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Nuclear spring or winter

Posted 12/03/2012 by sevans

Just a year ago a tsunami devastated the east coast of Japan. Apart from its impact on towns and villages in its path,  the disaster that resulted at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has impacted dramatically on the world’s tentative revival of confidence in nuclear power as a route to control greenhouse gas emissions.

While the towns and villages in the path of the tsunami have been washed away, others, completely intact, are devoid of human life except for stray animals and abandoned pets – the occupants having been moved out on the grounds of nuclear safety.

And it is this aspect of the disaster that has had such a major effect on the possible future of nuclear energy – together with, of course, the sabre-rattling that is still going on over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Japan’s problems have encouraged protest groups around the world to voice their concerns about the potential risks of spreading, and even existing, nuclear power generation – with some success.

If as looks increasing possible, the French presidential election results in a defeat for Nicholas Sarkozy then the future of French nuclear power, which has previously been the beacon for all nuclear enthusiasts, looks uncertain. The April issue of C&I will look at the status of nuclear power projects around the world from the UK’s stop-go, slowly does it, approach to positive new signs in the US and parts of Asia.

The US has suffered its share of nuclear incidents which have had a detrimental effect on further expansion, but popular opinion in the US appears to have changed.  Public support has stabilised in the US with a strong majority – 81% - viewing nuclear energy as important to meeting the country’s future electricity needs. Indeed, a solid majority – 74% - also believes that nuclear power operations in the US are safe and secure.

Overall, 64% of Americans favour the use of nuclear energy in the US, according to telephone research conducted in February 2012 by Bisconti Research with GfK Roper. This figure is up from 62% recorded when the research was conducted in September 2011.

Some 82% of the respondents said that US energy policy ought ‘to take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro and renewable energy’. 

Although wind power was not specifically mentioned in the US survey, a recent UK report highlighted by The Sunday Times newspaper but unpublished since November 2011 by its originator, KPMG,  slams both wind and solar as replacements for coal-fired power stations. In fact the study is reported to say that £34bn could be saved by ditching all such projects for nuclear and gas-fired electricity generation.

Successive UK governments have seemed totally wedded to wind power, but there are signs that both partners in the current coalition government have begun to see the light, certainly as regards wind and nuclear power. 

We need decisive action to keep the lights from going out not just in the UK but around the world.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

Add your comment




  • Anonymous said:
    25/04/2012 03:22

    It's more expensive than coal. Very cpaatil intensive and seems prone to big cost overruns (see Olkiluoto and Normandy).However, it has far smaller public health impacts than coal. Switching to nuclear energy would probably save thousands of lives in the US every year and billions in healthcare costs even once you account for radiation.Even if we build renewable stuff as quickly as possible then we'll still have decades of non-renewable power left. Nuclear is far better than coal, it should be being built.