When nuclear power makes the news, it’s often for all the wrong reasons. The disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, ageing infrastructure in current plants, the spiralling costs of building new ones, and the unsolved issue of nuclear waste.

And yet as the world looks for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to take action on climate change, some think nuclear power, which does not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions, could play an increasingly important role in the future power mix.

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report looking at various routes the world could take to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050 predicts an increase of nuclear power for electricity generation in most scenarios.

Last year, global nuclear power generation reached pre-Fukushima levels as China added capacity and Japan restarted four reactors. And in total there are currently 449 reactors supplying about 11% of the world’s energy. So where are they?

Bar chart showing the distribution of nuclear reactors around the world.
Which countries have the the most nuclear reactors
Image: IAEA

The top five

The United States has the most operational nuclear reactors on the planet – 96. Together they have a capacity of 97,565 MW, and last year nuclear energy made up about 20% of the country’s electricity generation.

France is home to 58 nuclear reactors, which produce about 75% of the country’s electricity. It has said it will cut this amount to 50% by 2035.

China (48), Japan (37) and Russia (36) make up the rest of the top five.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combatting climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated. Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy initiative is working with projects including the Partnering for Sustainable Energy Innovation, the Future of Electricity, the Global Battery Alliance and Scaling Renewable Energy to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

The future of nuclear

There are more than 50 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, mostly in China.

Still, as Japanese efforts to reduce the effects of radioactive contamination caused by the accident in Fukushima enter their eighth year, it seems nuclear power has work to do in cleaning up its reputation.

Industry body the World Nuclear Association says nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity, and that the risk of accidents at plants is low and declining.

Anti-nuclear campaigners say the high cost of nuclear means the money would be better spent on renewables and energy efficiency.