Nuclear plans restart post Japan disaster

The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan. Photo / AP
The crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan. Photo / AP

Within months of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the worst in 25 years, Germany, Belgium and Italy vowed to quit atomic energy. Twelve months on, the nuclear industry says it's almost back to business as usual.

"Fukushima put a speed bump on the road to the nuclear renaissance," Ganpat Mani, president of Converdyn, a company that processes mined uranium, said at a nuclear industry summit in Seoul.

"It's not going to delay the programmes around the world."

As Japan mourned this month for the 19,000 people killed or presumed dead from the earthquake and tsunami that also wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, India last week overrode six months of local protests to approve the start of its Kudankulam plant.

In February, the US gave the green light to build the nation's first reactor in 30 years. China is "very likely" to resume approval of new nuclear projects this year, said Sun Qin, president of China National Nuclear Corp.

With 650 million people in China and India living without access to electricity, the nations are looking to the atom to provide power without raising emissions and fossil fuel costs.

Nuclear is not the only alternative to fossil fuels, but the use of renewable energy for now is restricted by technology and costs, according to South Korea's Prime Minister Kim Hwang Sik.

"It would be a more practical and viable solution, at least, for the next 40 to 50 years, to make commitments to the safe use of nuclear energy," Kim told the industry summit before welcoming counterparts including US President Barack Obama for a nuclear security meeting this week.

Indonesia, Egypt, and Chile are among more than a dozen nations planning to build their first nuclear station to join the 30 countries operating atomic plants. Sixty-one reactors are currently under construction and a further 162 units are planned, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The nuclear industry has faced three major accidents in the past 32 years, with the first two delaying construction of atomic plants for decades in the countries where the disasters happened - the 1979 Three Mile Island core meltdown in the US, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion in the former Soviet Union, and now Fukushima.

The industry has already learned lessons from Fukushima and they are incorporated into the safety systems of today's power plants and the new models, said John Welch, chief executive officer of USEC, the US uranium enricher.

- BLOOMBERG

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