Those saying no to nuclear for a while are beginning to think again; they’ve had to. There are 435 commercial nuclear reactors worldwide, and another 100 are on their way. Most of these are inevitably in the developed world. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants 1,300 new reactors to come up worldwide to help meet the current demand for power. Even this increase, experts in Europe say, will not be enough.
But there’s an aspect of the nuclear energy debate that India will have to inevitably get into. "For us nuclear energy itself is a no-no," Ulrike Lunacek, spokesperson for the European Green Party told Outlook. "There is the cost factor, nuclear energy is expensive. But also, we are very concerned about safety and issues like disposal of nuclear waste."
Recent weeks have brought several incidents that nuclear managers would consider minor, but many do not. In one accident at Tricastin in the South of France, uranium was found to have leaked into the groundwater. In another in Saint Alban, France, some workers were found to have been contaminated with radioactive dust. In Sweden, a fire broke out in July at a reactor near Go#teborg town. In Germany, two reactors had to be shut down in March over safety concerns. And fears arose after radioactive leaks were detected from waste buried as deep as a kilometre at a nuclear centre near Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, Germany.
The issue of safety apart, demands for nuclear energy in Germany are getting louder. The ruling Christian Democratic Party is being restrained from a reversal of the phase-out decision by the Social Democrats. In a quite dramatic reversal, opinion polls show that majority of Germans now want to go back to nuclear energy, given the high bills they now pay for electricity because of their commitment to renewable energy. Germany gets an impressive 5 per cent of its electricity from wind but it comes at a price. The Germans will be looking at Italy that has taken a decision to reverse the phase-out of nuclear power; Sweden did so in 2005.
French nuclear energy makes it the world’s largest exporter of electricity; it sold electricity worth more than $4 billion last year and now has an eye on the Indian market. Just as the French set out on their nuclear policy after the oil price shock of the ’70s, others have decided to follow in its footsteps after the current spurt in oil prices. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt who has been campaigning for a return to nuclear energy acknowledged the risks involved. But, he said, "There is nothing in the world, not even love, that is without risk."