By William H. Tobey
The Power & Policy Fellows’ Forum
By William H. Tobey
(Before he became a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Will Tobey was Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Last week, he was asked by an ABC News editor to share some perspective on the Japan nuclear reactor situation. Here are his observations).
Here is what I have told family and friends:
There are no absolutely safe options; all forms of reliable energy generation carry risk to human life and health. In the United States alone last year 48 Americans were killed in coal mining accidents and 11 were killed on the Deep Water Horizon Offshore rig. Many more died earlier than otherwise because of the health effects of fossil fuel pollution. Read more
A satellite image of Japan showing damage after an earthquake and tsunami at the Dai Ichi Power Plant in Fukushima, taken just three minutes after an explosion. (DigitalGlobe Photo)
The crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan is sending shockwaves through nuclear planning agencies around the world. Policy makers are asking for reviews of safety regulations, publics are expressing concern, and it appears likely that some of the planned construction will be curtailed. The politics of nuclear power is likely to be more contentious even in places where public support has been strong (or irrelevant). As a result, in the coming decade, nuclear power may make less of a contribution to the mitigation of carbon emissions than it otherwise might have, (though even before the current crisis its role in overcoming the climate change challenge was a minor one). Below are thumbnail sketches of how the discussion of nuclear energy is unfolding in key countries where plans for growth are most significant.
– Martin Malin, Executive Director, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
Analysis by Yun Zhou, Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow
The Fukushima tragedy really gave the Chinese a serious wake up call on the importance of nuclear safety. Currently, China has 13 reactor units in operation and 28 units under construction. Although the Chinese government quickly claimed China would not change its plan for developing nuclear power projects right after the Fukushima crisis began on 12th March, the latest news shows the Chinese government taking actions to strengthen its nuclear safety at reactors in operation and under construction. On 16 March, China decided to conduct a comprehensive safety inspection for every nuclear facility. In the meantime, China will update current nuclear safety regulations and guidelines based on the lessons learned in Fukushima accidents. Nuclear projects which do not comply with the new safety regulation and requirements will be suspended or terminated. In addition, China will adjust “its medium and long nuclear energy development plan” and stop approving new nuclear power projects before the updated nuclear safety regulation and guideline are released. Read more