Energy transitions and national development indicators: A global review of nuclear energy production

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Energy use plays a vital role for human well-being. However, human well-being can also be affected by socio-economic and environmental impacts associated with the use of different primary energy sources. Nuclear energy production is perceived as one means of satisfying national energy demand while contributing to a potentially sustainable energy transition. The objective of this study is to further understand socio-economic, environmental and technological factors that characterize countries that choose nuclear energy production. Hence, this exploratory study reviews the socio-economic contexts of nuclear energy producing countries in comparison to countries without nuclear energy use. The study is based on world development indicators published by World Bank for 213 countries between 1960 and 2013 and follows two analytical steps. First, based on a comparison of countries average development indicator values over time, we descriptively explore which socio-economic, environmental and technological factors characterize the spectrum of countries following different 'nuclear energy strategies' (no nuclear production, phase-out, planning to produce, produce nuclear energy). Second we statistically analyze nuclear energy producing countries, exploring if there was significant change in socio-economic, environmental and technological characteristics after the start of nuclear energy production. Characteristics of our four country groups revealed nuclear countries (incl. phase-out) used more energy per capita and showed higher levels of carbon emissions as well as household consumption compared to countries planning to use nuclear energy and countries without nuclear energy use. Adoption of nuclear energy does not appear to reduce fossil fuel use or enable energy independence. Hence, our study did not provide evidence that nuclear energy production can be seen as technological answer to global challenges like climate change or unequal energy distribution. It is therefore unclear if and how nuclear energy contributes to global human well-being as part of sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRenewable & Sustainble Energy Reviews
Pages (from-to)1251-1265
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 04.2017

    Research areas

  • Countries, Energy transitions, Nuclear energy, Sustainability, World development indicators
  • Sustainability Science