nuclear enegy statistics

Nuclear Energy Statistics

The word “nuclear” may evoke images of atomic bombs and catastrophic meltdowns, but you may be surprised to learn that nuclear power provides almost one fifth of the U.S.’s electricity annually (U.S. Energy Information Administration). 

While nuclear power plants create serious health and safety risks, the power they produce is relatively cheap and is carbon-neutral. Read on for all the statistics you need to know about nuclear energy production and consumption worldwide.

Key Takeaways

  • Nuclear energy is technically clean and carbon-free, but comes with sizable risks to human safety.
  • Nuclear power plants are expensive to construct but cheap to keep running.
  • Today, 440 nuclear power reactors in 33 countries provide about one tenth of the world’s electricity.

General Nuclear Energy Statistics

  • Today, about 440 nuclear power reactors scattered throughout 33 countries supply about 10.1% of the world’s electricity generation (World Nuclear Association).
    • More than 33 countries use nuclear electricity, however, as it’s often imported; countries like Italy and Denmark depend on imported nuclear electricity for 10% of their power.
    • In 2020, nuclear electricity supplied 10% of the world’s power. This is compared to 35.2% of global power derived from coal, 23.6% from gas, 16.6% from hydropower, 9.4% from solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy, 2.5% from oil, and 2,7% from other sources.
  • Nuclear energy provides 26% of the global total of low-carbon power, and is one of the most common low-carbon energy sources, along with wind, solar, and hydropower (World Nuclear Association).
    • France gets about 70% of its energy from nuclear electricity. Ukraine, Slovakia, Belgium, and Hungary all get about half of their energy from nuclear electricity. Prior to the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan was used to getting about one quarter of its energy from nuclear electricity and is working towards returning to that point.
    • According to a 2015 energy policy, France aimed to decrease its reliance on nuclear power to 50% by 2025 (that deadline has since been extended to 2035 in order to preserve supply and job security as well as keep carbon emissions down).
    • The UK is also working on replacing its entire fleet of nuclear reactors (thanks to another government energy paper from mid-2006).
    • In 2021, thirteen countries relied on nuclear electricity for at least one quarter of their power.
  • About 2,591 billion kilowatt-hours of nuclear energy are generated around the globe annually on average.
    • The amount of power provided by nuclear energy annually is growing–from 2,553 TWh in 2020 to 2,653 TWh in 2021, for example.
  • The U.S.’s total net annual electricity generation from nuclear power is 778,188 million kilowatt-hours.
    • This means that nuclear power accounts for about 18.9% of the U.S.’s total electricity generation.
    • The largest of the U.S.’s nuclear power plants, Palo Verde in Arizona (which boasts three nuclear reactors), has a capacity of 3,937 megawatts.
    • The U.S. alone produces 21,000 pounds of uranium concentrate annually.
    • 28 states have operating commercial nuclear power plants.
  • The U.S. provides 29.9% of the world’s nuclear electricity. The second largest producer of nuclear energy is France, which provides 14.4% of the global total. Next comes China with 13.9%, Russia with 8.2%, and South Korea with 5.9% (EIA).
  • About 220 research reactors exist worldwide in 50 countries. These reactors are used for training and the production of medical and industrial nuclear isotopes in addition to nuclear research.
    • Bangladesh, Turkey, and the UAE are all currently constructing their first nuclear power reactors.
  • Some nuclear reactors are used by the world’s most powerful navies to propel ships and submarines. Over 160 ships (including mostly submarines) are propelled by about 200 reactors worldwide (World Nuclear Association).
    • Russia in particular operates a fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Its floating nuclear power plant contains two 32 MWe (megawatt-hour electrical) capacity reactors, which are connected to the remote Arctic region of Pevek and which are adapted from those nuclear-powered icebreakers.

Global Nuclear Energy Statistics

Below are statistics on nuclear power in several major global regions. Countries that are considered nuclear leaders (in the top 15 producers of nuclear energy) are in bold, followed by the amount of nuclear power they produce annually by gigawatt-hour (GW-HR).

