Nuclear power roars back globally since decline that began in late '90s

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The future of nuclear power holds the promise of continuing to incorporate fission-fueled  nuclear power -- an integral part of low-carbon electricity generation -- as well as possible breakthroughs in nuclear-fusion energy generation, providing a long-term plan for efficient energy production.

Securing sustainable, low-cost energy supplies that have little to no impact on the environment is a top priority for most countries. This is why many consider nuclear energy as an energy source, particularly industrialized countries interested in reducing their carbon emissions.

Nuclear energy likely will find a more prominent presence in the energy industry once a variety of barriers are eliminated, and as global reductions in fossil-fuel use leave bigger and bigger voids in energy sources that will need to be filled to satisfy electricity demand.

The public opinion swirling around the safety and regulations associated with nuclear power has triggered a lot of debate about the future of nuclear-power generation in Europe. In fact, Germany has introduced the “Energiewende,” with a goal of eliminating its nuclear power by 2022, a report said.

It is difficult to establish a clear pattern of nuclear power use in Europe. Countries such as Italy and Lithuania do not use nuclear power, while countries France, Hungary, Belgium, Slovakia and Sweden rely a great deal on nuclear power.

“In 2013, the world’s 392 GW of installed nuclear capacity accounted for 11 percent of electricity generation produced by around 440 nuclear power plants situated in 30 countries," the report said. "This share has declined gradually since 1996, when it reached almost 18 percent as the rate of new nuclear additions (and generation) has been outpaced by the expansion of other technologies. After hydropower, nuclear is the world’s second-largest source of low-carbon electricity generation.”

Twenty-seven percent of electricity production, which translates to 13 percent of primary energy in the European Union, was generated by 132 nuclear power plants in January 2015. Globally, 65 new reactors are currently under construction, mostly in Asia, Russia, Slovakia, France and Finland, with 12 other new reactors in the planning stages in the U.K.

Only one first-generation “Magnox” reactor is still operating in the U.K., with the remainder of the reactors being second- or third-generation. The most prominent technology used is the light-water reactor (LWR), originally developed in the U.S., but largely adopted by France and other countries in the 1970s as a result of the 1973 oil crisis.

In the U.K., the advanced gas-cooled reactor (AGR) was the most dominant.

For future nuclear power production, fourth-generation reactors are being evaluated for their promise of a much higher potential for energy recovery and reduced radioactive waste.

In 2010, the European Commission launched the European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII) to support three Generation IV fast reactor projects, which are part of the EU’s initiative to promote low-energy technologies.

ESNII will advance “the Astrid sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) proposed by France, the Allegro gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR) supported by central and eastern Europe, and the MYRRHA lead-cooled fast-reactor (LFR) technology pilot proposed by Belgium.”

Different regions may have different development plans for nuclear power use, but the common thread countries share is their desire to maintain safe operation of nuclear plants, their interest in securing fuel supplies, and managing radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Safety in nuclear operations is governed by international rules issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the EU's European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM).

While fission nuclear power will continue to have a significant role in low-carbon electricity generation for years to come, experts believe fusion nuclear power for electricity production should be aggressively pursued globally.



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International Atomic Energy Agency

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