Fukushima Year Three: Global Anti-Nuke Sentiment
United Daily News editorial
(Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
March 11, 2014
Summary: Over the past three years, nations relying on nuclear power have thoroughly reviewed the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Contrast this with Taiwan. The nuclear vs. non-nuclear debate resulted in scorched earth confrontations. No thorough, practical review or reform has been implemented. This is a far more serious man-made disaster.
Full text below:
Three years have elapsed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Over the past year, Japan has made little progress reconstructing the stricken areas. Meanwhile, domestic anti-nuclear sentiment has undergone surprising changes. Conditional acceptance of nuclear power plant development has increased. Germany once vowed that it would be a nuclear free nation by 2022. But the high cost of renewable energy and over-reliance on natural gas from Russia have engendered unprecedented skepticism. After evaluating the Fukushima disaster, most nuclear nations have decided to continue using of nuclear power.
Fukushima disaster victims have returned home. But reconstruction is apparently far more difficult than expected. The obstacles are insurmountable. Nearly 25 million tons of radioactive contaminants must be removed. So far there has been no progress. The government says they are "in temporary storage." But the public thinks the current storage site will be the final storage site. Radiation-contaminated soil must be replaced with new soil. But new soil cannot be found, and no place on earth is willing to accept the contaminated soil. Many intractable problems remain.
Anti-nuclear sentiment is changing with the times. Sign Number One. Pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supported Masuzoe's election as Governor of Tokyo. Masuzoe defeated former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Junichiro Koizumi, who advocated a nuclear-free homeland. Sign Number Two. The Abe Cabinet recently conducted an opinion poll. It asked 157 local governments within 30 km of nuclear power plants "Do you wish to restart the nuclear power plants?" Thirty percent answered "yes" or "conditionally yes." This matched the number who answered "no." Immediately following the disaster hardly any local government answered "yes" to restarting nuclear power plants. Clearly there has been a significant change.
The atmosphere has gradually changed, for several reasons. One. The complete shutdown of nuclear power plants on Japan harmed the economy and the peoples livelihood. The burden was greater than the public could bear. Nuclear power plant shut down meant natural gas had to be imported to fill the energy gap. Three years later, total expenditures have amounted to 220 billion USD. This approximates Japan's trade deficit over the same period. Energy shortages forced many companies to cut production. This led to incalculable losses in their overseas markets.
Two. Japan's Diet formed an independent commission to investigate the accident and to publish a report. It determined that the cause of the Fukushima disaster was not an earthquake, a tsunami, or any other natural disaster, but rather human error. Tokyo Electric Power Company, to which Fukushima belongs, ignored the recommendations of nuclear regulatory authorities for 30 years. It failed to respond to international recommendations to make nuclear security updates. It allowed the problem to fester. "The Tohoku Electric Power Company's Onagawa nuclear power plant was closer to the epicenter. Why was it perfectly safe? Because it updated its nuclear safety measures." The commission will classify the nuclear disaster not as a natural disaster, but as a man-made one. It has convinced people there is room for improvement.
In Germany, three years of promoting a "nuclear free homeland" has led to considerable progress. But now it appears to have run into a brick wall. Domestically, renewable energy has met only one quarter of its target. The price, meanwhile, has steadily increased. It is now about four times the price in Taiwan. Every kilowatt hour costs $12NT. This year it will increase 20 percent. Rising electricity prices are a public burden. Motivated by election considerations, the Bundestag has censured the Merkel government.
Now take external factors. The main concern is sources of natural gas. These have made the problem much more difficult. Nearly 40 percent of Germany's natural gas comes from Russia. The two countries have signed a cooperation agreement to construct a pipeline. But heavy dependence on Russia is highly controversial. Recently the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has intensified. Unfortunately the gas pipeline to Germany goes through Ukrainian territory. If the Russian gas supply is reduced or even halted as a result of war, Germany will mpt be able to cope.
The United States nuclear power industry has advanced nuclear safety measures. It has long been a major users of nuclear power. It is second only to France in the percentage of nuclear power generation. The Fukushima disaster forced a review of the design of nuclear power plants and nuclear safety control measures. Intensive public opinion polls have accurately gauged public sentiment. The public supports the continued development of nuclear power. The U.S. has five new plants under construction. Fourteen more plant applications are under review. Meanwhile, the number of power generation plants being built has increased. These are proceeding concurrently. The US is not hesitating to seek a "nuclear power windfall."
The United States is also developing small modular reactors (SMR). These are estimated to go online in 2024. Small modular reactors enable flexible power supply. They also distribute the risk. The choice of power plant depends entirely on cost, U.S. shale gas mining technology breakthroughs, coupled with high density inland gas pipelines, and lower natural gas prices. The closing of the old coal-fired plants is inevitable. For new plants, the choice of nuclear energy or gas is optional.
On the European continent, nations besides Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have decided to go the non-nuclear route. France, Britain and even Sweden, which announced the phasing out of nuclear power generation, nevertheless continue to develop nuclear power. Economics is a factor. So is carbon reduction. Mainland China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and other emerging industrial countries have never slowed the development of nuclear power. In fact, they are increasing the number of nuclear power plants.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was unprecedented. It was certain to provoke a global nuclear vs. non-nuclear debate. But an even more critical issue is how to move forward. Over the past three years, nations relying on nuclear power have thoroughly reviewed the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They have examined the water shortages, electricity shortages, and blackouts. They have thoroughly reformed their software and hardware disaster prevention measures. Contrast this with Taiwan. The nuclear vs. non-nuclear debate resulted in scorched earth confrontations. No thorough, practical review or reform has been implemented. This is a far more serious man-made disaster.
2014.03.11 02:24 am