  • North America
    • United States of America – 771,638 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
    • Canada – 86,780 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
      • All but one of Canada’s 19 nuclear reactors are in Ontario (one is in Alberta). Ten of the reactors in Ontario are set to undergo refurbishment (through a similar refurbishment program in 2014, Ontario phased out coal and was able to achieve one of the cleanest energy systems in the world) (World Nuclear Association).
    • Mexico – two nuclear reactors provide 4% of the country’s electricity (World Nuclear Association)
  • South America
    • Argentina – three nuclear reactors provide 5% of the country’s electricity
    • Brazil – two nuclear reactors provide 2.7% of the country’s electricity
  • Central and Eastern Europe, Russia
    • Russia – 208,443 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
      • In 2016, the Russian government issued a decree for the construction of 11 new nuclear reactors by 2030. As of 2022, three new reactors are under construction, with a combined capacity of 2.6 GWe (gigawatts electrical) (World Nuclear Association).
    • Ukraine – 81,126 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
    • Germany – 65,444 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
    • Czech Republic – 29,044 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
  • Asia
    • China – 383,205 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
      • China is the world leader in the construction of new nuclear reactors–as of July 2022, 21 new reactors were under construction (World Nuclear Association).
      • China’s motivation for speedy nuclear construction is its need to improve urban air quality and decrease greenhouse gas emissions (World Nuclear Association).
    • South Korea – 150,456 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
    • Japan – 61,304 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
    • India – 39,758 GW-HR (Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI))
      • In 2010, India’s government implemented a rigorous nuclear infrastructure development program, with the goal to have 14.6 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2024. As of July 2022, eight reactors were under construction with a total combined capacity of 6.7 GWe (World Nuclear Association).
  • Africa
    • South Africa – two reactors provide 5% of the country’s electricity
  • Middle East
    • UAE – four reactors with a total rated capacity of 5.6 gigawatts
    • Saudi Arabia – targeted to have created 17 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2040

Nuclear Energy Compared to Other Energy Sources

Nuclear energy produces zero greenhouse gas emissions and zero carbon dioxide emissions, making it a carbon-free source of energy. 

While this technically means that nuclear energy is “clean” energy, it does create  risks such as a nuclear meltdown (which can lead to catastrophes like Chernobyl, and happens to 1.5% of nuclear reactors), lung cancer for uranium miners, air pollution from mining, and the risk of toxic waste. 

This means that while nuclear electricity generation may be an important step towards a carbon-neutral future, it’s not quite as “clean” as other renewable energy sources like wind or solar energy. 

Producing nuclear power can still be far safer than traditional fossil-fuel-based energy, with 99.9% fewer deaths than brown coal, 99.8% fewer deaths than traditional coal, 99.7% fewer deaths than oil, and 97.6% fewer deaths than natural gas.

Over the past 40 years, the percentage of nuclear reactors reaching high capacity factors (performing the closest to their maximum potential) has grown significantly. In 2021, 68% of nuclear reactors worldwide reached at least 80% of their maximum capacity (compared to less than 30% in the 1970s) (EIA). 

In 2021, only 6% of nuclear reactors worldwide reached less than 50% of their potential (compared to just over 20% in the 1970s) (with mean capacity factor staying relatively the same despite the age of the reactors) (EIA).

Nuclear Energy Costs

Building a nuclear plant may be expensive, but keeping it running is relatively cheap

As of 2021, the cost to produce nuclear energy was $29.13 per megawatt-hour, and has been steadily declining in recent decades. 

However, when the costs of construction are factored in, nuclear energy is far more expensive than renewable forms of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal energy (though still cheaper than biomass energy).

  • The U.S. spends about $72.5 million annually on uranium expenditures as of 2021 (EIA).
  • The average price of uranium concentrate is $33.91 per pound of U3O8.
  • The cost of nuclear fuel is 0.61 cents per kilowatt-hour (as opposed to $2.46 cents per kilowatt-hour for fuels from fossil steam).
  • Investing in and using existing nuclear reactors for their entire lifespans can be incredibly cost-effective (this is because the majority of the cost for nuclear energy comes from power plant construction).
    • Commercial plants whose construction began in the late 1960s cost $1,000 per KWe (kilowatts electrical) (in 2010 dollars). Just ten years later, prices had increased ninefold.
    • Today, building an average nuclear reactor costs about $8,000 per KWe ($6,000 per KWe in 2010 dollars) (typically with an actual cost of nearly double that thanks to financing costs) (Institute for Progress).
    • For power from sources like natural gas and coal, the fuel cost is far greater than that for nuclear but the investment cost is significantly less. For renewable energy, the proportional investment cost is often the same or greater than that for nuclear, but fuel costs are virtually non-existent (the only other expenses come from operations and maintenance) (Institute for Progress).