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Many Countries Still Favor Nuclear Power | Save the Nation Movement

Many Countries Still Favor Nuclear Power


This article is originally published online by Business Mirror.

Many Countries Still Favor Nuclear Power


DESPITE the accident in Japan’s Fukushima power plant in March, an expert from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said many countries are still attracted to nuclear energy, with 12 new countries “actively considering” using nuclear energy, and the ongoing construction of plants were not marred by the accident.

At the same time, lessons from the Fukushima accident also brought the construction of safety-enhanced “fail-safe” power plants.

“Yes, there are risks in this industry but the current leaders are given the opportunity to learn from experiences like that of Fukushima Dai-ichi,” Dr. Ferenc Toth, IAEA senior energy economist, said.

Toth blamed the media for not taking into consideration two factors that led to the disaster in the Fukushima power plant.

“It is important to emphasize that in Fukushima, there was a very unfortunate combination of two unprecedented events: a major magnitude-9 earthquake that took out power supply and a 15-meter tsunami that took out local generators,” Toth said during the second day of a two-day World Conference on Science and Technology led by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science (Philaas) in Manila.

It was this disaster that interrupted its “renaissance” that was marked by a two-decade good track record and improvement on public acceptance of nuclear energy, he said.

Despite these concerns, however, Toth said around 60 new countries remain “interested” in nuclear energy and a dozen are “actively considering” the use of such power source.

A total of 436 nuclear power plants are operating in 30 countries and 35 more nuclear power plants under construction, IAEA December 2009 information show.

Among those with big numbers of nuclear reactors are the US (104), France (58), Japan (54), Russia (32), South Korea (21), the United Kingdom (19), Canada (18), Germany (17), Ukraine (15), India (19), China (13). China has 16 more under construction.

The IAEA expert told the BusinessMirror at the sidelines of the conference that of the 60 “interested” countries, 50 are currently “considering” the use of nuclear power, such as by asking for information from IAEA about the technology, but are “not near” in making a decision.

He said that of the 12 actively considering the use of nuclear energy, some are “close or very close” to making a decision in using it, while some are already in contracting phase.

He cited the United Arab Emirates, which has ordered four nuclear plants from South Korea. The others, he said, are in site-selection phase or in early preparation.

“I’m not aware that there is a country from the 12 [actively considering the use of nuclear power] that say they will not go nuclear,” Toth said.

He added that the construction of nuclear plants being made before the Fukushima accident “were not interrupted” by the incident.

Toth noted that the United States launched stress tests on its nuclear power plants “that go to limits of physical impossibility.”

He told the conference open forum that lessons from the Fukushima accident and the tests have led to the construction of third-generation nuclear power plants that have more enhanced safety features with “fail-safe” technology—where reactors will automatically shut down based on several triggers.

While Toth said the IAEA cannot comment on political and other issues of other countries, he noted that Germany’s declaration to discard reliance on nuclear energy was more political “and has nothing to do with safety” concerns.

He told the BusinessMirror that Germany, in early 2000s, decided to phase out its nuclear power plants, but it opted in 2010 to postpose the phase-out until 2030.

However, with the Fukushima accident, it reverted to its early 2000s decision to phase out immediately, with eight reactors currently starting the process of shutting down.

“As far as I know, France will continue with its nuclear energy program and that of the United Kingdom, too, which is more into replacement and partly funded with foreign investment,” he told the conference. “In Canada, there is not much debate.”

Toth noted that more than 75 percent of the energy supply in France is from nuclear energy, while Taiwan relies on atomic power for 18 percent of its electricity requirements, according to professor Jing Tang-Yang who spoke on solar energy in the same conference.

In Asia, the Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation 2010-2015 cites that the primary energy requirement of the member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is projected to triple between 2005 and 2030. By 2015, these countries would require 4 million tons of oil equivalent of nuclear energy. He told the BusinessMirror that among the Asean countries that are considering nuclear energy—Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia—it is Vienam which is “close to making a decision.”

In the Philippines, its officials’ being “open” to the technology before the Fukushima event, was marred by the accident. The 25-year mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is now being considered to be converted to other energy use, or as a tourist attraction.

Asked to describe the current international mood on nuclear power, Toth gave just one word: “Diverse.”

There is a “pessimism” on the technology among the public and the politicians in some countries, he said.

However, the accident had a “very little impact” among many other countries, especially among main nuclear countries of France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China.

“Understandably, it was negative in Japan because they have to endure the impact [of the accident],” which, he clarified, caused no death, even among the power plant personnel.

But Toth quickly added that new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, just a few days ago, has called to restart the nuclear plants that stopped operations after the Fukushima crisis. However, Noda said that Japan should aim to reducing dependence on nuclear power in the long term.

However, Toth said nuclear energy is not a panacea to rising power costs, hinting at the Philippines’ prices that is now nearly at the levels of Japan’s.

“It is not a magic cure but it could be part of the remedy. Where, when, how much and what arrangements largely depends on national circumstances and priorities and decision of sovereign states,” Toth said, adding that the IAEA can only provide support in terms of tools, expertise, analysis and capacity building, among others.

But he emphasized that scientific studies have proven that nuclear energy is one of 10 less costly at $0.5 to $0.10 per kilowatt-hour.

Likewise, it emits “tiny” greenhouse gas compared to lignite-, coal-, oil-, gasoline-based power plants, and even compared to the renewable-energy sources like wind, solar and biomass.

“Nuclear energy remains an important contributor to mitigate climate change. It is also an important contributor to world energy supply,” Toth said.

Based on the IAEA reference data 2011, titled “Energy electircity and nuclear power estimates for the period up to 2050,” furnished the BusinessMirror, the agency’s projections show that use of nuclear power will expand from the current 375 gigawatt (GW) to 400 GW-500 GW in 2020. In 2030, it is expected to further grow to 500 GW to 750 GW.

The reference data said that regardless of uncertainties, the “2011 low and high projections suggest that the reasons for increased interest in nuclear power before the accident have not changed by the accident.”

It said that energy and electricity-demand growth continue to be driven by population growth and economic development; concerns continue to persist about security of energy supply and high and volatile fossil-fuel prices; and the quest for stable electricity generating costs is still a major incentive for public and private-sector interest in nuclear power.

“Moreover, the overall performance and safety of nuclear power plants continue to be good. All this points to continued strong growth of nuclear power in the longer term,” the IAEA reference data said.

In Photo: Dr. Ferenc Toth speaks before the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute officials and personnel and Antonio Gimenez (second from left), president of Clenergen Philippines Corp.; Dr. Ferenc Toth (third), International Atomic Energy Agency senior energy economist; Prof. Jing Tang Yang (fourth) of National Taiwan University; and Dr. Filemon Uriarte Jr. (fifth), academician, National academy of Science and Technology, who are resource speakers at the World Conference on Science and Technology led by the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science (Philaas), are flanked by Science Undersecretary Fortunato de la Peña (left), also the Philaas president, and Dr. Adolfo Jesus Gopez, Philaas executive vice president. (Photo by Gerry Palad/STII and PNRI Photo)
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