Monday, September 20, 2010

Potential New Markets for Nuclear Energy

Part of the slowly emerging interest in nuclear power has been taking a look at regions of the world that would be especially suited for building new nuclear reactors. Several countries in the Middle East such as Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have expressed interest in having nuclear energy programs. Iran has also been the focus of much news as of late over concerns that its current goal to expand the role of nuclear energy in its energy infrastructure might be a front for developing nuclear arms. However, the process of creating fissionable material for warheads is quite different than the process of generating electricity and a nuclear weapons program would be difficult to keep hidden.

In any case, the middle east would be well-served to invest in nuclear energy as many countries in the region depend heavily on fossil fuels for electricity generation which has negatively impacted the environmental and human health in the region in addition to complicating its political identity. In addition, many people within this area of the world live in arid conditions making agriculture, animal husbandry, and access to water for human consumption difficult. Part of the interest in nuclear energy in the middle east has been driven by its potential application for desalinization. Thousands of gallons of freshwater could be created daily from seawater using the waste heat from a nuclear facility for the fraction of the cost of other desalinization procedures.

In the British isles, Britain has been seriously considering new nuclear development as many of its existing nuclear facilities are aging as no new nuclear facilities have been built in years. This reflects a similar situation as we have seen in the US. As coal and natural gas have major drawbacks in regards to pollution from carbon dioxide and in the case of coal; ash and soot, the British government has started to re-evaluate the viability of nuclear energy in Britain's energy portfolio. Ireland has traditionally been vehemently against any sort of nuclear development choosing to rely on burning peat, low-grade coal, and imported natural gas. The rapid pace of economic development has lead to considerable demand for more energy in the nation, and Ireland has been mulling over the potential of nuclear energy to alleviate a potential energy shortage. Although anti-nuclear sentiments remain strong in the country, this may change as people become more educated about the inherent safety of nuclear energy as well as its minimal environmental impact. This is especially poignant when considering the amount of pollution that the burning of peat and fossil fuels causes when Ireland has recently become concerned about its environmental health.

Australia remains an important source of uranium yet its traditional stance against nuclear energy has prevented any reactors being built and has chosen to largely use coal for energy instead. The impact of Australia's large coal mines have scarred the landscape. The amount of carbon dioxide and particulate matter produced from Australia's coal plants is immense, especially when one considers that some of it is also very low-grade lignin which is even more polluting than bituminous coal when burned. To make matters worse, various "environmentalist" groups have recently put pressure on Australia's government to limit uranium mining and exploration yet remain strangely silent when it comes to the continual operation of Australia's coal infrastructure. There have been calls in Australia for the development of nuclear energy but it remains to be seen if Australia's defacto ban on nuclear energy will remain for the future as many countries in Europe have either lifted or stalled their moratoriums on nuclear energy.

Finally, Asia has been aggressively expanding its investment in nuclear energy, particularly China, Korea, and India. These countries are poised to be the leaders in new nuclear technological development as the nuclear energy market in the US has stalled. Although there has been renewed interest in building new nuclear reactors in the US, it pales in comparison to the rapid degree of nuclear development in Asia.