The world is on the verge of missing an enormous opportunity -- generating cheap electricity and heating homes with nuclear energy instead of increasingly expensive oil and environmentally hazardous coal and other fossil fuels.
That's the view of international nuclear experts here, faced with vociferous public opposition in the United States and Western Europe of those who argue that nuclear energy is dangerous and immoral.
The experts, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warn of a slowdown of nuclear plant construction after 1985 in the non-Communist world. They say the lead time to build a nuclear plant in the United States is now 10 years and one month, partly because of controls imposed by former President Carter.
Eight percent of the world's electricity was generated by nuclear energy by the end of 1980, according to figures collected by the IAEA and given by Director General Sigvard Eklund in his report to the Agency at annual meeting.
By 1985 the figure is expected to rise to 17 percent. But after that, it should increase much more slowly than experts were predicting 10 years ago.
At that time, it was thought that 50 percent of world electricity would come from nuclear power by the year 2000.
Dr. Eklund now says the figure will be no higher than 22 percent.
He comments: "When man's ingenuity has enabled him to produce almost unlimited amounts of cheap energy, it is a pity not to make full use of that achievment in order to improve his living conditions."
Dr. Eklund has been using recent speeches and the annual meeting as forums from which to launch replies to the antinuclear lobby so much in evidence in recent months at places such as Brokdorf, West Germany and Mt. Diablo in California.