Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Future of Nuclear Power:

Making Predictions

With the IAEA General Conference going on in Vienna this week, we are hearing a lot about the effects of Fukushima, both on current nuclear power operations and on the future of nuclear power. Given all the uncertainties in the aftermath of that event, it was very encouraging to hear the Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, predict that there is still likely to be significant growth in the number of operating nuclear power plants in the future. Amano's prediction was that IAEA expected between 90 and 350 new units by 2030. The higher prediction would represent nearly a doubling of the current number of reactors operating worldwide.

Now, I must confess I am very leery of predictions. If I were speaking to Mr. Amano, I would advise him of the statement of America's most famous philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." The same news items that reported IAEA's predictions also reported that they are lower than projections IAEA had made prior to the March 11 events.

Nevertheless, the reasons Amano cites for the continued growth of nuclear power--increasing demand around the world for clean energy--are solid, and the early signs are certainly clear that the countries with the largest nuclear power development programs are continuing to pursue nuclear power. Therefore, IAEA's prediction is based on strong evidence. While I probably wouldn't hazard a quantitative guess, I do think the signs point toward continued nuclear power development in a number of nations. Then again, IAEA has information on national plans that I don't have, so they are in a better position to place a number on their projections!

Yogi Berra still has a point, of course. Just as Fukushima changed IAEA's earlier projections, another serious incident could cut into the current prediction. But short of that, I think the nuclear renaissance that everyone was predicting a few years ago has been slowed, but not derailed.


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