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

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday 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.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs