September 12, 2011 / 10:12 AM / 7 years ago

IAEA still sees "significant" nuclear energy growth

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency still expects significant growth in the global use of nuclear power over the next two decades, despite a slowdown in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima accident, its head said Monday.

The number of operating reactors in the world is expected to increase by between 90 and 350 units by 2030, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a speech.

Currently, there are about 432 reactors worldwide, with the United States, Russia and France among countries with the most units.

“This represents continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power, but at a slower growth rate than in our previous projections,” Amano told the IAEA’s 35-nation board in Vienna.

“Most of the growth is still expected to occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, especially in Asia,” he said. “China and India will remain the main centers of expansion.”

Increasing global demand for energy, climate change fears and dwindling oil and gas reserves were among factors behind growing interest in nuclear power before Fukushima and they had not changed because of the accident, Amano said.

The huge earthquake and tsunami that crippled the plant in March, causing the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, prompted a global rethink of atomic power.

Germany has decided to close all its reactors by 2022 and Italy voted in a referendum to ban nuclear for decades.

Before the Fukushima crisis, the IAEA had expected up to 25 countries to bring their first nuclear power plants on line by 2030. Today, some 29 states have nuclear energy.

Amano said the projected slowdown in global growth in nuclear power reflected the planned phase-out in Germany, some immediate shutdowns in Japan as well as “temporary delays” in an expansion in other countries.

But interest in countries which are considering introducing nuclear power remained strong, he said.

“Most of these countries are proceeding with plans to add nuclear power to their energy mix, although a few countries have canceled or revised their plans, while others have taken a ‘wait and see approach,” Amano said.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by William Hardy

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