Nuclear power: too big to fail?

kristy Trendspotting

Japan’s nuclear future

Monday 6 February 2012

Nuclear power: too big to fail?

What is the future for nuclear power in the world after the Fukushima disaster? This is a question that is surely keeping a lot of people up at night across the globe. In industry as well as in government.

Supporters of nuclear energy hope their favourite form of energy will recover once the publicity around Fukushima dies down. They have in particular pinned their hopes on the expected nuclear boom in China and India and other countries in South East Asia and the Middle East. Others are not so sure. The problems of safety, nuclear waste disposal and proliferation of nuclear materials have not really been solved. Isn’t it likely that things might go wrong again in the “new” nuclear countries? And perhaps much more wrong than in the old ones.

For Japan itself the Fukushima disaster is particularly bitter. No country in the world, including France, had built its future so much on nuclear energy as Japan. Not only did nuclear power supply 30% of Japan’s electricity, there were also firm plans to expand its domestic share and to turn it into a new and much-needed Japanese export success.With Japan being overtaken technologically by a number of its Asian competitors, the country had hoped that its lead in nuclear technology would make it a main driver in the nuclear renaissance in Asia.

In fact, as our Japanese correspondent Rudolf ten Hoedt has found out, Japan has still not given up its nuclear dreams, despite the Fukushima setback. As Chairman Takuya Hattori of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum only recently said: “We don’t have any raw materials. Our population is ageing. We have to have something that makes us competitive. Technology is our most important pillar. That’s why nuclear export is our strategy for the future.”

The question is, what lessons did Japan learn from Fukushima? And what lessons are there for the rest of the world to learn? This is what Rudolf set out to find out over the last of couple of months. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects to be gleaned from his story is that, unlike Europe, there has been no liberalization or unbundling in the Japanese electricity sector. The Japanese nuclear industry is the product of a top-down, public-private cartel, which was able to shield itself from competition and transparency for many decades. Surely there is a lesson to be learned there.

Rudolf also found out that although the nuclear lobby in Japan seems to realize it has to change, it retains a deep-seated conviction that it is indispensable to the country’s future. That it is, in effect, too big to fail. This attitude, too, seems to carry a message that may be instructive to us over here in Europe. To read Rudolf’s intriguing story on Japan’s nuclear future, click here.

European Energy Blog

Please note that our Brussels correspondent Sonja van Renssen has been plugging away at our blog. Her latest post is about the very diverse responses the European Commission?s recent report on shale gas has generated. To find out what is going on in energy matters in Brussels, check out EER’s European Energy Blog, by clicking here.

Click here to read the newsletter