International Nuclear Societies Council's
Committee Report

3.4.4 Measures for the Global Use of Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has been installed primarily in the advanced industrial nations. Now, however, developing nations are also starting to turn to nuclear power as a primary source of energy. The WEC reference case projects that while the industrialized nations' demand for energy will rise gradually in the midterm but level off in the long run, the demand of developing nations will continue to rise. The increased demand will be far greater than that for industrialized nations: three times the 1990 level by 2020 and roughly six times by 2050 (Fig. 2). A considerable portion of this increase is likely to be met with nuclear power.

Among the developing nations, the demand for energy in East Asia is expected to rise at a particularly high rate - by 5.3% per year (compared to a world average of 2.1%), according to the International Energy Agency's medium- to long-term forecast issued in 1994. East Asia is expected to find it increasingly difficult to remain self-sufficient in fossil fuels. Also, the environmental effects of the widespread use of fossil fuel, already becoming manifest, will become increasingly serious. Thus, nuclear power will play a major role in East Asia's future energy supply.

Construction of a nuclear power plant is a major project in terms of economic and technical resources, unit cost and total cost of construction, the duration of construction, the time required to recover capital invested, the sophisticated technology of the nuclear fuel cycle, safety, and other aspects. Completion of construction also requires that many diverse conditions be satisfied, including political and economic stability, public acceptance, and international collaboration.

It follows that a construction project should be founded upon a country's own development efforts while taking advantage of international cooperation and support. Countries and regions with less advanced nuclear technology that are currently receiving assistance and support from North America, Western Europe, and Japan, for instance, include

  1. Eastern Europe and the states of the former USSR, which need support to improve the safety of their many Soviet-designed nuclear power plants, and

  2. East Asia, which needs nuclear power to stave off the energy shortages it faces due to rapid economic growth.

Thus, assistance and support are flowing between East and West, North and South. Eastern Europe and the states of the former USSR require only short-term support to increase levels of safety. In contrast, assistance for East Asia is a long-term proposition that must be approached as a means of promoting the global use of nuclear power. It encompasses such issues as financing, human resources, the need for a framework for cooperation, and the potential of international joint ventures.

Financial Issues

Construction of a nuclear power plant is a major undertaking requiring 5 to 10 years and several billion dollars to complete. The total cost of construction, the duration of construction, and the time required to recover capital invested are all large, implying the need for foreign capital. However, the risks involved (such as program delays and interest rates rise) make financing unattractive to the private sector at present. International financing of plant construction, therefore, currently requires institutions, systems, and frameworks for support that involve national governments. The key requirement will be to simplify and standardize designs to reduce construction costs, take advantage of past experience, and avoid unnecessary surprises. In this way, capital costs can be brought into the range where private sector financing is attracted - an essential ingredient if nuclear power is to command the market share projected.

Human Resource Issues

The sophisticated technology of the nuclear fuel cycle, safety, and other technical aspects demand experienced people. Developing nations, like those of East Asia that are currently in the midst of high economic growth, still lack the human resources that a nuclear power program requires. Industrialized nations were able to start their nuclear power programs because past industrial development had already given them the experience in peripheral and generic technologies needed to construct and operate nuclear plants. The experiences of construction and operation of large numbers of nuclear plants, in turn, have helped these industrialized countries develop their human resources for nuclear power. A developing country, when seeking to introduce nuclear power, must establish a system for training personnel in parallel with receiving technological assistance for plant construction.

Framework of Cooperation

Early in the nuclear age, Europe established an international organization, Euratom, that ratified IAEA safeguards on behalf of the European Community member nations and that also played an important role in cooperation with nonmember states. A recent example of structured cooperation in Europe is the establishment of a fund to finance the efforts to enhance the safety of the Soviet-designed nuclear reactors in Eastern Europe and states of the former USSR.

No such cooperative framework yet exists in Asia. Functioning under the umbrella of the IAEA, activities of the Regional Cooperative Agreement for research, development, and training on nuclear science and technology are limited to isotope and radiation applications. Developing nations installing nuclear power plants, however, need support in many fields, including basic research and applications; training in scientific and engineering disciplines, the use of research reactors, plant operation and safety measures; and technical training in safety, waste management, and regulation.

