AFTER FUKUSHIMA, THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY GOES ON
Nuclear Energy One Year After Fukushima
March 2012 (World Energy Council)
The incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—the result of a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011—has re-invigorated the debate about how to meet the world’s growing demands for energy and the contribution of nuclear power to the global energy mix.
This report demonstrates that the Fukushima accident has not so far led to a significant retraction in nuclear power programmes in countries outside Europe, except Japan itself. In Europe, changes in nuclear policies have only taken place in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Progress in many national programmes, especially in non-OECD countries, has been delayed, but there is no indication that their pursuit of nuclear power has declined in response to Fukushima.
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The report suggests that, across all countries, greater attention is likely to be paid to aspects of safety and regulation, including both infrastructure and education, and that ambitious timelines for planning, construction, and implementation of plants may become more realistic. The incident is likely to encourage operational and technological improvements, and result in a wide range of actions and measures to improve the safety of the technology by various governments, vendors and utilities worldwide in response to public concerns.
In terms of implementing safety and regulation, most WEC member countries showed strong political support for the adoption and convergence of international safety regulations, but this was not matched by support for the international enforcement of safety standards. However, most member countries strongly agreed that there is a need to improve public understanding and acceptance of nuclear technology, and its costs and risks.
The report suggests a process to ensure the development of minimum and harmonized international safety standards for the construction, operation, and maintenance of nuclear power: first, the establishment of an international organization that would draw-up these standards, working with national safety agencies; second, the empowerment of this organisation to verify national adherence to these standards…
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Changes After the Fukushima Accident
The Fukushima accident prompted an immediate review of the safety of nuclear energy in most countries with nuclear programmes. Many of these countries announced comprehensive safety reviews, which could lead to regulatory changes that would slow or even eliminate plans for expansions of and investments in nuclear power.
Even before completing these safety reviews, some countries have decided to close plants that seem particularly risky because of their age or location. More extreme responses include the decision to abandon the use of nuclear energy completely—this includes countries with explicit plans to explore and/or develop nuclear power; others have put their plans on hold. In contrast, several countries (mostly developing countries) have re-affirmed their intentions to develop nuclear power as an important part of their energy mix, or substantially increase nuclear capacity. They are motivated by the need to meet rising power demands efficiently, and/or the desire to reduce dependence on fossil fuels (and quell associated concerns about security of supply and emissions). A summary of these changes can be seen in Table 2.
Of the 31 countries with nuclear energy programmes, those that experienced the most profound public reactions and public policy changes included: Japan, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
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1. Japan: Before Fukushima, Japan was the world’s third-largest producer of electricity from nuclear power. Nuclear energy accounted for about 30% of the country’s total electricity production (54 reactors providing 47 GW). The Japanese government had ambitious plans to expand the nuclear component of the country’s energy mix to reach 41% of the country’s total power supply by 2017, and 53% by 2030 (up from about 29% in 2010). Plans were in place to construct nine new reactors by 2020 and another five by 2030.
The Fukushima accident threw these ambitious long-term plans into doubt, partly because of severe public resistance. Immediately after the accident, the Prime Minister was forced to request that some nuclear reactors in the rest of the country be shut down. In addition, the ongoing construction of reactors has been entirely halted and a new rule has been introduced, requiring that the reactors that were shut down are stress-tested before they are restarted and that they undergo periodic inspections. In addition, Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4 were to be decommissioned; the government also announced immediate measures to boost nuclear safety, as well as plans to undertake a stringent safety assessment at each reactor to check its capacity to withstand extreme natural events.
By mid-February 2012, only two of Japan's nuclear power reactors were in operation, while the remaining 48 reactors were shut for periodic inspections, unplanned inspection, or even anticipated decommissioning. Since Fukushima, all Japan's nuclear reactors have been undergoing two-phase stress tests at the direction of the Japanese government. The first phase (to determine whether the plants can withstand large earthquakes and tsunamis) is carried out while reactors are offline for periodic inspections. This effectively means that all plants that have entered scheduled maintenance outages since the accident cannot resume operations, until they get government approval. Tests have now been completed at a number of plants, and Japan's nuclear safety regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, recently endorsed the findings from the first units to complete the tests (Kansai's Ohi 3 and 4), although the plants are still awaiting permission to restart.
In October 2011, the government published a white paper confirming that Japan’s dependency on nuclear energy will be reduced as much as possible in the medium and long term. In fact, these long-term plans may include deploying more renewable energy, as well as stepping-up measures to improve energy efficiency and to encourage cleaner use of fossil fuels. The new energy policy will be developed by mid-2012. In addition in mid-2011, a decision was made to set up a new independent nuclear regulation agency under the Environmental Ministry. The new agency will be launched in April 2012, combining the role of Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). This reorganisation will create an entity responsible for regulating nuclear power generation, which is separate from the entity that is promoting it.
