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Nuclear power turns to developing world as west recoils from Fukushima via The Guardian

As the mood in Japan, Germany, Italy and even France hardens, China is restarting a £170bn reactor programme and India is looking to atomic power to shore up its creaking grid

A nuclear fuel pellet the size of your little finger provides more energy than 800 kilograms of coal or 650 litres of oil – and all without belching any carbon dioxide or other fumes into the atmosphere.

But the intense power of uranium, the raw material of nuclear fuel, was demonstrated to the world by the Fukushima disaster last year. Its price on global markets has collapsed, from a record $136 a pound in 2007 to just $44 last week – a slump so severe that some of the world’s biggest miners have decided they’re better off leaving the mineral in the ground.

The market suffered further blows in the last month or so as several developed-world governments announced or confirmed plans to move away from atomic power for good.

But even as the west retreats, the nuclear industry may be about to rise again – in the developing world. In the last few days, China announced plans to restart its massive £170bn reactor building programme, intended to create generating capacity so large that it could power the whole of Spain.

Last March, Japan went into lockdown and shut all of its nuclear plants, which had provided 30% of the nation’s electricity. Fears of a nuclear apocalypse rippled across the globe, turning the lights out at reactors around the world, and many of them still lie idle 18 months later.

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The future of the UK’s nuclear ambitions also hangs in the balance after Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of EDF Energy, the French company charged with building new reactors in the UK, told parliament the company had yet to make up its mind whether it was worth building plants without support from the government. Two German companies – RWE and E.ON – have already pulled out of the Horizon joint venture to build new nuclear plants in the UK.

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Uranium miners have noticed the cool wind too. This summer, BHP Billiton, the giant Anglo-Australian mining group, shelved plans for the world’s largest open-pit copper and uran, and announced it has no plans to build or acquire other uranium minesium mine in south Australia. The £12bn Olympic Dam mega-project would have transformed the mine 350 miles north of Adelaide into a massive pit capable of producing 19,000 tonnes of uranium a year. Explaining the decision to stall the project, Marius Kloppers, BHP’s chief executive, said demand for uranium had “collapsed”. BHP has also sold off its Yeelirrie uranium field in Western Australia.

Canada’s Cameco, the world’s third-largest uranium miner, has said it is only worth pressing ahead with its Kintyre uranium project in Australia’s Great Sandy Desert if the uranium price climbs back above $67 a pound.

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