• The USA is the world's largest nuclear energy stronghold with 93 operational reactor units, compared to just 9 in Japan.
  • Japan has lost 39 units since 2011, whilst China has gained 39.
  • Japan is expected to officially abandon new nuclear energy construction.
  • There has been an overall drop in nuclear power generation since 2011 despite China's significant growth.

According to the 2021 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, global nuclear power generation dropped 3.9 percent in 2020 despite a 4.4 percent climb in China, where two new reactors were added. In 2021, 415 reactors were operational around the world - 22 fewer than in 2011. Another 26 are currently in long-term storage and 53 are under construction - around half in China and India.

The rapid expansion of renewables and negative public sentiment towards nuclear energy created by disasters such as those in Chernobyl or Fukushima have been turning nuclear power into an also-ran of global energy generation. Nuclear power has been experiencing a slow decline from a 17.5 percent peak share of global electicity generation in 1996 to a share of only 10.1 percent in 2020, as more countries put on hold or abandon their nuclear power strategies than are expanding them.

According to the report, 33 countries currently run nuclear power reactors, but only 14 are listed as still actively pursuing the technology - including 2020 nuclear energy newcomers Belarus and the United Arab Emirates.

The world's fastest growing nuclear energy program is also one of the youngest: China has used nuclear energy since the early 1990s and currently runs 52 nuclear reactors, 39 of which joined the grid in just the past ten years. The United States meanwhile remain the globe's biggest nuclear energy stronghold, with 93 operational reactor units as of July 2021, down 11 since 2011. Despite the decline, the U.S. program is listed as active, as is the Japanese one, which saw a massive loss of 39 units since 2011. At currently nine active nuclear reactors, it is expected that Japan will soon officially abandon new nuclear energy construction.

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

Moving to clean energy is key to combating 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. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

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 and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

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

Only three countries that had nuclear energy programs have so far shut off all reactors - Italy in 1987, Kazakhstan in 1998 and Lithuania in 2009.