• 2 days Shell Oil Trading Head Steps Down After 29 Years
  • 2 days Higher Oil Prices Reduce North American Oil Bankruptcies
  • 2 days Statoil To Boost Exploration Drilling Offshore Norway In 2018
  • 2 days $1.6 Billion Canadian-US Hydropower Project Approved
  • 3 days Venezuela Officially In Default
  • 3 days Iran Prepares To Export LNG To Boost Trade Relations
  • 3 days Keystone Pipeline Leaks 5,000 Barrels Into Farmland
  • 3 days Saudi Oil Minister: Markets Will Not Rebalance By March
  • 3 days Obscure Dutch Firm Wins Venezuelan Oil Block As Debt Tensions Mount
  • 3 days Rosneft Announces Completion Of World’s Longest Well
  • 3 days Ecuador Won’t Ask Exemption From OPEC Oil Production Cuts
  • 4 days Norway’s $1 Trillion Wealth Fund Proposes To Ditch Oil Stocks
  • 4 days Ecuador Seeks To Clear Schlumberger Debt By End-November
  • 4 days Santos Admits It Rejected $7.2B Takeover Bid
  • 4 days U.S. Senate Panel Votes To Open Alaskan Refuge To Drilling
  • 4 days Africa’s Richest Woman Fired From Sonangol
  • 4 days Oil And Gas M&A Deal Appetite Highest Since 2013
  • 4 days Russian Hackers Target British Energy Industry
  • 5 days Venezuela Signs $3.15B Debt Restructuring Deal With Russia
  • 5 days DOJ: Protestors Interfering With Pipeline Construction Will Be Prosecuted
  • 5 days Lower Oil Prices Benefit European Refiners
  • 5 days World’s Biggest Private Equity Firm Raises $1 Billion To Invest In Oil
  • 5 days Oil Prices Tank After API Reports Strong Build In Crude Inventories
  • 5 days Iraq Oil Revenue Not Enough For Sustainable Development
  • 6 days Sudan In Talks With Foreign Oil Firms To Boost Crude Production
  • 6 days Shell: Four Oil Platforms Shut In Gulf Of Mexico After Fire
  • 6 days OPEC To Recruit New Members To Fight Market Imbalance
  • 6 days Green Groups Want Norway’s Arctic Oil Drilling Licenses Canceled
  • 6 days Venezuelan Oil Output Drops To Lowest In 28 Years
  • 6 days Shale Production Rises By 80,000 BPD In Latest EIA Forecasts
  • 6 days GE Considers Selling Baker Hughes Assets
  • 6 days Eni To Address Barents Sea Regulatory Breaches By Dec 11
  • 6 days Saudi Aramco To Invest $300 Billion In Upstream Projects
  • 7 days Aramco To List Shares In Hong Kong ‘For Sure’
  • 7 days BP CEO Sees Venezuela As Oil’s Wildcard
  • 7 days Iran Denies Involvement In Bahrain Oil Pipeline Blast
  • 9 days The Oil Rig Drilling 10 Miles Under The Sea
  • 9 days Baghdad Agrees To Ship Kirkuk Oil To Iran
  • 9 days Another Group Joins Niger Delta Avengers’ Ceasefire Boycott
  • 9 days Italy Looks To Phase Out Coal-Fired Electricity By 2025
Alt Text

This OPEC Strategy Could Boost Uranium Prices Next Year

Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium…

Alt Text

New Tech Is Transforming Japan’s Energy Sector

The tech that built bitcoin…

Alt Text

The Boy Genius Tackling Energy’s Toughest Problem

This 23-year old nuclear physicist…

SciDev SciDev

SciDev SciDev

SciDev.Net – the Science and Development Network – is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing reliable and authoritative information about science and technology for the…

More Info

Nuclear Power: Down but Certainly not Out

Nuclear Power: Down but Certainly not Out

The World Still Needs Nuclear Power — But it Must be Safer and More Transparent

Earlier this month, an explosion in the energy sector caused immense destruction, costing the lives of more than 40 people ... but most of us barely noticed it.

The deaths of the coal miners, up to 4,000 feet below ground in western Pakistan, were eclipsed by the international attention given to the crisis in another energy sector — nuclear power — as engineers working in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Japan lost control of the temperature of a series of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

At Fukushima Daiichi no-one has died from radiation exposure, though two workers were taken to hospital yesterday.

