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

Arab League Delays Forming Joint Force

Delay grows out of one of original obstacles facing pan-Arab force, analysts say: 'They may agree on the principle, but they continue to argue about how to implement the project' More

Pakistan Demands Afghanistan Protect Its Kabul Mission, Staff

Officials in Islamabad say Afghan agents are harassing Pakistani embassy personnel, particularly those living outside of mission’s compound More

US Survey: Trump Lead Grows in Republican Presidential Contest

Quinnipiac University poll shows brash billionaire real estate mogul with 28 percent support among Republican voters 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs