Policy following practice: possible political and social implications of Fukushima

In France, over 90% of electricity is generated from nuclear power. In France’s total energy mix, nuclear power supports 3/4ths of their total energy usage:

http://www.economist.com/node/21541833

In light of the Fukushima nuclear accident in March of 2011, the social image of nuclear power is changing. France has taken much pride historically in being at the forefront of nuclear power and research, but now nuclear energy has become a topic of debate for France’s upcoming presidential election. The United States political system went through this process, and the social paranoia associated with nuclear accidents decades ago. The effect has only been detrimental in developing new technology for nuclear power programs. The accident has caused a lot of uproar, and recently a popular Japanese news source, JiJi Press, reported that radiation has increased by 20% from the accident:

http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/01/fukushima-operator-admits-20-increase-in-radiation/

In the following article the large-scale policy implications of Fukushima in Europe and Asia are evident. Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party candidate could unseat the incumbent president over this issue:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/world/asia/nuclear-power-emerges-as-election-issue-in-taiwan.html?scp=6&sq=nuclear&st=cse

In my opinion nuclear development and technology, if implemented correctly, can be very successful in generating required amounts of power for electricity-hungry populations. It was an engineering error to place a large nuclear complex in such a seismically-vulnerable area as the Ring of Fire. France is much less prone to natural disasters which can cause the accident that occurred in Fukushima, but the technology can be dangerous if mismanaged (Chernobyl). Social pressure should not drive technological decisions such as this in policy-making, yet it has largely in the past and looks to guide it heavily in upcoming years.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Policy following practice: possible political and social implications of Fukushima

  1. kheadlee

    An example of the political and social implications of Fukushima is on display in Germany. According to this article in The Economist:

    http://www.economist.com/node/18774834

    the government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, overturned in 2010 a planned phase out of nuclear power in Germany by 2022, extending the operation of German nuclear plants by 12 years. Nuclear power has been extremely unpopular with the general public in Germany, but after the disaster at Fukushima, any support for nuclear power became politically toxic. Plans to extend the operation of nuclear plants were cancelled, and policies were again shifted to phase out nuclear power.

    The cost of this planned shift from nuclear power varies depending on who you ask, but the highest figure so far, recently proposed by the head of the Energy Sector for Siemens as reported by Reuters:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/17/us-siemens-energy-idUSTRE80G10920120117

    places the estimated cost at over $2 trillion dollars by 2030, which include “feed-in tariffs — costs that utilities have to pay to generators of renewable energy — investments into power transmission and distribution, operations and maintenance as well as technologies to store renewable energy and carbon dioxide.” Making an effective transition to a post nuclear electrical power system will require heavy investment into renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, along with new and upgraded transmission lines to carry this renewable power throughout Germany.

    While the complete removal of nuclear power from Germany will be a long and difficult process, it is a leading example of shifting public perceptions and resulting political policy changes resulting from the nuclear power disaster at Fukushima.

  2. yuki451

    I agree with the comment that France is less vulnarable to natural disasters. Most of their nuclear reactors are located in inland along rivers, while Japanese reactors, including thermal power plants, are located along coast lines to utilize sea water efficiently.
    Now, Japan is facing difficulties to operate nuclear power plant, however, as you mentioned, policy should not be affected too much by social pressure. Japan’s energy self sufficiency is only 4% and therefore they still need to rely on nuclear power to sustain energy security, economy and environment (3Es).
    Personally, I think this accident was not the matter of the location. Onagawa, owned by Tohoku Electric and was much closer to epicenter, did not affected by earthquake and tsunami. On the other hand, Fukushima reactor was successfully shut down after the earthquake but it was not able to cool down due to power outage. Now they have constructed additional power supplies for future contingency. Since Japan is known for having frequent earthquake, it will have comparable earthquake in the future but I believe they can overcome by reinforcing safety.

  3. jkguidry

    I agree that the location of the facility was not the primary cause of the Fukushima incident. There is an article in The Economist discussing the preliminary government commissioned report on the Fukushima incident. This article states that negligence and lack of knowledge of appropriate accident management procedures on the part of both plant management and the government were responsible for the situation escalating out of control.

    Here is the article:
    http://www.economist.com/node/21542437

  4. ghasemidoroh

    Thanks to STCONOVER for this interesting topic.

    If we have a detailed look at what caused Fukushima nuclear disaster, we see that we might be able to avoid such accidents by spending more and more for safety issues and emergency events which may occur.
    Aris Candris, CEO of Westinghouse was interviewed by ABC News on Dec 22, 2011. He was discussing safety issues which they considered in their new reactor AP1000. Unlike the GE-manufactured reactors at Fukushima, the new AP1000 does not rely on AC powers for its system. And then we may ask ourselves the question of “could new nuclear reactor have prevented fukushima?”
    Here is a link to the video of his interview:
    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/12/could-new-nuclear-reactor-have-prevented-fukushima/
    Personally I agree with STCONOVER for continuing on implementation of nuclear technology in the efficient and correct manner, especially for France whose electricity is generated mostly from nuclear. However this is a dangerous source of energy and we should implement the newest technology to increase safety.
    Last but not least, as Candris said in the interview, we should not forget that even though nuclear has been around for 50 years, it is still a learning industry. !

  5. I think that is very clear the position the U.S. and countries like France or Germany need to take regarding the nuclear energy industry. The advantages of the development and use of nuclear energy can bring great benefits, as long as it continues to pay special attention on the regulation side of it.

    The attractiveness of nuclear energy from the standpoint of economic performance can clearly be demonstrated today, against the economics of alternative generating technologies. Over the years, more output is being achieved with each reactor through improved availability.

    The advantages of nuclear energy are quite clear and there are several studies that have shown a number of important advances in security as well, an area that is undoubtedly the biggest concern.

    The truth is that for the U.S., if this subject continues to be a debating topic, a few advances will be done in the near future. My belief is that the government should continue developing new policies for launching these projects in the safest way possible, since this is one of the alternatives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The government should be also able to inform and convince people about the benefits it will bring to their communities and the world.

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