"Views on the Global Future of Nuclear Power After Fukushima"
Comments from Belfer Center Research Fellows
Newsletter Article, Belfer Center Newsletter
May 16, 2011
Authors: Yun Zhou, Former Associate, Project on Managing the Atom (MTA), 2013–2014; Former Research Fellow, International Security Program (ISP)/MTA, 2011–2013; Former Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, ISP/MTA, 2010–2011; Former Research Fellow, ISP/MTA, 2009–2010, Simon Saradzhyan, Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Sungyeol Choi, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2010–2012, Karthika Sasikumar, Former Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2010–2011; Former Associate, International Security Program, 2008–2009, Mahsa Rouhi, Former Associate, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom, 2011–2013; Former Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow, 2010–2011
Days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Martin Malin, executive director of the Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom, asked several Center research fellows to write about “how the discussion of nuclear energy is unfolding in their key countries where plans for growth are most significant.” Following are excerpts from their comments, published in full in the Belfer Center blog Power & Policy on March 16, 2011.
Analysis by Yun Zhou, Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow
The Fukushima tragedy gave the Chinese a serious wake-up call on the importance of nuclear safety. Currently, China has 13 reactor units and 28 units under construction. Although the Chinese government quickly claimed China would not change its nuclear power projects, the latest news shows the Chinese government taking actions to strengthen its nuclear safety at reactors. Nuclear projects which do not comply with the new safety regulation and requirements will be suspended or terminated.
While the Chinese government emphasized its resolution to develop nuclear energy, the public is worrying about the radiation from Japan and the nuclear safety culture in China. People have already started wearing paper face-masks for precautionary purposes. Public concerns could lead to questions about whether China can maintain sound nuclear safety culture in light of China’s poor safety record.
Analysis by Simon Saradzhyan, Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and member of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
Both the Russian public and political leadership have expressed sympathy for the tragedy unfolding in Japan. Russia offered to help Japan in the form of additional supplies of energy. Moscow has also offered to dispatch its nuclear specialists.
As for Russia’s response, the Ministry of Emergency Situations has conducted exercises to manage the impact of a nuclear meltdown in Japan on Russia’s Far East. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered safety inspections at Russian nuclear facilities and a review of nuclear industry development plans. Extra safety measures should be expected, especially given the upcoming federal elections (December 2011 elections to the federal parliament and March 2012 presidential poll), which traditionally make the government more sensitive to public sentiments.
Analysis by Sungyeol Choi, Research Fellow, International Security Program/Project on Managing the Atom
South Korea, which is currently operating 21 nuclear power plants and constructing 5 more units, is not very likely to change its nuclear power policy in response to the crisis in Japan. Nuclear power is currently supplying almost 40% of national electricity, and there are no viable short- and mid-term alternatives. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak emphasized Korea’s nuclear safety and emergency planning. A Congressional debate underlined that safety features in nuclear power plants must be improved to sustain an extreme earthquake or tsunami.
Nevertheless, nuclear power will face harsh time in South Korea. There is great public concern about the accident in neighboring Japan appearing in the news at several media outlets. Public opinion on nuclear issues could be a key factor in the 2012 South Korean presidential election.
Analysis by Karthika Sasikumar, Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow
India has 20 functioning nuclear plants—of which two are General Electric Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), the type that are in peril in Japan—supplying around 3 percent of the country’s energy needs. But demands for energy are soaring. Trying to overcome its dependence on oil imports, India turned to nuclear power.
The Japanese tragedy has prompted a renewed focus on nuclear safety, which had been somewhat marginalized with the rush to secure India’s entry into the commercial nuclear technology market. In the past, nuclear plans have forged ahead in spite of qualms about safety. A greater investment in research and development in renewable energy sector may be the best outcome from the unfolding tragedy in Japan.
Analysis by Mahsa Rouhi, Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow
The explosions in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant caused controversies over nuclear safety in Iran. This prompted reactions from Iranian officials, media and general public. Since Iran is an earthquake-prone country, there is great sympathy towards Japan and widespread alarm about the safety measures in place at the Bushehr reactor. President Ahmadinejad has stated that the Bushehr reactor meets all necessary safety standards, and this has been confirmed by the IAEA on various occasions.
It is notable that the majority of media responses argue that the current debate on the safety issue in Iran is more political than technical. Therefore, it seems unlikely at this point that the officials will plan to revise the current plans for the Bushehr nuclear facility in the light of Japan’s experience.
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