The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in 2011 following the Japanese tsunami forced a major rethink of nuclear power as a safe form of electricity generation. As radiation from the plant spewed into the ocean and nearby communities following an immediate evacuation, the world reaction was swift and dramatic. Within days the spot price of uranium collapsed. Japan ordered the shutdown and maintenance of all its existing reactors. Germany, a major consumer of nuclear power, permanently closed 8 of its 17 nuclear reactors; other European countries shelved their nuclear plans.
While fear still lingers of a nuclear catastrophe on a similar scale as Fukushima, or earlier accidents such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, that hasn’t stopped a slew of countries from moving forward on plans to develop nuclear plants as an adjunct to existing power sources like hydro, coal, natural gas and good ol’ oil.
Especially in developing countries that lack access to fossil fuels, nuclear is seen as a viable and cost-effective form of baseload power.
Of course, these plans immediately arouse suspicions that nuclear power is being used as a ruse for developing nuclear weapons. The most obvious example is Iran, which already operates a large nuclear reactor – Bushehr 1 – but continues to engage in uranium enrichment despite a requirement by the United Nations Security Council to suspend such activities. Iran’s nuclear ambitions have resulted in U.S.-led sanctions and raised the opprobrium of Israel, which in turn has found itself at odds with the United States, particularly the Obama Administration, which seeks an accommodation with Iran.
Pakistan is a nuclear power whose capability to develop nuclear weapons is of major concern to regional rival India. The country is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has refused calls for international inspections of its enrichment activities. In 1998 Pakistan exploded five atomic devices in Baluchistan. A U.S. think tank said last fall that Pakistan has the world's fastest growing nuclear program, with enough fissile material to produce between 110 and 120 nuclear warheads.
The threat of nuclear weapons aside, there are a number of countries that seemingly aspire to no nefarious goal other than to churn turbines that produce electricity to feed growing economies. The World Nuclear Association figures there are over 45 countries actively looking to embark on nuclear power programs. They range from first-world economies to developing nations, with Iran’s program being the most advanced.
Here are seven that the World Nuclear Association considers to be the next junior members of the world nuclear power club:
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE is mostly reliant on imported gas for its electricity needs, but a 2008 study indicated a near tripling of power demand by 2020, with natural gas supplies only capable of supplying half the demand. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) in 2009 invited expressions of interest to build the country's first nuclear power plant, with the winning bid going to a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Co. (KEPCO). In a contract worth about $20 billion, KEPCO is planning to build four APR-1400 reactors at the coastal site of Barakah near Qatar. Earlier this month, Korea and Qatar built on their relationship, with South Korean President Park Guen-hye signing an MOU with Quatari Sheik Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani to cooperate on developing human resources for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
According to the World Nuclear Association, electricity demand has risen from 800 kWh/yr in 1990 to nearly 2,000 kWh/yr. In 2009 agreements were signed between the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority and Rosatom, Russia's state-owned nuclear energy corporation, presaging a Russian-built nuclear plant at Akkuyu on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Foundation construction of the $20 billion project consisting of four 1200 Mwe AES-2006 units is expected to start in the spring. The plant will be built and operated by Rosatom. Meanwhile the contract to build a second nuclear plant in Turkey was awarded to a Japanese-French consortium. The $22-billion plant in the city of Sinop, on the Black Sea, will produce 4,800 MW. Construction is expected to start in 2017.
Tiny Lithuania, sandwiched between Russia, Latvia, Poland and Belarus, in 2009 shut down its last nuclear reactor that was generating 70 percent of its electricity. In order to reduce its dependence on Russia, which now supplies almost 90 percent of its gas, Lithuania is working with GE Hitachi to build a new nuclear plant at Visaginas, a town in eastern Lithuania where the mothballed Ignalina nuclear power plant is located. Delfi, the Lithuanian Tribune, reported in July that Hitachi and the Lithuanian Energy Ministry are planning to set up a joint venture for the project. However, voters did not back the project in a 2012 referendum and the Lithuanian government has yet to make a final decision on it.
The Polish government in 2005 decided to enact a plan to diversify its mix of energy, which is heavily dependent on coal and gas. Four years later Poland’s Council of Ministers called for the construction of at least two nuclear power plants. In 2012 utility Polska Grupa Energetczna (PGE) approved a plan to install about 3,000 MWe of nuclear capacity, with the first unit to come online in 2025 and the second by 2035, World Nuclear News reported in January, 2014.
Like Lithuania, Belarus also derives nearly all of its gas from Russia. According to the World Nuclear Association, in 2006 the Belarus government approved a plan to construct a 2,000 MWe nuclear power plant in eastern Belarus that would provide electricity for half the cost of Russian gas. Three years later, the government announced that Atomstroyexport, Russia’s nuclear power equipment monopoly, would be the general contractor, with the project arranged through US$9 billion in Russian financing. The 2,400 MWe plant containing two AES-2006 units is expected to be operational by 2017.
With over a third of its power coming from hydro, a third from gas and the rest from coal, the energy-hungry southeast Asian juggernaut is poised to diversify its power requirements into nuclear. The Vietnamese government in 2006 announced its intention for a 2,000 MWe nuclear plant to come online by 2020, rising to 8,000 MWe by 2025. The reactors would be built at Phuoc Dinh in southern Ninh Thuan province and Vinh Hai in north-central Ha Tinh province.
Densely populated Bangladesh suffers frequent power cuts, and around half of its 160-million population lives without electricity. In 2009 the government accepted a Russian proposal to build a 1,000 MWe nuclear power plant at Rooppur for around $2 billion. A year later agreements were signed with Rosatom for two 1,000 MWe reactors, to be built by Atomstroyexport. Construction of the first reactor started in 2013 and the project is expected to be completed by 2022.