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Dec 01, 2011

Any new disaster could spell the end of nuclear industry – economist

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The Fukushima Daiichi disaster that struck Japan in March following a major earthquake and tsunami would slow nuclear power growth and another big accident could mean the end of nuclear as a long-term energy option, despite the relative safety of the technology, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Nuclear Energy Agency principal economist Jan Keppler said this week.

The accident had a major impact on Japan’s energy and electricity system, he said at a Department of Energy nuclear energy seminar on the sidelines of the seventeenth Conference of the Parties, or COP 17, in Durban.

In addition to the immediate loss of 9.7 GWe nuclear power, 10 GWe of power derived from fossil fuels was also lost. Shortly after, 3.5 GWe at another Japan-based nuclear facility in Hamaoke was shut down.

Electric capacity was made worse by routine shutdowns and regional resistance, with the estimated costs of the disaster at $300-billion.

He added that there might be a renewed polarisation between developed and developing countries, that would see OECD Europe and America decrease nuclear shares, while nuclear development in China and India were likely to increase.

Germany’s to phase out nuclear as part of wider restructuring of the energy sector, reduced output by 1 804 TWh from 17 reactors with 20.5 GW capacity, Keppler said. Producing this amount with nuclear would have cost €30.2-billion.

“In OECD Europe, the ability of nuclear to integrate with renewable energy sources is key, since shares of renewable will increase and network management becomes of greater importance.”

However, Keppler said a lack of alternatives at a large scale and increasing energy demand in many countries still supported inclusion of nuclear power owing to its economic competitiveness.

Over the long-term, rising electricity prices would mean that nuclear would be a competitive solution for baseload electricity production, if financing costs could be controlled and carbon was appropriately priced.

But, the Japanese accident strongly affected public opinion and would slow nuclear development in the medium term.

“Overall, the ability to rebuild trust with the public will determine the future of nuclear,” Keppler said.

He said the world had to pay more attention to external natural events such as seismic events and tsunamis, and severe accident management and emergency preparedness needed to be improved.
 

Edited by: Mariaan Webb
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