Therefore, in promoting the global use of nuclear power, a region containing both developing and industrialized nations must create a framework like Euratom to enable cooperation, to strengthen its safeguards and other means of preventing nuclear weapons proliferation, and to define the role of each nation in that region.

The advantage of a regional framework is its ability to give responses tailored to the specific nuclear power needs of disparate nations and to help these nations share their latent capabilities. Such a framework would respond to nuclear power requirements more flexibly than agreements intended to satisfy only a single nation's demand. For instance, the framework could allow members to share the various nuclear fuel cycle facilities distributed throughout the region, siting each where most suitable in that region. A regional framework could have substantive merits for controlling plutonium supply and demand by making it possible to centralize control through a regional storage control system. Such a framework could facilitate the international supply of equipment and the dispatching of workers during construction of a nuclear power plant. It could ensure continuous upkeep and operation of the nuclear industry of a member country and could promote continuing technological development.

Multilateral Joint Ventures

Under such a regional, or broader international, cooperative framework, international joint ventures could become an important means for ensuring stable supplies of nuclear fuel, controlling plutonium, and preventing nuclear proliferation. In these ventures, either the sharing of specialized roles or centralized and integrated siting of facilities may be chosen for the nuclear fuel cycle (reprocessing and fuel fabrication), uranium supply (mining and enrichment), and waste management (treatment and disposal).


About 30% of the world's primary energy is converted to electricity. The remaining 70% is consumed mainly as process and space heating and in transportation: ships, surface vehicles, and aircraft. The ratio of electric power to total energy consumption is increasing year by year and is estimated to rise to 50 to 60% in the future. It will be essential to reduce the use of fossil fuels from the points of view of both resources and the environment. The remainder of this section explores the possibility of nuclear energy replacing other energy sources for nonelectric applications.

3.5.1 Useful Heat from Nuclear Energy

Thermal energy generated in nuclear reactors can have a number of end uses:

  1. to produce electrical energy (by steam turbine or gas turbine)
  2. to produce chemical energy (by fossil fuel reforming or hydrogen production)
  3. to utilize the thermal energy (by transportation of heat).
Possible nonelectric applications of nuclear energy are classified by the temperature of reactors as follows:
  1. low temperature (up to 300°C)
    1. utilization of condenser cooling water in
      1. agriculture
      2. aquaculture
    2. utilization of hot water and steam in
      1. regional air conditioning
      2. industrial process heat (e.g., the pulp and paper industries)
      3. desalination
  2. intermediate temperature (300 to 600°C)
    1. utilization of steam as industrial process heat (e.g., petroleum refining)
  3. high temperature (greater than 600°C)
    1. utilization of high-temperature gas as industrial process heat (e.g., hydrocarbon reforming, coal liquefaction, hydrogen production).

Examples of supplying thermal energy as a by-product of electricity generation from nuclear power plants include

  1. fish breeding and agricultural greenhouses in France, Canada, and Japan;
  2. regional heating in Switzerland and the former Soviet Union;
  3. desalination in the former Soviet Union; and
  4. process steam for factories in Canada, Switzerland, and Germany.

It is expected that future large-scale applications of nuclear energy for nonelectric purposes will include

  1. regional heat supply or home heating in areas where conditions of weather and siting (e.g., high density of use) are suitable;
  2. desalination and industrial process use of low- and intermediate-temperature heat, using dual-purpose plants supplying both electricity and heat or by single-purpose plants supplying heat, in areas where the demand and site are suitable;
  3. production of hydrogen by high-temperature thermal reforming of natural gas; the direct application of nuclear heat to high-temperature chemical processes requires the development of suitable materials for high-temperature chemical reactions in the processing system connected to a nuclear reactor.

3.5.2 Hydrogen Production

As the percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power increases, the load factor of nuclear power plants tends to decrease because of the need to follow the load. This increases the unit cost of electricity from these capital-intensive plants. Nuclear power plants are operated more economically at their rated power (base-load operation) because the fuel cost is a relatively small part - about 10% - of the total cost. Therefore, surplus power from nuclear power plants during off-peak periods can be made available relatively cheaply.

