Global jitters on safety of nuclear plants, M’sia calm

Posted on March 16, 2011. Filed under: Energy |

-The Star- Plain Speaking – By Yap Leng Kuen

PANIC has not only engulfed the Tokyo market; the mood has spread worldwide regarding the safety and viability of nuclear plants.In Malaysia, public reaction has been relatively calm. Plans are just at the initial stage for building two nuclear power plants in Malaysia with capacity of 1,000 MW each – the first plant will be ready by 2021 and the second, a year later.

But those in top nuclear-producing countries are beginning to question if they should press ahead with plans to expand or build more plants.

In the post-Chernobyl lull, the nuclear renaissance has been rekindled as one of the “solutions” to climate change and environmental pollution concerns.

It is estimated that 62 new reactors are currently under construction, 158 being planned and 324 proposed, according to a report by Anne Applebaum on Slate.

The World Nuclear Association said the United States has 104 nuclear power plants producing 805 billion kWh which was about 20% of the total electric energy consumption in 2009; France has 58 reactors producing 78% of the country’s electricity; China has 13 nuclear power reactors in operations, more than 25 under construction and many are about to start construction soon; South Korea has 21 reactors supplying 40% of its electricity.

India has 20 nuclear reactors with a capacity of 4,780 MW, said a report in the Wall Street Journal.

As of June last year, Germany has 17 nuclear plants with gross output of 21,507MW, according to the European Nuclear Society. Germany has postponed plans for extention of some of its nuclear power plants while Britain has asked for a review of nuclear safety.

The problem in Japan’s nuclear plants at Fukushima, which were built to withstand strong seimsmic activities, was exacerbated by the tsunami that soon followed the massive 9.0 earthquake.

Experts tried to assure the public that it was an entirely unprecedented event that occurred as a double whammy, and was not likely to surface elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the shock waves triggered by this unusual phenomenon have sent ripples of fear throughout the world.

It is timely for the world to review not just from the standpoint of safety but also cost competitiveness.

Various costs are involved including capital; fuel; generation, insurance, depreciation, operations and maintenance; waste disposal; decommissioning and others.

In France and South Korea it is cost competitive to produce nuclear but that may not always be the case, and the cost of electricity may end up being higher.

Moreover, it is hard to quantify the benefits of nuclear power in combating climate change.

This is especially when the risks may ultimately outweigh the gains, as what happened in Fukushima with its old designs that were not built to pre-empt the earth’s other changes over a long period of time.

More efforts need to be channelled towards energy efficiency and conservation while developing alternative sources of power such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydropower.

  • Senior business editor Yap Leng Kuen is, first of all, taking a drive around certain residential areas to check on the number of air-conditioners for each house.
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