Why nuclear is still unclear

Notwithstanding the symbolism of a nuclear disaster striking Japan again, the global perception of nuclear energy took another beating in Fukushima a decade from which it is yet to recover

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 11 March 2021

On March 11, 2021 we observe the 10th anniversary of the Japan earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. For a country that is the first and last victim of an atom bomb, the second worst such incident after Chernobyl resulted in a domestic swell against nuclear power. Its ripple was felt across the globe.

The world, unfortunately, got introduced to the world of nuclear energy in August 1945 through nuclear bombs that devastated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Still to recover from the crippling aftermaths, Japan adopted a nuclear way to attain energy security; before the 2011 tsunami, nuclear energy accounted for 30 per cent of its total electricity production.

Notwithstanding the symbolism of a nuclear disaster striking Japan again, the global perception of nuclear energy took another beating from which it is yet to recover. Soon after, many countries with significant nuclear power generation programmes either reviewed existing and upcoming plants; a few like Germany and Switzerland even ordered nuclear energy to be phased out from their respective national plans. 

Japan permanently closed 12 plants and shutt down 24 more of its 54 reactors operational at the time of the accident. Some of them are under restarting approval processes. It came at a time the nuclear energy sector was recovering from the Chernobyl blow with more and more countries, including India, going bullish on this source of power.

Japan is still undecided on reopening its shuttered nuclear plants. In a recent interview with news agency Bloomberg, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co — the country’s largest utility and that owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant — said without nuclear energy the country can’t meet the target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by half in 2030.

However, the revival of nuclear energy as an emerging and defining source of energy seems difficult in the world.

Nuclear energy always suffered from the prohibitive cost, long gestation and the uncertainty over its safety. Disaster after disaster reinforced these. Meanwhile, the rise of renewable sources like solar and wind has further made the retail cost of nuclear expensive in comparison.

In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stamped nuclear energy as a way to reduce carbon emission (and thus, to control global warming) but warned “public acceptance” is a condition that remains a bottleneck for its wider uptake.

Currently, the nuclear power sector is struggling with its overall contribution to global electricity supply not gaining any growth: 414 nuclear power plants in 32 countries account for just 10 per cent of the total electricity supply.

In Japan people still protest against nuclear power. While safety concerns are being constantly addressed to (this also makes the technology expensive), these are dealt more at industry-level. There have never been any concerted efforts from this industry to address the public per se while they are the ultimate victims of any disasters.

No country has ever dealt its nuclear strategy — whether military or civilian — in public domain. More to it, across the world nuclear plants and mining of fuels like uranium are being opposed by local communities and indigenous groups. With countries switching over to clean energy sources which are also affordable and easy to reach out to large populations, nuclear power might just have entered into a slide of no-revival. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories
Related Blogs
Related Interview

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.