Nuclear Makes a Worldwide Comeback
The Atomic Age Enters a New Dawn
Germany may still be debating whether to abandon its nuclear phase-out plans, but the rest of the world is already moving full steam ahead into expanding the use of nuclear technology. SPIEGEL ONLINE examines a glowing comeback, from Switzerland to China.
It was seen as risky, dangerous and uneconomical. Less than 10 years ago nuclear energy was still being treated as yesterday's news.
After the devastating Chernobyl reactor disaster, hardly any countries were interested in placing their bets on nuclear technology, and not even the energy companies believed that electricity from nuclear power plants had much of a future.
Today the sinister technology, still more unpopular than almost any other, is experiencing an unexpected comeback. Thirty-six new reactors are currently being built worldwide, while another 81 are in the planning stages. And it has not escaped the attention of Germans that new nuclear power plants are not just being planned in the emerging nations of Asia and Eastern Europe, but are also back on the drawing board in the United States and Great Britain.
Two fundamental developments are fueling the nuclear energy comeback. The international effort to combat climate change favors power generation technologies that involve relatively low emissions of carbon dioxide. This includes nuclear reactors, which emit only a fraction of the amount of CO2 into the environment that comes from a coal-fired power plant, for example.
Rising oil prices are also a boost for nuclear energy. Until recently, it was considered especially cost-effective to produce electricity in small and flexible natural gas power plants. Gas was relatively cheap, and the plants were significantly less expensive to build than a nuclear power plant.
But for months now, gas prices have followed the steep rise in oil prices, and it is becoming increasingly clear to Western nations that the world's gas reserves are primarily in countries that are not necessarily considered the most political stable on earth, such as Libya and Russia. Many Western politicians now fear that those who choose to turn their backs on nuclear power could very well be putting themselves at the mercy of arbitrary dictators and autocrats.
In light of these new realities on the energy markets, many are now once again seeing nuclear energy as the lesser evil.