The Prospects for New Nuclear Power

From these comparisons, nuclear should play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions. What then are the prospects for the future? Can nuclear begin to offset the use of coal and natural gas for electricity generation or at least maintain its share of electric generation for the foreseeable future?

By 2030, electrical consumption worldwide is expected to increase by 70% [21]. To meet this demand, all sources of electricity will need to be increased. Currently in the U.S. and abroad, there is significant interest in new nuclear power plants. As of this writing (March 2009), 17 applications for construction and operating licenses were submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the construction of 26 new reactors. In addition, several reactors whose construction was stopped in the 1980s are now being considered for completion. Construction has already been restarted at one, Watts Bar Unit 2, and at least two other reactors are under review as possible candidates for completion.5 In Japan, the number of reactors is expected to increase from 55 to 68 over the next few years. A recent study by the Office of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts that by the year 2050, there will be between 600 and 1,400 nuclear reactors in operation worldwide [22]. While the actual number will depend as much on economic factors and growth in electrical consumption as anything else, it is reasonable to expect the number of reactors to grow and possibly maintain the percentage of electricity generated worldwide by nuclear power. If such growth occurs, then nuclear may begin to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions contribution from electricity generation by coal and natural gas.

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