It was branded the most expensive way to boil water. Not so long ago, many dismissed nuclear power as pricey and doomed, at least in the West. Yet today nuclear energy is crucial once again. In the short run, Europe’s ability to get through the winter energy crunch depends in part on whether France’s ageing fleet of nuclear reactors can be cranked up to operate nearer full capacity. And in the long run, investment and innovation in nuclear power appear to be part of the answer to both Vladimir Putin’s energy war and climate change: an almost carbon-free way to generate a steady and controllable flow of electricity to work alongside intermittent solar and wind generation.
As a result, countries around the world are once again embracing nuclear power, which today accounts for 25% of electricity generation in the European Union, and 10% around the world. Money is flooding into research and startups, although excitement this week over the results of a nuclear-fusion experiment at America’s National Ignition Facility has got far ahead of itself—years’ or decades’ more work will be needed to discover whether the concept is viable. Despite the industry’s record of cost overruns, Britain and France are keen to build large new conventional plants and Germany has postponed closing its reactors this year. India’s state-controlled power firm, ntpc, is planning lots of new nuclear capacity, according to Bloomberg. Nuclear generation will have to double by 2050 if the world is to reach net-zero emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.