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Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

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The following content is sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council

 

Visualizing All the Nuclear Waste in the World

Nuclear power is among the safest and cleanest sources of electricity, making it a critical part of the clean energy transition.

However, nuclear waste, an inevitable byproduct, is often misunderstood.

In collaboration with the National Public Utilities Council, this graphic shows the volume of all existing nuclear waste, categorized by its level of hazardousness and disposal requirements, based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Storage and Disposal

Nuclear provides about 10% of global electricity generation.

Nuclear waste, produced as a result of this, can be divided into four different types:

  • Very low-level waste: Waste suitable for near-surface landfills, requiring lower containment and isolation.
  • Low-level waste: Waste needing robust containment for up to a few hundred years, suitable for disposal in engineered near-surface facilities.
  • Intermediate-level waste: Waste that requires a greater degree of containment and isolation than that provided by near-surface disposal.
  • High-level waste: Waste is disposed of in deep, stable geological formations, typically several hundred meters below the surface.

Despite safety concerns, high-level radioactive waste constitutes less than 0.25% of total radioactive waste reported to the IAEA.

Waste ClassDisposed (cubic meters)Stored (cubic meters)Total (cubic meters)
Very low-level waste758,802313,8821,072,684
Low-level waste1,825,558204,8582,030,416
Intermediate level waste671,097201,893872,990
High-level waste3,9605,3239,283

Stored and disposed radioactive waste reported to the IAEA under the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. Data is from the last reporting year which varies by reporting country, 2019-2023.

The amount of waste produced by the nuclear power industry is small compared to other industrial activities.

While flammable liquids comprise 82% of the hazardous materials shipped annually in the U.S., radioactive waste accounts for only 0.01%.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working towards the future of sustainable electricity.

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Clean Energy

3 Learnings for Scaling Up Wind and Solar Power

Streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for wind and solar adoption.

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An infographic showing how streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for wind and solar adoption

3 Learnings for Wind and Solar Power Scale-Up

To keep the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the world must triple its renewable power capacity by 2030.

However, swift and widespread adoption depends on the removal of various bottlenecks in project pipelines worldwide.

We’ve partnered with the National Public Utilities Council to visualize data from the IEA and the Energy Transitions Commission to highlight three areas of improvement, critical to the rapid adoption of renewables.

1. Planning and Permitting

Currently, regulatory and administrative barriers lead to lengthy project timelines worldwide.

A wind project, for example, can take 10–12 years of development, while solar projects can take four years.

The Energy Transitions Commission suggests a faster process, including quicker site mapping, permit applications, and environmental surveys.

Policymakers can help reduce project timelines by allocating land for renewables, setting permit targets, and digitalizing the permit application process. As a result, the development time for wind projects could be reduced to 4.5–5.5 years, and solar projects could be online in one year.

2. Grid Availability for Solar and Wind 

Connecting renewable energy projects to the grid has posed a challenge.

As of 2023, almost 1,500 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar projects in advanced stages of development were still off the electricity grid. 

Excluding China and India, transmission and distribution investments have increased by only 1% annually since 2010. According to the IEA, however, government and stakeholder investment in grids must double to over $600 billion annually to meet climate targets.

3. Supply Chain Diversification

The final area for improvement, when it comes to expediting global wind and solar power scale-up, is supply chain diversification.

Currently, China heavily concentrates the global manufacturing capacity on clean energy, leading to a heavy dependency on imports for the rest of the world.

Share of Manufacturing Capacity, 2021Wind (Onshore)Wind (Offshore)Solar PV
China59%70%85%
Europe16%26%2%
North America10%0%1%
Asia Pacific9%4%11%
Central & South America5%0%0%
Africa0%0%0%
Eurasia0%0%0%
Middle East0%0%0%

Global manufacturing capacity share is calculated by averaging the global manufacturing shares of individual components (i.e., wind: tower, nacelle, blade; solar: wafers, cells, modules). Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

According to research by ONYX Insight, almost 60% of wind farm operators reported that supply chain issues were their biggest challenge over the next 2–3 years.

International collaboration and investment, however, can help diversify manufacturing outside of China. In addition, policymakers can also implement policies and incentives that encourage the growth of local manufacturing capacity for renewables. 

All in all, streamlining processes, investing in infrastructure, and promoting local manufacturing can pave the way for a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

Download the 2023 Decarbonization Report.

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Charted: Progress on 2030 Renewable Energy Targets by Country

In this graphic, we visualize whether major electricity-consuming countries are on track to meet their 2030 renewable energy targets.

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which countries are on track to meet their 2030 renewabl energy targets

Progress on 2030 Renewable Energy Targets by Country

The International Energy Agency states that the global installed capacity of renewable energy must triple by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

This makes the next six years critical in the climate fight, with the upcoming United Nations COP28 event in Dubai representing a great time to assess the progress of countries toward achieving their 2030 targets. 

Checking in on Progress

As set out by their Nationally Determined Contributions in the Paris Agreement, many countries, including major electricity consumers such as the U.S., European Union, China, India, and the UK, have set ambitious targets for increasing their solar and wind power generation capacities by 2030. 

The data, however, suggests that many are struggling to keep pace with the required annual capacity additions that will allow them to hit these targets. 

Currently, China stands out as the only nation on track to meet its 2030 target. In 2022, it not only met but significantly exceeded its required capacity additions to remain on track, adding 168% of the required 101 GW. 

Let’s now take a closer look at how each of these countries are faring, comparing how much wind and solar capacity they needed to add with how much they actually did in 2022.

Country / Region2030 TargetAnnual Average Wind and Solar Capacity Additions
Needed to Hit 2030 Target
Actual Capacity Additions in 2022
WindSolarTotalWindSolarTotal
India40% zero-carbon generation by 2030 (includes nuclear)16 GW19 GW35 GW2 GW18 GW20 GW
China28% renewables by 203057 GW44 GW101 GW55 GW115 GW170 GW
United States739 GW of wind and solar by 2030 to reach zero-carbon electricity by 203534 GW35 GW69 GW11 GW21 GW32 GW
United Kingdom60% renewables by 20304 GW3 GW7 GW4 GW1 GW5 GW
European UnionREPowerEU: 42.5% renewables by 203038 GW48 GW86 GW16 GW38 GW54 GW

Overall, the U.S. and India were the furthest off from their targets in 2022, adding only 46% and 57% of what was needed, respectively. European countries, on the other hand, made progress but still need substantial annual additions to meet their targets by 2030.

Playing Catch-Up: The Path to 2030

Collectively, the U.S., European Union, China, India, and the UK account for more than 60% of global electricity consumption, underscoring their profound responsibility in decarbonizing their electricity sectors.

Investments in research and development, policy support, and infrastructure development are all crucial pieces of the puzzle when it comes to achieving 2030 targets. 

With swift and bold action, these nations have an opportunity to transform the global energy landscape and move the needle toward achieving net-zero on a global scale.

Learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization here.

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