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The Advantages of Nuclear Energy in the Clean Energy Shift

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The following content is sponsored by Standard Uranium.

advantages of nuclear energy

Nuclear in the Energy Shift

The world’s population is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050 and as the population grows, so will our energy needs.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), global energy consumption will rise 40% by 2050, and electricity consumption will more than double. Meeting the rising demand for energy while protecting the environment will require clean energy sources that are powerful and reliable—and nuclear fits the bill.

The above infographic from Standard Uranium highlights the advantages of nuclear energy and its role in the clean energy transition.

The Advantages of Nuclear Energy

From cleanliness and reliability to safety and efficiency, seven factors make nuclear power essential to a clean future.

1. Carbon-free Energy

Nuclear power plants generate energy through fission, without any fossil fuel combustion.

As a result, nuclear power has one of the lowest lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions among other energy technologies. In fact, the use of nuclear power has reduced over 60 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1970.

2. Low Land Footprint

Due to the high energy density of uranium, nuclear power plants can produce large amounts of electricity without taking up much space.

A 1,000 megawatt nuclear facility requires just 1.3 square miles of land. For context, solar and wind farms with equal generating capacity can occupy up to 75 times and 360 times more space, respectively.

3. Reliability

Of all the advantages of nuclear energy, reliability is one of the most important.

Nuclear facilities can generate electricity round the clock, contrary to solar and wind farms that depend on the weather. In 2020, U.S. nuclear power plants were running at maximum capacity 92.5% of the time, surpassing all other energy sources.

4. Resource Efficiency

All sources of energy use raw materials that help build them or support them, besides the fuels.

These can range from metals such as copper and rare earths to materials like concrete and glass. Nuclear power plants have the lowest structural material requirements of all low-carbon energy sources. They’re not only powerful but also efficient in their material consumption.

5. Long-term Affordability

The high capital costs of nuclear facilities are often cited as a potential issue. However, this can change over time.

In fact, nuclear reactors with 20-year lifetime extensions are the cheapest sources of electricity in the United States. Furthermore, the average U.S. nuclear reactor is 39 years old, and 88 of the 96 reactors in the country are approved for 20-year extensions.

6. Safety

Although conventional beliefs might suggest otherwise, nuclear is actually one of the safest sources of energy.

Energy sourceDeaths per 10 TWhType
Coal246Fossil fuel
Oil184Fossil fuel
Biomass46Renewable
Natural Gas28Fossil fuel
Nuclear0.7Non-renewable
Wind0.4Renewable
Hydro0.2Renewable
Solar0.2Renewable

Even including disasters and accidents, nuclear energy accounts for one of the lowest number of deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity.

7. Economic Contribution

Apart from the above advantages of nuclear energy, the U.S. nuclear industry also plays a significant role in the economy.

  • The nuclear industry directly employs 100,000 people, and creates thousands of indirect jobs.
  • A typical nuclear power plant generates $40 million in annual labor income.
  • The nuclear industry adds $60 billion to U.S. GDP annually.

Nuclear is not only clean, safe, and reliable but it also has positive ramifications on the economy.

Nuclear Power for the Future

Transitioning to a cleaner future while increasing energy production may be difficult without new nuclear sources—largely because other renewable energy sources aren’t as powerful, reliable, or efficient.

As the energy shift ramps up, nuclear power will be an essential part of our clean energy mix.

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Energy Shift

Visualizing Nuclear Power Production by Country

Nuclear power accounted for 10% of global electricity generated in 2020. Here’s a look at the largest nuclear power producers.

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Nuclear Power Production by Country

Nearly 450 reactors around the world supply various nations with nuclear power, combining for about 10% of the world’s electricity, or about 4% of the global energy mix.

But while some countries are turning to nuclear as a clean energy source, nuclear energy generation overall has seen a slowdown since its peak in the 1990s.

The above infographic breaks down nuclear electricity generation by country in 2020 using data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).

Ranked: The Top 15 Countries for Nuclear Power

Just 15 countries account for more than 91% of global nuclear power production. Here’s how much energy these countries produced in 2020:

RankCountryNumber of Operating ReactorsNuclear Electricity Supplied
[GWh]
% share
#1U.S. 🇺🇸96789,91930.9%
#2China 🇨🇳50344,74813.5%
#3France 🇫🇷58338,67113.3%
#4Russia 🇷🇺39201,8217.9%
#5South Korea 🇰🇷24152,5836.0%
#6Canada 🇨🇦1992,1663.6%
#7Ukraine 🇺🇦1571,5502.8%
#8Germany 🇩🇪660,9182.4%
#9Spain 🇪🇸755,8252.2%
#10Sweden 🇸🇪747,3621.9%
#11U.K. 🇬🇧1545,6681.8%
#12Japan 🇯🇵3343,0991.7%
#13India 🇮🇳2240,3741.6%
#14Belgium 🇧🇪732,7931.3%
#15Czechia 🇨🇿628,3721.1%
Rest of the World 🌎44207,3408.1%
Total4482,553,208100.0%

In the U.S., nuclear power produces over 50% of the country’s clean electricity. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 96 operating reactors in 2020 received approvals for a 20-year life extension.

China, the world’s second-largest nuclear power producer, is investing further in nuclear energy in a bid to achieve its climate goals. The plan, which includes building 150 new reactors by 2035, could cost as much as $440 billion.

