The Need for Nuclear Power

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Since the construction of the first nuclear reactor (pile) by Fermi and his team more than 60 years ago, the history of nuclear energy has been a mixed one. In the early years, after World War II, the concept of nuclear power holding the promise of cheap and abundant energy was overwhelmingly supported by public opinion. On the other hand, since nuclear energy was first used in the construction of the atomic bomb, many still associate atomic energy with destruction and killing. Over the years, after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 and, more importantly, after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, serious public concerns emerged and public opinion increasingly turned against nuclear power, forcing many governments to drastically reconsider their policies for electricity generation from atomic energy. In the United States, after the Three Mile Island incident -which, incidentally did not lead to any casualties - anti-nuclear activism successfully slowed down and eventually stopped the construction of any new nuclear power plant ordered after 1973. By filing innumerable lawsuits against utility companies, construction was halted at the cost of millions, if not billions, of dollars to power companies. It effectively scared any corporation which planned to build a new nuclear power plant. The actual cost of the Shoreham nuclear power plant in New York for example, was first estimated at $240 million but finally rose to $4 billion at its completion. Seabrook, in New Hampshire, which was supposed to cost around $1 billion, was abandoned before completion after years of delays in construction and with $6 billion already been spent. In Europe too, countries such as Sweden, Spain and Germany, fearing possible accidents involving nuclear reactors, have put a hold on their construction. Other nations with no or limited fossil fuel resources such as France, Japan and South Korea, however are actively developing and expanding their nuclear power sector. France's decision to launch a large nuclear program dates back to the 1970s, and was aimed at minimizing the country's dependence on imported oil. Following the popular saying: "no oil, no gas, no coal, no choice" the French authorities of the time quickly came to the conclusion that nuclear power was not a choice

Table 8.3 Nuclear power reactors under construction.

Country

Units

Total capacity [MW]

India

8

3602

Ukraine

2

1900

Russian Federation

4

3775

Japan

2

1933

Iran

1

915

China

2

2000

Taiwan

2

2600

Argentina

1

692

Romania

1

655

Finland

1

1600

Total

24

19 672

Source: IAEA (as of august 2005)

Source: IAEA (as of august 2005)

but a necessity if their country was to keep its energy independence. Both benefits as well as risks were efficiently explained to the population, which understood that life would be very difficult without nuclear energy. The fact that Japan, the only country which ever experienced a nuclear bomb attack, also strongly favors the use of atomic power, should tell us much about the safe and peaceful use of this technology. In recent years, a less passionate, more rational, facts-based view of nuclear energy, coupled with an increasing overall need for energy started to emerge, especially in Asia where numerous nuclear power-plants are under construction. The United States is currently also again slowly considering the construction of new nuclear power plants.

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