The world, which sees over 200 crore people everyday going to bed hungry, is itself greatly hungry. The planet’s hunger is not for food stuff what human lives on. It is hungry rather for power and energy. Two billion people starve not because they don’t produce any services or goods but for sure their resources are either ripped off or gobbled up by a handful multinational corporates, their owners and their host countries. In the same way the world is going power hungry not because the mother earth doesn’t produce any energy or electricity but surely those multinational and giant corporates are failing the poor planet. In the name of human happiness these companies are producing billions of gadgets which are consuming lakhs of megawatts of electricity, making the world power hungry. Extra phones, extra freezes, easy bike, extra TV, easy cars, easy jets and air conditioners are consuming electricity hugely, making the world unexpectedly uneasy for 7 billion people. The increasing demand for power for operating the electronic and electric equipment is rising meteorically and there is none to harness. No moratorium on reckless consumerism is seen by the humanity. A handful number of industrialists of both American, Indian, European and Japanese origins are consuming most of the resources of the world. Don’t think China and Russia is not far behind in the capitalists’ race. All these systems are widening the digital divide between the poor and rich people. Even the industrialised North America, Europe with the support of some Asian nations are invading countries like Iraq and now Libya for this fossil fuel. As fossil fuel is being dried out, coals are being mined or gassed, most though not all the hydroelectricity possibilities explored and gas reserves are being consumed largely till 1950s, so it began the age of nuclear energy. As the less potential fuels like solar energy and wind power and bio-fuel are failing to cater to gargantuan human hunger for power, so the atomic energy with all its problems and predicaments is the solution.
Ode to nuke energy:
Excluding Iran and the North Korea as many as thirty two countries are now operating over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors with 377,000 MW of total capacity, provide about 14% of the world’s electricity and their efficiency is increasing. Today, only eight countries are known to have a nuclear weapons capability. By contrast, 56 countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors and a further 180 nuclear reactors power some 140 ships and submarines.
Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War research initially focused on producing bombs by splitting the atoms of either uranium or plutonium.
In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful purposes of nuclear fission, notably for power generation. Today, the world produces as much electricity from nuclear energy as it did from all sources combined in 1960. Civil nuclear power can now boast over 14,000 reactors and supplies almost 14% of global electricity needs. Over 60 further nuclear power reactors are under construction, equivalent to 17% of existing capacity, while over 150 are firmly planned equivalent to 46% of present capacity.
Many countries have also built research reactors to provide a source of neutron beams for scientific research and the production of medical and industrial isotopes.
Seventeen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity. France gets around three quarters of its power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine get one third or more. Japan, Germany and Finland get more than a quarter of their power from nuclear energy, while in the USA one- fifths are from nuclear. Among countries which do not host nuclear power plants, Italy gets about 10% of its power from nuclear, and Denmark about 8%. The rest of the 15 countries include UK, Canada, China, Pakistan, Brazil, India, Netherlands, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Romania, Russia, Spain, Armenia and Lithuania.
Dooms day in Sendai:
Those who were present during the repeated earthquakes followed by tsunami described the disaster as part of the dooms day. What a havoc Allah has wrought on the port on the day! Trains full of passengers on board went missing, cars were washed away by 30-feet high water wall, ships crashed against bridges and fell apart. Al Jazeera reported of a ship went missing with 1000 passengers. The footages of tsunami and earthquake of 9 magnitude were unbelievable. As many as twenty thousand people were either killed or missing. Thousands of cars were burnt during the tsunami. Over 14.6 thousand buildings were while over 1.17 lakh damaged. After the World War II Japanese people haven’t seen such disaster.
Apart from the natural disaster there was explosion in the three nuclear reactors of Fukushima only to double the human misery. If anyone looks deep into the nuke disaster s/he will find the Fukushima crisis is the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. The earlier (partial, largely contained) meltdown at Three Mile Island (1979) pales beside it. The Fukushima reactors have spewed large amounts of radioactivity into the air. The vessel containing the core of Reactor 2, which fully lost water cover for hours, has been damaged. The fire in Reactor 4 released yet more radiotoxins. At the time of writing, only a miracle can prevent further radiation release.
The Fukushima disaster is the world’s first multi-reactor crisis; controlling it is more difficult, as Praful Bidwai writes. It also poses three special problems. Large quantities of spent fuel, containing extremely radioactive nuclear wastes, are stored in pools in the reactor building, following General Electric’s design. These are no longer being cooled. A spent fuel leak, spreading due to the flooding, could have unspeakably lethal effects.
Second, Fukushima reactors’ primary containment has been found by a US laboratory to be vulnerable to molten fuel burning through the reactor vessel, eventually breaking out. Third, Reactor 3 burns a mix of uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX). Researchers say mox generally increases the consequences of severe accidents with large radioactivity releases, resulting in a five-fold increase in latent cancer fatalities.
Even if the Fukushima crisis doesn’t worsen further, it highlights the inherent hazards of nuclear power, in which small individual mishaps can precipitate a runaway crisis. The reactors were shut down by the earthquake; and their still-hot cores were no longer cooled. The diesel back-up came on, but went out in an hour. The loss of coolant led to the explosions and radioactivity releases.
That this happened in industrially advanced Japan, with high nuclear safety standards, underscores the gravity of the generic problem with nuclear reactors. They are all vulnerable to a catastrophic accident irrespective of safety measures. Nuclear power generation is also bound up with radiation exposure, harmful in all doses, and radioactive waste streams, which remain hazardous for thousands of years.
Possible fallout of Fukushima on atomic power
The very first fallout of the Fukushima disaster is that it has brought forth the debate that whether or not we should use nuke energy. Economists predicted the situation will have little overall effect on Japan’s economy, and may actually spur stimulus spending for reconstruction projects. World famous car companies — Toyota, Nissan and other Japanese companies — halted their production.
But an energy expert, Charles Ebinger, warned countries investing more and more in nuclear energy, may now stop those initiatives, and turn back to other energy sources. He said this could derail international efforts in terms of trying to limit potential climate changes.
“If China and India said we are not going to build nuclear and burn more coal, we might as well not worry about what we do on fossil fuel consumption because it will not make any difference. We will have climate change. And I do not think people have realized the degree to which you are not going to replace the nuclear plants with wind and solar in the near future. So you are talking about a fundamental change. You would see upward pressure on petroleum prices and it just would not be good for the world economy,” said Ebinger.
Anti-nuclear movement gets lift
Ebinger said it is clear that politicians in Germany, Italy, and Sweden already are trying to either phase out nuclear energy or eliminate new plans in the wake of the unfolding situation in Japan.
He says he believes the United States, which relies on nuclear plants for 20 percent of its electricity will see a slow downward trend in terms of nuclear reliance. Ebinger, the director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said he believes there is currently an overreaction.
“I think a lot of people have not thought rationally about what the overall implications of using this incident as a death knell for nuclear power might lead us to.”
Exceptions where he believes there will be continued growth in nuclear plants include France, Belgium, Britain, and Baltic states in Europe, as well as Japan itself.
Japan’s government is continuing in its attempt to cool damaged reactors at the 40-year-old Fukushima-1 plant, where the tsunami knocked out diesel pumps that were used for back-up water power.
Worst-case scenarios considered
Many nuclear plants are located in coastal areas where it is easier to transport needed materials, but some experts are now questioning whether earthquake-prone areas should be avoided.
Outright opponents of nuclear plants say these type of accidents – where high levels of radiation leak out – have too much potential to harm the environment, fauna, food chain and human health.
Frantic efforts to prevent a dangerous radiation leak at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant on the eastern coast have dominated global concerns in the wake of the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami last week.
Japan’s nuclear agency hiked the accident level to seven scale of gravity for atomic accident, an admission the crisis had at least equalled the US Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
Some 200 kilometres (125 miles) to the north, those who lived through the quake and subsequent tsunami that left nearly 7,000 confirmed dead have struggled to make sense of the news coming out of the Fukushima plant.
Key dates in nuclear history
1942: Enrico Fermi initiates the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.
1957: The first U.S. nuclear power plant is built in Pennsylvania.
1976: California suspends approvals of new nuclear power plants.
1979: Partial meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania casts pall over nuclear industry for decades.
1983-84: Commercial operation begins at San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station’s units 2 and 3.
1986: Disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear complex in Ukraine underscores dangers of atomic power.
1989: Voters close Rancho Seco nuclear plant near Sacramento.
1996: Watts Bar 1 nuclear plant in Tennessee becomes the last such facility to go online in the U.S.
2005: Energy Policy Act authorized federal loan guarantees for building nuclear plants.
2010: Obama administration backs nuclear power despite partial meltdowns in Japan.
2011: Fukushima disaster with blasts in three nuclear plants.
Cautions across the countries:
Japan’s nuclear crisis reverberated in atomic power-friendly countries, with China saying it would hold off on approving new nuclear plants and French lawmakers questioning top energy executives about the safety of their reactors.
Some governments have put their nuclear future on hold, at least for now, as concerns grow even among pro-nuclear governments about reactor safety around the world. Japanese emergency workers are desperately struggling to cool overheating reactors after a series of explosions at a nuclear plant crippled after last week’s earthquake and tsunami.
China’s Cabinet said the government will suspend approvals for nuclear power stations to allow for a revision in safety standards. The State Council said in a statement following a meeting that it has ordered the relevant departments to conduct safety checks at existing plants and at those that are under construction.
The move will allow China’s communist leaders to allay any concerns among the public about the safety of nuclear power without derailing plans to double nuclear energy’s share of national power generation to high single digit by 2020.
A top Chinese official said earlier this week that Japan’s problems would not deter China from expanding nuclear power generation.
China has 13 nuclear power plants in use now and plans to add potentially hundred more. Beijing has been focusing on clean energy generation, including solar, hydropower, wind and nuclear, to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.
In France, the heads of both houses of parliament ordered a legislative investigation into “the future of the French nuclear industry.”
An emergency meeting in the lower house of parliament was to include the chiefs of nuclear reactor builder Areva and Electricite de France, the world’s biggest operator of nuclear plants.
France was among the few countries to continue developing nuclear power after Chernobyl. It is more dependent on nuclear energy than any other country and its companies market nuclear technology around the world, including to China, Japan and the US.
European Union energy officials agreed recently to apply stress tests on plants across the 27-nation bloc and Germany moved to switch off seven aging reactors.
Sweden, which like Germany scrapped plans to phase out nuclear power quickly in recent years, said it would stick to its current nuclear policy.
Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren told The Associated Press that “domestic political issues” were behind the decision to temporarily take old plants offline in Germany, which holds regional elections this weekend.
“For us, the situation is different and we want long-term decisions when it comes to energy policy,” Carlgren said.
In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told reporters that studies have been commissioned to determine how vulnerable his country’s six nuclear plants are to earthquakes or flooding.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the Japanese catastrophe has prompted him to call off plans he announced last year to develop nuclear energy. “It’s something extremely risky and dangerous for the whole world because despite the great technology and advances that Japan has, look at what is happening with some nuclear reactors,” Chavez said.
And in Chile, which suffered its own devastating earthquake and tsunami last year, the government was scrambling to preserve a nuclear energy accord. Officials said the still-secret accord focuses on training, not construction of what would be the country’s first nuclear energy reactors, but some lawmakers want Chile to discard the option altogether.
It took many countries a generation after the accidents at Chernobyl in then-Soviet Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the United States to get over worries about nuclear safety. In recent years governments around the world – especially in developing countries with rapidly growing energy demand – have again embraced the power of the atom.
Boosters say nuclear energy is an alternative to polluting fossil fuels, amid concerns about global warming and volatile oil prices. Critics have maintained that nuclear plants always pose safety risks and governments have yet to find a good solution to storing nuclear waste.
Ferhat Aziz, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Nuclear Energy, said four nuclear reactors planned near a volatile fault will be safe and more modern than the crippled Japanese plant. The plant was rocked by explosions that the International Atomic Energy Agency said were caused by a build-up of hydrogen.
The Indonesian reactors will be built on the island of Bangka, near Sumatra, the heavily populated island where a 2004 earthquake caused the massive tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.
In the Philippines, however, Japan’s nuclear crisis has prompted President Benigno Aquino III to prioritize the development of non-nuclear sources of energy, spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
In Washington President Barack Obama defended the use of nuclear energy. The president told Pittsburgh television station KDKA that all energy sources have their downsides but that the U.S. – which gets 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power – needs to look at the full array of them.
The unfolding disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant has divided Turkish experts, with some calling for a complete halt to plans to build nuclear plants in Turkey while others argue that nuclear energy is essential for the future.
“[Turkey] must halt its existing plans for the construction of nuclear energy,” Hasan Saygın, a nuclear engineer and vice-rector of Istanbul Aydın University, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
The third-generation technology to be used for the construction of the nuclear power plant in the Mediterranean province of Mersin’s Akkuyu town – for which Turkey has already signed a contract with Russia – has never been tested before, Saygın said, adding that a similar plant was being constructed in St. Petersburg. “[Another] similar plant was built in Armenia, and it is experiencing many problems.”
Touching on Turkey’s ongoing negotiations with Japan to construct a nuclear plant in the Black Sea province of Sinop, Saygın said he did not believe Japan would finalize the nuclear power plant negotiations with Turkey. “Will they tell us they don’t know [what would happen in the event of a natural disaster]?”
In Bangladesh, a country aspiring to get nuclear power plant, people are divided over the issue particularly in the wake of Japanese nuclear blasts. But govt has proceeded significantly in the process. Bangladesh signed an agreement with the US in 2000. Under that agreement, Bangladesh was given nod to run and support its Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. Before the agreement, Bangladesh had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as an attempt to gain US’s confidence about the peaceful use of uranium enrichment. In addition, Bangladesh adopted a national Nuclear Power Action Plan in 2001. In June 2007, the IAEA officially set the goal of helping set up a new nuclear power plant in Bangladesh by 2050. Hence, Bangladesh’s government revived its project for building a nuclear power plant with a generation capacity between 700 MW and 1000 MW to meet electricity shortages at previously selected Rooppur in Pabna district that involves an estimated cost of about $1 billion. The country already had a standing offer from South Korea to help install the plant.
Put aside the debates on the energy policy. It is important to go green about fuel burning. But going green doesn’t mean pursuing bio-fuel at the cost of another billion people’s food. Bangladesh and other developing countries need power to sustain their growth in the days to come. But it must be unfailingly safe because such plants involve lots of environmental, financial and nuke accident risks in a densely populated country like Bangladesh.