* IAEA sees nuclear energy growth despite Fukushima accident
* Construction started of seven new reactors in 2012
* Asian demand seen driving nuclear expansion (Adds detail from IAEA report)
VIENNA, March 4 (Reuters) - Global nuclear energy capacity increased again in 2012 - albeit only slightly - after a drop the previous year following Japan’s Fukushima disaster, the U.N. atomic agency chief said on Monday.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the U.N. agency’s 35-nation board that construction began on seven new reactors last year, up from four in 2011.
He was referring to data in a new IAEA report, which said there were 437 nuclear power reactors in operation worldwide as of end-December, with a total generating capacity of 372.5 gigawatt, up by roughly one percent from 2011.
“The impact of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continued to be felt in 2012 in the relatively low overall number of construction starts on new reactors,” the IAEA’s Nuclear Technology Review for 2013 said.
Although the seven construction starts - of which more than half took place in China - were more than in 2011, “this is significantly fewer than in 2010, when the steady increase since 2003 reached its peak with 16 construction starts,” it said.
The number of new reactors under construction worldwide now stands at 66, Amano said, according to a copy of his speech at the closed-door board session.
Reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by a deadly earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 shook the nuclear industry and raised questions over whether atomic energy is safe.
Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to move away from nuclear power to increase reliance on renewable energy instead.
But the IAEA said it still anticipated significant expansion in the use of nuclear energy worldwide - by between 23 and 100 percent by 2030 - on the back of growth in Asia, despite Fukushima.
But it said a somewhat slower capacity growth than previously forecast was likely after the world’s worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century.
“Most of the growth is expected in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, particularly in the Far East,” the nuclear report said.
“Although some countries delayed decisions to start nuclear power programmes, others continued with their plans to introduce nuclear energy,” it added.
In mid-2012, the United Arab Emirates became the first country in 27 years to start construction of a first nuclear power plant, the report said.
Other countries, such as Belarus and Turkey, have made progress towards their first nuclear energy plant, it said. (Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by James Jukwey)