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Nuclear Energy in Asia- some serious considerations – South Korea in particular

The Post-Fukushima Legacy: Nuclear Energy in Asia, South Korea’s Nuclear Energy Industry , Global Research  By Lauren Richardson and Mel Gurtov  November 03, 2017 The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 1 November 2017 

Introduction: Nuclear Energy in Asia, by Mel Gurtov

The Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 has raised serious questions about nuclear power.

In our work since Fukushima, we have tried to answer two questions: What is the current status of nuclear energy in Asia? Does nuclear power have a future in East Asia? By answering those questions, we hope to contribute to the global debate about nuclear energy. To be sure, questions of such magnitude can rarely be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Decisions on energy are made at the national level, on the basis of both objective factors such as cost-effectiveness and notions of the national interest, and less objective ones, such as influence peddled by power plant operators, corruption, and bureaucratic self-interest. Nevertheless, by closely examining the status and probable future of nuclear power plants in specific countries, the authors of this volume come up with answers, albeit mostly of a negative nature.

At the start of 2017, 450 nuclear power reactors were operating in 30 countries, with 60 more under construction in 15 countries. Thirty-four reactors are under construction in Asia, including 21 in China. The “Fukushima effect” has clearly had an impact in Asia, however. In China, no new construction took place between 2011 and 2014, although since then there has been a slow increase of licenses. Nevertheless, the full story of China’s embrace of nuclear power, as told in this volume by M. V. Ramana and Amy King, is that the onset of a ‘new normal’ in economic growth objectives and structural changes in the economy have led to a declining demand for electricity and the likelihood of far less interest in nuclear power than had once been predicted.

On the other hand, in South Korea, which relies on nuclear power for about 31 per cent of its electricity, Lauren Richardson’s chapter which is presented here, shows that the Fukushima disaster and strong civil society opposition have not deflected official support of nuclear power, not only for electricity but also for export.

Meanwhile, the 10 countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are divided about pursuing the nuclear-energy option, with Vietnam deciding to opt out in 2016, and Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines at various stages of evaluation. Even so, the chapter by Mely Caballero-Anthony and Julius Cesar I. Trajano shows that only about 1 per cent of ASEAN’s electricity will derive from nuclear power in 2035, whereas renewables will account for 22 per cent.

How viable nuclear power is finally judged to be will depend primarily on the decisions of governments, but increasingly also on civil society. ASEAN has established a normative framework that emphasises safety, waste disposal, and non-proliferation; and civil society everywhere is increasingly alert to the dangers and costs, above-board and hidden, of nuclear power plants.

As Doug Koplow’s chapter shows, for example, the nuclear industry, like fossil fuels, benefits from many kinds of government subsidies that distort the energy market against renewable energy sources. Costs are politically as well as environmentally consequential: even if construction begins on a nuclear power plant, it will be cancelled and construction abandoned in 12 per cent of all cases. It is important to note that of the 754 reactors constructed since 1951, 90 have been abandoned and 143 plants permanently shut down.

When construction does proceed, it takes between five to 10 years on average for completion (338 of 609), with some 15 per cent taking more than 10 years. And, in the end, old and abandoned reactors will have to be decommissioned, as Kalman A. Robertson discusses, with costs that may double over the next 15–20 years.

As Robertson points out, the problem of safe disposal of radioactive waste and the health risk posed by radiation released during decommissioning should be factored into the total price that cleanup crews and taxpayers will eventually pay. On top of all that, there isn’t much experience worldwide in decommissioning.

Then there is the issue of trust in those who make decisions. Tatsujiro Suzuki’s chapter shows that in Japan, the chief legacy of Fukushima is public loss of trust in Japanese decision-makers and in the nuclear industry itself. Several years after the accident, costs continue to mount, a fact that pro-nuclear advocates elsewhere in Asia might want to consider. They also need to consider the issue of transparency for, as Suzuki shows, the nuclear industry has consistently dodged the fairly obvious lessons of Fukushima with regard to costs, nuclear energy’s future, and communication with the public. Similarly, in Taiwan, as Gloria Kuang-Jung Hsu’s study shows, transparency about safety issues has been notoriously lacking, and a history of efforts to obfuscate nuclear weapon ambitions means that constant vigilance over nuclear regulators is necessary.

Of course, if public opinion does not count in a country—say, in China and Vietnam—the issue of trust is muted. But we know that, even there, people are uneasy about having a nuclear power plant in their backyard. Issues of hidden cost and public trust are also embedded in the biological and health threat posed by nuclear energy. Tilman A. Ruff, a long-time student of radiation effects on human health, demonstrates how these effects have been underestimated. He offers a detailed explanation of what exposure to different doses of radiation, such as from the Fukushima accident, means for cancer rates and effects on DNA. Timothy A. Mousseau and Anders P. Møller, who have undertaken field research for many years on the genetic effects of the Chernobyl accident, look at how nuclear plant accidents affect the health of humans and other species. Combined, these two chapters offer a potent, often overlooked, argument against the nuclear option.

This introduction by Mel Gurtov and the following article by Lauren Richardson are adapted from Peter Van Ness and Mel Gurtov, eds., Learning From Fukushima. Nuclear Power in East Asia. Australian University Press.

Protesting Policy and Practice in South Korea’s Nuclear Energy Industry , by Lauren Richardson

Japan’s March 2011 (3/11) crisis spurred a revival in anti-nuclear activism around the globe. This was certainly the case in South Korea, Japan’s nearest neighbour, which was subject to some of the nuclear fallout from Fukushima. This chapter examines the puzzle of why the South Korean anti-nuclear movement was apparently powerless in the face of its government’s decision to ratchet up nuclear energy production post-3/11. It argues that its limitations stem from the highly insulated nature of energy policymaking in South Korea; the enmeshing of nuclear power in the government’s ‘Green Growth Strategy’; and certain tactical insufficiencies within the movement itself. Notwithstanding these limitations, the movement has successfully capitalised upon more recent domestic shocks to the nuclear power industry, resulting in a slight, yet significant, curtailing of the South Korean government’s nuclear energy capacity targets.

Introduction…..  The evolution of South Korea’s nuclear energy policy…… The bottom-up movement against nuclear energy…….. Phase 1: Pre-Fukushima……..   Phase 2: Post-Fukushima…..  Explaining the limited policy change……   The insularity of nuclear power policymaking……   Nuclear power as ‘green’ energy…….  Tactical insufficiencies in the anti-nuclear movement…….. 

New challenges to South Korea’s nuclear energy industry……     Corruption scandals……..  Cyber-attacks on nuclear power plants….

Conclusion: The post-Fukushima legacy of the South Korean anti-nuclear movement……   https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-post-fukushima-legacy-protesting-policy-and-practice-in-south-koreas-nuclear-energy-industry/5616542

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November 4, 2017 - Posted by | ASIA, opposition to nuclear, politics, South Korea

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