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Nuclear Energy Affected Little By Fukushima, Says WEC Survey

The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

Use of nuclear energy will continue “to play a full part in the future energy mix” despite the accident in Japan, a new report says.

The report, by the World Energy Council, notes that the growth of nuclear energy is mainly being driven by non-OECD countries, “the very countries that are seeing ever rising energy demand.” These countries account for 39 of the 63 nuclear plants being built worldwide.

Very little has changed, especially in non-OECD countries, in respect of the future utilization of nuclear in the energy mix,” the report says.

The report represents the work of a nuclear task force set up by WEC to survey the impact on national nuclear energy plans in light of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Comprising energy experts, practitioners and regulators from 13 countries, the task force also conducted a survey of national regulatory regimes where nuclear power is part of the energy mix.

The study found that few countries with developed nuclear industries plan to shutter their facilities. Germany and Switzerland will close their existing nuclear facilities, and Italy decided to abandon the reintroduction of its previous nuclear program. The report lists Japan as a country where the continued use of nuclear energy is “being contested.”

Otherwise, all countries currently hosting reactors indicate they will not shift away from nuclear energy or shut down facilities, though a few of the two dozen countries planning the introduction of nuclear energy, such as Thailand, have delayed construction.

The strongest reason given to continue with nuclear energy is the prospect of higher electricity prices for other energy sources. Nuclear’s favorable profile on energy security and greenhouse gas emissions are also considered strong reasons.

In its survey of regulatory bodies, WEC found that representatives of most countries believe that their own national nuclear authorities are “independent, resourced, transparent, and able to enforce standards.” However, the respondents were less sure the same was true in other countries.

Most countries surveyed also support international safety standards—as long as the relevant standards body does not have international enforcement authority. “While there seems to be relatively high support for the adoption and convergence of international safety regulations, there also seems to be comparatively lower support for the international enforcement of safety standards,” the report says.

WEC supports international safety standards and an international organization to promulgate best practices in areas such as reactor licensing, liability, work force issues, funding for new construction and information sharing. WEC acknowledges that even some of its own members might not accept such a proposal and that it is only “intended [by WEC] to inform the agenda of the vigorous discussion that must still be held nationally and internationally.”

WEC said that a poll conducted only one year after Fukushima may not allow adequate time to fully determine the impact of the accident. “The long-term implications of the Fukushima accident remain quite uncertain,” the report says, “as many governments continue to reassess their plans for the use of nuclear power.”

The report says that comparisons to the impacts on the industry following the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents may provide a roadmap for assessing the industry’s post-Fukushima direction because “they affected, to a certain extent, the trajectory of nuclear power for many decades,” primarily by discouraging new construction. WEC found little evidence, one year after the accident, that this is happening.

Regardless, the report says, “These policy and investment changes and announcements indicate that there are few major changes in the status of global nuclear power.”

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