The pumped storage method is proven and currently used for providing low-cost peak power from high-capital-cost hydroelectric and nuclear power plants. Production of hydrogen by water electrolysis is another method of improving overall system economics by operating nuclear power plants to the maximum of their capacity. Of the various types of electrolysis, one using solid polymer membranes seems the most promising in terms of commercial viability and cost-effectiveness.

Hydrogen can be transported, stored, and efficiently converted to power. When burned, its sole combustion product is water; thus, the environmental effect is minimal. Hydrogen produced by nuclear power will serve mainly as an energy carrier for the "hydrogen economy" in such applications as home fuels and automobile power sources.

In France, nuclear power provides as much as 70% of the electricity generated. There, the cost of nuclear hydrogen is estimated to be 0.99 French francs (Fr)/m3 for peak-hour and 0.68 to 0.79 Fr/m3 for off-peak-hour generation (Ref.11). Under these conditions, nuclear hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis at a lower price than by coal gasification (0.94 Fr/m3) or by natural gas reforming (1.12 Fr/m3).

Generally speaking, nuclear hydrogen will become commercially competitive when off-peak nuclear power is available or if the cost of nuclear power decreases significantly. As a step before the hydrogen economy is realized, nuclear hydrogen could be used for the reforming of heavy oil, coal, or agricultural products (such as ethanol created from farm-produced carbohydrates, solid wastes, and other low-grade carbon sources) by hydrogenation into hydrocarbons that are more acceptable environmentally (more hydrogen, less carbon). These studies are being pursued in Canada and several other countries (Ref.12).


Factors that have limited the growth of nuclear power will decrease if the industry is successful in demonstrating the advantages of nuclear power, both in terms of economics and of environmental protection. These factors have been mainly

  1. public concern about nuclear power accidents and achieving safe disposal of nuclear waste,
  2. the decreasing priority assigned to nuclear energy in many countries because of increasing competitiveness of other energy sources and falling oil prices, and
  3. the failure of nuclear energy to take hold in developing countries because of lack of capital resources and local technological development.

These impediments will be overcome by establishing an international system of common safety principles, enhancing the public's understanding of the safety of nuclear radiation, and providing multilateral support for regions promoting radioactive waste management. Energy specialists, by using their knowledge to provide information to the public on nuclear power as an appropriate policy option and by presenting clear and unequivocal evidence on safety and economics, will contribute to reducing public apprehension.

To ensure a long-term supply of nuclear fuel, a smooth transition to the plutonium utilization era and the eventual commercialization of FBRs will be pursued as the policy in some regions. The most important requisites for attaining this goal will be the development of commercially viable technologies with sufficient economic advantage and the application of this technology in developing nations that will hold an important share of future increase in worldwide energy demand.

For the sustainable development of the world, it is important to promote the utilization of nuclear science and technology as a global, long-term primary energy source and nuclear radiation as a beneficial application in many essential fields. It is important that industry, academia, and governments comprehend and support its necessity and importance, and take measures to achieve the common goal, both domestically and internationally. The important tasks are to

  1. ensure an understanding of the role of nuclear power in the supply of energy,
  2. attain societal and international consensus on nuclear utilization,
  3. secure safety worldwide for the global use of nuclear technology,
  4. define and implement policies for radioactive waste management
  5. determine the reserves of uranium and the timing of the need for plutonium recycling,
  6. establish cost-competitiveness for FBRs,
  7. improve fuel reprocessing technology,
  8. further develop international systems to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation,
  9. apply nuclear energy and radiation to broader needs, and
  10. ensure a highly competent workforce to meet nuclear technology requirements.

History shows that new technologies have altered the nature of energy supply and demand. The nuclear industry, too, will have to develop technologies that meet future needs. For nuclear power to continue being one of humanity's energy options, it must be kept competitive with other energy sources and fine-tuned to the social and cultural climate of the coming ages.


The use of nuclear radiation is as important an application of nuclear energy as power generation and can provide major benefits. Radiation is now used in such disparate fields as industry, medicine (both diagnosis and treatment), agriculture, biotechnology, and food. In the future, advances in accelerators and peripheral technologies are expected to expand the range of applications even further.

Radiation has a broad spectrum of applications and is greatly dependent on new discoveries and inventions. The lead times to the commercialization of the new technologies are short. Accordingly, only trends in the basic technologies of radiation use are reviewed here.

When a new technology, such as the use of radiation, becomes available, the social and technological climates of the times are major determinants of its acceptance by society. The term social climate refers to public acceptance issues, which exist in the case of food irradiation, though perhaps they are not as difficult as those of nuclear power generation. Because the uses of radiation, such as medical treatment and industrial production, contribute significantly and in tangible ways to our health and living, we could expand the range of applications of radiation by increasing public understanding through such efforts as practical demonstrations, education, and presentation of evidence of actual benefits.

The effect of technological climate means that the new technology will make significant progress in rapidly developing industrial fields, as we have experienced in the use of radiation processing of polymer materials and semiconductors. From this point of view, remarkable progress in radiation utilization will be expected in fields such as biotechnology, including genetic and protein engineering, nanotechnology seeking to develop new materials using the quantum effects of aggregates with dimensions of nanometres, and micromachines as the ultimate in size reduction.

Two of the most important technological factors that will affect future advances in radiation use are the development of accelerators and peripheral technologies. New sources of radiation lead to new applications and hence new technological possibilities. So far, radioisotopes, as sources of gamma radiation, and electron beam accelerators have been the principal sources of radiation in commercial applications. However, accelerators that emit beams of particles other than electrons are expected to play an important part in future advances. Foreseen directions of accelerator development include transition from high energy to large currents; transition from electrons to ions; diversification in kinds of ions; improvement of quality of particle beams; development of accelerators that generate secondary beams such as muons, positrons, and radiant light; and new applications of these secondary beams. Most important in terms of commercialization is accelerator cost-effectiveness and volume production to bring costs down.

There are many examples of the commercialization of a new application of radiation being delayed because of the time required to develop related peripheral technologies. One such example is the dose assessment technology for applying radiation to sterilizing medical instruments. Before it can be applied, it is necessary to establish international dosimetry techniques and standards. Thus, progress in peripheral technologies will be an important factor for future use of radiation.

Some of the most important institutional factors affecting the future use of radiation are regulations, international alliances, and education. When radiation is used widely in many fields, there must be adequate regulations to ensure the safety of the general public and the operators. At the same time, unnecessarily rigid regulations can hinder the development of new uses of radiation. Also, because products based on a new application of radiation are traded across national boundaries, they must be assessed under internationally harmonious regulations and standards. Thus, the role of the IAEA and other international organizations in this area is expected to increase in importance.

Education in nuclear energy and radiation involves two separate aspects. The first is the need to ensure future supplies of nuclear professionals through training in radiation and other areas of nuclear energy. This entails enhancing education to teach students new developments in this field and explain its future potential. The second aspect of education is related to the issue of public acceptance. It is important that the general public make judgments based on correct knowledge about radiation and nuclear energy. For this, improvement of general education, including elementary education, is fundamental.

Thus, all aspects of nuclear science and technology are linked in their common need for international standards, regulations, and alliances; for education and public acceptance; and for disposal of low-level waste.


The world's needs for total energy and for electricity are estimated to increase significantly in the next 50 years in response to population growth and economic development. Nuclear power will play a key role in helping to satisfy that energy demand. The scale of nuclear supply may be limited by the availability of uranium so long as thermal reactors are the only type constructed. However, if plutonium is recycled in FBRs, nuclear power can contribute to world energy for an indefinite period.

The larger scale of nuclear power supply would

There appear to be no insuperable technical difficulties in realizing the plant and equipment required for nuclear power supply. Thermal neutron reactors are proven and commercialized, and they are capable of further improvement. Prototype large FBRs are operating, and demonstration plants as currently designed could supply data for the commercial introduction of fast breeders in 2030. Nevertheless, finding technical solutions for optimizing the plants needs substantial and continuing effort to improve thermal reactors and to develop fast reactors and their fuel cycle.

The issues to be addressed to enable nuclear power to play its full part are institutional. They concern safety, waste disposal, international cooperation, nuclear proliferation, and public acceptance.

