The Plausibility of Nuclear Energy in the Developing World

Olivia Hallisey
March 23, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Earth's City Lights (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The worlds developing countries currently have a huge unmet energy need. This need is only growing as the population in these countries is increasing incredibly quickly. The necessity for an immediate solution is underscored by the statistic that only about 30% of all the commercial energy consumed in the world . was used in the less-developed countries (LCDs) in which three-quarters of humanity lives. [1] Fig. 1 again shows this need to provide energy through the means of new energy sources, depicting a birds eye perspective of the world at night; and the clear discrepancy in light that exists in developed nations versus the developing nations can be seen. Currently lack of access to sufficient and sustainable supplies of energy affects as much as 90% of the population of many developing countries. We cannot ignore this huge population that is trapped in a cycle of poverty. [2] According to the the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, the current global energy budget is 5.0 × 1020 joules per year. [3] If everyone globally who is in need is to be brought up to western energy standards then an addition 5.6 × 1020 joules per year must be provided. [3] These numbers communicate the magnitude of the problem, as essentially our energy budget needs to double to fulfill the energy need globally. [3] With this said, the potential use of nuclear energy in the developing world to solve their energy needs has been examined as a potential solution.

Why Nuclear Energy Would Bring Benefits to Developing Nations

It is estimated that by 2030 nuclear energy production will account for 10% of the avoided CO2 emissions. [4] In developing nations where local pollution is pervasive, due to the burning of biomass for energy, lack of environmental regulation policies, and unsustainable practices, nuclear energys lack of CO2 emission would be very beneficial. [1] Fossil fuel use is a less attractive option than nuclear energy because of the tax it has on an environment and the emissions of CO2 is brings, which would worsen the current pollution problem. [1] Furthermore nuclear energy plants can supply a large amount of power, which is needed to tackle this problem. There are still about 2 billion people are without electricity and another 2 billion who remain dependent on fuels such as animal dung, crop residues, wood, and charcoal to cook their daily meals. [2] Furthermore nuclear power is a more established technology than some renewables, making it a more reliable energy source that is not plagued with the intermittency issues of other newer technologies. [5] The lack of CO2 emissions, reliability, and capacity of nuclear energy are qualities that make it an attractive option to implemented in developing nations.

Roadblocks to Implementing Nuclear Energy Use in Developing Nations

While nuclear power does have some qualities that needed in an energy source to developing nations, there is also a series of unattractive traits that make its use on a broad scale in these areas unlikely. Combining the facts that building a plant is extremely costly, and the price of nuclear energy is estimated to be around 2 times as expensive as wind of gas energy, investment in this energy production method is not justified. [6] There is an issue with how to store nuclear waste, as it is dangerous for 240,000 years. [6] Serious safety standards must be followed and regulation instated in order for nuclear power to be used responsibly, which would add cost and time to building and maintaining a plant. [7] The last plant to be built in Sizewell England took 15 years, a rate that is far too slow to solve the energy needs in the developing world. Twenty two new plants would need to be built for every plant that currently exists, an endeavor that would surely be lengthy, expensive, and faced with huge pushback. [3] Due to the delays, cost, and regulatory needs around nuclear power plants, it appears that they are not a viable solution to the lack of energy production and access in the developing world.


It is clear that a change must be made. Energy production must be scaled immediately and sustainable, cost effective, and rapid methods must be used to do so. The answer is not to simply use more fossil fuels as then pollution will only skyrocket, and bring adverse effects like acid rain and climate change in the near future. [1] To justify investment by developing nations both internally, and through international bodies, the chosen means of energy production cannot just have a large capacity, lack of CO2 emissions, and be reliable as nuclear energy is, but they must also be rapid and cheap to build and implement, which nuclear energy currently is not. [1] With this considered, it seems that nuclear energy will not play a big role as a future energy source in developing nations.

© Olivia Hallisey. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] J. Goldemberg, "Energy Needs in Developing Countries and Sustainability," Science 269, 1058 (1995).

[2] D. F. Barnes and W. M. Floor, "Rural Energy in Developing Countries: A Challenge for Economic Development," Annu. Rev. Energy Env. 21, 497 (1996).

[3] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017," British Petroleum, June 2017.

[4] K. Kaygusuz, "Energy for Sustainable Development: A case of Developing Countries," Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 16, 1116 (2012).

[5] N. Chowdhury "Nuclear Energy For Developing Countries," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2012.

[6] M. Asif and T. Muneer, "Energy Supply, Its Demand and Security Issues for Developed and Emerging Economies," Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 11, 1388 (2007).

[7] M. I. Hoffert et al., "Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet," Science 298, 981 (2002).