Nuclear Power

Two of the mainstream generating technologies nuclear power and coal-fired generation are experiencing re-emergence after some years of stagnation or decline. Some countries that relied heavily on indigenous coal have phased it out, either because of declining reserves of economically recoverable coal or for environmental reasons. Coal has been stigmatised for environmental reasons, but it is globally plentiful, relatively cheap and unlike oil and gas, mostly free from political manipulation. In the light of rising gas prices and increasing politicisation, the large users of gas and oil are increasingly worried about security of supply and are looking at alternatives. Nuclear power suffered a reversal after concerns about safety and fears about the long term hazards of waste disposal. Nuclear power presents a dilemma. On the one hand it is environmentally a clean source of power, generating few greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, there remains great public concern about nuclear waste and safety, much of it ill informed and largely conditioned by the legacy issues of fifty years ago.

Security of supply is a major energy issue and more people and governments are aware of the dangers. Oil upset the established order thirty years ago with the shocks of the 1970s and now it looks as if natural gas may follow the same path as it becomes an increasingly politicised asset, especially in the case of Russian supplies.
The drive towards environmentally friendly renewables continues, but more and more questions are being asked about the truth of some of the claims made for them.

The extent of the resurgence of nuclear power is still unknown, but it is clearly on an ascendant path. Several Western European countries had recently reversed decisions to shutdown their nuclear energy plants and are extending the lifetime of existing nuclear power plants. At least one country, Finland, has reversed an earlier decision to cease nuclear generation and is currently building a new nuclear power plant. Recently after banning it or deciding to reduce usage both the United Kingdom and Italy have announced a return to nuclear power. In both Finland and Italy the decision followed after opinion polls taken showed public support for nuclear power. In Finland the process of public consultation and debate has been a model that other countries can learn from.

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