Monday, 21 March 2011

Reassessing the global future of nuclear power

Although my blogging standards have never been that high, they have slipped recently (which is bad I know considering all of the geography related issues that have been in the news) and so I thought I had better start producing some half decent posts over the next few weeks. I haven't had a lot of time tonight and so the three posts I have posted are only brief ones but I am working on some better ones which include questionning whether or not we can go 100% renewable, discussing whether or not current farming practices are renewable and how they are going to have to change in the future, is there such a thing as a man-made natural disaster and some of the controversy surrounding the Lusi mud volcano, amongst others......

Millie seems to have all the news that is going on in Japan pretty well covered and so I thought I would try and take a different approach to the situation and present how the future of nuclear power across the world is currently being reassessed. As the situation involving the nuclear reactors in Japan has continued to escalate the future of nuclear power has become uncertain as the safety of such plants has come under scrutiny and overall, much of the general public are now viewing nuclear power with more hesitance and uncertainity. This reaction was, perhaps, inevitable especailly since many are calling this the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986 but individual countries have taken a differing approach to the future of nuclear power.

The German Chancellor, Merkel, announced last week that Germany is going to shut down all seven of its nuclear power plants (which produce 23% of the nations energy) that were constructed before 1980 for at least the next three months whilst investigations can be held into their safety. This greatly contradicts what was announced last year in relation to keeping them open into the mid 2030's. Switzerland have suspended all of its nuclear plans pending safety reviews and have also joined an EU initative to stress test all nuclear reactors to determine whether or not they can withstand earthquakes, amognst other emmergencies, with the view that all of those that fail must be permanently closed down. China has also joined Switzerland in suspending its plans for further development of nuclear power until safety reviews have been completed.

Although many other world leaders have called for caution and analysis, many have be much slower at suspending their own nuclear plans. President Putin, of Russia, has said that he will not back away from nuclear power but that “analysis of the current condition of the atomic sector and an analysis of the plans for future development” will occur in the near future. France, who source the majority of their energy from their 58 nuclear reactors, have said, in response to the question presented at the EU's emmergency meeting last week which asked whether or not, in the future, Europe can meet energy needs without nuclear power, that "to say to the French that we are going to give up nuclear power would be lying". India have also refused to rethink their plans to quadruple their nuclear capability by 2020 and claim that the istuation in Japan has only made them, like many other countries it seems, consider "attitional safeguards".

The intentions of increasing the UK's nuclear power generation capability have been made very clear ever since 10 new reactors were commissioned and the situation in Japan has not seemed to greatly affect these intentions as EDF announced yesterday that UK nuclear plants must go ahead. Although many are calling for the government to suspend the approval process for new nuclear sites until the report, commissioned by the government, into the lessons of the Japanese disaster has been published; the boss of EDF has claimed that his company have already reviewed the back-up systems and emmergency plans at all of EDF's existing nuclear plants in the UK. He has also insisted that, although lessons learnt form Japan will be implemented, that the future of nuclear power in the two countries should be considered seperately as the two countries face very different circumstances.

I must admit that I believe that, whether or not you are pro or anti-nuclear, this is the best way to view the situation. I think that lessons can be learnt from Japan, in terms of ensuring that good emmergency plans are put in place, that safety remains of up most importance and that the age of the nuclear reactors is monitered. However, whilst these stress tests are carried out I think that people need to remember that not every country lies  in such a tectonically active region as Japan and that the earthquake experienced was extremely large, even for Japanese standards. It is going to be interesting to see just how this industry has been affected after the situation has calmed down a bit and more control over it has been gained. Previous to the nuclear 'crisis' in Japan, I believed that nuclear power would be the energy source exploited by developing countries as they endeavour to boost their environmental credientials and reduce their dependency on oil and coal but this situation has seemed to really shake up the nuclear power industry and put questions on its future. Even the EU has asked whether or not Europe can meet their energy demands without utilising nuclear power or not; although I think that, perhaps, it is rather idealistic to think that Europe can continue to improve its environmental credentials in the near future without using some nuclear power.

There is a really good picture article on National Geographic which individually discusses the problems, if any, that the top 10 nuclear power producers in the world may face due to tectonic activity and how recent events in Japan are likely to change the way they approach nuclear power in the near future. Click on the link below to view it  Top Ten Nuclear Nations' Quake Hazard

If any more news, in relation to how the global views and approach to nuclear power  have been changed, is announced I will try and update my blog with it as not only is this interesting but it is also very relevant to the energy module we have done and so perhaps could be useful to mention in essays related to the topic.

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