Nuclear Energy in the Developing World

July 21, 2016, 2:54PMANS Nuclear CafeBeth Piper

As of this year, more and more developing nations around the world are actively considering nuclear power as a practical energy solution. Taking into account the looming depletion of fossil fuels and rapidly worsening impacts of climate change, the benefits of nuclear are becoming harder to ignore - as a safe, reliable and carbon-free source of energy, it's a viable path to growth for nations grasping at the chance of a sustainable future.

The nuclear industry can drastically improve electricity supply in countries where many remain doomed to energy poverty, left in the dark without the power needed to "switch on" the process of industrialization.

Despite decisions to scale back on nuclear power by several leading economies - such as Germany and the United States - construction of new nuclear plants in Russia and China is encouraging. According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power is planned in over 20 countries that do not currently have it, and under "some level of consideration" in over 20 elsewhere.

Today, African and Asia-Pacific nations are leading the way when it comes to new nuclear energy capacity. Asian nations Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia are all considering integrating nuclear power into their long-term energy strategies. Vietnam and the United States are currently cooperating under the auspices of a 2014 agreement, allowing for commercial nuclear trade, research and technology exchanges between the two countries. According to a White House statement, one of those training and research initiatives will "complement Vietnamese university nuclear curriculum programs with the Department of Energy-supported remote reactor training from North Carolina State University." The R-1 reactor at NC State was the first nuclear research reactor to be fully developed and operated by an academic institution, uniquely preparing this university to assist emerging nuclear countries in their own reactor training.

China has built over 15 nuclear energy plants in the last 30 years. Though as a developing economy they have historically depended on dirty coal, they are looking to significantly diversify their energy reserves. According to Bloomberg, "China is opening a new chapter in the nuclear industry." The country aims to have 58 gigawatts of nuclear-generating capacity by 2020. Of the 64 reactors currently under construction globally, 21 are in China alone.

As China and India move to expand reactor capacity, competition for primary uranium supply is also heating up. According to Canada's Alberta Energy, each new standard 1GW nuclear reactor consumes an average 400,000 lbs of U308 annually. Canada is home to the highest-grade uranium deposits in the world, but it does not currently allow foreign companies to be majority investors in operating uranium mines (France and Australian companies being the only notable exceptions). As more reactors start up and uranium supplies begin to run thin elsewhere, however, more emerging nuclear nations will begin to demand access to necessary nuclear fuel.

New nuclear programs will drastically improve the lives of individuals across the world as these strategic plans begin to break physical ground. For nations in Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East, taking the future of the environment and common-sense economics into consideration means pursuing the safe, efficient and carbon-free energy provided by nuclear power.