For a while, nuclear power was put aside because of negative public opinion and high investment costs. In the past few years though, it has been given a new lease of life: 36 reactors are being built and about 100 more are planned. In 2008, 439 nuclear reactors were active. They provide 6.3% of the world’s electrical energy.
This revival is due to relative energy shortages and the fact that nuclear power emits very little CO2 into the atmosphere. Building infrastructures, extracting, transporting and enriching fuel may generate greenhouse gases but the sector’s carbon assessment is much better than fossil fuels’. However, on a planetary level, nuclear energy only represents a small amount of the energy that is produced: it could reach 18% of world electricity production but this only represents a small percentage of global energy production. It is therefore not a global solution to the problem.
Moreover, uranium resources – the fuel most commonly used by power stations – are not unlimited. According to the IAEA, existing stocks are enough to supply all the world’s reactors for another century, and new deposits could be discovered. But this depends on the increase in the number of reactors. Unless, maybe, future reactors use more readily available fuel.
However, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 in the Ukraine showed that accidents can indeed happen. Extracting uranium can also be dangerous for miners and the environment. We still do not know what to do with radioactive waste. The risk of proliferation or attack is still omnipresent.
How can we balance the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy? Some countries like Italy and Sweden have consulted their populations through referendums. However, in France – where 78% of electricity comes from nuclear energy – and in many other countries, the involvement in the civil nuclear industry was unilaterally decided by the government.