Nuclear power at a glance

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), currently there are 439 nuclear power plants in operation in 30 countries with a total installed capacity of 371 gigawatts, five plants in long-term shutdown and 34 under construction in 14 countries. While the US had the most operating units, half of the reactors now being built are in developing countries. At the end of 2006, nuclear provided about 15 per cent of total electricity production worldwide. Some 16 countries rely on nuclear energy to supply at least one quarter of their total electricity. France tops the list at 78 per cent.

In their latest report Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2030, the IAEA (2006) projects two scenarios:

1 The low projection, which assumes only completion of all nuclear capacity currently under construction or firmly in the pipeline, would see nuclear capacity grow 25 per cent by 2030.

2 The high projection, which considers 'reasonable and promising' additional projects, forecasts a 93 per cent increase in capacity in the same period, representing an annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent (IAEA, 2006).

It is not surprising that there is speculation about a nuclear renaissance. Observers report that China plans a fivefold increase in nuclear generation by 2020, while India plans an eightfold increase by 2020. Serious consideration is being given to new build in the US, Canada, Russia, Argentina, Japan, South Africa, the UK and other European countries. The first new plant in Europe in many years is under construction in Finland. Countries as diverse as Algeria, Belarus, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Yemen are among those examining the possibility of nuclear power generation as a contribution to realizing their development ambitions.

Nonetheless, there are several countries such as Austria, Australia, Italy, Denmark and Ireland that have declared a prohibition against nuclear development. Others, like Germany and Belgium, have announced their intention to phase out nuclear energy production.

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