Given its booming, energy-hungry economy, China led the charge—and shows no
signs of slowing. It currently has more than
25 nuclear power reactors under construction
and dozens more projects in various stages of
planning, with a goal of increasing its nuclear
capacity more than tenfold by 2020, according to the World Nuclear Association.
In the days following the tragedy, the Chinese government reiterated its commitment
to its nuclear project plans, in much the same
way the Soviet Union proceeded with nuclear
construction following the Chernobyl disaster.
It’s a matter of need, says Mahmoud Ghavi,
PhD, director of the Center for Nuclear Power
Generation at the Southern Polytechnic State
University, Marietta, Georgia, USA.
“China needs energy and it has limited
other sources,” he explains.
Other countries appear to be staying their
course as well. Latin American powers Brazil
and Argentina are forging ahead with plans to
invest billions of dollars on nuclear projects.
At press time, France, which is currently running its first third-generation nuclear reactor
project, has given no indication it will change
Even in markets prone to earthquakes,
nuclear projects may yet survive. Concerns
were already running high in Chile after a
massive quake rocked the country just over
a year ago. Despite the risk, potential project sites have been identified, and nuclear
energy isn’t off the table, Jaime Salas, the head
Chile’s Nuclear Energy Commission, told
Dow Jones newswires.
The United States, which has the most
active plants in the world but none built in
the last decade, was also planning a ramp-up.
In his 2012 fiscal budget, President Barack
Obama allotted more than $800 million for
nuclear energy research as part of a plan to
generate 80 percent of the country’s electricity
from low-carbon sources by 2035.
After the tsunami in Japan, the Obama
administration issued statements support-
ing its energy plans, but the situation on
the ground is less clear. Although President
Obama called for $36 billion in government-
backed loan guarantees for new nuclear reac-
tors in the 2012 budget, that money now may
be far less forthcoming.
NUCLEAR NUMBERS AROUND
The amount China’s nuclear capacity is expected to increase
Source: World Nuclear Association
The amount U.S. president Barack Obama has proposed in
government-backed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors
The amount of time Germany postponed making a decision
whether to extend the life of its nuclear plants following the
Just days after the earthquake, company CEO
Tom Fanning told USA Today he didn’t expect any
delays for the project, which relies on $8 billion in
federal loan guarantees.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Even before the Japan tragedy, nuclear energy
projects were deeply controversial. There’s
no escaping the deep-seated stakeholder fear
of cataclysmic disasters such as the ones that
occurred in 1979 at Three Mile Island in the
United States and in 1986 at the Chernobyl
plant in Ukraine.