Nuclear energy policy
Nuclear energy policy is a national and international policy concerning some or all aspects of nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle, such as uranium mining, ore concentration, conversion, enrichment for nuclear fuel, generating electricity by nuclear power, storing and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, and disposal of radioactive waste.
Nuclear energy policies often include the regulation of energy use and standards relating to the nuclear fuel cycle. Other measures include efficiency standards, safety regulations, emission standards, fiscal policies, and legislation on energy trading, transport of nuclear waste and contaminated materials, and their storage. Governments might subsidize nuclear energy and arrange international treaties and trade agreements about the import and export of nuclear technology, electricity, nuclear waste, and uranium.
Following the March 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents, China, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the Philippines are reviewing their nuclear power programs. Indonesia and Vietnam still plan to build nuclear power plants. Thirty-one countries operate nuclear power stations, and there are a considerable number of new reactors being built in China, South Korea, India, and Russia. As of June 2011, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, and Norway have no nuclear power stations and remain opposed to nuclear power.
Since nuclear energy and nuclear weapons technologies are closely related, military aspirations can act as a factor in energy policy decisions. The fear of nuclear proliferation influences some international nuclear energy policies.
The global picture
After 1986's Chernobyl disaster, public fear of nuclear power led to a virtual halt in reactor construction, and several countries decided to phase out nuclear power altogether. However, increasing energy demand was believed to require new sources of electric power, and rising fossil fuel prices coupled with concerns about greenhouse gas emissions (see Climate change mitigation) have sparked heightened interest in nuclear power and predictions of a nuclear renaissance.
In 2004, the largest producer of nuclear energy was the United States with 28% of worldwide capacity, followed by France (18%) and Japan (12%). In 2007, 31 countries operated nuclear power plants. In September 2008 the IAEA projected nuclear power to remain at a 12.4% to 14.4% share of the world's electricity production through 2030.
In 2013, almost two years after Fukushima, according to the IAEA there are 390 operating nuclear generating units throughout the world, more than 10% less than before Fukushima, and exactly the same as in Chernobyl-year 1986. Asia is expected to be the primary growth market for nuclear energy in the foreseeable future, despite continued uncertainty in the energy outlooks for Japan, South Korea, and others in the region. As of 2014, 63% of all reactors under construction globally are in Asia.
For some countries, nuclear power affords energy independence. In the words of the French, "We have no coal, we have no oil, we have no gas, we have no choice." Japan—similarly lacking in indigenous natural resources for power supply—relied on nuclear power for 1/3 of its energy mix prior to the Fukushima nuclear disaster; since March 2011, Japan has sought to offset the loss of nuclear power with increased reliance on imported liquefied natural gas, which has led to the country's first trade deficits in decades. Therefore, the discussion of a future for nuclear energy is intertwined with a discussion of energy security and the use of energy mix, including renewable energy development.
Nuclear energy history and trends
Proponents have long made inflated projections of the expected growth of nuclear power, but major accidents and high costs have kept growth much lower. In 1973 and 1974, the International Atomic Energy Agency predicted a worldwide installed nuclear capacity of 3,600 to 5,000 gigawatts by 2000. The IAEA's 1980 projection was for 740 to 1,075 gigawatts of installed capacity by the year 2000. Even after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Nuclear Energy Agency forecasted an installed nuclear capacity of 497 to 646 gigawatts for the year 2000. The actual capacity in 2000 was 356 gigawatts. Moreover, construction costs have often been much higher, and times much longer than projected, failing to meet optimistic projections of “unlimited cheap, clean, and safe electricity.”
Since about 2001 the term nuclear renaissance has been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, driven by rising fossil fuel prices and new concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emission limits. However, nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was at its lowest level since 1999, and new reactors under construction in Finland and France, which were meant to lead a nuclear renaissance, have been delayed and are running over-budget. China has 32 new reactors under construction, and there are also a considerable number of new reactors being built in South Korea, India, and Russia. At the same time, at least 100 older and smaller reactors will "most probably be closed over the next 10-15 years". So the expanding nuclear programs in Asia are balanced by retirements of aging plants and nuclear reactor phase-outs.
In March 2011 the nuclear emergencies at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and shutdowns at other nuclear facilities raised questions among some commentators over the future of the renaissance. Platts has reported that "the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has prompted leading energy-consuming countries to review the safety of their existing reactors and cast doubt on the speed and scale of planned expansions around the world". In 2011 Siemens exited the nuclear power sector following the Fukushima disaster and subsequent changes to German energy policy, and supported the German government's planned energy transition to renewable energy technologies. China, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, Italy and the Philippines have reviewed their nuclear power programs. Indonesia and Vietnam still plan to build nuclear power plants. Countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway remain opposed to nuclear power. Following the Fukushima I nuclear accidents, the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity built by 2035.
The World Nuclear Association has reported that “nuclear power generation suffered its biggest ever one-year fall through 2012 as the bulk of the Japanese fleet remained offline for a full calendar year”. Data from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that nuclear power plants globally produced 2346 TWh of electricity in 2012 – seven per cent less than in 2011. The figures illustrate the effects of a full year of 48 Japanese power reactors producing no power during the year. The permanent closure of eight reactor units in Germany was also a factor. Problems at Crystal River, Fort Calhoun and the two San Onofre units in the USA meant they produced no power for the full year, while in Belgium Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were out of action for six months. Compared to 2010, the nuclear industry produced 11% less electricity in 2012.
Reactions to Fukushima
Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has permanently shut down eight of its reactors and pledged to close the rest by 2022. The Italians have voted overwhelmingly to keep their country non-nuclear. Switzerland and Spain have banned the construction of new reactors. Japan’s prime minister has called for a dramatic reduction in Japan’s reliance on nuclear power. Taiwan’s president did the same. Mexico has sidelined construction of 10 reactors in favor of developing natural-gas-fired plants. Belgium is considering phasing out its nuclear plants, perhaps as early as 2015.
China—nuclear power’s largest prospective market—suspended approvals of new reactor construction while conducting a lengthy nuclear-safety review. Neighboring India, another potential nuclear boom market, has encountered effective local opposition, growing national wariness about foreign nuclear reactors, and a nuclear liability controversy that threatens to prevent new reactor imports. There have been mass protests against the French-backed 9900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra and the 2000 MW Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu. The state government of West Bengal state has also refused permission to a proposed 6000 MW facility near the town of Haripur that intended to host six Russian reactors.
There is little support across the world for building new nuclear reactors, a 2011 poll for the BBC indicates. The global research agency GlobeScan, commissioned by BBC News, polled 23,231 people in 23 countries from July to September 2011, several months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In countries with existing nuclear programmes, people are significantly more opposed than they were in 2005, with only the UK and US bucking the trend. Most believe that boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy can meet their needs.
Just 22% agreed that "nuclear power is relatively safe and an important source of electricity, and we should build more nuclear power plants". In contrast, 71% thought their country "could almost entirely replace coal and nuclear energy within 20 years by becoming highly energy-efficient and focusing on generating energy from the Sun and wind". Globally, 39% want to continue using existing reactors without building new ones, while 30% would like to shut everything down now.
Policies by territory
Following the March 2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents, China, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the Philippines are reviewing their nuclear power programs. Indonesia and Vietnam still plan to build nuclear power plants. Countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, New Zealand, and Norway remain opposed to nuclear power.
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