Nuclear power's prominence as a major energy source will continue over the next several decades, according to new projections made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which published a new report, “Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power for the Period up to 2030.”

The IAEA makes two annual projections concerning the growth of nuclear power: a low and a high. The low projection assumes all nuclear capacity that is currently under construction or firmly in the development pipeline gets completed and attached to the grid, but the projection adds no other capacity. In this low projection, there would be growth in capacity from 370 gigawatts (GW) at the end of 2006 to 447 GW in 2030.

In the IAEA’s high projection, which adds reasonable and promising projects and plans, global nuclear capacity will rise to 679 GW in 2030. That would be an average growth rate of about 2.5 percent per year.

Nuclear power’s share of worldwide electricity production rose from less than 1 percent in 1960 to 16 percent in 1986, and that percentage has held essentially constant in the 21 years since 1986. Nuclear electricity generation has grown steadily at the same pace as overall global electricity generation. At the close of 2006, nuclear power provided about 15 percent of total electricity worldwide.

The report also found there were 435 operating nuclear reactors around the world, and 29 more were under construction. The United States had the most with 103 operating units; France was next with 59; Japan followed with 55 and one under construction; and Russia had 31 operating and seven more under construction.

According to the report, the United States’ 103 reactors provide 19 percent of the country’s electricity. For the last few decades, the main developments have been improved capacity factors, power increases at existing plants and license renewals. Currently, 48 reactors already have received 20-year renewals, so their licensed lifetimes are 60 years. Altogether three-quarters of the U.S. reactors have already license renewals, applied for them or stated their intention to apply. There have been a lot of announced intentions (about 30 new reactors’ worth), and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now reviewing four Early Site Permit applications.

Even with all of the news about renewable and alternative energies, it seems the nuclear energy industry is still around, and it is, furthermore, growing. EC