In the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear plant disaster where 4 of the 6 reactors are damaged beyond repair as opined by Tony Johnson, concerns have arisen about the future of nuclear industry. The unprecedented earthquake that struck north east Japan on March 11, 2011 has, besides costing thousands of human lives, forced Japan to brace for rolling blackouts as many thermal power plants have also been rendered useless. With damaged power plants the country will not be operating its factories at full capacity until suspended power is replaced. This will take a heavy toll on the stagnated Japanese economy.
This has happened at a time when Japan was hoping to increase its nuclear power currently one third of total consumption to 50% of power generation by 2050. The paucity of natural resources particularly energy in Japan will make things more complicated when the country embarks on massive rebuilding efforts. The price of liquefied natural gas will be further pushed up as nations from Europe to Asia seek to replace greenhouse gas-intensive fossil fuel like coal. The security worries about nuclear plants have been exacerbated by the news that Fukushima accident has led to the rise of radioactive iodine in nearby ocean by more than 4000 times than the legal limit.
If pressed by present woes Japan becomes more enthusiastic about natural gas joined by Germany, which has already demonstrated its uneasiness with existing older nuclear power plants, Russia may benefit as the world’s largest natural gas reserves. The likely increase in global dependence on traditional non-renewable energy sources may impede ongoing initiatives to curb carbon emission and arrest further climate change.
When security issue associated with nuclear power plants is discussed naturally the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) comes into picture. Operational since 1970 this treaty obligates its states parties (189) to foreswear the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. Despite this obligation North Korea has detonated nuclear bombs in 2006 and 2009. Two South Asian strategic rivals and neighbors India and Pakistan have exploded nuclear bombs in May, 1998. These examples establish the fact that nuclear technology can be misused should national interests be at odds with treaty obligations and international norms.
Therefore, any country with nuclear technology is considered a proliferation risk. Additionally, security concerns related to nuclear power plants due to natural hazards like earthquake and tsunami as exhibited in Japan’s tragedy are more serious. Another issue of nuclear waste i.e. spent fuel, if not disposed of properly could contaminate water supplies or be used by terrorists to make a dirty bomb.
Strikingly, there is a renewed interest in the pursuit of nuclear power by a large number of countries that lack in previous experience with power reactors. This reality has to be given serious consideration in the wake of disaster in Japan. Little surprise then that Richard A. Meserve of Carnegie Institution for Science has seen a crucial role for the International Atomic Energy Agency to undertake aggressive efforts to ensure nuclear safety.