The Nuclear power brown-out and renaissance

From the late 1970s to about 2002 the nuclear power industry did not grow but suffered some decline and stagnation and some orders from the 1970s were cancelled. New reactors were few and the number coming on line from mid 1980s little more than matched retirements, though output increased 60% due to improved load factors. The share of nuclear energy in world electricity from the mid 1980s was fairly constant at 16-17%. The uranium price dropped accordingly, also because of an increase in secondary supplies from reprocessing. Some energy companies which had entered the uranium field withdrew and there was a consolidation of uranium producers. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 had a long lasting effect on several countries politically and socially and changed the world’s population against nuclear power.

By the late 1990s signs of recovery were evident and the first of the third-generation reactors was commissioned, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 6, a 1,350 MW Advanced BWR, in Japan.

Since 2001 there has been talk about a nuclear revival or renaissance which does imply that the nuclear industry has been in decline for several years. Many factors have combined to revitalise the prospects for nuclear power.

First the scale of increased electricity demand worldwide will strain fossil fuel resources to the limit.

Second is awareness of the importance of energy security. This first became an issue in the 1970s with the oil shocks in the Middle East and has been reinforced in the last two to three years as Russia has used natural gas as a weapon to support increasingly aggressive polices abroad.

Third is the need to limit carbon emissions due to concern about global warming.

However, in Eastern Europe and Asia the nuclear capacity has been expanding, globally, the share of nuclear world electricity has remained constant at around 16% since 1980’s with output from nuclear reactors actually increasing to match the growth in global electricity consumption.

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