Mobile phones, such as this Vodafone from 1985, created a new demand for electricity. Today over 400 million mobile phones are sold every year. Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Public concern about the safety of nuclear power has meant more safety systems. As a result, nuclear power stations are more expensive to build and operate. In addition, once the nuclear fuel has been used in a power station it has to be kept securely and safely for a very long time to allow highly radioactive material to decay. At present in Britain the government has not decided what to do with this high-level nuclear waste. But it is likely that the costs of this storage or disposal will be higher than originally anticipated. The effect has been to increase the cost of nuclear power substantially. At the same time, the value of the electricity they generate has fallen.
Worldwide, the picture is similar. The operators of nuclear power stations find themselves squeezed by rising operating costs and increased competition from fossil fuels. Can they find ways to reduce high costs without affecting safety? Can they convince the public and their investors that they can find acceptable solutions to the problems of nuclear waste?