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Nuclear power has historically been one of the largest contributors of carbon-free electricity globally and it has significant potential to contribute to power sector decarbonisation.

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Key findings

Nuclear power output change year-on-year in leading markets, 2020 Q1 and estimates

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Global nuclear power generation was down 3.5% in the first quarter of 2020

Global nuclear power generation was down 3.5% in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, pulled down by electricity demand reductions in most markets as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis and fewer reactors in operation, with China being the exception. In IEA estimates for 2020, nuclear power declines by about 3% from 2019. A faster recovery would see higher electricity demand and some new reactors completed in 2020, leading to just a 1% decline.

A doubling in annual capacity additions is needed to be on track with the IEA's Sustainable Development Scenario

In 2018, 11.2 GW of additional nuclear capacity were connected to the grid, the largest increase since 1989. New projects were launched representing over 6 GW, and refurbishment projects are under way in many countries to ensure long-term operation of the existing fleet. Nevertheless, more efforts in terms of policies, financing and cost reductions are needed to maintain existing capacity and bring new reactors online. Under current trends, nuclear capacity in 2030 would amount to 497 GW, compared with 542 GW under the Sustainable Development Scenario. At least a doubling of the annual rate of capacity additions is therefore required.

Cumulative CO2 emissions avoided by global nuclear power in selected countries, 1971-2018


Nuclear power can play an important role in clean energy transitions

Nuclear power has avoided about 55 Gt of CO2 emissions over the past 50 years, nearly equal to 2 years of global energy-related CO2 emissions. However, despite the contribution from nuclear and the rapid growth in renewables, energy-related CO2 emissions hit a record high in 2018 as electricity demand growth outpaced increases in low-carbon power. In the absense of further lifetime extensions and new projects could result in an additional 4 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, underlining the importance of the nuclear fleet to low-carbon energy transitions around the globe.