2010 (accounting for 19.3% of Taiwan's total electricity generation). Taiwan has two reactors under construction with a combined capacity of 2.7 GWe, and one proposed, 1.35 GWe.


Sources: EIA – Energy Information Administration, IAEA – PRIS – Power Reactor Information System, and WNA – World Nuclear Association.



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