The Future of Nuclear Energy Worldwide

While Western nations ponder the future of atomic energy, the developing world is pushing ahead with ambitious nuclear plans.

Nations around the world have responded very differently to the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan. While Germany issued a moratorium on older nuclear reactors, countries in the developing world are pushing ahead with plans to build many dozens of new atomic energy plants.

The devastating tsunami that hit Japan earlier this month severely damaged a nuclear power plant along its northeastern coastline. Engineers have worked for several weeks trying to contain the damage but the facility is highly unlikely to ever become operational again.

Japan is the world’s third largest nuclear power. More than fifty nuclear plants provide over a third of the country’s energy needs.

The United States have the most nuclear power plants in the world but no new facilities have been built for more than twenty years. At least one influential senator has called for a moratorium on the construction of new plants. The administration, which seeks to decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, doesn’t have particular nuclear ambitions anyway.

France, with nearly sixty plants, is almost entirely energy independent thanks to nuclear power. Nuclear accounts for almost 80 percent of France’s energy production while the country exports some 20 percent of its total production to neighboring European countries.

In Finland, four nuclear reactors are in operation while a fifth is being built. Last year, the country’s parliament approved the construction of two more. Neighboring Sweden has three operational nuclear power plants with ten reactors which produce nearly half of the country’s electricity. The rest is largely provided by hydroelectric power plants while fossils and other renewables account for less than 10 percent of total production.

China and India, which expect energy needs to skyrocket in years ahead, have made no attempt to stall the construction of new nuclear energy plants. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a safety review of India’s six nuclear plants but five more continue to be built which should boost the country’s nuclear energy production by more than 50 percent.

China, the world’s largest energy consumer, has the most ambitious plans for nuclear expansion. The country currently operates thirteen reactors. An additional 25 are under construction while fifty more are planned.

Most of China’s energy, less than 70 percent, now comes from coal with hydroelectricity accounting for some 20 percent.