Asia airs nuclear ambitions at U.N. gathering

Reuters

VIENNA (Reuters) - China, India and other Asian states used a United Nations nuclear agency meeting this week to signal their determination to expand the use of atomic energy.

At the September 16-20 annual gathering of the IAEA's 159 member states, China outlined plans for more nuclear power plants despite safety worries around the world in the aftermath of Japan's Fukushima disaster.

"The Chinese government has never wavered its firm determination to support nuclear energy development," Ma Xingrui, chairman of China's Atomic Energy Authority, said.

With 17 nuclear power units now operating on the Chinese mainland, Beijing has another 28 under construction, the largest number in the world, he told the IAEA conference.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has cut its long-term outlook for nuclear energy growth for a third year in a row, in part because of hesitancy following Japan's crisis. But, it said, the industry could still nearly double its capacity by 2030 due to growth in Asia.

"Nuclear power faces challenges but the outlook remains strong," Agneta Rising, director general of World Nuclear Association industry body, said. "That a few countries have a negative view is not enough to affect its long-term growth."

South Korea too is continuing efforts to expand its nuclear power program; it now has 23 plants and plans to build 11 new reactors by 2024, Sank-Mok Lee, head of the South Korean delegation, said.

India's construction of four home designed pressurized heavy water reactors is progressing as scheduled and it aims to build sixteen more such plants, Ratan Kumar Sinha, chairman of its Atomic Energy Commission, said.

India now has 19 reactors in operation, he said.

Indonesia said it was "resolved to harness nuclear energy" and Vietnam said the site investigation and feasibility study for two plants would be completed and submitted to the government for approval by the end of 2013. Pakistan too spoke of its intention to construct more nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power has long been used as a reliable alternative to fossil fuels in natural resource-starved parts of Asia, even though the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns caused a growing crisis of confidence.

In contrast with growth plans in Asia, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium have decided to move away from nuclear power after the disaster.

The IAEA's projections said low natural gas prices, an increase in subsidised renewable energy capacity and the financial crisis were expected to have an impact on nuclear prospects in the developed world in the short term.

But population growth, demand for electricity, climate change concerns and price volatility for other fuels "continue to point to nuclear generating capacity playing an important role in the energy mix," it added.

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl, editing by William Hardy)

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