Government and nuclear energy

OECD Observer

Nuclear energy generation has come a long way since the first large-scale nuclear power plant flipped the switch in Shippingport, Pennsylvania in December 1957. Today, nuclear energy generates about 16% of the world’s electricity.

In the current context of privatisation and deregulation of the electricity sector, the role of governments continues to evolve, as do the tools they have at their disposal to implement national policies. Government and Nuclear Energy reviews issues raised by this evolution in the nuclear industry sector, with emphasis on the key responsibilities of governments with regard to security of energy supply, health and environmental protection and, more generally, the implementation of sustainable development policy.

Governments have been directly involved in the development of nuclear energy since its inception, primarily for the generation of electricity. In the second half of the 20th century, the reconstruction and economic growth in OECD countries were driven by the implementation of large national projects leading to the establishment of industrial infrastructures, including electricity generation and transmission networks. Government and Nuclear Energy reviews how nuclear energy, partly because of its science and technology applications, benefited from government support in R&D to facilitate its development.

Governments have specific responsibilities in the field of nuclear energy, covering nuclear safety, radiological protection, legal infrastructure and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In this area, Government and Nuclear Energy argues that the role of government has not evolved drastically, but that privatisation of the industry and market deregulation have an impact on the regulatory approaches taken by governments in pursuit of their policy goals.

Government and Nuclear Energy highlights key responsibilities of governments in the field of internalising external costs and ensuring that market prices reflect the full benefits and cost to society of products and services. It covers a wide range of issues of relevance to policymakers, irrespective of the national position towards nuclear energy.

©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004

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