High Expectations for Nuclear Energy
ENERGY HAS COME a long way since the world's first commercial
reactor which remains operational to this day began generating
electricity in the United Kingdom in 1956. And expectations are
quite strong, especially in Japan, that it will continue to contribute
its part to meet the growing appetite for energy around the globe
in the future.
At the end of December 1997, there were 429 nuclear power plants
in operation in 32 countries around the world, capable of generating
364.7 million kW of electricity. The 94 plants either under construction
or being planned at present would add as much as another 74.4
million kW or more to that figure.
By far, the leader in nuclear energy generation is the United
States, with 104.5 million kW generated by the country's 107 plants
in operation 51 more than its nearest rival, France, at 61.0 million
kW. Nevertheless, the U.S. relies on nuclear energy for less than
a quarter of its electric power needs, while French nuclear power
plants, for instance, generate some three-quarters of that nation's
Japan is currently the third-largest producer of nuclear energy,
with 51 commercial plants capable of generating 44.9 million kW
of electricity as of July 1998. The government's first experimental
reactor successfully generated electricity as early as 1963, and
the nation's first commercial reactor, the Tokai unit in Ibaraki
Prefecture (just deactivated this year), came on-line in 1966.
Japanese nuclear power plants supply just over one-third of the
nation's electricity needs 319.1 billion kWh in 1997, a figure
that is expected to remain steady over the next nine years as
the government gears up to boost its energy-generation infra-structure
until 2007. In the ten-year period from 1997 to 2007, power plants
will be constructed that will be capable of generating 68.1 million
kW, including 11.3 million kW of nuclear power.
Japan's dependence on nuclear power to meet these needs stems
from some obvious drawbacks. Being the resource-destitute country
that it is, for one, the nation must rely on imports for 80 percent
of its primary energy requirements. Yet, as two oil embargoes
have so painfully demonstrated in the past, reliance on one particular
energy source can greatly undermine stability with regard to energy
Nonetheless, global demand for energy will continue to rise,
a trend not all that unduly affected by the current economic turmoil
in Asia. At the same time, there is rising concern over the impact
of fossil fuels on global warming.