Nearly two months after Japan's nuclear crisis began, the head of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has finally stepped down and the company posted a $15 billion loss for the year. New details have also emerged, showing three of the reactors at the Fukushima plant likely suffered partial meltdowns.
The disaster in Japan has major implications for the U.S., the world’s largest producer of nuclear energy, especially since the crippled Fukushima plant shares the same design as other plants in the U.S.
In the East, China is on the verge of becoming a major player in the nuclear field with about 27 plants currently under construction. In all, there are 442 nuclear power stations in the world and 16 countries currently have 65 plants under construction.
We’ve put together a list of the world’s largest nuclear stations by output capacity. Our rankings are based on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) data on megawatts per hour (MWh) produced by active nuclear reactors in 2010.
Click ahead to find out where the world’s largest nuclear power plants are located.
By Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani
Posted: May 23, 2011
Located 170 miles north of Tokyo, Fukushima Daiichi was the world’s 10th largest nuclear station before Japan’s catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.
The plant started operations in 1971 and has six nuclear reactors, which were badly damaged on March 11. Tepco had planned two more reactors at the site, but the company now plans to abandon these and scrap the site entirely, once a safe shutdown has been achieved.
Most of the reactors are old boiling water reactors (BWR) based on a GE design. Even before the latest disaster, TEPCO had been criticized for failing to meet emergency standards at the plant. In February, Tepco admitted to the Japanese nuclear safety agency that it had submitted false inspection and safety reports.
The Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, is owned by Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), which is one of Japan’s largest utilities.
The plant houses four nuclear reactors that each generate over 1,000 megawatts of power per hour.
KEPCO has come under fire in the past for incidents at its nuclear plants. In 2004, five employees were killed at its Mihama nuclear plant from a burst of steam, which was blamed on neglected safety checks. In 2006, two employees were also injured in a plant fire.
Bruce Power Generating Station is the largest nuclear plant in North America.
The station takes up 2,300 acres near Lake Huron in Ontario. It has eight nuclear reactors, but only six are operational. The company is on track to restart the other two reactors by 2012, adding another 1,500 megawatts of power to the station.
Once all eight are operational, the station will become the world’s second largest nuclear plant by capacity.
Cattenom nuclear power plant is located in the Lorraine region of France near the border with Germany. The station is owned by Electricite de France (EDF), which is Europe’s biggest power generator and the world’s second biggest utility company.
In April, about 2,000 people protested outside the site along with thousands across the country over the dangers of nuclear power.
France is one of the largest consumers of nuclear power, with 75 percent of its electricity coming from the source. After Japan’s nuclear disaster, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reaffirmed the country’s commitment to nuclear energy saying “France has made a choice.”
Situated in the north of France, along the Normandy shore, the Paluel nuclear station is the second largest of its kind in France with four reactors that generate over 1,300 megawatts of power each hour.
Paluel gets its cooling water from the English Channel and is one of four nuclear plants in France that gets its cooling water from the sea. The rest of the country's nuclear stations are located away from the coast and get their cooling water from rivers.
About 11 of the 15 inland plants have evaporative cooling towers to lessen the need for fresh water. But during dry spells and heat waves, problems have occurred with power generation being restricted to peak periods.
Located in Nord, France near the famous towns of Calais and Dunkirk, the Gravelines plant uses water from the English Channel for cooling. The six reactors came online between 1980 and 1984 and the plant recently completed quite a milestone: it generated its 1000 billionth kilowatt hour of energy.
Local fish farmers use the water that carries waste heat from the plant to help raise European sea bass and other fish. The warm water helps the fish grow faster.
The Zaporizhzhia power station is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Located in central Ukraine on the Dnieper river, the plant has six generators that produce 50 percent of the country’s nuclear energy.
In 2011, Ukraine marked the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The nuclear plant explosion reportedly released about 400 times more radiation than the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima during World War II.
Ukraine has agreed to give up stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, left over from the breakup of the Soviet Union by 2012. The materials amount to the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world.
The Yonggwang nuclear station, located in southwestern Jeollanam do province, has six nuclear reactors that each produce over 900 megawatts of power.
The plant, which began operation in 1978, was closely monitored by safety inspectors in late March after radioactive iodine was found in areas, including the country’s capital Seoul.
But reports suggest that the particles may have come from Japan’s Fukushima power plant instead.
South Korea has 21 commercial nuclear power plants, and is the world’s sixth largest nuclear power producer.
Surrounded with walls to protect it against 10-meter tsunamis, the Uljin nuclear power plant is located in the Gyeongsangbuk-do province on the east coast of South Korea.
The plant’s six nuclear reactors have been built to withstand 6.5 magnitude earthquakes, and new reactors are being designed to withstand up to magnitude 7 tremors.
South Korea wants to nearly double its generation of electricity from nuclear energy by 2030, but faces opposition from lawmakers and residents, especially after Japan’s nuclear disaster.
In an attempt to ease fears, the government announced plans to spend $922 million over five years on safety upgrades.
Situated in the towns of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power plant by capacity has seven nuclear reactors. The station is about 220 km northwest of Toyko, in the Niigata Prefecture. The site along the coast of the Sea of Japan covers 4.2 square-kilometers.
The plant, owned by Tepco, was built in 1985, but didn’t start commercial operation of all seven reactors until 1997.
In 2007, the plant was shut down after radioactive leaks were discovered in the sea following a 6.8 magnitude earthquake.
At the time, Tepco faced heavy criticism for failing to quickly extinguish an electric transformer fire, and for delays in alerting authorities about malfunctions at the plant.