Nuclear Power Demand Is Up
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Nuclear Power Demand Is Up

Bloomberg reports that around the world demand for nuclear power is surging:

Already, many of the world’s facilities are scheduled to run far beyond what’s considered the typical 40-year lifespan. Operators are pushing to keep some reactors running for as long as 80 years — even beyond the average 77-year life expectancy of American people. Now, researchers are even starting to consider whether the machines can keep generating electricity for 100 years.

Just a few years ago, the idea of generating power from a century-old reactor was unthinkable. But the US and the European Union have committed to cutting greenhouse gas pollution by at least 50% by 2030, and more than 70 nations have set net-zero targets. Pressure is mounting to find ways to meet those targets — and fast. That’s forcing the world to weigh the risks of nuclear power, which has no carbon emissions, against uncontrolled climate change and natural disasters.

There’s also the expense and environmental risks of disposing of reactor waste, which remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. Seven decades after the first reactors started generating power, most countries have yet to build centralized depots where long-term waste can be contained. That all underscores why nuclear generation has been in steady decline: dropping from about 18% of the world’s electricity in the mid-1990s to roughly 10% today.

Countries like Germany, which has long been split over nuclear energy, are now stuck in a tough place. Natural gas supplies are limited, and Russia’s prolonged war in Ukraine is making the picture even more tenuous. Meanwhile, reliance on wind, solar and hydro power has proved unwieldy -- as seen with California’s seemingly constant threat of summer blackouts and the surge for European energy prices last year. Part of nuclear’s appeal is that unlike renewables, reactors deliver around-the-clock power, on cloudy days or during the still of night.

Many experts also argue that it would be all but impossible to reach the world’s net-zero goals by 2050 without increasing nuclear power. Low-carbon sources provided about 40% of the world’s electricity supply in 2021 — only about 4 percentage points more than 20 years earlier. That’s because while renewable energy scaled up, nuclear generation scaled down — these sites were sometimes replaced by gas plants, driving up carbon emissions.

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