Why the US, Russia, and Japan Remain Nuclear Despite Disasters
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 21, 2013
Summary: Nuclear power generation has been around for over 50 years. Antinuclear
sentiment has been around nearly as long. But despite the rise in
antinuclear sentiment the world over, the status of nuclear power
generation has not actually changed. This suggests that the decision to
continue or discontinue nuclear power generation is no easy matter. The nuclear power controversy on Taiwan is the result of "argumentum ad populum." This newspaper believes the people have the right to make the final decision. It merely wants to remind them that just saying no to nuclear power may not be as easy as it looks.
Full Text below:
Nuclear power generation has been around for over 50 years. Antinuclear sentiment has been around nearly as long. But despite the rise in antinuclear sentiment the world over, the status of nuclear power generation has not actually changed. This suggests that the decision to continue or discontinue nuclear power generation is no easy matter.
In 1979, the United States fell victim to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident. In 1986, the former Soviet Union fell victim to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. In 2011, Japan fell victim to the Fukushima "composite style" nuclear power plant disaster. These three nations all fell victim to nuclear power plant catastrophes. Nevertheless they continue to use nuclear power. The United States and Russia have engaged in heated debates over the issue and arrived at their decisions.
These three countries debated every conceivable aspect of nuclear power generation in detail. Did they consider renewable energy? Yes they did. Did they consider wind, solar, hydro, and biomass energy? Yes they did. Did they consider natural gas and geothermal energy? Yes they did. Did they consider consumer electricity rates and international economic competitiveness? Yes they did. Did they consider carbon emissions? Yes they did. Did they consider nuclear safety issues? Of course they did. These countries endured nuclear disasters, first hand. Yet after considering all the factors, all three nations, all victims of nuclear disasters, decided to continue using nuclear power.
Today's Russia is a major user of nuclear power and nuclear technology. By 2030, it intends to build over 38 nuclear power plants, and help other countries build 28. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan occurred two years ago. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support of a new public consensus, rejected a "no nukes" policy. He championed the restoration of nuclear power plant operations. He called for an optimum mix of nuclear and other forms of energy. He did not call for a public referendum. U.S. President Barack Obama's newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is a supporter of nuclear power. He said, "It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits." He said, "If the country doesn't invest in nuclear technology now, Americans will look back with regret."
In other words, the United States, Russia, and Fukushima catastrophe victim Japan, have chosen to continue the use of nuclear power. despite the Fukushima incident. These three nations are major users of nuclear power technology. They are also major political and economic powers. They have not neglected consideration of the pros and cons of nuclear power. They do not lack domestic anti-nuke opposition. Yet despite the Fukushima incident, they remain firmly committed to nuclear power generation. The United States, even after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, approved nine nuclear power plants. It postponed the decommissioning of power plants, and began the construction of two nuclear power plants. [Translator's note: This passage is ambiguous and difficult to interpret. I was forced to guess.]
Ernest Moniz said "It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits." To decision-makers in the United States, Russia, and Japan, the lesson of the Fukushima incident will merely enhance nuclear safety. To them it is no reason to abolish nuclear power generation.
People on Taiwan are debating whether to retain or abolish nuclear power. There is not a single argument that has not been addressed during nuclear power debates in the United States and Russia. Consider these nations' political and economic strength, and their ability to fall back on alternative energy technology. The ROC is clearly less able to fall back on non-nuclear power technology than the United States, Japan, and Russia. Never mind that the next step would be "no-nukes." A construction halt on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant (4NPP) would be followed by the decommissioning of the 1NPP. Taiwan's nuclear safety concerns are greater than those of the US, Japan, and Russia. A nuclear power plant catastrophe would only impact part of their territory. But Taiwan is smaller. It cannot afford any nuclear power plant catastrophe. But this remains a technical issue. It is not necessarily a decisive factor that necessitates the abolition of nuclear energy.
AIT Taipei Office Director William Stanton commented on the 4NPP controversy. He said it is easy to say no to nuclear energy. But it is extremely difficult to find alternative energy sources. Don Shapiro, Senior Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei noted that If Taiwan abandons nuclear power generation, it may eliminate the risk of nuclear disaster. But it would face other risks, including severe power shortages, the rising cost of electricity, and reduced competitiveness.
Shapiro said that if Taiwan relies on gas-fired power generation, the annual cost of electricity would increase by 100 billion NT. If it relies on coal-fired power generation, the cost would increase by 50 billion NT. Either would severely undermine Taiwan's international competitiveness and lead to reduced foreign investment. Substituting gas-fired power generation for nuclear power generation would increase carbon dioxide emissions by 18 million tons per year. Substituting coal-fired power generation for nuclear power generation would increase them by 36 million tons per year. Unless one is prepared to purchase carbon credits at exorbitant prices, how will Taiwan achieve its carbon reduction targets?
Stanton said it is easy to say no to nuclear energy. Recent polls indicate that even if electricity prices increase after going non-nuclear, 70% of the public still wants construction on the 4NPP halted. It may be easy to say no. But the consequences may be unbearable. The United States, Russia, and Japan are victims of nuclear disasters. Their economic and political strength is greater than Taiwan's. If saying no to nuclear energy is so easy, why haven't they said no?
The nuclear power controversy on Taiwan is the result of "argumentum ad populum." This newspaper believes the people have the right to make the final decision. It merely wants to remind them that just saying no to nuclear power may not be as easy as it looks.
2013.03.21 04:00 am