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Growth in nuclear energy industry forecast by UN

Growth in nuclear energy industry forecast by UN

Nuclear power plant
Signalling a more favourable outlook for nuclear power than predicted five years ago, the United Nations atomic watchdog agency is projecting that at least 60 more plants will come online over the next 15 years to help meet global electricity demands, reversing a previous downward trend in the percentage of such generation.

“The current picture is one of rising expectations,” the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director-General, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the organization’s Board of Governors meeting this week in Vienna.

Based on the most conservative assumption, the latest report on the subject forecasts around 430 gigawatts of global nuclear capacity in 2020, up from 367 gigawatts today, translating into just over 500 nuclear power plants worldwide by then.

This represents a slight rise in nuclear power's share in the world electricity market, to 17 per cent from 16 per cent, reversing previous downward estimates. Today, some 30 countries produce electricity using nuclear power. Worldwide 441 nuclear plants are in operation and 27 are being built.

The upward forecast is rooted in specific national plans but is also driven by factors like the Kyoto Protocol, which recently came into force, committing countries to meet cleaner air targets and imposing a tax on emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Nuclear electricity plants produce virtually no greenhouse gases. Apart from environmental considerations, nuclear power plants remain most attractive where energy demand growth is rapid, alternative resources scarce and the security of energy supplies a priority.

The fastest growth is in Asia. By 2020 for example, China plans a six-fold increase in its nuclear electricity capacity and India plans a 10-fold increase. Mr. ElBaradei told the Board an increasing number of developing countries were requesting IAEA assistance in evaluating their energy needs and options.

“In many cases – despite the acute need for energy that are central to these countries’ development – the prospects for using nuclear energy have been hampered because the large size of nuclear plants makes them unsuitable for lower capacity electricity grids,” he said. “For this reason the IAEA has maintained a focus on the potential for innovative small and medium-sized reactor design, and a few projects are moving toward implementation.”