Nuclear power may be close to a revival after two decades in the shadow of the Chernobyl reactor accident as governments search for clean sources of power to beat climate change.
But ask the industry who is going to foot the potentially massive bill and it becomes coy and mutters about governments, public/private partnerships and equity financing.
"There is a lot of talk about the nuclear renaissance, but in reality only China is really building," says Steve Kidd, director of strategy at the World Nuclear Association (WNA). "No one wants to go first."
The WNA -- the nuclear power industry's umbrella organization -- says 439 reactors are operating globally, generating 371,000 megawatts of electricity or about 16 percent of total demand.
A further 34 are under construction, with 81 planned and 223 proposed -- 88 of which are in China.
The WNA estimates nuclear power could double over the next 30 years but, given the forecast surge in population and demand, it will still only account for about the same percentage.
Cost estimates vary depending on location and number of plants -- with economies of scale -- but the ballpark figure is around US$2 billion for a standard 1 gigawatt nuclear plant.
"The first one will cost more than that. But get an order for three or four and the price drops sharply," Kidd said. "The best is 10 or more."
"The fact is that once it is running, a nuclear power plant is like a cash machine. Yes, six to eight years of pain because of the high initial capital costs, but then 60 years of almost pure profit because of the low running costs," he said.
So why, doubters ask, is no frantic nuclear construction activity already underway, given it is a low-carbon emitting technology and seems to fit the global warming bill perfectly?
"We are on the cusp of action. Everybody has been waiting for someone to lead," Thomas Meston of reactor builder Westinghouse, which has just sold four of its AP-1000 plants to China, said at the WNA's annual meeting in London.
Britain is contemplating a new generation of nuclear power plants to replace its existing fleet, all but one of which will be closed due to old age within two decades.
As nuclear provides 18 percent of the country's electricity, the issue is urgent.
The government has repeatedly said nuclear power should be part of the energy mix but that it will not give public money.
It is conducting a public consultation on the issue that is largely a public relations exercise as there is no legal block other than cumbersome planning regulations -- which are being cut -- to utility firms going ahead with a new plant.
The utilities say they are interested as long as certain regulatory issues -- like who pays for decommissioning and storage of toxic waste -- are sorted out.
But potential financiers decline to discuss the matter, saying on one hand that they won't talk about hypotheticals and on the other that they can't betray client confidentiality.
It is a game of brinksmanship, with the utilities holding out for the best deal they can get from government -- particularly any price guarantees they may be able to extract.
The problem centers on public acceptability.
China and Russia may now be building nuclear plants, but neither has a strong record on safety -- which is why what happens in Britain, which does, could be a global catalyst.
France, which now gets 80 percent of its electricity from atomic power, is already firmly set on a nuclear path.
"Britain is seen as a springboard for nuclear expansion," Kidd said. "The utilities will finance it. The challenge is to make sure all the risks are allocated to the people who can best bear them.
"I am optimistic that is will happen, but maybe not in the 10-year timeframe some people are talking about," he said.
Scientists say that global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8oC and 4oC this century because of carbon gases, bringing climatic and humanitarian catastrophe.
Nuclear proponents say atomic power is the answer, but environmentalists say that not only have the nuclear waste, proliferation and security issues not been resolved, but nuclear power will not significantly cut carbon emissions anyway.
Given that even under the WNA's most optimistic outlooks nuclear will only account for 18 percent of electricity demand, the amount of carbon foregone comes in at just 4 percent.
And that, says the environmental lobby, is simply not worth the risk entailed in the mooted new nuclear age.
Up to half of the foreigners residing in China have departed over the past few years. The decline is particularly evident among US students, with their numbers plummeting by 98 percent, dwindling from 11,639 in the 2018-2019 academic year to a mere 211 in 2021-2022. Despite Beijing attributing the exodus to COVID-19 lockdowns, a closer examination of the data reveals that a significant portion left just before and after the lockdowns. Some foreigners who weathered the never-ending lockdowns finally decided to leave, as they were afraid that Beijing could reimpose lockdowns. However, COVID-19 is just one of many reasons that China’s
Due to enduring the Kafkaesque situation of having two accidents in 30 minutes, one involving an accident with an ambulance, I would like to share my personal experience. Both cases show the loopholes of Taiwanese law, which is a driving factor for the terrible traffic conditions in the nation. I was driving my scooter on the main road in Taoyuan’s Yangmei District (楊梅). Despite there being no cars behind me, a young man in an old car made a sudden left turn and I bumped into his vehicle. At first, the man tried to run away, but was blocked by other
The pre-eminent authority on the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), last month issued an update to one of its entries, adding the term “Chinese dragon” to its lexicon for the first time. The Chinese word long (龍) has for a long time been translated simply as “dragon,” but many commentators opposed this, believing that the traditional Western concept of a dragon is represented by the embodiment of a fearsome, wicked monster that must be killed. It was deemed unsuitable to use a wicked and inauspicious Western dragon to refer to an auspicious Chinese dragon, so it was recommended that a
My recent trip to Taiwan to vote in the presidential and legislative elections was a simple civil duty. Yet, it was still an eye-opening experience for a long-time US resident, given the similarity in political divisions of the two-party system in both countries. As the Washington Post said: “This isn’t just an election year. It’s the year of elections.” Taiwan’s election was to choose between pro-democracy and pro-China. To a good extent, the US election in November would also be the decision time for defending democracy. The strength of a democratic society lies in the quality of its people, who