Skip to content

What’s Boosting Nuclear Power? War and Climate Change

Cooling towers release water vapor in Nogent-sur-Seine, France.

Cooling towers release water vapor in Nogent-sur-Seine, France.

Photographer: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg

Always controversial, nuclear power has been on a steady slide in prominence, supplying 10% of the world’s electricity today compared with 18% at its peak in the mid-1990s. While a few countries, notably China and India, have been expanding their capacities, concerns about reactor safety led most advanced economies to move in the opposite direction. In recent years, however, the climate crisis has given this carbon-free source of energy fresh appeal. Now insecurities about fuel supplies provoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine are making nuclear power even more attractive to policy makers as a way to keep the lights on. 

The UK and France are leading the pack. The UK, which used nuclear power to generate 16% of its electricity in 2020, wants to boost that to 25% by 2050, in part by building eight large reactors. France plans to build six and to extend the lifetime of all existing reactors where it’s safe to do so. France already generates 70% of its electricity with nuclear power. Both countries are also among those investing in so-called small modular reactors, although it will be several years before they’re in use.