Splitting Atoms: Why Do Countries Build Nuclear Power Plants?

International Interactions, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2012

37 Pages Posted: 15 May 2011 Last revised: 7 Feb 2012

Date Written: May 4, 2011


Why do countries build nuclear power plants? This article develops a series of arguments for national reliance on nuclear power relating to economic development, energy security, nuclear proliferation, the supply side, norms, and nuclear accidents. Statistical tests of these arguments using a dataset on nuclear power plant construction in 123 countries between the years 1965 and 2000 yield two main conclusions. First, nuclear energy programs emerge and expand largely for innocuous reasons as a means to meet growing energy needs and enhance energy security. The evidence does not support the argument that countries pursue civilian nuclear power to augment nuclear weapons programs. If nuclear power contributes to nuclear proliferation, the former does not appear to take on a sinister dimension from the beginning. Second, major nuclear accidents substantially reduce the probability of reactor construction – especially in democracies and states that have not previously invested in nuclear energy. We are unlikely to observe a true “nuclear energy renaissance” in the aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan. Accordingly, it is doubtful that nuclear power will be a meaningful solution to global climate change.

Keywords: nuclear energy, nuclear proliferation, energy security, nuclear accidents, climate change

Suggested Citation

Fuhrmann, Matthew, Splitting Atoms: Why Do Countries Build Nuclear Power Plants? (May 4, 2011). International Interactions, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1832504 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1832504

Matthew Fuhrmann (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University ( email )

College Station, TX 77843
United States

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