The future

For the reasons already outlined, the nuclear power industry looked moribund at the end of the twentieth century in all but a handful of Asian countries. The twenty-first century has brought new hope. Against all expectations, nuclear power plants in the USA are often faring well in the deregulated electricity market and their value is increasing. This may encourage a more positive attitude towards nuclear plants within the financial sector there.

The development of new reactors that are cheaper and quicker to build and which are safer may help improve perceptions. Meanwhile global warming offers the nuclear industry an opportunity to sell its product as a zero greenhouse emission technology. This argument has not won support within the environmental lobby which still perceives nuclear power as a pariah. The industry has, however, been successful in lobbying for support within the US government which wants to build a new generation of nuclear plants. The UK government appears to hold the option of new nuclear capacity open too.

Major issues still remain if nuclear power is to be rehabilitated. The disposal of nuclear waste is a significant problem and one that appears no nearer a satisfactory solution than it did in the 1980s or 1990s. Nuclear proliferation renders nuclear power suspect because it is a source of fissile weapons material. The dangers of terrorism have also raised the safety stakes as far as the nuclear industry is concerned. These are serious issues. If concerns relating to them can be met, the nuclear industry may see the renaissance it desperately seeks. But that renaissance is far from certain.

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