Before the March earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, many nations were preparing to expand their atomic energy sectors. Memories of the incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl had begun to fade. Carbon-free nuclear power seemed a climate-smart alternative to fossil fuels. There was talk of a "nuclear renaissance." Now the future of nuclear power is in limbo as the world anxiously takes stock of the events in Japan and re-evaluates the costs and benefits of splitting the atom.
Switzerland has suspended plans to build new nuclear plants to replace existing ones. The country's five nuclear reactors produce 40 percent of its electricity. The Swiss government plans to review its safety standards for nuclear plants.
After the Japanese disaster, President 0bama reaffirmed his support for nuclear power, saying it is an essential part the country's energy portfolio. There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United States that provide 20 percent of the country's electricity. Nine of these are in earthquake risk zones. US utilities plan to build as many as six new plants by 2018, but public concerns about nuclear safety are rising.
Energy-hungry China has the world's most ambitious nuclear expansion plans. The country has 14 atomic units in operation, is building at least 27 reactors, and has 50 more planned. But now China's leaders are reconsidering their goal to reach 80 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2020. China has stopped approving new plants and instead is increasing its targets for building solar energy farms.
Germany stands alone among the world's industrialized nations in its determination to eliminate reliance on nuclear power, which currently supplies 23 percent of its electricity. After the tsunami, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the temporary closure of seven of the oldest reactors and suspended plans to extend the life of the country's 17 reactors. During spring elections, the Green Party made significant gains due to rising anti-nuclear sentiment.
Undeterred by the near-meltdown, India plans to spend $175 billion to increase its nuclear power capacity 13-fold by 2030. The country's flourishing nuclear power program aims to supply 25 percent of the country's electricity by 2050. India currently has 20 reactors.
Down under, they may be saying, "1 told you so." New Zealand enacted a law declaring its land, air and waters nuclear-free back in 1987. Kiwis have fought hard to maintain their nuclear-free status, often inviting the ire of nuclear powered giants like the US and France.
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|Title Annotation:||around the world|
|Publication:||Earth Island Journal|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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