With heightened global focus on the energy transition and the urgent need for decarbonization and enhanced energy security, underscored by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nuclear energy has emerged as a pivotal player in the quest for sustainable and reliable power sources – both large scale nuclear plants and the new advanced reactor technologies. This increased attention is driven by nuclear’s inherent traits, such as its base load power, reliability, and the fact that it produces zero carbon emissions.

Notably, the United States (U.S.), the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, Asia, Africa and various other regions worldwide are witnessing a surge in new nuclear initiatives, government support, and committed projects – demonstrating the growing need for the multifaceted applications of nuclear energy. Beyond electricity generation, nuclear is also gaining traction for its potential in addressing high process heat needs for industrial decarbonization and pioneering initiatives in deep space exploration.

The spreading acceptance that nuclear is key to the energy transition comes at a critical time. With countries looking at their decarbonization plans and trying to ensure grid stability, a number of emerging economies are seeing an increased need for energy, and a number of countries are facing energy crises as a result of the war in Ukraine.

This shift is reflected in annual reports from global organizations tracking energy developments around the world. For example, in 2022, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published its annual projections on nuclear power growth, echoing previous predictions of a substantial increase in nuclear generating capacity due to increased concerns about combatting climate change and ensuring energy security. Complementing the IAEA’s report, the International Energy Agency issued a similar report in 2022 and 2023 that outlined how governments and companies can work together to deploy clean energy technologies in high-emitting sectors and similarly projected a significant increase in nuclear generating capacity, including a 40 percent increase by 2030.

Summary of nuclear energy developments worldwide

Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily – with a long operating life, few retirements of older plants, and a number of new projects under development around the world. Today there are about 440 nuclear power reactors operating in 32 countries plus Taiwan, with a combined capacity of about 390 GWe. In 2023 nuclear provided about 10 percent of the world’s electricity. New projects continue to advance, with 60 nuclear reactors currently under construction. In the EU, countries like Sweden have announced plans to build 10 new nuclear reactors by 2045. Meanwhile, China is in the process of constructing 21 nuclear reactorsmore than any other country by a wide margin – and India is calling for as many as 20 new nuclear power plants to build in the next decade. While countries with existing nuclear power programs either have plans to build, or are building new reactors – such as China – improved and advanced designs of nuclear reactors are also being developed worldwide. These newer advanced reactors have simpler designs which are intended to reduce capital cost and they are more fuel efficient and inherently safer. Small modular reactors (SMRs) – which are typically up to 300 MWe – and advanced reactors are capable of more complex siting and power applications such as powering remote sites, maritime operations, military instillations, and space missions. These new nuclear projects and plans being announced around the world include expanding nuclear programs in central and eastern Europe, and planning for the deployment of SMRs in France, China, and the UK, with Southeast Asian and African countries strongly exploring nuclear to meet their sharply rising energy needs.

In the U.S., political consensus and support for nuclear in Congress has paved the way for the greenlighting of new plant designs, including advanced reactors, and keeping older plants operating. In fact, the U.S. is so far leading the charge with the number and diversity of advanced reactor projects underway, including siting the X-energy reactor at a Dow Chemical plant in Texas, a TerraPower reactor at a retired coal plant in Wyoming, a NuScale reactor planned for Idaho (and each of these three projects have received over US$1 billion each in U.S. government support), the Kairos demonstration project, which has completed its U.S. nuclear regulatory safety review, a number of GE-Hitachi projects in Canada, the U.S., and across Europe. China connected its first advanced reactor to the grid last year, and Russia – which has led the world in global nuclear trade – announced an advanced reactor option in 2023. The U.S. has also been undergoing a competition for a new plant, and a number of European countries are in discussions with vendors for advanced reactor projects.

Key takeaways for nuclear power

  • Nuclear is critical to decarbonization and energy security: As the world barrels towards its decarbonization commitments with increased focus on ensuring the lights stay on, nuclear is well suited to thrive and grow substantially over the coming decades. But new projects need to be delivered in a predictable manner – on time and on budget, moving past the growing pains that will inevitably come with the first-of-a-kind projects – in order for nuclear to realize its full potential.
  • New technologies: Along with existing large scale plants, a number of countries are looking at deploying advanced reactors, which are intended to be smaller, simpler, and scalable, with enhanced safety features, and improved economics. With their smaller size comes more diverse applications, like powering the new space age or powering commercial ships.
  • Predicable costs and schedules: New projects need to have predictable deployment schedules. First-of-a-kind projects will always take longer and cost more than than the “nth”-of-a-kind, and nuclear power’s economies come in both the immense long-term power it is able to produce, but also driving down construction costs and schedules through standardization.
  • Continued and expanded strong political and public support is critical for the nuclear energy industry: To secure long-term investment, nuclear will need to see continued and widespread government and public support – both winds that have consistently and increasingly been moving in nuclear’s favor.
  • Industrial decarbonization: Decarbonization of the industrial sector, one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, is a difficult task, but nuclear is uniquely suited for this sector because of its small footprint, energy density, high levels of reliability, and ability to provide process heat. These attributes have led to Dow Chemical selecting the X-energy plant to provide carbon free power and process heat to a chemical plant in Texas, and we expect to see an increase in announcements like this globally.

As the world barrels towards its decarbonization commitments with increased focus on ensuring the lights stay on, nuclear is well suited to thrive and grow substantially over the coming decades.