The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s. Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War to 1945 research initially focussed on producing bombs by splitting the atoms of particular isotopes of either uranium or plutonium. In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful purposes of nuclear fission, notably for power generation. Today, the world produces as much electricity from nuclear energy as it did from all sources combined in the early years of nuclear power.
As per World Nuclear Association’s February 2015 data, there are over 435 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with over 375,000 MWe of total capacity. About 70 more reactors are under construction. They provide over 11% of the world’s electricity as continuous, reliable base-load power, without carbon dioxide emissions. 56 countries operate a total of about 240 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines. Civil nuclear power can now boast over 16,000 reactor years of experience and supplies almost 11.5% of global electricity needs, from reactors in 31 countries. In fact, through regional grids, many more than those countries depend on nuclear-generated power. Many countries have also built research reactors to provide a source of neutron beams for scientific research and the production of medical and industrial isotopes.
Source: World Nuclear Association
Nuclear Energy – Future renewable energy
While the popularity of nuclear power worldwide took a major hit in the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in 2011, it remains one of the cheapest, most efficient, and carbon-friendly forms of energy generation that we currently have. Energy superpowers like the United States, Russia, and Canada have made nuclear power lucrative, not just through cheap energy, but through licensing their technology to developing countries looking for a new energy source. For that reason, nuclear power has remained a viable and important form of energy, one which will be integral to the world over the next fifty years.
Nuclear Electricity Production
Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity. France gets around three-quarters of its power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine get one-third or more. South Korea and Bulgaria normally get more than 30% of their power from nuclear energy, while in the USA, UK, Spain, Romania and Russia almost one-fifth is from nuclear. Japan is used to relying on nuclear power for more than one-quarter of its electricity and is expected to return to that level. Among countries which do not host nuclear power plants, Italy and Denmark get almost 10% of their power from nuclear.
Positive effect on climate
Nuclear energy reduces the carbon foot print in the atmosphere while providing the important energy requirement around the world. According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear energy has already avoided the release of around 56 Gt of CO2 since 1971. At least 80% of the world’s electricity must be low-carbon by 2050 to keep the world within 2°C of warming, according to the IPCC. This is a massive global challenge that requires the use of all available low-carbon energy technologies. We need to take immediate steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy is low-carbon, available and competitive in the timeframe required. Countries should be free to choose from the full portfolio of energy technologies to reduce CO2 and meet other energy objectives.
The way forward
Nuclear for Climate is an initiative that brings together nuclear societies & associations from all over the world (China, US, European Union, Belgium, United Kingdom, Japan and France), all committed to fight climate change. When we look at global statistics provided by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency to determine which countries are the biggest nuclear energy powers. At the heart of the modern energy debate is a struggle between the need for more energy globally, while simultaneously achieving lower emissions. The industry can and should work together to address six key areas to enhance the nuclear energy use – improving communication; increasing private investment; designating test beds; modernizing regulation; stabilizing federal funding; embracing advanced technology.
If nuclear power is going to succeed in the 21st century, there will need to be major innovations in controlling costs and enhancing safety. The nuclear energy industry wants to not only replace that lost capacity, but grow its market share. The next generation of nuclear technology will need to demonstrate significant improvements over these hulking 20th century beasts.