Accidents at nuclear power plants are rare. In contrast, coal-mining disasters are too frequent to merit much attention — more than 6,000 coal miners died in 2004 in China alone. Uranium-mining also kills, but on a much smaller scale.

Indeed, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if coal, hydroelectric, natural gas and nuclear energy are analysed from cradle to grave, nuclear power is the safest.

Impact on climate change

The balance between the risks posed by nuclear power and coal is even more skewed if the effects of burning fossil fuels on global warming are taken into account. Coal-fired energy will indirectly cause many more deaths than the IEA estimates, because the greenhouse gases emitted as it burns contribute to climate change.

The WHO says that climate change is already killing 150,000 people a year by increasing extreme weather conditions and the geographical range of infectious diseases, and by straining food production systems because of droughts, floods and temperature changes.

The Pakistan coal-mining accident has not led to calls for the world to reconsider its global addiction to coal-fired power stations. But the accident at Fukushima has triggered global introspection on the wisdom of pursuing nuclear power. So far, Germany has temporarily shut down seven reactors, and China has suspended approval for new reactors. Pressure groups opposed to nuclear power are at work on governments across the world.

The truth is that all energy choices carry risks. Handled properly, nuclear power remains a relatively safe option. And it is currently the key industrial-scale energy source that can help us in the fight against climate change.

Learning from Fukushima

The Fukushima plant was destroyed as a result of the 10-metre-high tsunami that washed onto the Japanese north-east coast after the magnitude 9 earthquake of 11 March.

The earthquake destroyed the plant's principal power supply and the wave took out its backup electricity sources, leaving four reactor buildings — including some ponds containing spent fuel rods — bereft of coolant.

Lessons are already being learnt from the incident. For example, reactors designed in the 1970s have weaknesses to which experts had already drawn attention, and should be upgraded or decommissioned. New technologies are much safer.

And there is a need for good governance, openness and transparency in operating nuclear facilities if public trust is to be maintained. One of the main reasons for the high level of public anxiety in Japan following the disaster is that the company responsible for operating the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has a long history of covering up embarrassing information about its operations.

As nuclear power spreads to less developed countries without deep repositories of expertise, we should consider a regulatory role for the International Atomic Energy Authority, instead of its current role of helping countries upgrade their safety and prepare for emergencies.

A need for nuclear

Those already opposed to nuclear power are drawing more far-reaching conclusions. Likening the accident to the meltdown at Chernobyl, they say that the Fukushima accident demonstrates that nuclear power is unacceptably dangerous and should be phased out in favour of other energy sources.

But a flight from nuclear power would risk a disastrous run on fossil fuels — pumping yet more greenhouse gases into a carbon-laden atmosphere. It may also lead to a prematurely high demand for biofuels, current versions of which could have a woeful effect on the global food supply and might even cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, according to some models.

Renewable energy is another alternative and great advances are being made in developing it. Middle Eastern and North African countries are considering how to turn their hot deserts into solar thermal power sources, and photovoltaics have an important role in servicing the 1.5 billion off-grid poor in the developing world.

Renewables certainly hold great promise and might one day be a major part of greener, cleaner energy systems. But they face major problems — most importantly, they cannot yet produce the vast quantities of centralised, guaranteed power of the kind that makes a nation's industry and infrastructure function. Time and investment may solve these problems. But it will take decades.

The world — and that includes developing countries — needs nuclear power. After Fukushima, efforts should be focused on making it modern and safe, with transparent operations embedded in well-governed societies. Apolitical commitment to transparency is vital.

Like any other source of energy, nuclear poses risks, and these need to be managed properly. But, ultimately, climate change is the bigger threat. Choosing to combat it without nuclear power carries a far greater risk.

By. Aisling Irwin

Source: SciDev

Back to homepage

Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on March 30 2011 said:
    Good article! Me like.What should also be pointed out however, is this: If we turn to larger and larger photovoltaic arrays and windmill farms, is there not the possibility that Mother Nature will think of some trick or another to play on us? Photocell arrays look benign at the moment. But that may well be only because we have nuclear and coal-fired power plants to do the real heavy hitting, leaving solar cells and windmills to nibble around the edges of our energy needs. We need to be concerned about what Mother Nature might say, if we build solar arrays and windmill farms to the extent necessary for them to contribute more than a few percent of our electric power needs.

Leave a comment

Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News