Nuclear power moves east

According to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), twenty-two of the last 31 nuclear power plants (NPPs) connected to the world’s energy grid have been built in Asia.

According to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), twenty-two of the last 31 nuclear power plants (NPPs) connected to the world’s energy grid have been built in Asia, driven by the pressures of economic growth, natural resource scarcity and increasing populations.

Of the new atomic energy plants presently under construction, 18 of the 27 are located in Asia, while construction has virtually halted in Western European and North American countries with long-standing nuclear power programmes, says the IAEA.

The IAEA reports that although four Western European countries have decided to shut down their nuclear energy plants, the future of nuclear energy in Europe and North America is still far from clear, during a period when energy needs and concerns over global warming are both rising. Only one new NPP is beginning construction in Western Europe. No new NPPs are planned in North America, although that could change very soon.

Nuclear power generates 16% (about one sixth) of the world’s electricity. There are 442 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries. Most operating nuclear power plants are in Western Europe and North America, but most new plants under construction are in Asia. Existing plants around the world have become more productive, adding new generating capacity without new plant construction.

The United States has the most operating plants with 104. Lithuania gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, the highest of any country. France is second, at 78%. Only 39 of the world’s 442 nuclear power plants are in developing countries, and because they are smaller than average, they account for only 5.6% of the world’s nuclear power capacity. But Brazil, China and India all have nuclear power programmes. These three countries account for 40% of the world’s population, and China and India in particular plan significant nuclear expansion.

Eighteen of the 27 new nuclear power plants now under construction are in Asia. Twenty-two of the last 31 new nuclear plants to start up were in Asia as well. Second in terms of new construction is Eastern Europe, including Russia, with 8 NPPs being built. Four Western European nations – Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden – currently have nuclear power ‘phase-out’ policies, and others have in place nuclear bans. But others have explicitly recognized nuclear power’s value. Last May, for example, the Swiss electorate rejected a phase-out referendum by two-to-one. Construction will start on a new plant in Finland in 2005, and France may soon take steps to replace ‘nuclear with nuclear’ as plants reach retirement age.

In North America, license extensions for another 20 years of operations have already been approved for 26 US nuclear plants. Eighteen more applicants are in the queue, and 32 more have submitted letters of intent, accounting altogether for 75% of US operating plants.

Seven US plants that were in extended shut-down have been brought back online since 1998 and three Canadian units have been brought back online in the last two years. Also three consortia of companies have begun formal applications for combined construction and operating licenses, a new option introduced by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to streamline licensing and encourage a new nuclear energy plant by 2010.

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