Nuclear Power - Nuclear Renaissance

Nuclear Renaissance

Main article: Nuclear renaissance

Since about 2001 the term "nuclear renaissance" has been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, driven by rising fossil fuel prices and new concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emission limits. Being able to rely on an uninterrupted domestic supply of electricity is also a factor. In the words of the French, "We have no coal, we have no oil, we have no gas, we have no choice." Improvements in nuclear reactor safety, and the public's waning memory of past nuclear accidents (Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986), as well as of the plant construction cost overruns of the 1970s and 80s, are lowering public resistance to new nuclear construction.

At the same time, various barriers to a nuclear renaissance have been identified. These include: unfavourable economics compared to other sources of energy, slowness in addressing climate change, industrial bottlenecks and personnel shortages in nuclear sector, and the unresolved nuclear waste issue. There are also concerns about more accidents, security, and nuclear weapons proliferation.

New reactors under construction in Finland and France, which were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance, have been delayed and are running over-budget. China has 20 new reactors under construction, and there are also a considerable number of new reactors being built in South Korea, India, and Russia. At least 100 older and smaller reactors will "most probably be closed over the next 10-15 years".

However, in 2011 the nuclear emergencies at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear facilities raised questions among commentators over the future of the renaissance. Platts has reported that "the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has prompted leading energy-consuming countries to review the safety of their existing reactors and cast doubt on the speed and scale of planned expansions around the world". Many countries are re-evaluating their nuclear energy programs and in April 2011 a study by UBS predicted that around 30 nuclear plants may be closed world-wide as a result, with those located in seismic zones or close to national boundaries being the most likely to shut. The UBS analysts believe that 'even pro-nuclear counties such as France will be forced to close at least two reactors to demonstrate political action and restore the public acceptability of nuclear power', noting that the events at Fukushima 'cast doubt on the idea that even an advanced economy can master nuclear safety'. Canadian uranium-mining company Cameco expects the size of world's fleet of operating reactors in 2020 to increase by about 90 reactors, 10% less than before the Fukushima accident.

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