Nuclear power is gaining momentum in the United States as the
nation seeks environmentally friendly and affordable sources of
energy that can meet growing demand. As the U.S. deliberates the
possibility of building new nuclear power plants, other nations
have already begun the process.
A Domestic Source of Energy
France is an example of a country that developed nuclear energy
to reduce foreign energy dependence after the oil shock of the
1970s. It now receives nearly 80 percent of its electricity from
nuclear power and is a net exporter of electricity. Germany,
alternatively, decided to phase out nuclear energy for political
reasons and now imports some of this energy.
Japan is another country that has looked to nuclear power as a
clean, safe and reliable form of energy. Nuclear power already
provides 30 percent of the country's electricity; however, Japan is
working to increase this to 37 percent by 2009 and 41 percent by
Finland, ranking fifth in the world for per capita electricity
consumption, has a significant incentive to secure long-term energy
solutions. Embracing nuclear energy as part of an effort to
decrease the nation's dependency on foreign energy sources, Finland
has begun constructing a modern 1,600-megawatt reactor, which will
likely be a model used throughout the United States. Finland
already gets 28 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, and
a possible sixth reactor would increase that amount
Presently, the U.K. has 19 reactors that provide about 18
percent of the nation's electricity. Because the U.K. is already a
net importer of energy and all but one of its coal-fired and
nuclear plants are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2023, building
new reactors is a must for the U.K. if it is to avoid creating
increased energy dependencies. The British government, while
providing long-term politically stable support for nuclear power,
has made it clear that it would not subsidize the industry. The
U.S., on the other hand, continues to squabble politically about
nuclear power but has offered some subsidies to the industry. As a
result, the British model should provide a sustainable environment
for nuclear power moving forward, while the U.S. model could create
a politically tenuous dependency relationship between government
Nuclear energy is attractive to many countries because of its
impeccable environmental record. Burning fossil fuels releases an
abundance of elements into the atmosphere. Nuclear energy, to the
contrary, fully contains all of its byproduct in the form of used
nuclear fuel. Such waste is safely managed throughout the world in
countries like France, Finland, and Japan.
Nations across the world that are struggling to reconcile
mandates to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with the need to
maintain economic competitiveness are looking to nuclear
technology. Under the new European Union energy plan, by 2020
Finland will be forced to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20
percent, increase renewable energy by 20 percent, and increase
efficiency by 20 percent by 2020. It has turned to nuclear energy
to meet these goals.
Affordable energy is critical to sustaining economic
competitiveness in economies with high labor costs, expensive
environmental mandates, and other regulatory expenditures. This is
especially true in economies that depend on energy-intensive
activities like manufacturing, such as the Finnish and U.S.
economies. Finland concluded that access to vast quantities of
affordable energy should be a top national priority, and nuclear
was an obvious choice.
These countries and others searching to expand their nuclear
capacity have an opportunity to fuel their respective economies
through the thousands of jobs, both temporary and permanent, that
nuclear energy creates. A global nuclear renaissance will attract
construction jobs as well as high-skill engineering jobs to operate
Thus, two of the greatest benefits of building more nuclear
reactors, if done correctly, will be more jobs and cleaner, cheaper
energy. Countries that do not choose to produce clean energy in a
carbon constrained world will inevitably pay more to produce
energy, resulting in higher input costs and higher prices for
consumers on the open market.
As the economic consequences of higher fossil-fuel costs spread
to countries that do not produce nuclear power, many countries will
likely increase imports of nuclear electricity from foreign
suppliers. While less expensive and more reliable than other
non-nuclear, non-emitting sources, this energy will surely cost
more to import than it would have had to produce it domestically.
In the end, the countries that have barred nuclear power from being
produced in their respective countries will ultimately rely on
nuclear power, albeit at a more expensive imported price.
Meeting Higher Demands for Energy
U.S. electricity demand is projected to increase up to 40
percent by 2030, and other countries are projecting similar
increases. The rapid industrial development of both
China and India is already placing great pressure on global energy
supplies. And because energy sources, especially fossil fuels, are
global commodities, growing demand in one part of the world affects
the global economy. As a result, higher prices and tightened supply
have some nations, such as China, experiencing power shortages. While
the U.S. has, for the most part, been able to keep the lights on,
with the price of gas breaking the $4 barrier and natural gas
prices increasing, every American knows full well the pain of
increasing global energy demand.
Nuclear energy can help meet this growing demand. Most directly,
nuclear energy can be used to generate electricity. If that demand
were not met by nuclear power, then it would likely be met with
natural gas. This would put additional pressure on natural gas
reserves, driving up the price for electricity as well as all the
other goods that use natural gas in their production.
Although natural uranium is a finite resource like gas, oil, or
coal, it can be recycled and reused. The French, Japanese, and
British all recycle their used nuclear fuel. The French, for
example, remove the uranium and plutonium and fabricate new fuel.
Using that method, America can recycle its 58,000 tons of used fuel
stored across the nation to power every U.S. household for 12
China, India, and Russia are already building new nuclear
plants. Even smaller countries, like Vietnam and countries in the
Middle East, have begun exploring nuclear power as they too are
facing demand shortages and feeling pressure from the
industrialized world to reduce CO2 emissions.
What the U.S. Could Learn
With the U.S. entertaining the idea of building new nuclear
plants, the country can learn a great deal from other nations
further along in the process. Electricity demand is skyrocketing in
many parts of the world; purported human-induced climate change has
the entire globe in a panic. Nuclear energy has become a focal
point for countries trying to meet these needs, and some believe
that it can provide an economic boost at the same time. It creates
opportunities to electrify portions of the economy that today rely
almost entirely on fossil-fuels, like transportation.
Other countries seem to understand the potential benefits of
nuclear power and have either commenced constructing, or have
developed projections for, new nuclear plants. The time has come
for the U.S. to stop squabbling, remove regulatory impediments, and
allow nuclear energy to continue helping this country to meet its
growing energy demands.
Nicolas Loris is a Research Assistant and Jack Spencer is a research
fellow in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
at The Heritage Foundation.
"Annual Energy Outlook 2008," Energy Information Agency, June 25,
2008, at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity.html
(July 1, 2008); "Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates
for the Period up to 2030," International Atomic Energy Agency,
July 2005, at /static/reportimages/F6EBC65963BD7BC0672C090FF38AE6E9.pdf
(July 1, 2008).