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.
Full article :
- Victor Stenger: LFTR: A Long-Term Energy Solution? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Fukushima For All of Us: Deception, Monopoly Profit, Weapons & Death (faktensucher.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear industry in trouble (koebergalert.org)
- New paradigm for nuclear energy (japantimes.co.jp)
- World Nuclear Reactor Coolant Pumps Industry Analyzed in New Report Published at MarketPublishers.com (prweb.com)
- Experts: Even Higher Costs and More Headaches Ahead for Nuclear Power in 2012 (prnewswire.com)