There needs to be a calm and balanced debate about nuclear energy in the wake the Fukushima accident. Unfortunately there've been too many hasty judgments and premature political decisions can be detrimental to our future decarbonisation.
The accident in the Dai-chi plant involves a second generation nuclear reactor, which has been operating since 1971, and a set of extraordinary circumstances, such as a magnitude 9 earthquake and 10 metre tsunami within short range of the facilities. It's a case of outdated technology, in combination with a poor judgment in the location of the plant itself, and a set of extraordinary natural disasters that are not expected with any frequency.
In spite of the catastrophic combination of these factors, the Fukushima facilities are holding up well, and cooling systems are now reportedly restored. The levels of radiation leaked into the atmosphere are not believed to pose any threat outside the exclusion range, and in particular and most importantly will have no impact on Tokyo.
Nuclear technology has now moved on to fourth-generation reactors, the first of which is planned to be built in China. The increased efficiency and safety of nuclear energy (both operationally and in waste management) is an important factor to take into account before we rush into hasty judgments about the disasters heralded by some if we use this technology.
It would be irresponsible to assert that nuclear energy is without risks, but this extraordinary force of Nature that is such an immense source of energy deserves our attention to be managed with respect so that we can make a careful use of it limiting every possible risk. It is quite possible that fourth generation nuclear reactors would have survived the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and we would not be now in a position of questioning the safety of nuclear energy but rather praising it.
France has operated a number of nuclear facilities for a long time, generating almost 80 per cent of its electricity in this way, and in the process it has dramatically cut its GHG emissions and achieved the lowest carbon footprint in Western Europe. This has been a huge understated success and it is a clear example to follow.
China has 14 nuclear stations in operation, 26 under construction and is planning a further 28, which will make it a leader in nuclear energy and technology, using the most efficient and safest reactors in the world. This is good news for a country that has a steep projected increase in energy demand, and we certainly wouldn't like to see this demand met by burning more fossil fuels than it does already.