How Old Are the World’s Nuclear Reactors?
Since the advent of nuclear electricity in the 1950s, nuclear reactors have played an essential role in meeting our rising energy needs.
Nuclear reactors are designed to operate for decades and are typically licensed for 20 to 40 years, and they can last even longer with license renewals.
So, just how old is the world’s current nuclear reactor fleet?
The bubble chart above looks at the age distribution of the 422 reactors operating worldwide as of March 2023, based on data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).
The Age Distribution of the Global Reactor Fleet
Nuclear power saw a building boom in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as countries expanded their energy portfolios and sought to capitalize on the advancements in nuclear technology.
As a result, the majority of the world’s nuclear reactors began operating during this period.
|Age Group (years)||Number of Reactors||Net Electrical Capacity (megawatts)|
Data as of March 22, 2023.
Of the total of 422 reactors, 262 reactors have been in operation for 31 to 50 years. In other words, about 62% of all current nuclear reactors were connected to the grid between 1973 and 1992.
Growth in nuclear power slowed down by the turn of the 21st century, with decreasing public support and increasing concern over nuclear safety. As a result, only a small number of reactors fall into the 11 to 20 year age group.
But over the last decade, some countries have renewed their interest in nuclear energy, while others like China have continued to expand their reactor fleets. Some 67 reactors are between zero and 10 years old, accounting for 18% of global nuclear electrical capacity.
The oldest operating reactors (five of them) are 54 years old and entered commercial service in 1969. Two of these are located in the United States, two in India, and one in Switzerland.
How Long Can Nuclear Reactors Last?
Although specific lifespans can vary, nuclear reactors are typically designed to last for 20 to 40 years.
However, reactors can operate beyond their initially licensed periods with lifetime extensions. Extending reactor lives requires rigorous assessments, safety evaluations, and refurbishments.
Some countries have granted license renewals for aging reactors. Notably, 88 of the 92 reactors in the U.S. have received approvals to operate for up to 60 years, and some have applied for additional 20-year extensions to operate for up to 80 years.
With safety concerns addressed, reactors with lifetime extensions can offer various advantages. Without the high capital investments needed to build new reactors, they can produce carbon-free electricity at low and competitive costs, which is especially important as the global power sector looks to decarbonize.
Ranked: The World’s Top Cobalt Producing Countries
Cobalt, an essential component for certain types of EV batteries, has seen a significant shift in its global production landscape.
Ranked: The World’s Top Cobalt Producing Countries
Cobalt, an essential component of key chemistries of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, has seen a significant shift in its global production landscape.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has long been the world’s largest cobalt producer, accounting for 73% of global output in 2022.
However, according to the Cobalt Institute, the DRC’s dominance is projected to decrease to 57% by 2030 as Indonesia ramps up its cobalt production as a byproduct from its rapidly expanding nickel industry.
Indonesia Became Second Largest Cobalt Producer in 2022
Indonesia accounts for nearly 5% of global cobalt production today, surpassing established producers like Australia and the Philippines.
In 2022, Indonesia’s cobalt production surged to almost 9,500 tonnes from 2,700 tonnes in 2021, with the potential to increase production by tenfold by 2030.
|Country||2022 Production (tonnes)||% of Total Production|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||3,060||1.5%|
Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
In total, global cobalt production reached 197,791 tonnes, with the DRC contributing just under 145,000 tonnes of that mix.
The EV industry is the largest consumer of cobalt, accounting for approximately 40% of total demand. The exponential growth of the EV sector is expected to drive a doubling of global cobalt demand by 2030.
While the shift in cobalt production is notable, it is not without challenges. Plummeting cobalt prices, which fell almost 30% this year to $13.90 a pound, have severely impacted the DRC.
Furthermore, the longer-term prospects of cobalt could face hurdles due to efforts to reduce its use in batteries, partly driven by human rights concerns associated with artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC and related child labor and human rights abuses.
In a 2021 ruling by a federal court in Washington, Google parent Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla were relieved from a class action suit claiming their responsibility for alleged child labor in Congolese cobalt mines.
The Future of Cobalt
Despite ongoing efforts to substitute cobalt in battery applications, cobalt is expected to remain a vital raw material for the entire battery supply chain in the near future.
The demand for cobalt is forecasted to more than double by 2030 to 388,000 tonnes.
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