The nuclear option

We spent most of our time in Phnom Penh with the development community, including the extremely sharp and friendly people at the World Bank. There we discussed Cambodia's dire electricity needs--only about 10-15% of the population is connected to the grid.

Despite being a country of rivers, Cambodia is too flat to have a lot of good unexploited hydro. There are rumors about oil and natural gas, but they're still in the "fond hope" stage. How will Cambodia develop adequate electricity supplies? Coal is certainly on the table; they don't have their own deposits, but it's cheap to import from neighbors.

Why not nuclear? We asked. The World Bank doesn't support nuclear, though it's not clear why. Geopolitically, of course, there are proliferation concerns, and questions about whether developing countries can safely manage a nuclear plant. On the other side of the ledger, however, is the fact that without nuclear, all these developing countries are going to be dumping a gigantic load of carbon into the atmosphere. Shouldn't we at least be thinking hard about safer reactors for the developing world?

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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