Since Friday’s massive earthquake and tsunami, nuclear power plants in Northern Japan have faced a series of problems, including explosions and failed cooling systems. Nearly 180,000 people have been evacuated, and levels of radioactive particles in the air around troubled power plants are higher than twice what Japan considers to be safe. The precarious situation has revived fears about nuclear power, which has regained support as an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels. The crisis could likely influence the nuclear policies of the United States, European countries, India, and China.
As Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic pointed out, the twentieth century could be considered the nuclear century. He says, “In the span of 100 years, we modeled and split the atom, created nuclear weapons, and converted big chunks of the power grid to run on electricity generated by atomic reactors.” Nuclear power gained a lot of traction as a clean energy source, but the current state of Japan has many speaking out against nuclear energy. The last minute effort of using seawater to cool a reactor in the Dai-ichi plant left many questioning how reliable industry’s back-up disaster planning really is.
Senator Joe Lieberman called for a temporary halt on the building of nuclear plants in the U.S., and many news organizations have reported that it could cause a major setback for U.S. nuclear policy. Last year, the Department of Energy announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two nuclear plants in Georgia. The plants are part of a major push by President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support nuclear power in the United States.
England, Germany, France, and Taiwan are all facing public backlash. The UK Energy Secretary said they will be reviewing their nuclear energy policy, which currently calls for nuclear power to be a key part of the UK’s future energy mix. In Germany, nearly 40,000 protesters rallied near a nuclear plant, and in France, NGOs staged a rally to call for the end of nuclear power plants in their country, which generates about 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
Both China and India are also reviewing their plants for nuclear energy, according to Bloomberg. A Mumbai-based senior director at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu said, “It will be very difficult to sell the idea of nuclear power to people for any political party after the Japan disaster.” India had planned to spend $175 billion on nuclear energy by 2030.
It’s still early to tell what the long term effect of Japan’s nuclear crisis will be on energy policies, given that the volatile situation changes by the hour. But there is no doubt that the revived fears about nuclear energy will not be allayed anytime soon. The clearest sign of anxiety came last night when officials in Russia and the United States both issued statements saying that they did not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach their territory.