Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s

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Literature Review: Nuclear Problems for the 2020s

In a world centred on short-term fixes, many of the traits that make nuclear energy a key player in the transition to a sustainable world are not properly valued and often taken for granted [1]. Reflecting on the popular discourse in the world of energy politics it would seem that renewables, and renewables alone, will be responsible for, and capable of, delivering a zero-carbon energy system – and that it is just a matter of time. The reality today is that both global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel use are still on the rise. This does not only make the battle against climate change much harder, but also results in hundreds of thousands of pollution deaths every year.

Based on data reported to the IAEA by 31 December 2019, 450 nuclear power reactors were in operation worldwide, totalling 398.9 GW(e) in net installed capacity, an increase of 2.5 GW(e) since the end of 2018 [2]. Nuclear power generated around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2019, or almost one third of all low carbon electricity, and was set to remain the second largest source of low carbon electricity after hydro power. In 2019, 30 countries generated nuclear power and 28 were considering, planning, or actively working to include it in their energy mix. Four of these countries, Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, were building their first nuclear plants, with the plants in Belarus and the UAE nearing completion.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 paints a picture of an international nuclear industry with substantial challenges [3]. Remarkably, over the past two years, the largest historic nuclear builder Westinghouse and its French counterpart AREVA went bankrupt. Trend indicators in the report suggest that the nuclear industry may have reached its historic maxima: nuclear power generation peaked in 2006, the number of reactors in operation in 2002, the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix in 1996, the number of reactors under construction in 1979, construction starts in 1976. As of mid-2019, there is one unit less in operation than in 1989.

Projections of nuclear power up to 2050 are presented as low and high estimates encompassing the uncertainties inherent in projecting trends [4]. The projections are based on a critical review of (i) the global and regional energy, electricity and nuclear power projections made by other international organizations, (ii) national projections supplied by individual countries for a recent OECD Nuclear Energy Agency study and (iii) the estimates of the expert group participating in the IAEA’s yearly consultancy on nuclear capacity projections. The low and high estimates reflect contrasting, but not extreme, underlying assumptions on the different driving factors that have an impact on nuclear power deployment.

Arms control treaties have served admirably to control and limit nuclear weapons for several decades [5]. It is time for the nuclear weapons states to consider a new paradigm to incentivize reductions while building security and stability in a more enduring and expandable format. Previous nuclear weapons security cooperative efforts between the US and Russia under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program demonstrated that countries can share data and access on nuclear warheads. Under a new cooperative forum to be established by the US and Russia and then expanded to include all five declared nuclear weapons states, a new paradigm can be envisioned that would allow for modernization as a trade-off for reductions and increases in security and stability measures.

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. cost, 
  2. climate change,
  3. fission,
  4. fusion,
  5. waste,
  6. security,
  7. proliferation,
  8. accidents,
  9. applications,
  10. outer space.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.


[1] A. Rising, “The Silent Giant”, 2019, World Nuclear Association, online at 

[2] S. Krikorian, “ Preliminary Nuclear Power Facts and Figures for 2019”, 2020, International Atomic Energy Agency, online at  , accessed on 1 Apr 2020

[3] M. Schneider et al., “The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019”, 2019, World Nuclear Industry Status Report, online at 

[4] International Atomic Energy Agency, “Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050”, 2019 Edition, Reference Data Series No.1, IAEA, online at 

[5] W.M. Moon, “Beyond Arms Control: Cooperative Nuclear Weapons Reductions – A New Paradigm to Roll Back Nuclear Weapons and Increase Security and Stability”, 2020, Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, DOI: 10.1080/25751654.2020.1732516, online at

“Ten Problems for Nuclear in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2020; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page (Nuclear Problems)

By TenProblems

Literature Reviews for Inquisitive Minds