On the other hand, European opinions on nuclear energy are mixed. Germany is the eighth-largest on the list but plans to shutter its last operating reactor in 2022 as part of its nuclear phase-out. France, meanwhile, plans to expand its nuclear capacity.

Which Countries Rely Most on Nuclear Energy?

Although total electricity generation is useful for a high-level global comparison, it’s important to remember that there are some smaller countries not featured above where nuclear is still an important part of the electricity mix.

Here’s a breakdown based on the share of nuclear energy in a country’s electricity mix:

RankCountryNuclear Share of Electricity Mix
#1France 🇫🇷70.6%
#2Slovakia 🇸🇰53.1%
#3Ukraine 🇺🇦51.2%
#4Hungary 🇭🇺48.0%
#5Bulgaria 🇧🇬40.8%
#6Belgium 🇧🇪39.1%
#7Slovenia 🇸🇮37.8%
#8Czechia 🇨🇿37.3%
#9Armenia 🇦🇲34.5%
#10Finland 🇫🇮33.9%
#11Switzerland 🇨🇭32.9%
#12Sweden 🇸🇪29.8%
#13South Korea 🇰🇷29.6%
#14Spain 🇪🇸22.2%
#15Russia 🇷🇺20.6%
#16Romania 🇷🇴19.9%
#17United States 🇺🇸19.7%
#18Canada 🇨🇦14.6%
#19United Kingdom 🇬🇧14.5%
#20Germany 🇩🇪11.3%

European countries dominate the leaderboard with 14 of the top 15 spots, including France, where nuclear power is the country’s largest source of electricity.

It’s interesting to note that only a few of these countries are top producers of nuclear in absolute terms. For example, in Slovakia, nuclear makes up 53.6% of the electricity mix—however, the country’s four reactors make up less than 1% of total global operating capacity.

On the flipside, the U.S. ranks 17th by share of nuclear power in its mix, despite producing 31% of global nuclear electricity in 2020. This discrepancy is largely due to size and population. European countries are much smaller and produce less electricity overall than larger countries like the U.S. and China.

The Future of Nuclear Power

The nuclear power landscape is constantly changing.

There were over 50 additional nuclear reactors under construction in 2020, and hundreds more are planned primarily in Asia.

As countries turn away from fossil fuels and embrace carbon-free energy sources, nuclear energy might see a resurgence in the global energy mix despite the phase-outs planned in several countries around he globe.

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Energy Shift

How Energy Prices Performed in 2021

Energy commodities surged in 2021 as demand picked up and supply remained constricted, but which fuels flew highest?

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Energy price performance 2021

How Energy Prices Performed in 2021

A year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world started to reopen and generate insatiable energy demand. Supply shortages and the clean energy transition further fueled the rise of all energy commodities.

Even in a year where markets and commodities performed strongly, energy prices stood out. The energy component of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) rose by 59% in 2021, returning more than double any other component in the index.

Let’s take a look at how energy commodities performed in 2021, as tracked by Trading Economics and TradingView.

How Much Did Energy Prices Climb in 2021?

After dipping into negative prices in April of 2020, WTI crude oil had a strong bounce back.

Many of crude oil’s derivative products also increased in price by double digits, resulting in higher gas prices at the pump. The U.S. average retail price for gasoline increased by 45.8% to close at $3.28/gal, while wholesale prices of RBOB gasoline also climbed by 57.8%.

Asset2021 Returns
TTF Gas290.6%
UK Gas215.9%
Ethanol101.7%
Coal93.1%
Lumber59.4%
RBOB Gasoline57.8%
WTI Crude Oil56.4%
Heating Oil53.1%
Brent Crude Oil50.7%
Natural Gas46.9%
Naphtha46.5%
Uranium U30840.3%
Propane33.6%
Methanol3.2%

Natural gas prices in Europe and the UK saw the biggest price increases in 2021, jumping more than 200%.

They were followed by ethanol, a biofuel that oil refiners are required to blend with their products. This requirement, along with the price rises in corn and sugar (ethanol’s primary raw materials around the world), made this hot commodity even more expensive.

Rising Natural Gas Prices Fuel Tension and Unrest

While the U.S. saw increases in its gasoline prices as well, these were mild compared to surges in Europe and elsewhere.

With close to 43% of Europe’s total gas imports coming from Russia, no additional supply was provided during the cold winter months. This was compounded as Germany’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has remained in limbo.

So far, 2022 has been a continuation of these trends. For example, liquified petroleum gas (LPG) prices have nearly doubled due to unrest in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan government’s decision to lift price controls on LPG (the primary fuel for Kazakh cars) saw prices surge and led to days of protests and Russian intervention.

Coal Stays Strong Despite the Clean Energy Transition

Despite 2021’s emphasis on the clean energy transition, coal prices nearly doubled as the world was unable to shake off its dependence on the fossil fuel.

Even pledges from the COP26 climate change conference, such as China’s to reduce coal consumption after 2025, are not yet having an impact on prices. That’s because the country is still planning to add up to 150 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity before then.

On the other hand, uranium couldn’t keep up with the price rises of fossil fuels. Although the energy metal had a breakout year as one of the recently renewed hopes for cleaner energy, the outlook for nuclear energy adoption and development is still mixed.

While China is expected to invest as much as $440B into new nuclear power plants over the next 10 years, Germany shut down half of its remaining plants in 2021.

After the surge of energy prices in 2021, nations will need to carefully manage their clean energy transitions to avoid further unsustainable price rises.

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