Fukushima raised serious questions about nuclear safety and prompted a global building freeze on new atomic power plants. But as 2012 begins, it is becoming clear that the freeze is beginning to thaw. And the BRICS nations will lead the way.
PARIS -- Last year's tsunami in Japan and the nuclear accident that followed at the Fukushima reactor threw up an unprecedented roadblock for the world's atomic power industry.
Prior to the disaster, nuclear power had been enjoying a global "renaissance" thanks in large part to higher commodity prices and growing energy demand in developing economies. The Fukushima catastrophe – the world's worst since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 – stopped that resurgence dead in its tracks.
Over the months that followed the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami, citizens and politicians in numerous countries – particularly in Europe – aired concerns about nuclear safety and managed to place the atomic energy issue back on the table. Germany's decision to get out of the nuclear energy business was the most notable example. And in Europe, at least, that decision seemed to forecast a real decline for the industry.
Seven months later, however, nuclear power suddenly looks as if it may be on the comeback trail.
Prior to the Fukushima accident, the United States had been looking to revive its nuclear power program. In February 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama granted public subsidies to build third-generation plants on American soil. These reactors were to be the first since the 1980s in America, which halted nuclear plant construction after the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.
Even if the Japanese disaster didn't mobilize anti-nuclear activists in the United States the way it did in Europe, U.S. authorities still decided to put new nuclear power plant projects on hold. That construction freeze, however, is now beginning to thaw. On Dec. 22, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced its approval of the latest version of Westinghouse Electric's AP1000 reactor design. Analysts hailed the move as a symbolic step toward new atomic power plant construction in the United States.
The United States isn't the only large western power ready to delve back into nuclear energy. The British government, concerned about diminishing North Sea oil reserves and keen to limit its dependence of foreign fossil fuels, has decided to build a dozen nuclear plants between now and 2020. The decision had almost universal support in the British parliament, where it was supported by both the Conservative and Labour parties.
More nukes for the BRICS
The principal emerging powers – notably China, India, Brazil and South Africa – likewise put their respective nuclear programs on hold during the months that followed Fukushima. That's not to say, however, that they ever really considered turning their backs on nuclear energy.
With growth rates of more than 5%, these emerging economies are going to need more and more energy, especially given their role as the globalized world's new centers of manufacturing. Nuclear energy offers these countries obvious benefits, particularly in terms of cost.
In China, there are no fewer than 25 nuclear reactors currently under construction. Authorities are considering even more nuclear projects that together could make China the world's biggest nuclear energy producer by 2030.
India has proposed upping the percentage of electricity it generates from nuclear plants from the current 3% to 25% by 2050. And between now and 2030 Brazil plans to build between four and eight new atomic power plants.
According to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), between 90 and 350 new reactors will be built worldwide over the next 20 years. Most of those will be in emerging countries.
Read the original article in French
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