Japan nuclear crisis: Will it give nations pause?
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island did not stop nuclear power growth. Will the Japan nuclear crisis at Fukushima delay or end the 'nuclear renaissance'?
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"We understand nuclear provides 20 percent of our electricity," says Elgie Holstein, EDF director of strategic planning. "We're not calling for a wholesale shutdown of the American nuclear fleet in light of what's transpired in Japan. But we join other groups in saying we need to follow a very careful set of steps, to reassure ourselves that the regulation of nuclear power, our plants operations, are up to the best safety standards."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Japan's nuclear crisis
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Yet, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which is sharply critical of nuclear safety in the industry, looks to the Fukushima accident for lessons, since there are 23 plants with the same or very similar General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor designs spread across the US.
Existing nuclear plants like California's Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, and others in active seismic zones prone to earthquakes will probably have to undergo significant review to ensure safety, according to the UCS. Even in less active seismic areas, recent analysis shows "slight increases to earthquake hazard estimates for some plants in the central and eastern US," according to a November Nuclear Regulatory Commission fact sheet. New nuclear plants are a much bigger question.
Just how fast nations plow ahead on nuclear – or back away – will vary by nation depending on its energy resources and its political systems, says Dr. Weart.
President Obama was quick to say that Japan's experience would not prevent the US from building new nuclear plants. Others echoed that. But even diehard nuclear supporters are pulling back at least a bit.
"I think it calls on us here in the US, naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happened in Japan," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut said on CBS's 'Face the Nation.' "
Fukushima has set off a flurry of review in Europe, for example. European Union member states decided to conduct stress tests for the impact of tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and loss of power on 143 nuclear plants. Switzerland will not renew operating permits for three of that nation's five nuclear plants.
Most dramatic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who last fall reversed the nation's phase-out of nuclear power – announced another "turnaround": The country will now create a timetable for an exit from nuclear power; and it shut seven of its oldest nuclear plants for a three-month safety review, with the possibility of closing them permanently.
In Asia, China is suspending approvals for new nuclear power plants so it can conduct safety checks on existing plants and those under construction. And Thailand will reevaluate whether to build its first new nuclear plant.