Nuclear power, although a potential major energy source, is losing some of its support; and the exploitation of the future potential of this power is associated with a great deal of uncertainty. Delays and revisions of projections reflect a reduction in the estimates of electricity demand as well as increasing public and private opposition which has, in some case, been strong enough to lead to the postponement or cancellation of nuclear projects. If this downward spiral continues, the confidence of utility planners in nuclear power may be further eroded and the viability of the nuclear power industry will be endangered.
The widespread privatization of electric utilities in the 1990s means that they are now seeking methods of power generation that are cheap, profitable and acceptable to public opinion. Investor-owned utilities are increasingly avoiding capital-intensive projects, such as nuclear generating plants, that require long lead times for development and construction. Nuclear energy accounted for a third of the growth in world energy capacity from 1971 to 1990, largely because of the oil crises in the 1970s. It is expected to account for only 10% of the growth in capacity form 1990 to 2010. The International Energy Agency predicts that the rate of growth of nuclear power generation will actually decline after the year 2000 as retirement of old plants exceeds the recommissioning of new plants.