EIA: Nuclear energy gaining market share

The amount of nuclear-generated electricity grew throughout the world during 1996, as the performance of nuclear power plants continued to improve, enhancing the role of nuclear power as an electric energy source. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 32 countries presently use nuclear power to generate electricity.

In 1996, nuclear power accounted for 23 percent of total electric generation in those countries and contributed 17 percent of electricity generation worldwide. Also in 1996, for the first time, nuclear fuel derived from dismantled Russian warheads entered the commercial market. EIA`s “Nuclear Power Generation and Fuel Cycle Report” indicates there is considerable uncertainty as to whether nuclear power will retain its current share of generation or possibly assume a larger role in the future. Its economic competitiveness, social acceptance and the handling of nuclear waste are issues to be resolved. For some countries, however, insufficient indigenous energy resources coupled with a desire for energy independence help make nuclear power a viable option.

Five new nuclear reactors were added to electric grids in 1996, bringing the total number of commercial nuclear units worldwide to 442, and increasing total worldwide commercial nuclear electric generating capacity to 351 net GWe. In the United States, the Watts Bar 1 plant was connected to the grid in February 1996. Japan, France and Romania also added new nuclear capacity.

At the close of 1996, 45 nuclear units were under construction. Russia and South Korea are building seven each. An additional 27 units are planned worldwide: China and Japan account for most of the planned units, with completion times scheduled for the period 2002-2010.

EIA projects nuclear capacity worldwide to increase to 391 net GWe by 2010 and then to fall to 360 net GWe by 2015, largely due to the expected retirement of some U.S. units at the end of their current operating-license periods. In Asia (China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan), nuclear capacity is projected to grow at an annual rate of 3.4 percent through 2015. This will account for more than 70 percent of the projected new nuclear capacity worldwide.

Early in 1996, the average uranium price on the world market increased to $14.17 per pound U3O8. By May 1997, the price fell to $10.50 per pound, stemming largely from utility purchases in recent years of uranium in excess of immediate requirements. The price is projected to rise in 1998 as the market adjusts to a reduction in excess commercial inventories. By 2003, the price is expected to rise to $15.00 per pound U3O8, as lower cost reserves are depleted and the introduction of government surplus inventories becomes stable.

EIA projects cumulative worldwide uranium requirements from 1997 through 2015 for commercial nuclear units to be nearly 3 billion pounds U3O8. Ten thousand metric tons of uranium are expected to be discharged as spent fuel from world nuclear reactors in 1997. Over the period 1997-2015, world cumulative discharges are projected to total 206,000 metric tons of uranium. Copies of the report are available from the EIA`s National Energy Information Center, Room 1F-048, Forrestal Building, Washington, D.C., 20585, USA.