The disabling of a nuclear power plant in Japan after an earthquake struck is certain to bring new thinking on the issue. This has been flagged by the extreme measures the Japanese authorities have used at the Fukushima Daiichi plant ― pumping in impure sea water that will ruin the reactor core so as to reduce heat buildup and prevent a meltdown. Although this reactor, which dates back 40 years, was due to be retired by the end of March, another two units at the plant have also been flooded with sea water. Fukushima will be written off. The message in Japan’s unconventional approach is that a meltdown had to be stopped, by any means. Operators of reactors with years of service left would see a lesson here. After the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, the Soviets permanently entombed the plant with a concrete shell to seal in radioactive matter.
Nuclear generation of electricity is quite new, begun only in 1954 in the Soviet Union. The Fukushima incident will inspire a dynamic science to come up with new safety designs to make backups to cooling systems failure-proof. Backup failure was an unforeseen deficiency in the Japanese case. The good that will come of it is that it will be noted.
Next, the question of locating nuclear plants in seismologically unstable regions will provoke new debate. The scientific feasibility had actually been determined in Japan’s case. This is why the Fukushima case will have experts scrambling as the plant had been built to withstand quakes. The building stood up well. It was the resultant tsunami which knocked out the cooling system. This is a new challenge. Now, another plant in Onagawa, close to Fukushima, is reporting cooling problems. Henceforth, quake-prone countries planning reactors, like Indonesia, can expect rigorous scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Going nuclear would be discouraged of nations that lack an advanced technological base and the ability to produce nuclear scientists and technicians.
Nuclear power’s future, however, will probably survive this calamity, provided its lessons are absorbed. This is because use of depleting fossil fuels to generate energy will have to end. More nations are thus investing in nuclear plants. This form of energy ironically is ‘clean’, a natural alternative together with other renewable sources as global warming becomes the concern of the age. Japan is the world’s third most nuclear-intensive in terms of operating reactors. It depends on nuclear power more than does America, but less than France. The thinking on the issue has shifted over the years from one of dogmatic opposition on safety grounds, to the more helpful line of trying to make its production safer.
(Editorial, The Straits Times)
(Asia News Network)