Status of nuclear power 2010

August 11, 2011

The Radiation Research Division at Risø DTU was suddenly very busy in March 2011 when the accident in Fukushima began to unfold.

"In the first 14 days we couldn't do anything but answer questions from the media and monitor the event in collaboration with the Danish Emergency Management Agency," says Bent Lauritzen, Head of Programme in the Radiation Research Division at Risø DTU, and continues:

"The report was almost ready to be issued, but after the accident we didn't think it made sense to send it out without mentioning the accident in Japan. Therefore, we have subsequently added a section to the report describing the development of the accident in detail."

The accident in Japan is still ongoing, and authorities do not expect that there will be full control of the plant until early 2012. Therefore, it is primarily the first weeks of the accident that are described in the report, while the final analysis of the entire accident cannot be done yet.

Before and after Fukushima

The worst accident to this date is still Chernobyl, but in many areas the Fukushima accident was worse for the reputation of nuclear power. Bent Lauritzen explains:

"The Chernobyl reactor was a special type, which already at that time was considered to be unstable. The accident happened due to crucial errors that were both human and caused by construction, and it didn't meet the safety requirements of the Western world. With the light water reactors in Fukushima everything looks different. This type of reactor is the most widespread in the world right now, and nobody had counted on such a serious accident to happen."

It has therefore also surprised many people in the Western world that the accident happened, but the combination of the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan, along with the 14-metre-high tsunami was apparently enough to rob the nuclear power plant of both power and cooling, with a total meltdown as a result.

"It is still too early to give an overall picture of the causes and consequences of the accident, as everything must first be analyzed. But the accident has already had the consequence that Germany soon after 'did a U-turn' and decided to phase out nuclear power entirely, Switzerland has suspended the expansion of nuclear power and in Italy, it was - at an already scheduled referendum- decided to say completely no to having nuclear energy, "says Bent Lauritzen and continues:

"Apart from the three countries mentioned, there are no signs of fundamental changes in the energy planning and development of nuclear power worldwide."

In the last few years it has looked like nuclear power was to experience a renaissance as a viable alternative to coal plants. Countries in Asia and particularly China, have begun to build new plants. In total 27 plants are under construction in China of 64 worldwide.

Stress testing of reactors in 2011

A direct consequence of the accident in Japan is that the EU has decided that a stress test should be performed on all nuclear power plants in 2011. The purpose is not to see whether there is at all likelihood that a similar accident will occur, but to find out how reactors will cope if there is a total failure of power supply and cooling water.

"So it is more a test of preparedness showing 'from where and how quickly can alternative power and cooling be provided'," explains Bent Lauritzen.

The report represents in a brief and concise manner a picture of the international development with particular emphasis on security issues and nuclear preparedness. It is addressed to the authorities, the media and the general public.

Risoe National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, the Technical University of Denmark

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