The government will also establish a nuclear safety investigation committee responsible for overseeing the new nuclear regulatory agency, and give it legal power to conduct hearings and onsite inspections—essential for investigating the cause and damage of nuclear accidents. By the end of 2012, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan will establish an independent organization to study nuclear safety measures. As cooperation with relevant foreign organisations is essential in order to enhance the effectiveness of the new organisation, on February 2012, the federation agreed to coordinate with the US Institute of Nuclear Power Operations.
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2. Germany: Outside Japan, the most significant impact of the Fukushima accident has been in Germany. In 2010, the country had 17 reactors operating, with a total gross capacity of 20 GW, providing about 23% of the country’s electricity. Within days of the accident, and in an unexpected response, the German government ordered the suspension of operations at seven of its older nuclear plants (operational before 1980), and decided that another, older plant, which was temporarily offline due to technical reasons, should not be restarted.
In May 2011, the government followed with a decision to abandon completely the use of nuclear power by 2022. Eight facilities will be closed permanently, while the country will be phasing out its remaining nine nuclear power plants gradually: one plant each in 2015, 2017, and 2019, respectively; three plants in 2021, and three plants in 2022. This phase-out plan ensures shutting down the remaining nuclear power capacities without running into critical system instabilities. It will also lead to an average plant lifetime of approximately 30 years under such a phase-out plan. The German decision to phase-out nuclear by 2022 will constitute a challenge to its energy mix. It will also affect the energy system in Europe, since it will mean that more intermittent power output will have to be delivered to Germany, and more electricity will be traded across borders; gas powered plants are expected to be brought online to balance the system. This will have price implications for both the European electricity and gas markets, but the nature of this is currently unknown.
3. Italy: Responses in other countries have varied. In Italy, the government has decided to scrap its previous plans to reintroduce nuclear-generated electricity. A referendum in June 2011 imposed a permanent ban on the reintroduction of a nuclear power programme.
4. Switzerland: In Switzerland, the government announced its intention to decommission its five nuclear power plants gradually between 2019 and 2034. The Swiss phase-out will be organized according to the safety of the operating plants, and is expected to lead to a total lifetime of about 50 years for each plant. In addition, Switzerland has suspended the licensing under discussion for three new nuclear power plants.
In other countries, many governments seem to be standing by their use of nuclear energy, at least in principle. Some of these countries already have nuclear power, while others are about to acquire it.
These countries’ decisions to uphold their nuclear plans are motivated by the economics of nuclear power compared to other forms of electricity generation, rising demand for electricity, and the need to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, while addressing concerns surrounding security of supply and climate change.
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Table 3 gives an overview of policy announcements and actions relating to nuclear power between the Fukushima accident and February 22, 2012. More details are included in the Appendix to this report.
These policy and investment changes and announcements indicate that there are few major changes in the status of global nuclear power (see Table 4). The WEC’s canvass of Member Countries revealed figures different from those included in Table-4 and they came from Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, Japan, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine, and USA.
In a survey conducted by WEC, the above statistics included in Table-4 were confirmed except for the following:
• Bulgaria reported no reactors under construction. The construction of two reactors was suspended in the 1990s. The government and parliament still need to take the final decision whether to resume, change the site (Kozloduy instead of Belene) or stop
• Canada reported 17 operable reactors, three reactors under construction, two planned and one proposed.
• Finland reported two planned and none proposed. Two new units are in the “planning phase” and are expected to be operational within 8–10 years. These reactors have also been approved by the parliament, which is the most significant hurdle for new units.
• Japan reported 54 operable reactors and seven planned.
• Hungary reported none proposed.
• Italy reported none proposed.
• Romania reported two proposed.
• Russia reported 10 planned and 20 proposed.
• Saudi Arabia reported that using nuclear is still under consideration and that the WNA figures given above are speculative.
• South Korea reported 21 operable reactors and seven reactors under construction.
• Switzerland reported that the licensing procedure for three proposed reactors has been suspended since Fukushima.
• Ukraine reported no reactors under construction and six proposed.
• The USA reported seven planned and 27 proposed.
The net changes in the number of nuclear reactors worldwide, summarised below in Table 5, show that the major changes included 13 reactors exiting service (eight in Germany, four in Japan, and one in the UK), while eight reactors entered service (three in China, one in Iran, two in South Korea, one in Pakistan, and one in Russia). As for construction, five reactors were completed (one in China, one in Iran, two in South Korea, and one in Russia), while construction started on three reactors (two in India, and one in Pakistan). As for reactors in the planning stages, four reactors were dropped (one in India, two in Japan, and one in Pakistan), while six more were added (one in China, one in Lithuania, two in the USA, and two in Vietnam).
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The long-term implications of the Fukushima accident remain quite uncertain, as many governments continue to reassess their plans for the use of nuclear power…Among the long-term outcomes, may be a general sense that ambivalent or negative views of nuclear energy and, in particular, questions about its safety, were justified…The emerging non-OECD countries (mainly China and India) are expected to dominate future growth…The IAEA also argues that Fukushima has not led to a significant retraction in nuclear power programmes outside Europe, except for Japan…It seems likely that greater attention will be paid to issues of safety and regulation, including education, and that ambitious construction timelines may give way to more realistic schedules.