News / Science & Technology

After Fukushima, Nations Put Nuke Plant Development On Hold

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant
Zulima Palacio

Just a few months ago, experts were talking about the "renaissance" of the nuclear power industry.  After more than two decades of relatively safe operations and with public demands growing for clean, carbon-free power plants, many nations, including the United States, seemed ready to embrace nuclear energy as a clean, safe and efficient alternative to fossil-fuels. And then came the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that severely damaged the Fukushima-Daiichi reactor complex in Japan.  Worldwide, countries like China with active nuclear power projects put them on hold for review, while Germany and several other countries simply canceled them.  Overnight, new doubts have arisen about the future of nuclear power.  

With the shutdown and radiation cleanup efforts at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant expected to last months, if not years, experts are wondering how the disaster will affect the growth of the multi-billion dollar nuclear power industry around the world.  Even the most optimistic analysts forecast a serious slowdown.

Adrian Heymer is executive director of strategic programs at the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute:

"After the incident in Japan, nuclear energy is going to continue to move forward," said Heymer. "It won’t move forward in the same pace in the next two or 3 years."

In the United States, not a single nuclear power plant has been built in 32 years - not since the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.   Public fears of the environmental and public health risks of radiation leaks and the rapid development of other clean, renewable sources of energy have kept nuclear energy development in a box.  And Fukushima, some experts say, could turn that box into a coffin.

Chris Flavin is the president of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental watch-dog group in Washington:

"This could well be the end of nuclear expansion worldwide," said Flavin. "The industry was already on a very narrow field of opportunity because of the huge costs and the significant public opposition in many countries."

But nuclear power advocates say mishaps have been rare. And they note that amid growing concerns over climate change, air pollution and the need for cleaner, carbon-free energy, nuclear power is already playing a vital role.  Charles Ebinger is the director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"Nuclear power currently accounts for about 14 percent of all global electricity; and the simple reality is that if we were to forego further nuclear development in the near term that would place a great burden on additional fossil fuel utilization," said Ebinger.

"One small pellet in reactor fuel is equivalent to one ton of coal," said Heymer. "And there are normally between 80  to 100 railroad cars full of coal that are burned in a power plant each day."

Construction costs for a modern-day nuclear power complex can run  into the billions of dollars and owners can spend years waiting for final operational approval.  That has prompted many countries to question whether they want to approve any nuclear plants - new or old.  Soon after the accident at Fukushima, Japan, many countries reacted. Charles Ebinger explains:

"Germany initially said they were going to close down seven plants and do safety reviews," he said. "They have now gone further and they are calling into question the future of nuclear power or new plants in Germany all together."

Countries like China and India - both facing the problems of air pollution and climate change - are investing heavily in non-fossil-fuel energy - like solar, wind, and especially nuclear power.

"China, which is leading the nuclear renaissance with 23 reactors under constructions and plans for 60 or 70 more in the near future,  announced too that they were temporarily going to slow down and review their safety procedures," said Ebinger.

"When we write the final history of does Fukushima actually becomes the final chapter of the global nuclear industry, what happens in China will probably be the thing that determines how that story comes out," said Flavin.

In the United States, the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant cast a long shadow over the industry.  The federal government's Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, has been in no hurry to grant new operating licenses:


"There is only one reactor under construction in the U.S. despite passage nearly six years ago of legislation that gives loan guarantees to the next four plants," said Ebinger. "There are now 20 plants in the pipeline before the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission], but they are moving very slowly and their supporters aren’t exactly pushing hard for it."

In the meantime, people still need electricity - and lots of it.  According to the International Energy Agency, between now and the year 2050, the global demand for energy will triple, requiring an investment of about $350 trillion in energy infrastructure.  How much of a role, if any, nuclear power will play is a question whose answer may lie in the smouldering ruins of the Fukushima reactors.

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid