In Wake of Japan Tsunami, Is Global Nuclear Power Freeze the Answer?

As MetalMiner continues looking into the effect the Japan earthquake and ensuing tsunami have on the metals supply chain, the nuclear power question seems to be taking a considerable portion of aftermath news. While the natural disaster spurs nuclear worries in Japan, especially in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station failures, the reporting coming out of it paints a picture of imminent radioactive catastrophe. But does the tsunami make the case that nuclear power should be curtailed, or even shelved entirely, as a global energy source?

According to an enterprising Reuters report on the subject, the news organization quotes an executive at state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) as saying, “The nuclear power industry is likely to shrink due to Japan’s nuclear accident¦Rising opposition is seen in developed countries, although developing countries may see less opposition due to their shortage of power unless they reside in earthquake zones.

The last phrase strikes us as the particularly logical if your country and/or your existing or planned nuclear campuses are near earthquake prone-zones, fault lines, or near the ocean shores, then yes, you should plan accordingly. According to Reuters, Taiwan, another island nation in the Pacific arena, mentioned that its state-run energy company Taipower is looking into cutting its nuclear power output. Although Japan’s famously advanced (read: sturdier than most) infrastructure helped prevent even more catastrophic results from the earthquake which seems rather unfathomable, given the unequivocally horrible aftermath — the entire country remains in perpetual danger of tsunamis because of their geographical placement. Admittedly, Japan wasn’t about to stop its path to world’s No. 3 economy due to its geologically volatile island location, just as no one could convince New Orleans not to rebuild because of its prime address in Hurricane Alley.

But do Europe and the US really need to halt or reverse course entirely on nuclear power development and production? The Reuters article cites that Switzerland, Germany and the US all indicated uncertainty in the nuclear sector. Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard “suspended the approvals process for three nuclear power stations for safety standards to be revisited, while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that “a government decision to extend the life of the country’s nuclear power stations could be suspended following the crisis in Japan. Even US Senator Joe Lieberman weighed in, saying we should “put the brakes on domestic power plants until the “impact of the Japanese disasters “became clear.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper quoted Professor Gerry Thomas, chair of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, as playing it much cooler than American media outlets when it came to the imminent dangers posed by the reactors. “”One thing to note is that there has not yet been a significant release of radiation from this nuclear plant – the reactor core is currently still intact,” he had said, according to the Guardian. “There has been very little release of radiation and there is unlikely to be a significant release. My advice would be not to worry¦I am afraid there is far too much scaremongering! Granted, Professor Thomas was responding to citizens worried about personal effects from radiation, but this lesson could apply to the global especially American media.

The reality is nuclear power has a relatively steady safety track record over the years when compared with other energy sources. These political heads’ comments likely only serve the stock price rises of green energy companies; of course we all need to diversify our energy production sources, but how about we focus on the task at hand, help Japan, put out the fires, and then move forward with green?  The US and Europe don’t seem to be faced with imminent danger when it comes to regular earthquake activity that could trigger massive tsunamis. Sure, the US probably shouldn’t build more nuclear reactors on the California/Oregon/Washington coasts, and should re-evaluate/renew safety procedures in case of future tsunamis but perhaps all-out nuclear freeze should be a last resort.

Human error and shoddy development and maintenance will always exist no one need to look further than the Chernobyl debacle, which is still fresh in many people’s minds nearly a quarter century on. (The 25th anniversary, on April 26, is nearly upon us.) But scaremongering in the fresh face of disaster might not serve anybody well hype does not equal tangible action.

–Taras Berezowsky

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