Nuclear Realism after Fukushima

Nuclear power plant symbol

A hasty, large-scale movement away from nuclear power would not resolve most of the issues raised by the ongoing crisis in Japan. Instead, we need more thoughtful discussions now about the energy systems of the future. A way to commemorate those who have been personally affected by Fukushima nuclear disaster. (An excerpt from an article in Stargey+Business).

Within a few days of a tsunami striking Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors on March 2011, a fierce debate had been fueled about the implications for energy policies around the world. Although the primary focus of most observers has rightly been on the immediate health risks in Japan and on stabilizing the reactors, some media commentators and political figures are already using the incident to argue that nuclear power is unacceptably risky. Some governments have made pronouncements that encourage the antinuclear lobby. Conversely, some observers are offering blanket assurances, saying that the industry’s commendable safety record over the last 30 years should be enough, in itself, to counter the public’s misgivings.

We cannot ignore the risk that a politicized overreaction would lead to hasty bans on nuclear power, and then to further energy shortages, just when the demand for electricity is growing rapidly around the world. The stakes are too high right now to base either political or business decisions on any rush to judgment.

Most of all, we need to look dispassionately at the trade-offs among the various options available for energy policy, and their impact on safety, cost, and the environment. A hasty, large-scale movement away from nuclear power at this juncture, even if it were practical and possible, would not resolve most of the issues. We can ask two questions as a good starting point for the needed discussion. First, how critical is nuclear energy as a long-term power source for countries around the world? Second, how should the energy industry and policymakers adapt in the aftermath of events at Fukushima Daiichi?

Accepting the Source as Essential

Any sober analysis of the global energy situation would have to conclude that nuclear power is an essential fuel source for many geographies. In a growing global economy, new advances in other forms of energy generation are not sufficient to keep pace with demand, especially if there is a consensus that coal generation should be reduced. Put simply, we cannot afford to turn away from any single option at this point (other than the most aging and inefficient coal plants), and nuclear power must be part of the balance.

It is also important to watch rapidly growing countries such as China and India, which have relatively few good alternatives to meet their expanding energy needs. China, in particular, had planned to build 110 new reactors during the next few years. Those plans have been scaled back for now; only the 27 units already under construction will continue, pending completion of new safety reviews in the wake of the Fukushima incident. Backing off on nuclear energy in any meaningful way would force China to rely more on energy imports and legacy coal production, and its high rate of GDP growth might be constrained.

In short, in every conceivable future, nuclear power is a necessary long-term power source, if only because so many nations count it as part of their short-term portfolio now.

Adaptation and Evolution

How, then, should the energy industry and policymakers adapt after Fukushima Daiichi? First, the public will certainly place a high burden of proof on the industry to demonstrate that nuclear reactors will stand up to human-induced catastrophes or unavoidable forces of nature more effectively — even extraordinary “black swan” events like the tsunami that struck Japan. This must, however, be considered in the context of the existing industry. Continuous safety improvement is already entrenched in its culture.

Transparency will be a major factor in gaining acceptance. Safety improvements and focused design enhancements will require open collaboration and meaningful cooperation among all stakeholders, including the public. Risk mitigation of low-probability, high-impact natural disasters needs to be openly assessed and improvements incorporated into site protection and reactor design evolution, where practical.

Regulators and industry leaders also need to make greater distinctions among different facilities, because risks vary from one location and one plant design to another. Not all nuclear reactors are alike; the lessons gleaned from Fukushima Daiichi will not apply to all plants inJapan, let alone across the globe. Safety reviews should factor in reactor age, geographic context, and the type of technology — several different types of water-cooled and gas-cooled reactors are in use now — to avoid painting all plants with the same brush.

Where possible, safety reviews should accelerate a shift to newer technologies. Existing plants have proven to be safe, but the most current “Generation 3” and the proposed “Generation 4” reactor designs have incorporated further significant safety improvements. For example, passive decay cooling, found in the new generation of light water reactor designs, would have broken the chain of cascading failures at Fukushima Daiichi and thereby eliminated some of the factors that precipitated problems there. It will still take several years to bring new plants online, and all existing power sources will be needed in the meantime. Conversely, if the crisis results in a slowdown in new nuclear plant construction, it could paradoxically result in extending the operating lives of older plants.

