Japanese developer Hitachi's £20bn nuclear plant in Wylfa Newydd, Wales, will be the latest addition to a global economy of nuclear energy that includes giant facilities from across the globe including in the US, France, South Korea and Ukraine
Nuclear energy is making headlines again after Japanese developer Hitachi was given the go-ahead to build a £20bn nuclear plant in Wales – with the UK Government agreeing to front £15bn of the cost.
The global attitude and approach to nuclear power is divergent, to say the least, with France relying on it the heaviest – 72.3% of its total electricity is generated by nuclear power) – while its neighbour Germany announced in 2011 it plans to abandon atomic energy altogether by 2022.
And although Asia has most of the world’s plants, the geographical spread of the biggest nuclear facilities is similarly diverse.
Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station is the largest in terms of megawatt (MW) capacity, but South Korea and France have three a piece in the top ten – while the US doesn’t feature until number 18 with its Palo Verde plant.
Here are some of the biggest nuclear power plants in the world.
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa – Japan
Tokyo Electric Power Company-operated Kashiwazaki-Kariwa has the highest net capacity of any nuclear power plant in the world with 7,965MW.
It spans 4.2km and comprises seven boiling water reactors (BWRs), with construction on the first of which dating back to 1980.
Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was severely damaged by the second largest earthquake ever to occur at a nuclear plant, which shook it beyond the limits its design allowed for, and was completely shut down for 21 months between July 2007 and 2009 when just four reactors were restarted.
In 2011, a second earthquake prompted another total shut down and an end-to-end overhaul of its safety features, after which no reactors have been restarted to this day.
The earliest proposed restart date is April 2019 for units 6 and 7.
Bruce – Canada
Covering 2,300 acres of land in Ontario, Canada, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station is, in terms of capacity, second globally but first nationally by some distance – also dwarfing all those in the US.
The plant, owned by Ontario Power Generation, has the most reactors of any plant in the world with eight – one more than Kashiwazaki-Kariwa – but combined they have less total capacity than the station’s Japanese equivalent, producing 6,384MW.
The total construction costs for Bruce to date is $7.8bn (£5.9bn), and in 2015 it received a new license to operate until 31 May 2020.
In 2013, it accounted for 30% of Ontartio’s electricity, producing terawatt hours (TWh), and has since increased this to 47.63TWH as of last year.
Zaporizhia – Ukraine
Ukraine is home to Zaporizhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power station and sixth biggest in the world.
Construction began on 1 April 1980 on the first of six pressurised light water nuclear reactors, which have a combined capacity of 5,700MW.
The plant is currently undergoing modernisation work to extend its lifespan, and last year this was completed on its third reactor, enabling ten further years of functionality until 2027.
In 2014, 40 armed individuals pretending to be members of Right Sector – the far-right Ukranian political party – allegedly tried to break into the plant but were stopped by local police.
Later that year, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk announced there was a short circuit in the power outlet system and one of the six reactors was shut down twice in December, leading to rolling blackouts throughout the country until the end of 2014.
Kori – South Korea
The world’s third, fourth, and fifth largest nuclear plants are located in South Korea – the biggest of which is Kori with a capacity of 6,040MW.
It is owned and operated by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, a subsidiary of Korea Electric Power Corporation, and uses advanced pressurised reactor.
Dating back to 1978, the facility has come under fire from political parties in the country that made election pledges in 2017 to stop construction of two more planned reactors, which would bring Kori’s total to eight.
One of its reactors was shut down in 2017 and will be decommissioned in 2022.
The Hanul and Hanbit plants are also located in South Korea, and have capacities of 5,928MW and 5,875MW, respectively, as well as six reactors each.
Palo Verde – US
The largest nuclear plant in the US is the Palo Verde Generating Station, with a capacity of 3,942MW and three pressurised water reactors.
Located in Arizona, construction costs for the facility reached $5.9bn (£4.4bn) in 1980 – the equivalent of $11.3bn (£8.5bn) today.
The Arizona Public Service Company owns a majority stake in the plant of 29.1%, with a host of other US-based companies accounting for the rest.
Palo Verde supplies electric power to cities across Southern California such as Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as parts of southern Arizona.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates the annual risk of an earthquake in the surrounding area which could damage the plant to be one in 26,316.
Gravelines – France
Originally commissioned in 1980, the Gravelines Nuclear Power Station now has 1,680 regular employees, is the seventh largest plant in the world with a capacity of 5,460MW, and produces 8.1% of the electricity used in France.
It has, however, had something of a faulty history.
In 2009, for example, the annual exchange of fuels bundles in one of the reactors went wrong and operations had to cease and the building was evacuated.
Gravelines is bordered by the North Sea, which provides cooling water that carries waste heat from the plant, warming the water and therefore helping local aqua farmers raise European sea bass faster.