Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Health

February 21, 2014

EarthTalk®: Fukushima nuclear plant

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I thought Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown would have sealed nuclear power’s fate, but I keep hearing otherwise. Can you enlighten? -- Jacob Allen, New York, NY

The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster did cause many nations to reconsider their nuclear committments, though many European countries—Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain and SwedenB—had already begun phasing out nuclear power decades earlier. After Fukushima, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland all moved to decommission their nuclear facilities altogether by 2022, 2025 and 2034 respectively.

Japan’s nuclear program, which provided 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs before the March 2011 disaster, is now essentially non-operational due to public safety concerns. Furthermore, Japan announced in November 2013 that, due to the shuttering of Fukushima and other nuclear facilities, it was backpedaling its on prior commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels.

Here in the U.S., Fukushima has not had any major effect on our nuclear industry. No nuclear plants have been closed, license extensions for existing facilities continue to proceed, and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has even greenlighted construction of two new reactors at a nuclear power plant in Georgia. But public concerns over the safety of nuclear power and what to do with spent fuel indicate that nukes will likely become a smaller and smaller slice of the U.S. energy pie moving forward.

Elsewhere, however, many countries are looking to nuclear power as a way to increase energy production without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Casey Research reports that developing countries are increasingly relying on it to supplement coal and other fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency predicts global electricity demand will grow 70 percent by 2035, with the majority of the increase coming from developing countries—China and India combined will account for half of the projected growth.

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