TOPICS : Asia going rapidly more nuclear

Sanjay Suri

Asia is going rapidly more nuclear to meet its energy needs, a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says. 22 of the last 31 nuclear power plants (NPPs) connected to the world’s energy grid have been built in Asia, the report says. The nuclear option has been “driven by the pressures of economic growth, natural resource scarcity and increasing populations.” Of the 27 new NPPs under construction, 18 are in Asia, while construction has virtually halted in Western Europe and North America with long-standing nuclear power programmes, says the IAEA. Only one new NPP is beginning construction in Finland. No new NPPs are planned in North America, “although that could change very soon,” the IAEA says.

The IAEA is making a renewed case for use of nuclear energy. The Greens can hardly be expected to support this, but the IAEA is holding up nuclear power as a clean and renewable route to energy. Greens apart the IAEA believes many people support the idea. As a part of its campaign to promote polling there is a need to do some polling. The IAEA strongly supports the nuclear way to energy that Asia is taking up now. “The more we look to the future, the more we can expect countries to be considering the potential benefits that expanding nuclear power has to offer for the global environment and for economic growth,” IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement. The statement was issued ahead of a gathering of 500 nuclear power experts assembled in Moscow June 27-July 2 for the ‘International Conference on Fifty Years of Nuclear Power — the Next Fifty Years’. The conference will examine the status and future of nuclear power 50 years after the first nuclear energy producing plant went into production at a plant near Moscow on June 26, 1954.

New renewables such as wind or solar are usually more expensive, leading nuclear expert with the IAEA Alan McDonald said. Energy from the nuclear plant being built in Finland will cost 3 cents a kilowatt/hour whereas feasibility studies for wind power had priced the cost at twice as much. On the other hand “the Danish and German governments are subsidising renewables like wind and solar energy. McDonald acknowledged that the two big fears around nuclear power are issues of safety, and what to do with nuclear waste. The Chernobyl disaster has led also to the setting up of a safety advisory group on best practices. Regarding fears that nuclear material could be diverted to make weapons, McDonald said the danger is at the enrichment stage before material is used in power generation, and again at the reprocessing end. According to one ‘low’ IAEA projection, all present nuclear plants will retire on schedule and no new ones are built. By this projection the nuclear share of world electricity will drop from the present 16 to 12 per cent in 2030. On its ‘high’ projection nuclear power would generate 70 per cent more electricity in 2030 than in 2002, but total electricity produced from all sources would grow much more. There are 442 nuclear power plants operating at present in 32 countries. The US has the most, with 104. Only 39 of the 442 plants are in developing countries. — IPS