Mar 5, 2014

Three years on from Fukushima, nuclear power has some new allies

Japan has reinvested in nuclear power, even though the Fukushima power plant is still not safe. Freelance journalist David Donaldson says developing nations are just getting started with nuclear.

Nearly three years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown began, things are not looking as bad for the nuclear power industry as you might have imagined.

Last month Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared his intention to restart reactors taken offline after Fukushima, and he has left open the possibility of building new ones, reversing the previous government’s decision to phase out nuclear power. Which isn’t to say Fukushima has not had any incidents since the 2011 disaster; only last month it was revealed that 100 tonnes of radioactive water had leaked out of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which remains potentially unstable and will probably take decades to clean up. It’s thought the Fukushima clean-up could cost $250 billion over 10 years.

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8 thoughts on “Three years on from Fukushima, nuclear power has some new allies

  1. Andybob

    Yet somehow contingency for cleanup, decommissioning and waste storage costs never get factored into the total cost of generation. What does it cost to paint a sign and maintain a fence for thousands of years ?

  2. leon knight

    True Andybob, but what about factoring in the long-term cost of coal and unconventional gas? No-one really knows how much this damage will cost future generations, but we sure as hell should be collecting some money from the miners now to plan for the future.

  3. wayne robinson

    Natural gas is only cheap in America because there’s a glut of fracked gas. The domestic demand isn’t great and America hasn’t got the infrastructure to export it. If more gas powered generators are constructed or the port facilities to export the gas is built, then the price of gas will inevitably increase, and it will lose its current price advantage.

  4. Mark Duffett

    Decommissioning costs are regularly factored into levelised cost of nuclear electricity studies, for example
    They’re still only a fraction of the total value of electricity generated.

    There’s also a strong possibility that the regional decontamination effort around Fukushima is excessive, and resulting in worse outcomes than simply letting nature take its course:

    But governments must be seen to be Doing Something.

  5. Brian Williams

    The post-Fukushima anti-nuclear posturing by Japan and Germany was always going to unravel when the big reality hit home – somehow, somewhere and in some way, enough electricity has to be economically generated to enable their populations to live a normal existence in a first world country. Japan is the first to blink, and Germany will follow.

  6. DiddyWrote

    Dealing with Nuclear Waste in the long term is a nettle no government in the world has fully grasped.
    The extreme time spans, the problem of heat production and often the production of explosive hydrogen gas by radiolysis of surrounding water are all very difficult problems.
    Avoiding groundwater contamination is paramount.
    I do wonder however why areas such as Chernobyl and now Fukushima are not being thought of as areas for the global storage of nuclear waste. These areas are already contaminated.

  7. Rpinglis

    Following on from Mark Duffett, if the decommissioning costs are a fraction of the value of the electricity generated, what does that say about the cost of decommissioning being so often left to taxpayers across the world? Where’s the fault? Weak governments and weak regulation?
    Then there’s the cost of waste disposal / storage associated with pressurised water reactors. These ‘burn’ little & leave a lot of radioactive material.
    It would be better if reactors that use high temperature liquid metal for cooling could be made to work efficiently and safely as they ‘burn’ almost everything, leaving very little waste. Potentially so efficient are these that if widely and quickly available they could massively decarbonise our economies. But that’s a very huge ‘if’ and ‘potentially’ because so far they aren’t up to the job, despite billions spent on them.
    To avoid catastrophic climate change & large amounts of persistent radioactive waste, solar thermal is worth far more development funding than it gets. Other non-carbon options too such as thermal / wind towers.
    But none of these are likely to see much development and establishment funding while carbon pollution is free & the crushing future costs monetary, environmental and human are willfully ignored.

  8. Mark Duffett

    Avoidance of groundwater contamination is why a flat, dry, impervious, aseismic terrane such as the Gawler Craton in central South Australia would be ideal (think backfill at Olympic Dam, 1.5 km below surface).

    Another take on geological waste disposal is in the edition of Nature that came out today:

    But as Rpinglis points out, reactor tech that ‘burns’ almost all waste would be best. If they aren’t yet up to the job they’re getting close: Russia is starting one up in a couple of months (the 800 MWe Beloyarsk 4).

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