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Unity Img Blog

Our guest writer is John Morrow with his views on nuclear power, and ours.

Fukushima, Just another Chernobyl?
The events at Fukushima forced the world to relive repressed memories of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Once again, we have to ask, why do we use nuclear power? Will countries heed or ignore the events in Japan as they scramble to secure power for growing populations? Who will pay attention? Why did nuclear power experience a surge of renewed popularity? After Fukushima, is nuclear energy dead in the water?
Why do we use nuclear power?
The origins of Fukushima began sixty-five years ago with the idea of harnessing nuclear power for energy. In 1947, the newly appointed Atomic Energy Commission began research into commercial development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. In December 1957, the first nuclear power plant began production in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. By 1971, twenty-two U.S. power plants were in full production.
Construction of new power plants surged in 1973 when The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), prohibited selling their oil to nations supporting Israel during the “Yom Kippur War.” Within one year, U.S. utilities ordered construction of 41 new nuclear plants.
Will countries heed or ignore the events in Japan?

On March 28, 1979, a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island near Middletown, Pennsylvania revealed existing emergency procedures were insufficient for containment of radioactivity during catastrophic failures. The Nuclear Regulatory Committee decided to withhold new operating licenses until development of improved emergency procedures and plant specifications. Existing plants were required to develop enhanced disaster plans. During the next thirty years, the NRC received few applications to build new nuclear power plants in the United States. However, between 2008 and 2010, construction began on 35 reactors across the globe as global warming, carbon emission restrictions and rising oil prices diminished the allure of fossil fuels. In 2012, the NRC granted permission to build two new nuclear plants in Georgia. These will be the first nuclear plants built in the United States since the mishap at Three Mile Island.

After Fukushima – Who will pay attention?

The events at Fukushima elicited different reactions in nations across the world. Germany immediately took all its reactors offline. Research conducted by MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research concludes that developed nations with existing plants will focus on increased safety measures with reduced construction of new plants. The report also predicts that developing nations such as China, India and Russia will build new reactors, despite Fukushima’s spectacular displays.
China may be the ultimate litmus test in reaction to Fukushima. China is constructing the largest number of nuclear reactors and immediately suspended approval for new reactors after Fukushima. China has 13 working reactors and 27 more under construction. With Fukushima now fifteen months in the past, China’s State Council just approved the “nuclear facility safety inspection report,” which still requires further approval but gives strong indications that China will proceed with Gen III, passive-cooling reactors designed by Westinghouse. Fukushima involved Gen II, GE reactors.
Why did nuclear power experience a surge of renewed popularity?
A report released by the International Atomic Energy Commission just two months after Fukushima, focused primarily on moving forward (safely) with nuclear power plants. According to the report, 65 nuclear power plants are under construction in 15 countries and many other plants are in the planning stages. The report began with heartfelt condolences to Japan, then immediately launched into details for 2012 nuclear plant construction in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, Saudi Arabia and Jordan will join in the work.
As of June 2012, forty-five countries are considering entry into nuclear power programs. In an ironic twist, a number of developing nations are planning to “go nuclear” in order to reduce carbon emissions and provide “clean energy” to exploding populations and the increased energy requirements of industrialization.
After Fukushima, is nuclear energy dead in the water?
No matter Fukushima, the push for “clean energy” and “reduced carbon initiatives” has spurred a global quest for so-called “uncontaminated” power. Wind power has problems with intermittency and variability. Solar power is still heavily subsidized. Countries needing power will build nuclear power plants in the belief that greater safety measures will protect them from earth’s powerful forces. Observations post March 11, 2011, predict nuclear power will proceed, full-speed in developing nations.
Memories of Fukushima are already growing fainter as developing nations seek “clean power” and continue building new nuclear power plants. Human nature will allow these nations to forge ahead with nuclear construction in the belief that they can create safer plants, immune to earthquakes, tsunamis and the vagaries of human performance.
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