Thursday, March 13, 2014

The No-Brainer View of Nuclear Energy

The third anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has attracted more attention than the second – from my news watching perspective, not through story counting – in part because the dire projections of nuclear energy’s end have definitely not come to pass. And reporters are either gobsmacked by this or find it a practical outcome.

The Economist logoThe Economist provides a particularly sour version of the former:

Yet the disaster hasn’t stopped the global interest in nuclear power—especially in developing countries that have untested regulatory and crisis-management systems. After Fukushima, Germany shut all its nuclear reactors. Japan let all of its reactors go idle, and then slowly restarted a few. But the world has done little to establish standards for nuclear disaster-response that builds confidence for the public, or their nation’s neighbors.

That last bit qualifies as a bald assertion that IAEA would probably find amusing, but you get the point. (The Economist also provides a terrific chart showing nuclear usage around the planet and an even better one toting up planned or in progress facilities. Well worth visiting just for the sweet chart action.)

smhFrom nuclear energy’s best friend, Australia, via the Sydney Morning Herald, the view from Japan:

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe backs plans to restart nuclear plants, the country has to weigh the economic damage as fossil fuel imports drive record trade deficits, against risks to safety and the environment. At stake is Japan's nuclear fleet that is designed to produce a further 5 trillion kilowatts of energy worth 40 trillion yen ($431 billion), according to Penn Bowers, an energy analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo.

Here’s the capper:

“In the short-term, economically it's a no-brainer to restart” the idled fleet, Bowers said in an interview this month.

Bowers doesn’t really discuss the long term, but this take on what makes sense for Japan raises the issue of cost-benefit and finds the risk of an accident very low and the cost of abandoning nuclear energy very high indeed.

Does that mean that, whether put in the harshest light possible or simply practically, that the Fukushima Daiichi accident had, in sum, no impact? Not at all. But it does suggest that after the world looked over its existing reactor fleet and worked out safety measures based on lessons learned from Japan, considered the costs of building new reactors, and surveyed the energy landscape (and let’s throw in emission reduction goals) – well, it’s a “no-brainer,” isn’t it?

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