Nuclear energy releases less radiation to the environment than any other major energy source. Second, nuclear power plants operate with much higher capacity factors than renewable energy sources or fossil fuels. The capacity factor is a measure of the percentage of the time that a power plant actually produces energy. Nuclear energy is a clean energy source with no emissions.
The same technology used to make nuclear fuel for power plants can also be used to produce explosive material for nuclear weapons. While nuclear power plants require considerable investment to build them, they have low operating costs and longevity. Since the 1970s, NRDC has been fighting to protect the earth and its citizens from the serious risks that nuclear energy entails. The strength of Russia's nuclear industry is reflected in its dominance of export markets for new reactors.
Previous IAEA projections had suggested significantly stronger growth prospects for nuclear energy. This was very positive with respect to nuclear energy and said that nuclear energy can make a significant contribution to the energy transformation process and is a key source of low-carbon electricity generation that will keep system costs and electricity prices low. With rising sea levels and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, risks to operational and decommissioned nuclear power plants that store nuclear waste in situ continue to increase. The IAEA low case projection represents a continuation of current trends in technology and market resources with little change in policies affecting nuclear energy.
And any such major increase in the baseload capacity requirement will have significant upside potential for nuclear energy if there are restrictions on carbon emissions. What happens to plans to build new nuclear plants will significantly affect the chances of achieving clean energy transitions. In addition to commercial nuclear power plants, there are about 220 research reactors operating in more than 50 countries, and more are under construction. More than 160 ships, mostly submarines, are powered by about 200 nuclear reactors and more than 13,000 years of experience in marine reactors have been acquired.
Interest is growing in advanced nuclear technologies that adapt to private investment, such as small modular reactors (SMR). We are part of the EDF Group, with 58 nuclear reactors in France and a total of 78 reactors worldwide. Providing a quarter of the world's electricity through nuclear energy would substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve air quality. Nuclear plants can help limit the impacts of seasonal fluctuations in renewable energy production and strengthen energy security by reducing dependence on imported fuels.