Nuclear in the Developing World

Kitty Kwan
February 20, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Many developing countries around the world do not have access to reliable energy sources. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) -

With growing population sizes and economies around the world, there is an increase in the demand for energy to support such growth. Nations have devoted significant amounts of energy into exploring energy sources that are capable of supporting energy needs and meet environmental and sustainability criteria. One source that has strong potential is nuclear energy. Some advantages of nuclear energy include lower costs, stable base load energy, high energy density, and low pollution. Nuclear energy also meets the sustainability criteria in that it meets present day needs and also does not affect the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Nuclear plants that are powered by Uranium already meet this need through already-identified uranium deposits as well as fast-neutral fission technology that can be scaled to make uranium a truly inexhaustible energy source. [1]

Nuclear energy is already heavily used to generate electricity in developed countries. In 2014, nuclear energy as a fuel source accounted for 10.6% of world electricity generation. [2] OECD countries and China account for 69.2% of world electricity generation and electricity accounts for 18.1% of world final consumption by fuel. It is clear that nuclear energy plays a significant role in energy production that is mostly contained by developed countries.

Potential in Developing Countries

With all the benefits and scope of nuclear energy use for electricity production, there are approximately 1.5 billion people without access to electricity. Fig. 1 shows the current classification of how developed countries are. As nations debate issues over clean and sustainable energy, there are so many without even access to the basic resources that would make the conversation relevant to them. This lack of access is most problematic in sub-Saharan Africa, where many nations basically do not have any access to reliable electricity at all. [3] Nuclear energy would be able to take countries off reliance on gas and oil, and give them energy independence and security.


Given the pros of nuclear energy, it could theoretically generate electricity for so many people without access. However, many things need to be considered to better understand why it isn't the case in reality. First and foremost, the perception of nuclear is generally one that incites fear over nuclear weapons and war. These fears are founded given that many developing nations do not have stable governing bodies to ensure that nuclear technology does not fall into bad hands. Additionally, incidents such as the Fukushima nuclear accident a few years ago also spark concern over developing countries ability to ensure safety and manage disaster.

Given these fears, it seems developing countries will require broad-scope assistance from developed nations to help implement a nuclear program that will be safe, economic, and reliable. Developing nations such as India and China are taking the lead on building nuclear power plants, revealing that a robust domestic economy is an important factor to consider.

© Kitty Kwan. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. W. Brook et. al., "Why Nuclear Energy Is Sustainable and Has to Be Part of the Energy Mix," Sustain. Mat. Technol. 1-2, 8 (2014).

[2] "Key World Energy Statistics 2016," International Energy Agency, 2016.

[3] N. Gronewold, "One-Quarter of World's Population Lacks Electricity," Scientific American, 24 Nov 09.