Global nuclear capacity

At the end of 1999, according to figures compiled by the World Energy Council3 there were 430 operating nuclear reactors, worldwide. (There were 437 operating in 1995.4) These had a total generating capacity of 349 GW. A further 41 units were under construction; these had an aggregate capacity of 33 GW.

The global figures are broken down in Table 17.1 to show the distribution of current nuclear generating capacity by region. Europe, with 215 units and 171 GW, has the greatest capacity. North America has 120 operating units with an aggregate generating capacity of 109 GW while Asia has 90 units. Of the continents, only Australia and Antarctica have none.

Nationally, France produces around 75% of its electricity from nuclear power stations. Lithuania generates 73% from nuclear sources and Belgium 58%. In Asia, South Korea produces 43% of its power from nuclear units

Table 17.1 Global nuclear generating capacity

Number of units

Total capacity (MW)




North America



South America









Middle East






Source: World Energy Council.

Source: World Energy Council.

while Japan relies on nuclear power for 12% of its electricity. In all 18 countries rely on nuclear plants for 25% or more of their electricity.5

Globally, these nuclear plants provide around 16% of total electricity generation, almost as much as hydropower. Net generation at the end of 1999 was 2391 TWh.6 However the overall global nuclear capacity is now static; new plants built in Asia compensate for old plants removed from service in other parts of the world.

Economically nuclear power plants are perceived to be expensive to build, particularly in the USA. However plants where the capital cost has been written off have proved extremely competitive generators of electricity. In the USA, for example, the cost of base-load nuclear power averaged $0.0171/kWh in 2002, undercutting all other sources of electricity.7

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