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3 Huge Energy Developments in 2013


Solar power is here to stay (follow link for solar)

Global ambitions for nuclear power remained intact

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan mothballed its 50 nuclear reactors. Germany followed by deciding to immediately shut down 41% of its nuclear capacity and expedite the closing of the remaining power plants by as much as 14 years. That was quite a statement given that Germany had relied on atomic energy for one-quarter of its electricity, and it caused many experts to declare that the world's appetite for uranium fuel was at last waning.

Those experts sure sounded wise given the rhetoric at the time, but their predictions began to unravel in 2013. Not only are Japan and Germany experiencing some short-term remorse -- in the form of higher electricity costs and rising air pollution -- for turning their backs on nuclear energy, but the rest of the world has largely continued on with atomic ambitions. You can still find plenty of headlines touting nuclear's decline and aging facilities, but it isn't turning out to be as bad or as permanent as previously thought. Today, more than 70 reactors are under construction in 13 different countries, with dozens more being planned. The works in progress will boost global reactor count by 16% once completed by 2018.

China has assumed a leadership role in the global nuclear industry, brokering deals with Pakistan for new construction, and Britain for new investments to replace the former colonial power's aging fleet, and adding a colossal fleet within its own borders. Meanwhile, the Russian government recently announced plans to build 21 new nuclear reactors by 2030.

Don't think the industry's growth is passing up the United States. Sure, the industry is struggling domestically this year: Four plant closures and a nixed joint venture between the world's largest nuclear plant operator and Exelon -- the nation's largest nuclear supplier -- are hardly instilling optimism. But Southern  is pushing ahead with new reactor construction and Babcock & Wilcox is developing more economic modular reactors.

The rising costs and blown budgets of numerous nuclear projects worldwide still cast doubt on a complete revival for the energy source, especially when costs for renewable energy are falling. Will cheap renewables doom the future of nuclear power? I think that's possible but unlikely given the growing wave of support for nontraditional nuclear energy investments such as small modular reactors that consume waste and thorium technology. Like it or not, atomic energy will remain an important and inevitable part of the world's electrical grid.

Crude by rail is not a temporary solution (follow link for crude by rail)


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