Help us improve LowCarbonPower by taking this survey →
{{ this.getFirstYear() }}
Now Showing: {{ this.years[this.y] }}
The percentage of electricity that is generated domestically from low-carbon sources.

9.9% of global electricity is generated from Nuclear

What is Nuclear?

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat. The heat is used to turn a steam turbine, which turns a generator, which in turn generates electricity. Most electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.

Nuclear energy has been used since the 1950s. France gets 67.4% of its electricity from nuclear power. Nuclear energy was the principal source of decarbonization in several countries in the 1970s and 80s, such as France which increased its nuclear generation from 7.6% in 1976 to 70% in 1986, and Belgium which increased from 0.3% in 1974 to 66.9% in 1986. It proves that large-scale low-carbon electricity production is economically possible.

Electricity from nuclear power is generated continuously and therefore does not require electricity storage or backup sources like intermittent energy sources do.

The share of nuclear in electricity worldwide peaked at 17.6% in 1996. Some countries such as Germany and Belgium are planning to shut down all of their nuclear power plants, while others like Mainland China and India are expanding their nuclear energy capacity.


Is Nuclear a low-carbon energy source?

Yes, due to its relatively low lifecycle emissions, Nuclear is considered to be a low-carbon energy source.

The median estimate of lifecycle emissions from Nuclear is 12 gCO2eq / kWh. Where do our emissions numbers come from?

Wind11 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Nuclear12 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Hydropower24 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Geothermal38 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Solar45 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Biofuels230 gCO2eq / kWhLow-carbon
Gas490 gCO2eq / kWhHigh-carbon / fossil fuel
Oil650 gCO2eq / kWhHigh-carbon / fossil fuel
Coal820 gCO2eq / kWhHigh-carbon / fossil fuel

Nuclear compared to other low-carbon energy electricity sources

Most significant producers of electricity from Nuclear

{{ rd.regionname }} {{ rd.value }}%

What are the pros of Nuclear energy?

When it comes to reducing global warming, nuclear power offers a number of advantages.

Nuclear can help reduce global warming

First of all, nuclear power can generate large amounts of low-carbon electricity, which does not contribute to global warming. Indeed, it is a low-carbon energy source that emits very low levels of greenhouse gases (12 gCO2eq / kWh) unlike natural gas (490 gCO2eq / kWh) and coal (820 gCO2eq / kWh).

Nuclear generates electricity continuously (without intermittency)

Secondly, nuclear plants produce electricity in a continuous way and therefore do not require storage, as opposed to intermittent low-carbon energy sources such as solar and wind power that depend on daylight and meteorological conditions.

Nuclear has very low fuel costs

Third, nuclear reactors require very small amounts of enriched uranium to produce large amounts of electricity. While 1 kg of coal produces 8 kWh of heat, and 1 kg of oil produces 12 kWh, 1 kg of natural uranium generates 45,000 kWh. As a result, mining along with uranium cost is reduced and represents just 6% of the cost (https://www.euronuclear.org/glossary/fuel-comparison/).

Nuclear is cheap in the long-term

The average price of electricity produced by new nuclear reactors is 69 US$ / MWh according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), compared to 50 US$ / MWh for onshore wind, 56 US$ / MWh for solar, 71 US$ / MWh for gas and 88 US$ / MWh for coal.

Nevertheless, it is by extending the life of existing nuclear power plants that nuclear becomes the most economical way to produce low-carbon electricity, with an estimated average cost of 32 US$ / MWh.

Nuclear is well-known

Fourth, nuclear energy is a well-known technology that has been supplying low-carbon electricity in industrialized countries since the 1950s.

What are the cons of Nuclear energy?

Some radioactive waste must be stored for a very long time.

The most radioactive waste from nuclear reactors needs to be stored for several millennia. Underground disposal in stable geological layers can be a storage solution.

Major nuclear accidents can have catastrophic consequences.

According to OurWorldInData, nuclear energy is one of the safest energy sources in the world at just 0.07 deaths per TWh. It is 467 times safer than brown coal.

