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Global Nuclear Performance Analysis

A News & Data Feature

World nuclear performance gained in 2014 for first time since Fukushima

June 22, 2015 -- By William Freebairn, Washington; Wes Becker, Denver

World nuclear generation tracked by Platts in 2014 rose 1% compared to 2013, the first annual gain since the 2011 accident at Fukushima I in Japan curbed global nuclear output sharply, an analysis shows.

The analysis considers generation by the nuclear plants reporting gross generation to Platts. Those plants generated about 2.039 billion MWh in 2014. [See related table: 2014 Top 50 nuclear generation]

That was a slight increase from the 2.018 billion MWh in reported generation in 2013.

About 350 of the world's 429 nuclear units report gross generating data to Platts.

Analysis continues below...

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The units in operation in 2014 had a gross capacity of 392.6 GW, up from about 390.9 GW in 2013, when the same number of units operated, according to Platts data.

The global nuclear fleet made up for a lack of growth in the number of units in 2014 by increasing output of existing units through uprates.

In addition, the units reporting data increased their capacity factor, meaning they were online at full capacity for longer, likely by reducing the length and number of outages.

The global nuclear unit capacity factor rose to about 75.8% in 2014, well above the 69.1% in 2013, and higher than the 2012-2014 average capacity factor of 71.9%.

Global nuclear performance 2014

That figure was particularly notable as it includes the 48 operable Japanese nuclear reactors, all of which are shut in the wake of the Fukushima I accident in that country. Those units had a capacity factor of 0% in 2014.

Global nuclear generation reported to Platts is still far below its peak in 2006 of 2.79 billion MWh, when there were more reactors online and all but a few dozen units were reporting gross output.

The number of units reporting to Platts has declined as electricity competition has spread and more companies regard the data as proprietary. All figures are for gross generation.

"There's just been an amazing focus on eliminating the causes of things that were detracting from capacity factors historically: equipment problems and human performance," said Eugene Grecheck, a former Dominion nuclear executive and current president of the American Nuclear Society.

The US nuclear power industry was achieving capacity factors in the high-50% range in the 1980s until an effort was made in recent decades to upgrade, better maintain and improve the reliability of reactor protection system equipment that was causing performance problems, he said.

"Every plant has put a high focus on what was called equipment reliability," he said.

In addition, management focus was placed on shortening planned outages by improving the efficiency of workers and improving productivity, he said.

At Dominion, for example, a rule was put in place that said work crews had to report inactivity after 15 minutes, alerting management to a potential increase in unneeded radiation doses to those workers as well as drawing attention to wasted time, he said.

The number of operable units globally has declined from 441 in 2010 to 429 in 2014, triggered by retirements in Germany, Japan and the US. [See related table: Nuclear gross generation by nation]

Germany is gradually phasing out nuclear energy in response to the Fukushima accident.

Japan is awaiting the phased restart of reactors after regulatory reviews show that they meet stricter nuclear safety standards established since the accident.

The first Japanese reactor could restart in August, nuclear operators have said.

In the US, low electricity prices contributed to the retirement of two units in 2013 and 2014, while technical issues related to steam generator replacement resulted in the closure of three additional units in 2013.

The 2014 figure still includes five Japanese units for which the operators announced permanent retirements in March.

It also includes one US unit, Vermont Yankee, which was retired on the last day of the year.

The figures do not include India's Kudankulam-1, which declared commercial operation December 31, 2014, and Argentina's Atucha-2, which was in the commissioning process at year's end.

US nuclear generation reported to Platts was little changed compared with 2013. Last year's generation of 649.7 million MWh was higher than the 2013 figure of 648.6 million MWh by about 0.16%.

US generation has fallen from the record 843 million MWh in 2007, in part as a result of retirement of four reactors with a total capacity of 3,747 MW, during 2013.

Three of the units, Duke Energy's Crystal River-3 and Southern California Edison's two-unit San Onofre, had been in extended outages dating to 2009 and 2012, respectively.

US totals in 2014 exclude 24 units that do not provide gross generating data to Platts; 25 units did not report in 2013.

Retirements of units in the US, Japan and Germany have been offset by new units that have come online in China, where the number of units in the analysis grew by five in the past two years.

Three units that entered commercial operation in China in 2014 were included in the data.

The 1,086-MW Yangjiang-1 began operating commercially in March, 1,089-MW Ningde-2 began operating in April and 1,119-MW Hongyanhe-2 did so in May.

Fuqing-1, which entered commercial operation in December, is not included in the data. Additional growth in the number of units is on the horizon.

China plans to bring at least seven nuclear units into commercial operation during 2015 and aims to expand its installed nuclear capacity to 58 GW by 2020.

The country has over 30 GW of capacity under construction, the country's State Council said in an energy action plan in November.

Additional growth in reactors will come from other developing countries in the coming year. Argentina and India added a single unit each at the end of 2014.

South Korea and the US are also expected to add a unit each in 2015, although it remains to be seen if there are further retirements in the US this year in response to challenging economic situations for merchant operators in that country.

People in developing countries deserve to have adequate access to electricity, and nuclear energy is a key way to do so without increasing CO2 emissions, Grechek said.

"The fact that the need for great amounts of energy exists elsewhere in the world besides the United States [makes] it inevitable that that is where the great growth of nuclear is going to be," he said.

Article continues: 2014 nuclear power generating trends

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