The number of nuclear reactors proposed to be built over the next two decades is likely to be halved, post Fukushima. Around 700-750 reactors are supposed to be built worldwide by 2030, of which around 400-450 reactors will see the light of day, say private players in the European energy industry.
"After Fukushima, there will be fewer projects than before. It will be difficult for the United States in particular to have nuclear energy," said an expert who did not wish to be named. A USA Today-Gallup poll commissioned after the Fukushima meltdown has shown that 44% of the American population wants nuclear power, a drop from 62% in March 2010.
Italy has announced a one-year moratorium on its plans, although Italy, along with UK and Poland had earlier decided to relaunch its nuclear energy programme.
At a March meeting of European Union countries in Brussels, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said, "We must also raise the question of if we, in Europe, in the foreseeable future, can secure our energy needs without nuclear energy."
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government suspended operations in seven of the country's oldest reactors for safety checks. There is speculation that these plants will not reopen.
The issue is likely to be a critical factor in next year's presidential elections even in France which gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, and where the public is immensely supportive of nuclear energy. "The Socialists will have difficulty preserving their alliance with the Greens, so they have already started talking against nuclear energy," said the expert.
The high cost of building safe reactors will also deter many countries from going into nuclear energy, said the energy expert: "The Evolutionary Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) are safer because they have a double shell. They also have the core catcher which takes care of meltdowns. However, they are also more expensive than older reactors."
It's not nuclear energy, but renewable energy that is the future. Renewable energy is sourced from natural resources like sunlight and wind among other things. "Germany abandoning nuclear power will not be a surprise. Germany is aiming at 80% renewable energy," said the expert.
Further confirmation of this came recently in the draft of "The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011". Released by the Worldwatch Institute, the draft report shows that nuclear energy is falling behind renewable energy in spite of receiving generous subsidies.
"In 2010, for the first time, the cumulative installed capacity of wind power (193 GW), small hydropower (80 GW), biomass and waste-to-energy (65 GW), and solar power (43 GW) reached 381 GW, outpacing the installed nuclear capacity of 375 GW prior to the Fukushima disaster," said the draft report. And this in spite of the fact that "compared with renewables, nuclear power has received roughly five times as much government R&D finance since 1986 across the countries of the IEA (International Energy Agency)".
The report said that although renewable electricity generation (excluding large hydro) would remain lower than nuclear output for a while, it was catching up fast. Developments even prior to 11 March, when the Fukushima crisis began, illustrated that the international nuclear industry had been unable to stop the slow decline of nuclear energy: "Not enough new units are coming online, and the world's reactor fleet is aging quickly. Moreover, it is now evident that nuclear power development cannot keep up with the pace of its renewable energy competitors."
The power industry expert was of the view that subsidies and technology can help the renewable energy sector to boom: "Till that time gas is the substitute. It's triple-A energy — abundant, acceptable and affordable."
"The EU should work towards renewable energy. If the Germans and the Spanish are doing well with renewables, there is no reason why France cannot," the expert added.
According to the nuclear status report, China is the world leader in renewable energy, "investing $54.4 billion in renewables in 2010 (up 39 percent over the previous year), followed by Germany at $41.2 billion (up 100 percent) and the United States at $34 billion (up 66 percent)."
However, when asked about the future of the nuclear energy industry, an energy official here expressed confidence that nuclear energy was here to stay.