Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: The Year After the Year

2013
2012 may fade away and 2013 arrive with undo chipperness, but It’s all a continuum. Last year’s narratives will continue into the new year, a few cameo players from 2012 will gain additional prominence in 2013 – I’m thinking small reactors here – and, to paraphrase the tagline of an old horror comic, always expect the unexpected.

So let’s not fill up a top ten list – that might be the expected thing to do on December 31; instead, let’s see if we can find some recent quotes that summarize (some of) the themes of the last year even if that is not exactly their purpose.
Take this, for example, from the Wall Street Journal:

But phasing out nuclear power, which helps meet nearly 75% of France's electricity needs and about 27% across the EU, could deprive the continent of a key source of energy and jobs, making it more dependent on fossil-fuel imports.
Higher fuel bills could also hurt European economies, economists warned. And closing nuclear reactors—which emit little to no greenhouse gas—could jeopardize the EU's efforts to address concerns about global warming.
We’ve written about this a lot in 2012, because the subject raises a lot of prickly questions. Countries should have a right to leave nuclear energy if they want to – no energy source is sacrosanct – but it has had and will continue to have consequences, most of them unintended. In Germany, the change is so precipitous that the transition promises to be incredibly expensive at best and truly terrible for the people at worst. And it’s an energy policy that solves no particular problem.

The Journal story is worth reading in full, though its focus on countries closing nuclear plants tells only part of the story, as we’ll see.
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There’s a flip side to leaving nuclear energy, as indicated in this story in Commodities Today, and it also provided a theme for 2012 (I guess uranium is the commodity, but the story does not directly refer to it):
The number of nuclear new build projects, despite Fukushima, is still higher now than across the last two decades – although Asia is leading in numbers, the US has approved its first new build since 1970. France, Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden have all reaffirmed their commitment to nuclear power. In Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic are also planning to push ahead with new units, following increased safety assessments.
I just saw a story about the Bulgarians holding a referendum to decide whether to build a second nuclear facility – we’ll see how that turns out. The United States has four new reactors (in Georgia and South Carolina) under construction and a fifth (in Alabama Tennessee) being revived and completed.

So nuclear energy is moving forward despite some handwringing – in the United States, in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, perhaps even Bulgaria.

Naturally, there is a reason to celebrate this continuing development. 2012 represents the year following the year of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It’s been a period for learning lessons from the accident and moving forward.

The industry unveiled FLEX early in 2012, its response to the accident that ensures that no nuclear plant will ever be an island in a sea of adversity. FLEX directs the facilities to stage new emergency equipment at each plant and it sets up regional centers to hold larger safety items that can be used by any facility.

Still, what about Fukushima Daiichi? Let’s be clear about the accident and its impact. The earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident killed almost 16,000 people. The accident killed no one (there were some industrial fatalities). About 340,000 people were put out of their homes, some by the disaster and some by the accident.

The lack of fatalities and the successful planning to keep people clear of radiation doesn’t excuse the accident at all – and cannot be used as exculpatory of it - but the truth of the matter is that the earthquake and tsunami created human devastation while the accident, unwelcome though it was, did not. That point sometimes gets overlooked or elided.

But the impact of the accident has been, as it should be, enormous. There’s still more to learn from the accident, which has already been and continues to be studied by every conceivable Japanese, American and international organization with an interest. There are still lessons to be learned, but a lot has been learned and even implemented – with IAEA help around the world and NRC and industry directives here.

This post-Fukushima work has been transparent enough that people can follow what’s going on and understand the implications for themselves and their families. In this country (and others, such as Great Britain), the result has been very positive. Nuclear energy is seen as safe by a majority of respondents and most people favor further expansion. Gallup puts public approval at about 57 percent, exactly the same as before the accident.

More about 2012 on Wednesday. Maybe we’ll know the outcome of that election in Bulgaria by then, too.

Correx: Thanks to our commenter for pointing out I meant Tennessee for the fifth reactor. You say Watts Bar, I say Bellefonte. Let's call the whole thing off (kidding - let's build both Watts Bar and Bellefonte. )

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The United States has four new reactors (in Georgia and South Carolina) under construction and a fifth (in Alabama) being revived and completed."

For the fifth, I do believe you mean Watts Bar in Tennessee.