Nuclear Power: The Top Producers of Atomic Energy

Michelle Heath
The Top Producers of Atomic Energy

Nuclear power accounts for 10.3% of the electricity produced globally and is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity today. But the nuclear fleet in advanced economies averages 35 years old with potentially 25% of this existing capacity expected to shut down by 2025. 

United States – Nuclear Industry Status (2021)

The United States (U.S.) is the largest nuclear energy producer in the world.  In 2019, U.S. nuclear reactors produced 843 terawatt hours (TWh), over 19% of its total electrical output and about 55% of its carbon-free electricity.

China’s Nuclear Industry Status (2021)

In 2020, China over took France in nuclear generation to become the second largest producer globally. 

China had two new reactors start-up in 2020 (Tianwan-5 and Fuqing-5) increasing its nuclear generation by 5% and another start-up in 2021.  According to the Chinese Energy Administration, nuclear generation has difficulty matching the surge in wind (15.1%) and solar (16.6%).

France’s Nuclear Industry Status (2021)

France’s nuclear fleet is ageing (average operation 36 years versus 8.5 years in China) with no new units added since 1999.  It currently operates 56 reactors but closed its two oldest units at Fessenheim. 

Challenging market conditions exist for nuclear energy and its competitiveness, relative to other low-carbon generation, varies by region depending on fuel costs and technology advancements. 

Median Levelized Costs of Electricity

Over the past 50 years, the IEA estimates that the nuclear power industry has been responsible for avoiding over 60 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emissions, equal to almost 2 years of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

Cumulative CO2 Avoided By Nuclear Power in Select Countries

In the recent IEA Net Zero Emissions Scenario (NZE) by 2050, nuclear electricity is shown to nearly double between 2020 and 2050. 

Potential drawbacks to nuclear electricity expansion to meet zero emission targets are the escalating costs of new-builds.  However, investments into extending the life of existing facilities and infrastructure are significantly lower. 

Costs for New Nuclear Build versus Lifetime Extension of Existing Plants (7% discount rate)

The advantage to nuclear energy is that it is a clean, reliable power source with plants designed to operate 24 hours a day.  But growing the industry has its challenges with high building costs, the ongoing search for permanent waste disposal solutions and the public perception that nuclear energy is dangerous in response to global nuclear accidents.


CCGT – combined cycle gas turbine

GWe – gigawatt of electric energy

LCOE – levelized cost of electricity

MWh – 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh)

PV – photovoltaics

TWh = terawatt hour; 1 billion kilowatt hours