A year on from Fukushima, Malcolm Grimston finds that nuclear policies have ridden out the stormby Malcolm Grimston / March 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
A year ago, nuclear power was on the up. Twice as many reactors were under construction globally as in 2007. Phase-out policies in countries like Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands had been replaced by plans for new build. Even Italy, the only country to have phased out its nuclear industry (after a post-Chernobyl referendum), planned to restart its programme. Reactors were under construction in Finland and France; 28 preliminary licence applications had been made in the United States. Canada had new build plans and expansion was proposed across central and eastern Europe and in the far east. Several dozen countries had hinted they meant to join the nuclear club for the first time.
Then came the earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan in March 2011, and the crisis at the Fukushima No 1 plant: the cores of three of its six reactors were severely damaged (the radioactivity leak was second only to that of Chernobyl).
One year on, what have been the consequences of this accident for the much-anticipated global nuclear renaissance?
The short answer is “varied.” In some areas, it is business as usual, after a delay in licensing procedures to examine or implement lessons from Fukushima. In Britain, the government has proceeded with developing electricity market reforms designed to promote investment in new nuclear plants. Preliminary work, for example by EDF Energy in Somerset on Hinkley Point C, has resumed in the hope of coming on line by 2019/2020. By December 2011 Ipsos Mori found that public support for new nuclear plants had returned to pre-accident levels, while in January 2012 a YouGov poll in Britain chose nuclear power as the best option from a list of nine infrastructure projects. In February, a joint statement from David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy declared a “shared determination to harness and manage nuclear energy in the safest and most effective and secure manner, covering the entire industrial system.”