VIENNA (Reuters) - Four more countries could start building their first nuclear energy reactors in the next five years, a senior U.N. atomic energy official said on Thursday, despite a slowdown in industry growth since Japan's Fukushima disaster three years ago.
Over the last two years, the United Arab Emirates and Belarus became the first countries in around two decades to start constructing their first reactors, Anne Starz of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.
Referring to plans by Bangladesh, Jordan, Turkey and Poland, she told Reuters: "I think that there is probably another four countries that could have their first reactors under construction in the next five years."
Starz, who leads the U.N. agency's Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Group (INIG), added: "This indicates something but it is hard to see whether it is a trend yet."
IAEA Deputy Director General Alexander Bychkov told an annual IAEA workshop on nuclear infrastructure development last week that Bangladesh, Jordan, Poland and Turkey were "making good progress on the path to nuclear power", but he gave no timetable.
In Turkey, industry sources and experts said its first nuclear power plant had hit further delays that would push back the start of production by almost a year after Turkish authorities requested resubmission of an environmental report.
The 2011 Fukushima accident in Japan - caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami - was the worst such nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the 1986 Soviet reactor explosion which sent radioactive dust across much of Europe.
It put a question mark over the future of nuclear energy also elsewhere in the world. In Europe, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to move away from nuclear to increase their reliance on renewable energy.
The IAEA - whose mission is to promote "safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies" - in 2013 cut its long-term outlook for nuclear energy growth for a third year in a row, in part because of hesitancy following Fukushima.
The industry could, however, still nearly double its capacity by 2030 due to expansion in Asia, it said.
Just over 30 countries are interested in introducing nuclear energy, Starz said, although some - like Venezuela - decided after Fukushima that it "was not for them".
"Countries who were serious have taken steps forward in their plans and some of them have taken rather concrete steps," Starz said. Others "decided that maybe now is not the right time, that this accident brought home some of the challenges they would face because of the complexity of the technology."
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl, editing by David Evans)