Nuclear power to explode in India

INDIA - To curb greenhouse gas emissions, India is poised to dramatically increase its reliance on nuclear energy - but there'll be no overall benefit to the planet if China's coal binge continues.

A new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency forecasts India will increase nuclear production eight-fold by 2030 to account for 26 percent of its power grid.

However, China plans to use nuclear power for only 4 percent of electricity generation by 2030. Globally, the IAEA estimates there'll be drop an overall drop in nuclear energy from around 15 percent in 2006, down to 13 percent in 2030.

"The world should be encouraging China to get out of coal into non-greenhouse gas emitting energy production," said Alan McDonald, a nuclear-energy analyst with the IAEA.

Coal is a dirty, carbon-dioxide spewing energy source, but like gasoline, it is cheap, scalable and reliable. The Pew Center for Climate Change estimates that coal contributes 20 percent of the total greenhouse gases emitted on earth.

Among the green alternatives to coal, nuclear is the only technology with proven capacity. Worldwide, nuclear power generates 370 gigawatts of energy; estimates of global wind capacity are around 74 GW and solar-power capacity at only 1.7 GW.

"The other true alternative energies like solar and wind are just not ready to step up and become a major part of the global-energy system in the next 10 to 20 years," said Jeremy Carl, a research fellow in Stanford's Program on Energy and Sustainable Development. "If climate becomes a serious enough consideration, we might end up building a lot of nuclear plants."

India plans to increase nuclear-energy production by more than 9 percent a year through 2050. Seven new nuclear reactors are already under construction and more are planned, despite political hurdles that threaten to derail a U.S.-India nuclear fuel pact.

While China draws fire for dirty energy production, half of United States power is generated by coal. Atomic energy is only responsible for 16 percent of total electricity generation.

Concern over climate change, however, is changing public opinion in the United States.

Bisconti Research, which tracks opinion for the industry-backed Nuclear Energy Institute, found that 63 percent of Americans think nuclear should be in the U.S. energy mix, up from 49 percent in 1983.

The main factor holding nuclear power back in North America remains up-front costs.

"Nuclear power plants are relatively expensive to build and cheap to operate," said McDonald. "They are great if you can wait for a return on your investment."

Thirty new nuclear plants are on the drawing board in the United States, but no new nuclear sites have been built in decades. Stanford's Carl pointed out the elephant in the room when it comes to nuclear energy: risk.

"All it would take is one dirty bomb event or one Chernobyl to freeze nuclear plant production," he said.


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