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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interactive Maps: Worldwide Nuclear Power

Cross posted on Climate Central.

As the world continues to watch the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant unfold, many are asking what the repercussions will be for the future of nuclear power. First, though, we must understand the current state of the nuclear industry: Where are the world’s nuclear power plants located? How much electricity do these plants produce? How much more nuclear generating capacity is planned, and for where?

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that about 16 percent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and that given pre-Fukushima plans, this percentage would stay roughly constant over the next two decades, barring any major changes in policy.

The maps below, which come courtesy of Katherine Marvel, a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, show where the world’s nuclear reactors are presently located and how many more are planned. (Visit Climate Central to see the maps with full interactive capabilities.).

Number of Nuclear Reactors

Percent of Electricity from Nuclear Power

Before Fukushima, there were 443 functioning nuclear power plants in the world. About 62 were under construction, and another 324 were in various stages of planning. (This data comes from the World Nuclear Association, a nuclear power advocacy organization).

The world’s nuclear power is concentrated in a handful of countries: Of the world’s 192 countries, only 30 have nuclear power plants, and 75 percent of global nuclear generation is concentrated in just eight countries: The United States, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, India, the U.K., and Canada. Membership in the "nuclear power club," though, is set to expand considerably if current proposals come to fruition.

The following eleven countries lack nuclear power today, but are planning to build or are building power plants: United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Turkey, Poland, Belarus, Bangladesh, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kazakhastan. Another eight countries: Israel, Italy, North Korea, Thailand, Lithuania, Chile, Italy, and Malaysia, have proposed to build power plants.

Number of Nuclear Reactors Under Construction

Number of Nuclear Reactors Planned

Number of Nuclear Reactors Proposed

  • Operating = Connected to the grid.
  • Under Construction = first concrete for reactor poured, or major refurbishment under way.
  • 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.   

Another fact shown by the graphics is that although many countries have proposed or are planning to construct nuclear power plants, only China is aggressively building them — they have proposed 110 and are building 27. By comparison, the United States has 23 proposed reactors, but only one is under construction. And that single reactor, which is located in southern Tennessee, was begun in the 1980s, put on hold for 20 years, and is only now being completed.

The disparity between planned power plants and plants under construction raises the question of how many of these proposed plants will actually be built. Also, the expansion of nuclear power to new countries raises issues related to nuclear proliferation — the technology to build certain nuclear power plants could be used to make nuclear weapons with relative ease. And what these maps do not show is what would be built instead of these nuclear plants, should they not move forward. In place of nuclear power, will these countries invest in coal, natural gas, hydropower, solar, or wind energy?

Answering these questions will require continued work to balance the benefits and risks of nuclear energy against the growing energy demands of society.

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