By Elizabeth Bains
Nuclear power may yet shake off the tainted image that it gained 20 years ago as a result of the high-profile Chernobyl disaster.
Time is a healer, as the saying goes. And in the case of nuclear energy this certainly seems to be true.
The explosion in April 1986 that ripped apart reactor number four at the Ukrainian plant killed around thirty people and exposed thousands of others to potentially lethal doses of radiation.
And many countries abandoned their planned nuclear programmes soon after.
Because this was such a unique occurrence, numerous studies have been conducted on the after-effects on the people who lived nearby, which has kept the event firmly in the public mind.
By contrast, the US Three Mile Island accident in March 1979 has largely slipped from memory, as even though the reactor was destroyed, the plant's safety mechanisms worked and all radiation was contained within the building, and no deaths or injuries resulted.
What is often forgotten, though, is that the Chernobyl explosion was the combined result of flawed Soviet reactor design and maverick testing carried out by poorly trained operators, and as such it should never be repeated.
Nevertheless, there were lessons to be learnt from both incidents, and reactor designs and operating procedures have been much improved since then.
But now, with 20 trouble-free years under its belt, it appears that nuclear power is no longer regarded as the bad guy.
As countries seek to establish independent, secure energy supplies and to cut green house gas emissions in line with the demands of the Kyoto Protocol, nuclear is once again being considered as an affordable and viable low-carbon source of energy.
France's AREVA, the world's largest supplier of nuclear reactors, openly talked about a nuclear revival during the presentation of its 2007 financial results. The state-run firm predicts more than 500 GWe worth of new nuclear power plant orders or life extension orders for existing facilities will be made worldwide by 2030.
Over the next two decades, many European countries will have to replace generating capacity as plants come to the end of their service life, and new markets are also emerging, such as China, India, South Korea, Brazil and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Within MENA itself, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and the GCC member countries are all considering building nuclear power plants, often in conjunction with desalination facilities. Iran, of course, is much further down the line.
Clearly, governments the world over are taking another look at nuclear technology in the belief that it should be part of their future energy mix. It just remains to be seen how much convincing the wider public will need to accept the dawning of a new nuclear era.