Nevertheless, nuclear accidents can have catastrophic consequences. Since the first nuclear reactors were built in 1954, there have been two Level 7 major nuclear accidents.

In Fukushima, Japan in 2011, a tsunami blocked the reactor cooling systems, resulting in a nuclear accident. While around 20,000 people died as a consequence of the tsunami, no official deaths or cancers have been associated with the nuclear accident. Nevertheless, the debate continues about potential links between the accident and thyroid cancer. An exclusion zone was set up around the plant and around 80,000 people were displaced.

In Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, the explosion of a nuclear reactor was caused by a series of human errors (incomplete documentation and lack of training of operators) during a safety test of the plant followed by a technical failure in the emergency shutdown mechanism of the plant. The number of deaths is still being debated. 30 people died during the accident, and an additional 16,000 people may have died from cancer caused by the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. An exclusion zone around the Ukrainian power plant was set up.

Significant changes of low-carbon power due to Nuclear

Region Years Change
France 1976 → 1986 31.2 → 88.1%
South Korea 1982 → 1986 12.9 → 50%
Argentina 1977 → 1985 23 → 60%
Spain 1981 → 1988 28.6 → 63.7%
Hungary 1982 → 1988 0.6 → 33.7%
Armenia 1995 → 2002 39.9 → 71.4%
Finland 1980 → 1983 41.3 → 67%
Belgium 1974 → 1977 1.2 → 26.5%
1980 → 1987 41.2 → 70.8%
Belgium 1983 → 1988 47.7 → 68.4%
Slovakia 1997 → 2002 52.5 → 72.7%
Romania 2003 → 2014 32.9 → 59.8%
Spain 2005 → 2010 35.4 → 53.6%
Sweden 1974 → 1981 76.5 → 95.8%
Czechia 2000 → 2013 22.4 → 47%
Germany 1974 → 1985 8.4 → 30.5%
Japan 1977 → 1985 19.8 → 38.3%
Hungary 2003 → 2009 27.5 → 44%
Czechia 1985 → 1990 7 → 22.4%
Slovenia 2007 → 2014 59.4 → 76%
1980 → 1988 31.7 → 48.5%
Bulgaria 1986 → 1996 31 → 49.2%
Bulgaria 2006 → 2007 52.6 → 41.4%
EU 1980 → 1985 29.6 → 42.5%
Sweden 2001 → 2003 96.1 → 85%
People's Republic of China 2011 → 2020 18.8 → 33.7%
1980 → 1985 16.5 → 28.4%
Lithuania 1995 → 2005 90.5 → 75.5%
Mexico 2016 → 2021 18.6 → 29.8%
United Kingdom 1980 → 1993 13.5 → 28.3%
Japan 1998 → 2003 43.5 → 34%
Czechia 2016 → 2020 41.5 → 50.4%
South Africa 1983 → 1988 0.5 → 8.9%
United States 1973 → 1983 18 → 27.1%
Japan 2006 → 2007 37.9 → 32.5%
Canada 2003 → 2020 71.6 → 83.5%
Iran 2008 → 2019 3.6 → 11.6%
France 1991 → 1997 86.5 → 92.1%
India 2015 → 2020 18 → 23%
Germany 1986 → 1988 28.4 → 32.4%
Slovenia 2016 → 2020 67 → 70.6%
United States 1985 → 1990 27 → 30.8%
France 2013 → 2014 90.3 → 93.2%
Hungary 2018 → 2019 41.7 → 44.4%
South Africa 1993 → 1998 5 → 8.2%
EU 1990 → 1997 43.9 → 47.2%
1986 → 1993 26.4 → 29.4%
Switzerland 1987 → 1988 97.3 → 99.3%

Blog

Dec 09, 2021
Where do our emissions numbers come from?

Nov 27, 2021
Confronting climate change requires ambition

Sep 08, 2021
Misleading claims about renewable power generation share in Denmark

May 10, 2021
What can we learn about decarbonization from past experiences?

Jan 21, 2021
Why are we not talking about hydropower?

Low-Carbon Power.org on Twitter

@LowCarbonPower