Nuclear Energy: Full-Steam Ahead?

Until 11 March, nuclear power was ready for a renaissance

graphic map of nuclear plants under constr
Illustration: Mckibillo; Sources: Nuclear Energy Institute, World Energy Council
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chart of nuclera share of power generation
Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

The Japanese earthquake and its devastating consequences for the Fukushima reactors will surely affect how governments and their citizens feel about nuclear power in the coming months. Nonetheless, as of January, 65 new nuclear power plants, capable of producing over 62 gigawatts, were under construction in 16 countries, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group in Washington, D.C. In 2009, construction began on 11 plants, the most in one year since 1987.

Nearly all the plants that have gone on line since 2005—totaling more than 10 gigawatts of new capacity—are in Asia, and more are coming. India and South Korea are building five new plants each, and Japan and Taiwan are each building two.

But the dragon's share of growth is in China, which plans to build 50 reactors by 2020, quadrupling its nuclear capacity to 40 GW. However, energy demand is rising so rapidly that nuclear power will meet less than 10 percent of what China will need by then.

In that respect, China trails many European countries. France gets 75 percent of its energy from nuclear plants, the most of any country, and it is expected to connect one more 1600-megawatt plant in 2012.

Where's the United States in all of this? Its 104 operating nuclear plants represent 20 percent of its electricity capacity, and it has one plant under construction.

This article originally appeared in print as "Will Nuclear Energy Charge Ahead?".

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