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It’s more than four months since the explosions and
fire at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake and
tsunami  (see Fukushima Nuclear
Crisis, SiS 50); but the emergency is far
from over. As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) latest briefing
states : “Overall, the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power
plant remains very serious.”
As far as we
can tell from statements made by the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric and
Power Company (TEPCO), the major problem is to install a stable cooling system
to replace the jury-rigged system now being used .
The hope is to bring the reactors to a state of cold shutdown by the beginning
of next year. They also have to clear the rubble from the tsunami and
explosions - a task made especially difficult by the high radiation levels -
and decontaminate the radioactive coolant water that has collected under the
After the site has been cleared, a
cover will be constructed over the Daiichi 3 reactor to prevent more
radioactive material from escaping into the atmosphere. This will not, however,
be the end of it; the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said  it will take
decades to clean up the damage and decommission the plant. It’s obviously not
possible to predict the cost of all that, plus the compensation to people
living and working in the area and the loss to industry caused by the
interruption to power supplies. The Japan Center for Economic Research has
produced a ballpark estimate of US$250 billion . (For comparison, the
maximum insurance provision for a nuclear incident in the US is US$12.2 billion; anything beyond that would be left to Congress as ‘insurer of last
Global rethink on nuclear power
Fukushima has made many
countries rethink their energy policies.
Japan has been producing about
30 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. This made it the world’s third
biggest generator of nuclear power after the US and France, and it has been
planning to increase the proportion to 53 per cent by 2030.
Four months after the earthquake
and tsunami, only 19 of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors
are operating. There has been considerable opposition to restarting them, and
the government has now decided that those that are not now in operation should
first undergo stress tests. In the meantime, companies in Tokyo and north
eastern Japan that are large users of power have been told that they must
reduce their peak power use by 15 per cent from last year .
For the longer
term, Prime Minister Kan has announced that the reliance on nuclear power
should be reduced rather than increased. There are no firm proposals yet, but
the Japanese parliament has extended its session until August and one of the
topics to be discussed is a framework to increase the use of renewable energy;
one suggestion is to require, by 2030, that all new building must have solar
panels. It will also be discussing compensation for people affected by the Fukushima explosion, which should help keep the members aware of the real cost of nuclear
Long before March 2011, Germany had already decided to phase out nuclear and develop renewable energy sources
instead. At the end of 2010, however, the government announced that while it
was not going to build any new reactors it would extend
the lives of the existing ones. In response to widespread public hostility to nuclear
power after Fukushima, the government has now decided that there are to be no
extensions and that by 2022 there will be no nuclear power generated in Germany . Not only are the Germans confident that they can supply all their energy needs
without nuclear reactors, they intend to become world leaders in renewable
energy sources and so benefit their economy.
There are five nuclear plants in Switzerland and the government has decided they are safe enough to continue operating. But
in the light of Fukushima, they will neither extend the
lifespan of existing reactors nor build new ones.
Energy minister Doris Leuthard said that safety was the critical factor but
also pointed out that nuclear energy is becoming more expensive. The decision
would pay off in the long run because  “new jobs will be created and Switzerland will find itself in a good position internationally.”
With little in the way of its own fossil fuels, France has relied more than any other country on nuclear, which generates about 80 per cent
of its electricity. But there is now pressure to reduce its dependence on
nuclear, and the French government is going to spend €10 billion ($14.26
billion) to build five offshore wind farms. These should generate about 3.5 per
cent of the country’s electricity.
At present, renewable energy
accounts for 12.4 per cent of France’s energy output. The aim is to increase
this to 23 per cent by 2020 . France, like Germany though not to the same
extent, is striving to build a strong renewables industry.
Italy has not had a nuclear programme since the 1980s. In a
referendum on 13 June, the proposal to revive it was firmly rejected . Observers reported that
Fukushima was clearly a factor. Italy, like Japan, is prone to earthquakes.
China has 13 nuclear plants
and another 27 under construction. These are to continue, but a delay of at
least two years is now expected before any new projects are approved. The
government is confident of the safety of the existing plants, but a number of
experts disagree. Professor He Zuoxiu, one of the country’s leading theoretical
physicists, has warned that China is “seriously unprepared, especially on the
A month before the events at Fukushima, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that it had decided to develop
thorium based reactors. These are claimed to be much safer than the reactors
currently in use and to produce far less hazardous waste. Fukushima may lead China to accelerate their thorium programme .
The US is the world’s biggest producer of nuclear
energy, and while it has not built any new plants since the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, it has recently been planning major
new developments. In the wake of Fukushima, the US Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC) set up a task force to look into the safety of the country’s
104 reactors . In its first review, the group reported that it was safe to
continue operating these plants on the present regulatory system, but made 12
recommendations for improved safety . It also called for an overhaul of the
existing regulatory framework, which it described as a “patchwork of
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI),
the body representing the US nuclear industry gave cautious approval to the
review, but it is clearly concerned about the cost of new safety measures.