For the long term, countries will need to intensify emerging energy technology research and development. Because R&D investment in a single, unproven technology is risky, countries will likely have to invest in a wide range of alternatives, including renewable energy and storage options, as well as coal with carbon sequestration.

Finally, public communication about nuclear power — on the part of both government and industry — will need greater effort. No matter what specific technical outcome emerges, increased investment in nuclear safety will increase the costs of capital investment and operations. The cost of investing in increased safety will probably force energy prices somewhat higher, but not nearly as high as would a wholesale shift away from nuclear power.

One potential positive legacy of this situation — a way to commemorate those who have been personally affected by it — would be a comprehensive and thoughtful energy policy that would align government objectives, industry development, and consumer impact. Instead of arguing for immediate advantage, energy advocates and industry leaders have a chance to think pragmatically about the future. Crises have sometimes led to breakthroughs in capability. Is there some similar possibility here? If so, it must include a recognition of the platform that nuclear power provides for the world’s economy already — and all the ways in which the world’s energy mix needs to develop over the next 15 to 20 years.

by Tom Flaherty, Joe van den Berg, and Nicolas Volpicelli

Full article :

About Georges Abi-Aad

CEO, electronic engineer with MBA in marketing. Multicultural; French citizen born in Lebanon working in the Middle East and fluent in French, English and Arabic. I have more than 30 years of proven experience in the Middle East with European know how. I am good in reorganization and in Global strategic management business. I am a dependable leader with an open approach in working with people, forging a strong team of professionals dedicated to the Company and its clientele. Perseverance is my key word. Married to Carole and having 2 children: Joy-Joelle and Antoine (Joyante!).
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21 Responses to Nuclear Realism after Fukushima

  1. reflexxion says:

    Great article.. great insight to one of the present grave situation facing the world and all due to one word – “nuclear”. A possible way would be to encourage the adoption of clean energy. The UAE for tht matter has invested in a 12 billion solar power project.A long term vision to introduce renewable energy sources would be the way to go forward. How much of this would the BIG countries encourage is the billion dollar question…

    • Thanks Anil for your contribution. I totally agree with you that if governments do not invest in green alternative enrgy, battle might be lost! Please revisit my blog as I update it every Wednesday 🙂

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  4. koebergalert says:

    I would guess you have never travelled to the Fukushima area, and so do not have an understanding of the scope of the radiation issues there. Having just returned from there, I find this blog nauseating.

    • Thx for your comments that draw all my attention. No need to visit a disater site to appreciate its horrible outcome!Trust that I share both your frustration and the pain of the lovely people in Fukushima affected by this horrible melt down. I accept your comments as it seem coming from a directly affected person. However, I feel that you have missed the point of my post. Allow me to draw your attention on the following regarding my post:
      1- I did not underestimate the security threats in Nuclear power, nor defended the Nuclear energy.
      2- To the contrary, I am a promoter of Clean, green and alternative energy.
      3- I just highlited some facts regarding the actual world demand for power and how, unfortunately, it is impossible to shut down, immediately, all Nuclear reactors!

      Just for your info, in Japan, a new legislation calls for installed renewable energy capacity to rise by at least 20 percent of the country’s total power by the early 2020s.
      The bill will require utilities to purchase power from outside providers, such as cooperatives and private companies. The rule aims to promote the use of alternative energy sources, which currently only make up 9 percent of Japan’s total electricity supply.

      In Europe, Siemens estimated 1.7 trillion euros to exit from Nuclear energy!

      All this just to tell how impossible it is to immediately shut down Nuclear reactors. Yes we need to do it! But unfortunately it will take at least 20 to 30 years for the altrnative energy to take over. So please let us stay calm and objective in our approach to find a proper solution…. May God help us all!

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  14. The Government is operating so far outside of its design parameters that this type of discussion is futile. IMO the place to start is eliminating income tax which would force massive reductions in power and programs, bringing the govt. more in line with the founders structure. Only then can a discussion vis-a-vis federal and state govts. become worthwhile.

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