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UN predicts rapid nuclear growth

The International Atomic Energy Agency has forecast that the use of nuclear energy will increase rapidly in the coming years.

In a report released on the eve of a conference in Moscow marking 50 years of commercial nuclear power, the UN's nuclear agency says that more reactors are being built in Asia than anywhere else.

Nuclear power now generates about one-sixth of the world's electricity.

The IAEA believes that is likely to rise as concerns over fossil fuel use and global warming increase.

It forecasts that nuclear reactors will meet a quarter of the world's needs by 2030, with further expansion over the following decades.

But according to Alan MacDonald, an economic specialist with the IAEA, that is only going to happen if international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol impose financial penalties on technologies which produce large amounts of carbon dioxide.

"One of the advantages of nuclear power is it produces virtually no greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

"It's about the same as solar and wind and well below natural gas and coal. However, at the moment there are very few restrictions on carbon emissions and so that advantage doesn't translate into any economic benefit on the bottom line for an investor."

Asian programmes

Asia is adopting nuclear technology more avidly than any other continent. Of the last 31 reactors to come online, 22 are in Asia.

The region is also building 18 of the 27 being constructed around the world.

In north America and western Europe, the IAEA says construction of new reactors has "virtually halted" because of environmental concerns, accidents like Chernobyl, and the economic advantages of natural gas.

But some countries will exhaust their supplies of gas in the next few decades, and some arms of the environmental movement now advocate nuclear power as a way to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

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