Until recently, they might have expected the government to pick up the tab, but
in the present economic climate where everything else is being cut, legislators
are becoming less inclined to provide large amounts of money for subsidies.
Despite protests from people
living near the sites and scientists like A Gopal Krishnan, a former chair of
the Indian Atomic Energy Regulation Board, the Indian government is pressing
ahead with the construction of more nuclear plants .
The British reaction to Fukushima was swift and
decisive. The government and the nuclear industry immediately set out together
to put the best possible spin on it, to portray it as an example of the safety
of nuclear power, rather than its hazards. An email from the Department of
Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) dated 13 March, read [14,15]: “We need to
ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need
to occupy the territory and hold it.”
This was sent only two days after
the tsunami, when no one could possibly have known how things would go. Yet BIS had already made up its mind. Not that we should be
surprised; in 2007, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair said quite bluntly that his government was going to go ahead with
new nuclear build whatever the results of the consultation it was about to
So it came as
no surprise when on 18 May the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, said that the
report he had commissioned found no “gaps in scope or depth” in the safety
assessment measures and that it provided the “basis to continue to remove the
barriers to nuclear new build in the UK.” He went on to say that the government
“want to see new nuclear as part of a new energy mix
going forward, provided there is no public subsidy.” 
Of course there will be a public subsidy
for nuclear. There always is. And on 9 June, the
government showed how serious it is about a new energy mix by reducing the
financial incentives for large solar projects.
It is too early to judge what effect Fukushima will
have on the future of nuclear power. What is significant, however, is that
almost every country – the outstanding exception being as usual the UK -- has
shifted its position away from dependence on nuclear and towards renewables. Governments all over the world are finally
beginning to realise that nuclear power is neither essential nor economical nor
The tsunami was a terrible disaster
for the people of Japan. Let us hope that at least some good will come out of
artjar Comment left 3rd August 2011 16:04:48 “When we research the radiation injury/sickness, we look at the total amount of radioactive materials. But there is no definite report from TEPCO or the Japanese government as to exactly how much radioactive materials have been released from Fukushima.
“So, using our knowledge base at the Radioisotope Center, we calculated. Based on the thermal output, it is 29.6 times the amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In uranium equivalent, it is 20 Hiroshima bombs.
“What is more frightening is that whereas the radiation from a nuclear bomb will decrease to one-thousandth in one year, the radiation from a nuclear power plant will only decrease to one-tenth.
“In other words, we should recognize from the start that just like Chernobyl, Fukushima I Nuke Plant has released radioactive materials equivalent in the amount to tens of nuclear bombs, and the resulting contamination is far worse than the contamination by a nuclear bomb.”
Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama is the head of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo.
Desiree Rover Comment left 8th August 2011 15:03:49 Just as you think 'authorities cannot get any more stupid and disrespectful, they have a ne trick:
Day after Sellafield plant is shut, Government told to build another
The plant has been a complete technological failure, managing to produce only a little fuel
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Todd Millions Comment left 12th August 2011 10:10:07 France gets 80%of its 'energy from the nucs?This should have read electricity-30 years ago and it was a lie then.
but an interesting one-it assumed run times of 80-90%(avalability).No reactor in reality has shown70%.And this is by resceduling the sudden shut downs as 'scheduled'.
Simalar wee interesting figure fudgings are found in Japanese official figures(capacity vs electrons travelling thru the lines-figures I've heard for this give the nuc portion around 13%.),but translation problems make anylisis difficult.Remembre that this is just the last time quakes have damaged and caused leaks from Japanese reactors,and the prevous ones were very expensive as well.This time we have major plutonium leaks too cake the enevitable.
All power companies and reactor vendors tend too screw around with these figures.Using peak load times too demand capacity subsidy,rather than load shift/defferal or eliminate.
Further too screwing around with the figures-is former PM Brown's little brother Andrew still doing PR work for EdeF?That job subsidy only cost the British taxpayer some12B(so if built30B)L in reactor orders-such a profitable privitization of Brit Nuc Fuels!
George Wade Comment left 21st September 2011 10:10:56 artjar's nice link, above, led on to two more: http://www.radiationdefense.jp/?lang=en — which you may read in Japanease (;~) or in English. It is a development from a Facebook group that could be called "Lets figure out what the Fukushima fallout means we have to do next." They are doing a survey, starting in and near the Metropolis of Tokyo, extending to a "Nation Wide Soil Survey." That is much more than I ever hoped to find and it should be copied in some sense by us in other parts of the world.
This has a text listing of all the US and a map with active links; your choice, to find the states and cities that interest you. Then links to some relevant articles or programs. There are comments from readers, below it all.
Then some discussion of what the CPM figures mean, anyway: beginning at 'Dottie says:
August 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm
Hi – this link on Berkeley’s website has some information on interpreting the gamma ranges:
(If I find ducks with three legs because of the fallout I'm going to fail the Anti-Spam Homo Insapiens question...)