Belgium's Doel nuclear power plant. Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
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When nuclear power makes the news, it’s often for all the wrong reasons. The disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, ageing infrastructure in current plants, the spiralling costs of building new ones, and the unsolved issue of nuclear waste.
And yet as the world looks for ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to take action on climate change, some think nuclear power, which does not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions, could play an increasingly important role in the future power mix.
An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report looking at various routes the world could take to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050 predicts an increase of nuclear power for electricity generation in most scenarios.
Last year, global nuclear power generation reached pre-Fukushima levels as China added capacity and Japan restarted four reactors. And in total there are currently 449 reactors supplying about 11% of the world’s energy. So where are they?
The top five
The United States has the most operational nuclear reactors on the planet – 96. Together they have a capacity of 97,565 MW, and last year nuclear energy made up about 20% of the country’s electricity generation.
France is home to 58 nuclear reactors, which produce about 75% of the country’s electricity. It has said it will cut this amount to 50% by 2035.
China (48), Japan (37) and Russia (36) make up the rest of the top five.
What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?
The future of nuclear
There are more than 50 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, mostly in China.
Still, as Japanese efforts to reduce the effects of radioactive contamination caused by the accident in Fukushima enter their eighth year, it seems nuclear power has work to do in cleaning up its reputation.
Industry body the World Nuclear Association says nuclear power is a safe means of generating electricity, and that the risk of accidents at plants is low and declining.
Anti-nuclear campaigners say the high cost of nuclear means the money would be better spent on renewables and energy efficiency.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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