Post-Fukushima, Nuclear Policies in Flux Around the World

Just over three years ago, I listened to a talk by Dr. Patrick Moore, founding member of Greenpeace, and keynote speaker at a conference I was attending. He had since broken ranks with many of his former environmental colleagues, stating that (hindsight being 20/20) they had done too good a job campaigning against all things nuclear. What they really had a problem with was nuclear testing but they tarred nuclear energy with the same black brush. Now Moore was promoting the need to get off fossil fuels immediately and by any means necessary, including nuclear. But his campaigns in the 60s and 70s had been a little too successful.

It’s a scientific virtue to weigh new evidence and change your mind, but the public at large is not easily swayed. Nor are government officials. It was just over two years after that talk with Moore that I was watching a nuclear disaster unfold on television, the aftermath of an already horrendous natural disaster but potentially with more far-reaching consequences.

A year later, several nuclear nations are trying to decide where they fall on the nuclear issue. A number of policy items have come out just this past week.

In Japan itself, it’s just been announced that Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, will receive massive public funding, effectively being nationalized for the next 10 years. This injection of funds comes as part of a series of compensation payments for the disaster, but may also require the company to be run by outside management. The Japanese government hopes the company will become profitable again by the 2013 fiscal year. Meanwhile, the government continues to investigate safety standards nationwide, and the premier plans on going ahead with a 40-year phase-out of nuclear power in the country.

Germany has announced  this week a complete phase-out in just 10 years. This is a reversal of a reversal of the original phase-out plan. In 2010, a party coalition voted to alter a previous phase-out plan, extending nuclear power usage to 2037. So it might have remained if not for the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Along with the current plan of complete phase-out by 2022, Germany has announced an intended 40% drop in carbon emissions over the same period.

Italy’s environment minister, Corrado Clini, made statements this week affirming a rejection of current nuclear technology, while simultaneously pushing for more nuclear research. Italy shut down its nuclear plants in 1987 as part of nationwide nuclear ban. In 2011, citizens voted against a motion to repeal the ban. Clini was quoted as saying “Nuclear research points towards clean energy in the medium-long term. Renewables, which we highly support and promote, are the present and the near future. I see no contradiction in this position.”

It’s not a contradiction but a reversal of the usual approach. Formerly anti-nuclear environmentalists like Dr. Moore see nuclear energy as a necessary evil, a temporary stop-gap while technology for renewables catch up, and ultimately less disastrous choice than coal. But he would probably see it as backwards to invest in nuclear energy if a country has already established a functioning renewable energy infrastructure.

Clini is likely thinking of growing energy needs, assuming increased population and industrialization. In that case, he is correct that advances in nuclear research (for example, safe and effective fusion energy) might produce a greater abundance of energy than renewables.

Fifty years from now, will we see a world of more or less widespread nuclear energy? Time will tell.

Related stories:

First Look Inside Fukushima Reactor

Germany Closes 7 Aging Nuclear Plants as EU Calls for Nuclear Plant Stress Tests

Japan Officials Request Closure of Three Nuclear Reactors

Photo credit: ja:User:Newsliner


Gordon Van Gies
Gordon Van Gies4 years ago

FIFTY YEARS FROM NOW WE WILL SEE A WORLD OF LESS WIDEWSPREAD NUCLEAR ENERGY, OF COURSE !!! (Hopefully will not happen another nuclear desaster before the last nation will be convinced.)

Troy Grant
Troy Grant4 years ago

My local sushi restaurant imports things from Japan. Should I be worried about radioactivity?

KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Lowell M.
Lowell M.5 years ago

Global warming and economic unsustainability are ALL about OVER-consumption of fossil fuels and Energy WASTE.
America continues to WASTE over 70% of the Energy we consume.
Our cultural WASTE is omnipresent, and continues as if it does not matter.
Americans need to be told and ever reminded of the importance to 'STOP the/our/your Energy WASTE'.
All of the current & future improvements in Energy efficiency and improved auto millage, do not begin to compare with the immediate(today) ability to drastically reduce our energy demand; simply by eliminating unnecessary energy consumption.
BILLIONS of lights burn unnecessarily every day and night throughout AMERICA.
America OVER-heats and OVER-cools and OVER-lights as if it doesn't matter.
BILLIONS of gallons of fuel are WASTED every year by unnecessary driving.
Municipalities and SCHOOLS are the worst offenders when it comes to conservation.
There are still NO regulations or enforceable laws governing our hedonist squandering of our children's Energy future.
ONLY with an economic reward/consequence incentive (America must tax energy; in lieu of income taxes) will Americans care to 'STOP the/our/your Energy WASTE' !
FREE Alternative Energy is Available NOW : CONSERVATION ! ! !

Marc B.
Marc B5 years ago

There would be a very fast and simple way to end nuclear power plants:
Let the electricity companies pay insurance for every possible damage that could be made and force them to lay money aside to store the nucelar waste for the next, let me say 50.000 years, and it will become so expensive.
I think in Germany the possible damage a company has to pay for a nuclear accident is limited to 500 Mio Euro. That means: The cars on a big parking place have alltogether a higher insurance coverance than a nuclear power plant.

Susan P.
Susan P.5 years ago

Beneficiaries from this deadly nuclear power will never let it die. Only a solid global protest against nuclear power can ensure it's elimination from the earth.

I recently discovered the following dispersion model, which someone had linked to Berkeley’s discussion page. It uses TEPCO emission data to model possible dispersion patterns for Neptunium and Plutonium

If this model is accurate, it is very disturbing. Where are all of the so-called experts who claimed these elements were too heavy to travel far from the plant site?

jayasri amma
jayasri amma5 years ago

nuclear energy has no place in a green world. let it die

Tim Cheung
Tim C5 years ago


Bill K.
Bill K5 years ago

nuclear energy has no place in a green world. let it die.

lee e.
lee e5 years ago

Nuclear and fracking energy is very clean once you get over the possibilities of destroying the earth! Our current capacity for storing nuclear waste and fracking"sludge" doesn't exist - the problems associated with these energy resources out-do our technological know-how - we don't have the capabilities of guaranteeing an "event" in either - we must use the monies invested in this madness in safe, guaranteed clean fuels - solar (hardly researched to the max, nor is hydro), and wind - who knows what other resources we might have at our disposal if we were to finally channel our research! Some nuclear plants are placed on seismic faults and are not built (as Japan tragically proved) in vulnerable ways to expose the world to disastrous results! We over reach our technology, always have - and while it's true that we cannot move forward without exploration, we cannot use the entire population of the world as a guinea pig!