The highest safety standards must prevail in all countries. The Chernobyl accident served as a dramatic warning of the impact of inadequate safety, and the international nuclear community reacted quickly and with determination. The international Nuclear Safety Convention and related agreements provide a mechanism for defining safety standards, for requiring their implementation by all countries, and for verifying the implementation. The measures have been adopted - the challenge now is to make them fully functional.

The absence of demonstrated policies for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste is seen by the public as a failure, or at the least a lack of decision, on the part of the nuclear power industry. In technical terms there is no urgency; current methods of engineered storage are capable of controlling the waste. But in terms of public acceptance of nuclear power, the industry must demonstrate greater activity and concern.

Without public acceptance there can be no effective programs of nuclear power or use of nuclear radiation. The public is sceptical. Efforts to correct misunderstandings and change attitudes have met with limited success. Finding the way out of these difficulties is one of the major challenges facing the industry in the coming years.

In comparison with industrialized nations, developing countries find it more difficult to accumulate capital and have fewer technically qualified personnel - there is no industrial base. Countries with these limitations need help from richer and more experienced nations to introduce nuclear power. International and regional agreements already exist that attend to various needs. The experience gained from these cooperative activities can be used to devise support structures to help other countries launch nuclear programs.

The diversion of nuclear technologies and materials to military applications has always been recognized as a danger. With the adoption of nuclear power in more and more countries, the potential danger is greater. As in other areas, international instruments are already in operation to monitor and control proliferation. The task for the future is to ensure the proper implementation of these mechanisms and the development of new and more extensive networks, as well as to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world.

The many and great benefits are so compelling that nuclear science and technology promise hope for all humanity.

(The end)



Members of the INSC Fifty-Year Vision Committee

Masao Hori
(Atomic Energy Society of Japan - AESJ, Japan)

Stanley R. Hatcher
(Canadian Nuclear Society - CNS, Canada)

American Nuclear Society (ANS)
John Graham (United States)
Edward L. Quinn (United States)
Bertram Wolfe (United States)

Atomic Energy Society of Japan (AESJ)
Masao Hori (Japan)
Shunsuke Kondo (Japan)

Canadian Nuclear Society (CNS)
Stanley R. Hatcher (Canada)

European Nuclear Society (ENS)
Janos Gadó (Hungary)
Andrei Y. Gagarinski (Russia)
Georges Vendryes (France)
Jean P. van Dievoet (Belgium)

Korean Nuclear Society (KNS)
KunMo Chung (Korea)
ChangKun Lee (Korea)

Latin American Section (LAS)
Hervásio G. de Carvalho (Brazil)
Oscar A. Quihillalt (Argentina)

Nuclear Energy Society Taipei, China (NEST)
Kuang-Chi (Thomas) Liu (Taipei, China)


Frederick C. Boyd
Paul J. Fehrenbach

Pekka Silvennoinen

Pierre Tanguy

Sergio Barabasci

Yoichi Kaya
Mishima Yoshitsugu

Pablo Mulás

Yih-Yun Hsu

Brian L. Eyre
Sir John Hill
F. Ian Hurley
John Lakey

United States
Robert M. Forssell
Edward J. Hennelly
Herbert Inhaber
John W. Landis
L. Manning Muntzing
Anthony J. Neylan
Lawrence T. Papay
James L. Scott
Roxanne Summers
John J. Taylor


Jorge Spitalnik

Colin G. Allen
Gordon L. Brooks
Stanley R. Hatcher
Jon J. Jennekens
Kenneth H. Talbot

Yuan-Chih Liao
Kuang-Chi (Thomas) Liu
Shoei-Long Shieh
Gan Ting

Masao Hori
Kenkichi Ishigure
Shunsuke Kondo
Hiroyoshi Kurihara
Masao Nozawa
Kunihiko Shinohara
Toshihide Takeshita
Yasunori Yamamoto

United States
Ann S. Bisconti
John Graham
Edward L. Quinn
Edward A. Warman
Bertram Wolfe


Copyright 1996 by the International Nuclear Societies Council
All rights reserved.