Nuclear power plants are providing about 6% of the world’s energy and approximately 15% of the world’s electricity, with USA, Japan and France generating about 50% of the nuclear electricity. Currently there are 439 nuclear power stations operating worldwide. The debate about how safe is the use of nuclear fission for peaceful purposes is an ongoing discussion involving different organizations and countries. The supporters believe in the future promotion and extended use of nuclear power as part of world’s transition to sustainable energies and reduction of fossil energy dependency and carbon emissions. The opponent’s main reasons against are the high risks for the environment and people in case of accidents.
Realistically the track record of the usage of nuclear power for energy is pretty clean, with only three big accidents- The Tree Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and recently the Fukushima Daiichi in 2011. This last incident reopened the debate on the issue and it is provoking scientists, governmental institutions and health and safety professionals to rethink and raise the safety standards for the whole industry.
Among the countries of the European Union there doesn’t exist a uniform policy on nuclear generated electricity, some countries like France are at the vanguard in the industry with currently 16 multi- unit stations, while Austria, Italy, Estonia and Ireland have no active nuclear power stations. In the UK there are 10 nuclear plants operating, which generate one sixth part of the electricity, some of those will close by 2016, creating a serious” energy gap” . The organization in charge to promote the safety and security of the sector in the UK is the ONR- Office for Nuclear Regulation, an HSE agency.
So, what changed in the power nuclear industry after Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami? After the Fukushima disaster, everybody in the industry had to stop, observe the mistakes and learn from them. The positive outcome was the reopening of the communication channels and the restart of intense collaborations between countries, governments, scientists and safety experts. At the end of the day a safe, cheap and clean nuclear energy would be beneficial for all of us and for the environment.
In January Japan requested an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safety review of the Fukushima plant, in which some experts from ONR also participated. The Agency’s Japan initiative was extended to all its members conducting safety tests and risks assessments all around their power plants.
Since the accident only three power nuclear plants in Japan are still functioning, while the other 51 remain closed, until the government decides to reopen them when new safety regulations are in place.
During the closure many employers were encouraging employees to wear wormer clothes indoors and choose lighter ones in summer. This is only one of the few changes in the lifestyle which affected Japanese people after the disaster.
So far, after the safety assessments Japan has decided to make some physical modifications to their power plants. They are also going to start intensifying stress tests, something that EU members are conducting more frequently after last March’s accident.
The safety reviews of existing regulations which took place in UK, have demonstrated that there are no fundamental weaknesses in our nuclear power stations. But of course there is always the aim of improving people’s lives and security.
And so the dilemma continues….