Nuclear Power to Steadily Grow in the Future
Russia, Korea to Promote Nuke Power to General Public
By Lidia Okorokova
Two nuclear power countries, South Korea and Russia, will promote civil nuclear to the public to restore the image of the industry, after the March disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. In the wake of growing protests against nuclear power around the world, and decisions by several governments to stop using it, the two countries felt that it is the time to recover public’s perception of the nuclear power. “We have decided to further develop civil nuclear power after Fukushima disaster, because it’s the easiest way to avoid the carbon dioxide emissions,” Mr. Rhee Jae-hwan, chairman of KONEPA nuclear agency, said at the press-conference after the agreement was signed in Moscow, in September. The nuclear power sector experienced some hiccups for the past half a year after Fukushima-1 disaster. Now, as the world economy enters the second wave of financial crisis and recession, questions are raised about the future of the nuclear power and its image. "Nuclear power has been impacted by the accident at Fukushima and this has had a clear change on the way people view civil nuclear. I think in order to develop nuclear power it is very important to recover the trust of the people in nuclear power and their perception that it is being operated safely,” Luis Echávarri, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General, told The Seoul Times in a phone interview. Fifty years of energy For the past 50 years, the energy sector has had a good alternative source for production of electricity, and this is nuclear power. The demand for energy in the first decade of 21st century has increased across the world, especially in the countries with growing economies like China, South Korea, Russia and a series of European states. There are 441 nuclear reactors in operation in the world, according to International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2011 report. Developed during 1950’s for the civil use, nuclear power plants spread around the world, so that now over 6 percent of energy and up to 15 percent of electricity world-wide is produced at nuclear power plants. After the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986 in the USSR, civil nuclear power has been under much scrutiny - scientists and anti-nuke activists from around the world had studied the new ways of operating the nuclear power stations and had done explicit research on the alternative energy sources. But it is the tsunami and earthquake hit Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that has made the world community evaluate the disaster and make predictions about to what extent the nuclear power has the future as the cleanest and safest energy source. Promoting the peaceful atom In September, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, speaking at the general conference of IAEA in Vienna noted that the accident at Fukushima-1 caused public anxiety and damaged confidence in nuclear power. Simultaneously, Moscow and Seoul decided to promote and restore the public image of nuclear power by signing a memorandum between Russian nuclear agency Rosatom and Korean KONEPA in Moscow. “We need to complete the evaluation of the reasons why Fukushima disaster has happened and to be able to convey to the public that those conditions are being taken care of. From this point of view it is important to recover a positive image of civil nuclear among the public,” Luis Echávarri, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General said. South Korea and Russia are among the world’s biggest nuclear power consumers and producers– there are 32 nuclear reactors in Russia and 21 in Korea. Both countries export the nuclear power abroad, and have plans for building more at the domestic level. For Seoul and Moscow to be able to continue with the plans like that, there should be a series of steps done to restore the public’s image of nuclear power.Experts believe that this cooperation will lead to a broader public support for nuclear energy. “If both South Korea and Russia are able to continue their record of safe operation of power plants in the last 15 years, there will be more acceptance for expansion of nuclear power,” Mujid S. Kazimi, TEPCO Professor of Nuclear Engineering, Director, Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Seoul Times. The IAEA expects over 90 new reactors to be built by 2030. However, some of the industry’s experts say that the demand for the nuclear power stations may fall due to the ongoing financial crisis, as well as the prices for the constructions of new reactors. Slowly but surely: Nuclear past and future The experts of the industry point out that the pace with which the nuclear power was expanding and developing that was anticipated before has slowed down in the past five years. “The main reason is the economic recession that slowed down the demand growth for energy. Fukushima has also contributed to the slow down, as the lessons of such natural disasters around nuclear plants get absorbed,” Mr. Kazimi of Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems at MIT, said. “However, in countries where the demand for electricity still grows at over than 5 percent per year, such as China, India and Brazil, the demand for nuclear power will be high,” Kazimi added. Despite for slow down in the demand in the world economy, nuclear power does have strong chances to be developed further and grow its influence, as the economies of China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Korea show better performance than other countries. “There will be much faster growth. The drivers for use of nuclear energy are many: first, the importance of limiting carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Second, the fact that it is a very highly concentrated form of energy, and rather than continue to build railroads for coal transportation, and pipelines for gas transportation, or tankers for oil transportation, many countries would realize that nuclear is less demanding for the total transportation and storage of energy,” Mr. Kazimi said. As of now, South Korea’s nuclear power plants produce over 30 percent of its electricity, Russia’s – some 17 percent, while China and Brazil have a long way to go in the production of energy through nuclear power plants. The experts predict that until 2020 the slow growth of nuclear power will be due to several reasons – the costs of production, falling prices for Uranium and decline in production of goods, for which the energy is so needed. According to Ilya Platonov, head of nuclear.ru, a nuclear industry analytical center based in Moscow, said that there are pessimist, basic and optimist scenarios of nuclear power development in the world. “In the wake of Fukushima disaster, when the fears on nuclear power safety have grown around the world, as well as the increasing expenses on the development, the basic scenario may be applied to the nuclear power industry until 2020,” Platonov told The Seoul Times. “The falling prices for Uranium, financial crisis make it quite difficult for nuclear power development companies to start new projects,” Platonov added. However, Platonov predicts that the nuclear power will continue to be developed in the following countries - “China, India, Russia, South Korea, UK, Jordan, Poland and Czech Republic.” Replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources Nuclear power was designed to become an alternative source of energy to replace the fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal in order to avoid the carbon emissions and stop the pollution of air and water on Earth. At the nuclear power conference in Seoul in October, chairman of Korean Nuclear Energy Promotion Agency (KONEPA), Mr. Rhee Jae-Hwan, said that it is only possible to substitute nuclear power with alternative energy sources when the latter can produce at least 50 percent of the energy that currently being produced by fossil fuels such as oil and gas. “In some parts of the world, where wind or solar is available all year, and land is available without infringing on agriculture or urban living, there would be significant growth for those sources. However, for the world as a whole, it is not going to be feasible to give up on nuclear power,” Mr. Kazimi said. Some experts said that the alternative energy sources may even boost the growth of nuclear power around the world in the next ten to twenty years. “The world economy, the presence or absence of world crises or recessions, the creation of new innovative nuclear technologies will make nuclear power more accessible and safe. While the development and use of alternative energy sources can improve and boost the growth of nuclear power in the future,” Dmitry Baranov, senior expert of Finam Management, told The Seoul Times.
|The Fukushima Daiichi power plant exploded after it was hit by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.|
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Lidia Okorokova serves as Moscow Correspondent for The Seoul Times. Previously she worked for the Moscow News, the Moscow Times, and the “Fusion” magazine in Dublin. She was a member of FEJS (Federation of European Journalism Students). She majored in linguistics and translations at Southern Federal University in Russia and received BA degree in journalism at Griffith College in Dublin, Ireland.