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In March of 1986 the economist magazine celebrated “The Charm of Nuclear Power” on its cover. After one month time the Chernobyl accident happened. In whole Europe and the Western world’s nuclear power industry was despair, Along with the accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, guided the industry into debility. The public got afraid. The regulatory environment tightened, hovering costs. Billions were expended bailing out lossmaking nuclear-power companies. The industry became a byword for mendacity, secrecy and profligacy with taxpayers’ money. For two decades neither governments nor bankers wanted to touch it. However nuclear power still holds some ground. It provides three-quarters of French electricity. Developing countries have continued to build nuclear plants apace.











Now nuclear power has a second chance. Its recovery is most visible in America, where power companies are arranging to flood the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with applications to build new plants. But the tide seems to be rotating in other countries, too. Finland is building a reactor. The British government is preparing the way for new planning regulations. In Australia, which has plenty of uranium but no reactors, the prime minister, John Howard, says nuclear power is “inevitable”.











Everything is going nuclear way. Western governments are worried that most of the world’s oil and gas is in the hands of aggressive or unstable governments. Much of the nuclear industry’s raw material, uranium, by contrast, is conveniently located in welcoming places such as Australia and Canada. Simpler designs cut maintenance and repair costs. Shut-downs are now far less frequent, so that a typical station in America is now online 90% of the time, up from less than 50% in the 1970s. New “passive safety” features can shut a reactor down in an emergency without the need for human intervention. Handling waste may get easier. America plans to embrace a new approach in which the most radioactive portion of the waste from conventional nuclear power stations is isolated and burned in “fast” reactors.Technology has thus improved nuclear’s economics. So has the squeeze on fossil fuels. Nuclear power stations are hugely expensive to build but very cheap to run. Gas-fired power stations—the bulk of new build in the 1980s and 1990s—are the reverse. Since gas provides the extra power needed when demand rises, the gas price sets the electricity price. Costly gas has therefore made existing nuclear plants tremendously profitable.









The latest boost to nuclear has come from climate change. Nuclear power offers the possibility of large quantities of baseload electricity that is cleaner than coal, more secure than gas and more reliable than wind. And if cars switch from oil to electricity, the demand for power generated from carbon-free sources will increase still further. The industry’s image is thus turning from black to green.Nuclear power’s moral makeover has divided its enemies. Some environmentalists retain their antipathy to it, but green gurus such as James Lovelock, Stewart Brand and Patrick Moore have changed their minds and embraced it. Public opinion, confused about how best to save the planet, seems to be coming round. A recent British poll showed 30% of the population against nuclear power, compared with 60% three years ago. An American poll in March this year showed 50% in favour of expanding nuclear power, up from 44% in 2001.



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