New nuclear power stations are being built in Asia and Eastern Europe but hardly anywhere else, according to a new global analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Twenty-seven reactors are under construction in 10 countries, led by eight in India, four in Ukraine and three in Russia. However none are being built in any of the other 22 countries with nuclear power, including the US, Canada and all of Western Europe.
At the moment 442 reactors in 32 countries generate 16 per cent of the world's electricity. On current trends, the IAEA predicts that this will shrink to between 11 and 12 per cent by 2030, in part due to the predicted increases in electricity generated by other methods.
But the IAEA argues that an expansion to 27 per cent is needed to raise living standards and combat climate change. The agency, based in Vienna, Austria, is charged by the United Nations with both promoting and regulating nuclear power.
"The more we look to the future, the more we can expect countries to be considering the potential benefits that expanding nuclear power has to offer for the global environment and for economic growth," says IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei.
However, this argument is rejected by Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Maryland, US. He argues that using nuclear power to tackle climate change would cost 40 per cent more than using wind energy and improved energy efficiency.
To make a significant dent in emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, Makhijani says 2000 large nuclear stations would have to be built worldwide over 40 years. "This would be a huge proliferation, safety and economic issue," he warns. "Nuclear power is the wrong approach to addressing global warming."
Two of the reactors currently under construction are in Iran, and one is in North Korea - both countries suspected by the IAEA of using civil nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons. Elsewhere, China, Taiwan and Japan are each building two reactors, with South Korea, Romania and Argentina building one each.
The IAEA accepts that new nuclear plants are expensive and time-consuming to build. But in the future, says the agency's deputy director general for nuclear energy, Yuri Sokolov, "new innovative designs, with shorter construction times and significantly lower capital costs could help promote a new era of nuclear power".
The IAEA analysis is being unveiled in Moscow on Saturday on the eve of an international conference to mark 50 years of nuclear power. The first nuclear electricity was delivered to consumers by a plant in Obninsk, near Moscow, on 26 June 1954.