IAEA Releases Nuclear Projections Through 2050

Drew Holland
May 17, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: The Cofrentes (Spain) nuclear power plant cooling towers. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The International Atomic Energy Agency has recently released its Energy, Electricity, and nuclear power estimates through the year 2050. This is the 37th addition and an annual release of the IAEA. [1] The report shows that nuclear powers global potential remains high, though its growth is expected to slow in coming years. The report also showed world trends in more detail by region, providing projections at low and high estimates that reflect different factors that effect nuclear power. [1]

Estimates and Findings

The low price of natural gas, the impact of renewable energy sources on electricity prices, and national nuclear policies following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 are expected to hinder nuclear growth. [1] However, the 21st session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference saw commitments that could have a positive impact on nuclear energy in the future. [2] There are also a considerable number of nuclear reactors, mainly in North America and Europe, scheduled to shut down around 2030 and later. [2] It is unclear whether new nuclear capacity will be built to replace these, and projections had a wider margin as a result. Cofrentes Nuclear Power Plant in Spain (see Fig. 1) is one of these operational nuclear power reactors.

The high projections in the IAEA report indicate an increase from 2016 global nuclear energy levels by 42% in 2030, 83% in 2040, and 123% in 2050. The low projections, however, show a decline in capacity by 12% in 2030, 15% in 2040, and then getting back to present levels by 2050. [1]

Trends by Region

North America is expected to decrease final energy consumption due to improvements and structural changes in the economy. However electricity consumption is expected to increase at a slow rate of .5% growth per year. [2] Share of electricity of final energy consumption will thus increase from 21.4% in 2016 to 27% in 2050. [2] Nuclear electrical generating capacity is expected to change significantly in the low case a decrease from 113 GW(e) to 44 GW(e) by 2050. [1] In the high case, nuclear electrical generating capacity is projected to remain near current levels. [1]

In Latin America, nuclear electricity production is projected to increase in both low and high cases with its role globally remaining small. Several countries in Northern, Western, and Southern Europe have announced a phase-out of nuclear power. This will change nuclear capacity significantly. Eastern Europe is expected to have its nuclear electricity capacity grow in both the low and high cases. [1]

In Africa, in the low case, nuclear electricity generating capacity is expected to stay at the current level of 2 GW(e) until 2030 and to increase to 7 GW(e) by 2050. [2] In general in Africa, the development of nuclear power is going to face uncertainty. In Western Asia, nuclear power is expected to increase significantly in both low and high cases, despite only having one nuclear power reactor in 2016 that produced 2 TW. [2] Nuclear capacity is expected to grow significantly in the rese of Asia as well. Southern Asias existing power plants are young and expected to remain operational until the middle of the century, and nuclear capacity will continue to grow there. [1] Central and Eastern Asia will see growth in the low and high cases, and nuclear electricity is expected to appear in South-eastern Asia only after 2030. [1]

© Drew Holland. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050," International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA-RDS-1/37, September 2017.

[2] "International Status and Prospects for Nuclear Power 2017," International Atomic Energy Agency, GOV/INF/2017-GC(61)/INF/8, July 2017.