World governments reconsider nuclear power after Japan crisis

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March 17, 2011 – As Japanese plant operators race to cool down damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, governments throughout the world are taking a second look at their own countries’ nuclear power fleets and plans for the future.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke before parliament and called for a move away from nuclear power and toward “the age of renewable energy.”

Merkel’s government has ordered the temporary closure of seven of its older nuclear reactors (built prior to 1980) as safety checks are carried out and as the country reconsiders it policy on nuclear power.

Merkel said that while Germany operates some of the safest nuclear power plants in the world, the evolving situation in Japan requires Germany to reexamine the risks and benefits of nuclear generation technology.

In 2010, the German government extended the operation lives of Germany’s 17 nuclear units by 12 years. That decision was suspended in the wake of the Japanese crisis.

In China, where 27 new nuclear reactors are being built, the country has suspended approvals of new nuclear power plants and will conduct safety checks at existing reactors as well as those under construction.

The decision to temporarily halt approval for nuclear plants came at a meeting of China’s State Council, or Cabinet, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.

China operates 13 nuclear power plants, but the rapidly industrializing nation is currently building more nuclear units than any other country in the world.

In France, where about 80 percent of the country’s power comes from nuclear energy, lawmakers are asking leaders of the nuclear energy industry about safety concerns.

At special emergency sessions of parliament, French lawmakers are questioning officials from nuclear reactor manufacturer Areva and Électricité de France, a utility that operates 58 nuclear reactors at 20 plants.

Switzerland has suspended approvals for building three new nuclear plants until safety standards can be revisited. Sites at three locations have previously been declared as suitable for building new plants, and required feasibility studies were under way.

Switzerland generates about 40 percent of its power from five nuclear power plants. The country voted to institute a 10-year moratorium on building nuclear plants in 1990, but voters decided in 2003 not to extend the ban. In February 2011, Swiss voters lent their approval to replacing an older nuclear power plant in Muehleberg with a new nuclear facility.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero has also ordered a review of his country’s eight nuclear reactors.

Italy, which shut down four reactors following the Chernobyl disaster and which currently has no nuclear power plants, is reviewing its proposals to build its first nuclear facilities.

In Jerusalem, Israeli officials told reporters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reconsidering plans to build a nuclear power plant in Israel in the wake of the crisis in Japan. Netanyahu has said natural gas-fired power could offer Israel an alternative to building a nuclear power plant.

The United Kingdom is awaiting the results of an interim report on the safety of nuclear power before that country’s plans for new nuclear plants can move much further.

British Energy, a joint venture of EDF Energy and Centrica, is planning to have the first of the U.K.’s new nuclear plants in operation by 2018.

The country’s energy secretary Chris Huhne has called for the U.K. to follow Germany’s example and temporarily bring some of the country’s oldest nuclear units offline as stress tests are conducted. The government report on nuclear power is expected by mid-May.

At least three countries, the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland, have re-affirmed their commitments to build new nuclear reactors.

Leaders in the Czech Republic, said there is no reason for the country to follow in Germany’s footsteps by shutting down power plants for safety checks. Prime Minister Petr Necas said a plan to expand the country’s two nuclear plants should move forward.

The central European country operates the 2,000 MW Temelin facility near the Austrian border, and the1,700 MW Dukovany plant in the eastern part of the country.

Romania’s Nuclearelectrica National Co., which operates the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant, has said their plant is not at risk. The plant operator added that it will proceed with plans to add two new nuclear reactors, which are currently still in their planning stages.

In Poland, where coal provides 90 percent of the country’s energy and whose government has been exploring ways to diversify the generation mix, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he hopes the country could have its first nuclear plant operating by 2020.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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