Skip to main content

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?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…