The ongoing disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant has re-intensified long-held views and fears surrounding nuclear electricity generation.
Countries around the world, including those from the European Union (EU), have been forced to reassess their varying dependencies on nuclear power. However, by using data visualization to understand the trends in nuclear power generation throughout the EU, it’s obvious that significant change will be hard to effect.
Units: Thousand Megawatt hours (TMW-hrs)
Thousand Megawatt hours (TMW-hrs) are used as the unit of measurement to analyze and compare total gross electricity generation and gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants. The data is recorded and graphed on a per month basis.
European Union (27 countries): Total gross electricity generation vs gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants per month, Jan 2003 – Dec 2010
Almost one-third of the EU’s total electricity generated comes from nuclear power plants. This is a substantial percentage, which has barely deviated between 2003 and 2010 – both the percentage of total gross electricity generated and total gross TMW-hrs of nuclear power produced have remained constant. If this is to decrease as a percentage, let alone in its own right, massive change will be needed. The logistical, political and financial implications of such change would be enormous.
Whilst there is a mild decline in gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants from 2006 onwards, the change is marginal, and almost not worth mentioning.
The next trend that is immediately visible, is the annual fluctuations in electricity generation, rising and falling in accordance with seasonal variation – anticipating and reacting to higher demand in the winter months, with production easing amidst the onset of milder weather.
European Union (27 countries) & France: Total gross electricity generation vs gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants per month, Jan 1985 – Feb 2011
Unsurprisingly, France exhibits the same seasonal flux in electricity generation as it shifts to meet changing energy demands. What is different is France’s heavy, and growing, dependence on nuclear power.
France has steadily increased its nuclear and total electricity generation from the beginning of the data set in 1985, to the present day. The proportion of electricity produced from nuclear power has remained very high throughout this 26-year period. In fact, nuclear power has increased as a percentage of total gross electricity generation. Accounting for around two-thirds of production in 1985 (approximately 20,000 out of a total of 32,000 TMW-hrs per month); it now accounts for around 75 percent of France’s total gross electricity generation (approximately 45,000 out of a total of 60,000 TMW-hrs per month).
European Union (27 countries), France & Netherlands: Total gross electricity generation vs gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants per month, Jan 1985 – Dec 2010
Between 1985 and the end of 2010, the Netherlands have substantially increased their overall gross electricity generation from around 5,000 TMW-hrs per month, to well over 11,000 TMW-hrs per month.
However, the amount of electricity produced from nuclear power has remained both steady and trivial, accounting for 347 TMW-hrs in 1985, and 356 TMW-hrs in 2010. What is significant, is the fact that these figures represent a dramatic decrease in electricity generation from nuclear power plants as a percentage of the Netherland’s total electricity generation.
European Union (27 countries), France, Netherlands & Sweden: Total gross electricity generation vs gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants per month, Jan 1985 – Dec 2010
For anti-nuclear supporters, the news is arguably even better in Sweden. Whilst nuclear power still accounts for a greater percentage of total electricity generated when compared to the Netherlands (approximately 5,500 out of 14,500 TMW-hrs per month as of December 2010); Sweden has actually reduced the amount of electricity produced by nuclear power plants.
Whilst the total gross electricity generated has remained fairly even between 1985 and 2010 (around 14,000 TMW-hrs), gross electricity generation from nuclear power plants has declined from roughly 7,000, to 5,500 TMW-hrs per month.
With nuclear power programs firmly entrenched in many European nations, it is grossly implausible that the recent events at Fukushima will do anything to greatly alter this – at least in the near future. More likely, is that the 2011 disaster will simply provide another talking point in an ongoing debate that will probably outlast several generations.