September 12, 2010

The New Nuclear Power Debate

Nuclear Power Plant
(Gloconomy) - Nowadays, the discussion about the use of nuclear power seems more relevant than ever before. Especially large emerging economies, such as China and India, are likely to face an enormous demand in energy over the coming decades. Additionally, nations like Germany are seeking ways to reduce their emissions. Nuclear power may be a relatively fast, affordable and cheap solution. The resistance against the renewed nuclear power plans is fierce though.

Current numbers

A recent report by the World Nuclear Association showed some staggering figures. In terms of the largest number of existing nuclear power plants, the United States (104), France (58) and Italy (55) are absolute leaders. In terms of nuclear power dependence, countries like France (75 percent), Belgium (52 percent) and Ukraine (49 percent) are strongly relying on this particular type of energy production.

The numbers for the next 20 years show a completely different picture though. In the year 2030, Russia probably has built 44 new nuclear power plants. India aims at 60 new facilities, whereas China wants to have 153 new nuclear power plants within its territory. On the contrary, the United States is currently only developing one new facility. The numbers show the growing importance of nuclear power in the large emerging economies.


Opponents of nuclear power use three major arguments. First of all, the risk of accidents and terrorist attacks. Although safety has improved significantly during the past decades, there is always the risk of human failure that can sparkle new, potentially catastrophic meltdowns. Furthermore, plants can and will always be potential terrorist targets, thus implying the need for tight and reliably security measures.

Secondly, criticasters point at the nuclear waste problem. In countries such as Germany, the greatest fear of civilians is leakage of nuclear waste, for instance into their water supply.

Finally, nuclear power is often regarded as an obstacle towards a greener and more sustainable energy system. Opponents argue that expanding the usage of this type of energy production will have a delaying effect on the necessary green revolution.


Supporters of nuclear power have four strong arguments. First of all, nuclear power is, provided an existing older plant is used, extremely cheap to produce. Although new plants are extremely expensive, older plants with a positive return on investment are relatively cheap to operate. This implies that the produced energy is pure profit for energy firms operating them and can result in lower energy bills for consumers.

Secondly, the production process of this type of energy results in a relatively low amount of carbon emission, thus making it a clean instrument to produce energy compared to e.g. coal plants.

Thirdly, supporters indicate that the extra amounts of nuclear waste can easily be stored at current locations. The waste is already there, and building an extra shaft will not result in more danger or risk.

Finally, supporters also argue that nuclear power can enhance the transition towards a greener, more sustainable form of energy production. Because of the large profit margins that older nuclear plants can realize, energy corporations can invest heavily in new sustainable forms of power, thus greatly enhancing the green revolution.


Popular or not, nuclear power is a major contributor to the present worldwide energy production process, and this situation is unlikely to change fundamentally in the next decades. However, the supply of uranium is limited. And so is the amount of carbon emission we can release into our environment. Consequently, the adaptation of new forms of energy production in the near future is inevitable.

Several measures can enhance the transition of the current situation into a new, green energy production world.

1. Strict International Safety Standards
There should be improved international safety standards in order to avoid future accidents and terrorist attacks. Nuclear radiation knows no boundaries or borders. Germany can have the best nuclear regulations in the world. But when France neglects its safety standards and an accident occurs near the German border, Germany will suffer regardless of its own precautions.

A similar story applies to terrorist threats. India can heavily fortify its nuclear installations, but when plants in neighboring Pakistan are vulnerable, India will suffer the burden as well when things turn ugly. Therefore, tight international standards should be implemented, carefully monitored by for example the United Nations or the International Energy Agency.

2. Only older plants
Only older plants should remain open and plans for new ones should be carefully revised. New plants cost an estimated 5.5 billion euro. Additional costs for nuclear waste disposal and dismantling not included. Older plants, built i.e. 20 years ago, have past the return on investment break-even point. Therefore, almost all future earnings can regarded as profit, making them extremely attractive to remain open for a little while longer.

3. Reinvest Profits
The enormous profits made by keeping the older plants alive should be invested in new research for cleaner and more sustainable forms of power production. Like for example in the DESERTEC initiative. This will accelerate the speed of the green revolution, and take away some of the protests.

4. International Energy Exchange
Finally, there should be an open dialogue with large emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil. It is not reasonable to simply ask these giants to cancel all future nuclear power plant initiatives, as this will result in immense shortages in their domestic energy markets, both in the short as well as the long term.

International cooperation might not be able to stop all plant construction, but can result in for instance the export of power from countries with an energy surplus to these nations. Korea could sell its surplus of nuclear power to China, whereas Latin-American countries could sell their surplus in solar energy to Brazil. This promotes the use of green technology. Additionally, it provides emerging economies extra cash to invest in renewable resources, and prevents them from joint ventures with suspicious nuclear parties with cheap but potentially dangerous nuclear ambitions.

Nuclear power seems inevitable. However, by using it wisely, sparingly and together, it is possible to use it as a bridge for a more sustainable future.

(c) GLOCONOMY 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment