Industry leaders remain bullish on nuclear power's prospects in coming decades, in part because of the high priority that has been placed on identifying and addressing potential weaknesses such as were revealed last year at Fukushima Daiichi.
"Very little has changed... in respect of the future utilisation of nuclear in the energy mix," said the World Energy Council (WEC) in a perspective document: Nuclear Energy One Year After Fukushima. After surveying its members in 94 countries, WEC found that "The Fukushima accident has not led to any significant retraction in nuclear energy programs in countries outside Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan," said 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."
|Construction in earnest at Brazil's third nuclear power reactor, Angra 3, in late 2011
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).
"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."
World Nuclear Association
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.
"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."
Head of the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, Luis Echavarri, noted that "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 as well as major industrial accidents at nearby facilities - as well as emergency management at compromised sites.
The European Commission has taken a leading role with its program, dubbed 'stress tests', and this has been joined by several nations outside the bloc. Separately, the other major nuclear power centres of China, India, Japan, Russia and the USA have gone, or are going, through their own equivalent processes and some other nations have drawn assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"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."
Australian Uranium Association
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. The body will be complimenting its successful and well-used programs of peer reviews and exchange of operating experience by adding elements of severe accident management, emergency preparedness and design fundamentals. "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.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News