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Nuclear Industry Upbeat Despite Fukushima

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Credit: World Nuclear NewsBy Richard Johnson
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

LONDON (IDN) - One year after Fukushima, industry leaders remain optimistic on the future of nuclear power in coming decades, partly because of the high priority that has been placed on identifying and addressing potential weaknesses such as were revealed last year at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan.

"Very little has changed... in respect of the future utilisation of nuclear in the energy mix," says the World Energy Council (WEC) in a perspective document titled 'Nuclear Energy One Year After Fukushima', based on a survey of its members in 94 countries.

"The Fukushima accident has not led to any significant retraction in nuclear energy programs in countries outside Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan," says WEC's senior project manager Ayed Al-Qatani. Progress in some countries' programs has been delayed, but "there is no indication that their pursuit of nuclear power has declined in response to Fukushima."

According to WEC, this global stability in nuclear policy stems from the unchanged nature of the drivers behind nuclear power's use in the first place: The world still has an increasing need for reliable, affordable and secure energy sources that can also help achieve a lower-carbon mix. And while the accident at Fukushima Daiichi "shocked not only world opinion, but also the nuclear industry ... people can draw confidence from the absence of any health harm even from this extreme, highly unusual event," said the World Nuclear Association (WNA).

Nevertheless, the accident has had "severe social and economic consequences," said WNA, due to the prolonged evacuation of Fukushima residents. "One year after the tsunami and several months after stability was restored at the power plant site, the evacuation remains the principal impact of the accident," the World Nuclear News (WNN) reported.

"Countries like Germany will soon demonstrate the economic and environmental irresponsibility of allowing politicians to set important national policies in the middle of a panic attack," said John Ritch, WNA's director general.

"In contrast, many national leaders who soberly reviewed their energy strategies have reaffirmed the conclusion they reached before Fukushima: that nuclear power is a uniquely reliable and expandable source of low-carbon energy that can be safely used to meet clean-energy need," he added.

Safety Response

Head of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Luis Echavarri, noted: "Few could have imagined the combined natural disaster on such a colossal scale, but more must be done to prepare for such possibilities in the future."

In practice this means comprehensive reviews of external risk assessments for all nuclear power plants, considering natural disasters and major industrial accidents at nearby facilities – as well as emergency management at compromised sites, reports World Nuclear News (WNN).

According to WNN, the European Commission has taken a leading role with its program, dubbed 'stress tests'. Several nations outside the 27-nation bloc have joined. Separately, the other major nuclear power centres of China, India, Japan, Russia and the USA have gone or are going through equivalent processes. Some other nations have drawn assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Those efforts have been jointly driven by utility companies and national regulators, but the utilities are also enhancing their cooperation through the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which enables confidential cooperation between them on operational safety issues.

WANO will be complimenting its programs of peer reviews and exchange of operating experience by adding elements of severe accident management, emergency preparedness and design fundamental. "As WANO was created by Chernobyl, so it will be changed forever by Fukushima," said its leaders, Laurent Stricker, Vladimir Asmolov and George Felgate.

This effort by industry to identify its own weaknesses and collaborate to reinforce safety was highlighted by Michael Angwin, CEO of the Australian Uranium Association: "The important thing is that the nuclear industry, both the nuclear utilities themselves and the peak industry groups, is not waiting for regulators and governments to tell it what it must do. The industry is actively taking on these issues and addressing them."

Trust is essential for any industry to prosper, but perhaps even more so for the nuclear industry given its unique public profile. "Fukushima has thrown this into sharper relief and the industry is responding by showing how it is managing its own challenges," Angwin concluded.

Industry Responses

WNN has posted on its Fukushima portal interviews of some of the leading figures in the global nuclear industry, highlighting actions taken by their companies, both in assisting efforts at Fukushima, and in the reviews of nuclear plant that have taken place worldwide. They also give their views on the role of nuclear energy in meeting future energy needs.

Frank Yee, Chief Nuclear Engineer of Candu of Canada, said: "Simply put, the first videos of the tsunami rolling over the coastal regions were shocking. It was difficult to comprehend the scale and magnitude of the destruction and loss of life. The subsequent accident at Fukushima raised many questions in our minds. Was this preventable? As designers, we design for these types of events, so what was missed? What can we learn from this so that it does not happen again?"

Westingshouse President and CEO Aris Candris said: "Fukushima has reinforced the need to further prepare for the unexpected. It is imperative to assess and, where necessary, incorporate significant new information as it becomes available. As is our nature and practice, we will incorporate any lessons learned across the industry as the first step in a short-term and long-term review of enhancements that may be made at all nuclear facilities in the aftermath of the events in Japan."

"The accident has raised legitimate questions and the nuclear industry has to give appropriate answers. The debate on nuclear power is a legitimate one: and we will take part in it. AREVA is open to dialogue and debate. More than ever, we will listen and educate in order to maintain and restore the trust we were able to build with all of our stakeholders," said Michel-Hubert Jamard, AREVA's Senior Executive Vice President Communications.

Caroline Reda, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy President and CEO said: "The nuclear industry is, first and foremost, characterized by a strong commitment to cooperation and safety. The lessons learned from the events in Japan are going to make the industry safer and we’re committed to being part of the analysis, learning and evolution of the industry."

"The global demand for energy is continuously on the rise and greenhouse gases generated from burning fossil fuels is still troubling the earth. Alternative energy should be environment-friendly; ensuring a sustainable supply of low-cost and high-efficiency energy. Thus, I think nuclear energy is still the most viable alternative," said Jong-Shin Kim, KHNP President and CEO.

Vyacheslav Pershukov, Rosatom Deputy Director General, Direction of Science and Technology said: "If the safety analysis of nuclear power plants has always been the subject of greatest attention even before the developments in Japan, the research reactors, because of their low power, were the subject of safety analysis calculations by conventional methods. But after the accident at the Fukushima efforts to analyze the safety of research reactors sharply increased." [IDN-InDepthNews – March 10, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Construction in earnest at Brazil's third nuclear power reactor, Angra 3, in late 2011 | Credit: World Nuclear News

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