Since the March 2011 incident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, one could be forgiven for thinking that nuclear energy had become yesterday´s choice of power source.

Across the globe, enthusiasm towards new nuclear power plants appears to have drained. Politicians in numerous countries have either stalled plans to publicly endorse new capacity, or in the famous case of Germany vowed to remove existing atomic energy plants from their country's power matrices altogether.  

The use of nuclear energy in global power production declined by over 10% in the three years following the Fukushima incident, led mainly by the collapse in output from Japan, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy 2014.  As a region however, Latin America bucked the global trend. Consumption among the regions three atomic energy powers - Argentina, Brazil and Mexico - grew 19% between 2010 and 2013. This surge represents part of a larger trend of enthusiasm toward nuclear energy emerging within Latin America.

In 2014, the commissioning of Argentina's 700MW Atucha II power plant contributed just under a fifth of the total global new nuclear capacity brought online throughout the year.

Existing power sector development plans for Argentina, Brazil and Mexico currently envisage a doubling of the regions installed nuclear energy generation capacity through the coming decade.

Other countries from across the region have indicated interest in adopting nuclear energy programs. Governments as diverse as Chile and Bolivia are now studying the adoption of nuclear energy in the future, while others continue to flirt with the technology.  

In a region where power demand is expected to grow by between 2.5% and 3% a year through to 2030 and an overreliance on traditional generation sources such as hydroelectric plants has forced countries to alter consumption patterns in order to cope with unfriendly climatic circumstances, the consistency in supply that nuclear energy facilities offer is becoming increasingly attractive. Additionally, with climate change becoming an important global concern, nuclear power's relatively minimal carbon footprint is attractive.

Unfortunately, in a region where many countries remain in a stage of economic development, the high costs involved in installing capacity have also proved to be a prohibiting factor. However, steps towards regional cooperation and integration may offer some room to foster future capacity additions by sharing some of the expenses involved.

What remains less certain is the role Latin America's burgeoning private sector will play in developing the expensive projects. For now, the costs and complexities involved in nuclear energy programs, as well as environmental concerns in the aftermath of Fukushima, leaves state institutions continuing to play a lead role in the expansion of the regions' nuclear capacity going forwards.

Figure: Installed Nuclear Capacity

Figure: Rising Needs


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