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Fukushima (Japan) Incident Curtailing Nuclear Power Growth


Nuclear power, one of the most promising low carbon emitting sources for electricity is witnessing a decrease in importance with visible signs of diminishing growth rates. Globally, many countries are becoming increasingly concerned about the adverse affects of nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster causing existing and new projects to be either suspended or deferred or abandoned. Apart from the Fukushima disaster, other major nuclear accidents that caused severe environmental and ill health effects include the Chernobyl (Ukraine) accident in 1986 and the Kyshtym (Russia) accident in 1957. Globally, countries since the latest disaster, have developed mixed opinions and started to revise their energy policies with some still continuing with their new nuclear projects while the others abandoning even their existing ones. Together with ageing fleet and delays of new plants construction the future growth of nuclear power appears to shrink.

Global nuclear power generation capacity which contributes nearly 8% of the total grew by over 7.0% from 2000 to 2010 and reached 375.2 Giga Watts (GW) in 2010. However, the Fukushima (Japan) nuclear disaster that occurred in 2011 caused a major dip of nearly 6.5 GW of net generation capacity in 2011 from 2010, and also a 4.3% decline of power generated by the technology. Japan and Germany together dipped by 11 GW in 2011. Also, by January 2012, more than 130 civilian nuclear power reactors were shutdown in 19 countries across the world that included the U.S., UK, and Russia. In spite of the 3 GW net capacity additions in 2012, the growth still appears to be slowed down than what it was prior to the accident.

Europe is one particular region where nuclear power is expected to decline in the coming years. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) based in Austria, projected the nuclear capacity in the region to decline from 115 Giga Watts electrical (GWe) in 2011 to 70 GWe in 2030 (Low projection). Germany, which had more than 20.4 GW of capacity, and which stood at rank five globally in 2010, has issued its revised energy policy post the accident which included complete decommissioning of its nuclear power plant by 2022. It ordered the shutdown of eight of its 17 nuclear reactors soon after the incident which brought its overall capacity to just over 12GWe in 2012. The remaining nine reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned gradually by 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022. Other countries worldwide that propose to limit their nuclear power in the future include Japan and France which contribute nearly 30% of the current global generation capacity.

Additionally, the current global operational nuclear power fleet is ageing. More than 36% of the current capacity is 30 years or older which is closing to the 40 year design life of a typical nuclear plant.  Though, 64 reactors with 61 GW of capacity across the world are under construction, most of them remained under the same status since more than 20 years due to unusual delays and escalating project costs. The U.S. which is the world’s largest by nuclear power capacity with over 100 GW, due to the trend of falling natural gas prices the economic viability of some its nuclear projects seems to be uncertain. Together with the after affects of the Fukushima, the future of the nuclear power may not be as promising as it appeared prior to the disaster.

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