How’s this for some green news to be excited about: after years of slow growth, nuclear power is taking off again, thanks in large part to new installations in Asia. The EIA reports:
Global nuclear capacity reached 383 gigawatts (GW) in 2015, driven primarily by nuclear additions in Asia. Currently, 31 countries have nuclear power programs, totaling 441 operating reactors. An additional 60 reactors are under construction in 15 countries, adding 59 GW of electricity generating capacity over the next decade. Plans to add another 90 reactors (76 GW) have been formally transmitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by 8 countries. […]
Between 1980 and 2010, nuclear capacity in Asia quadrupled, led primarily by South Korea, Japan, and India. Prior to the accident at Fukushima, Japan had 54 operating reactors totaling 46.8 GW; only 5 reactors have been approved for restart. More recently, growth in nuclear capacity in Asia has been led primarily by China, where capacity has nearly quadrupled in the past 10 years. Nuclear additions in China have accounted for 18 GW of the 22 GW added globally between 2009 and 2015. Of the 61 reactors currently under construction worldwide, 20 are in China, and China has formally told the IAEA that it plans to build another 20 reactors.
There’s only one way to read this, and that’s as a positive development both for global energy security and for sustainable development. As much as environmentalists love to tout the benefits of wind and solar power, those renewables are plagued by a fatal flaw: intermittency. When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, those energy sources can’t produce electricity, and that’s a major problem when you consider that consistency is paramount for power grids. Until that changes—until we develop cost-effective, commercial-scale energy storage options—renewables’ market share is going to be necessarily limited.
But that doesn’t mean we’re out of clean energy options. Nuclear power can predictably keep the lights on 24/7, all without emitting greenhouse gases or local air pollutants. Environmentalists around the world should therefore get behind what’s happening in Asia—it could do a lot more for curbing greenhouse gas emissions than today’s crop of solar and wind technologies.