About two months ago Nuclear Asia Forum had one of its interns ask me some questions about nuclear energy in Asia. None of it ever appeared in print or on the web. In the interest of not losing the ideas I shared with them, here are their questions and my answers.
Is Japan and more broadly Asia ready for resumption of it nuclear reactors?
Japan will continue to restart reactors which are less than 40 years old and which can meet new safety standards set by the now independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority. Of the nation’s remaining reactors, 24 have applied to restart. Possibly as many as six-to-eight will restart in 2016. Japan will also step back from its red line of closing reactors older than 40 years and consider these units on a case-by-case basis. Takahama 1 & 2 are the first of these units.
Work to restart the two newest BWR type reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Karia, a seven reactor power station, will continue in 2016. Overcoming the strident political opposition of Hirohiko Izumida, the provincial governor, will likely make it a slow process despite safety improvements being made by the utility.
Japan’s resumption of relying on nuclear energy for electricity generation will reduce the likelihood of new offshoring of its heavy manufacturing industries to other Asian countries.
Renewed confidence in Japan’s domestic nuclear fleet will boost prospects for exports of reactors by Toshiba, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi to other countries including China, the UK, and Turkey.
What are three key lessons that the nuclear energy industry has learnt from the Fukushima Accident?
* Lesson 1: Complacency kills – The root cause of the scope of the Fukushima disaster has been tagged by the IAEA as complacency by TEPCO. Everything matters in nuclear safety. Readings cannot be faked, inspections cannot be cancelled, and transparency with the public are all essential elements needed to restore confidence with the industry.
* Lesson 2: Regulatory integrity cannot be compromised. The independence, as well as the competence, of the nation’s nuclear safety/regulatory agency is an essential element of having a safe, and operational, nuclear fleet.
* Lesson 3: Japan as a country has paid a huge economic price for TEPCO’s mis-steps in management of its reactors. Yet, the nuclear fleet is necessary because of the costs of not having its reactors on the grid. The nation needs to see its nuclear power stations as nationally significant assets and manage them, and the transmission grid, accordingly. National energy policy has to be part of the political dialog.
What does the resumption of Japan’s nuclear energy industry mean for the nuclear energy in the rest of Asia?
Japan’s resumption of the operation of its nuclear fleet will have little direct impact on China, South Korea, or Vietnam. However, irrational fears of nuclear energy, fostered in part by the Fukushima incident, may delay or thwart entirely, development of small modular reactors (SMS), or other innovative nuclear reactors designs, in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
What does it mean for nuclear energy newcomer countries in South East Asia?
Vietnam has delayed the start of construction of the first two of four planned Russian VVERs in order to develop its workforce, a nuclear safety agency, and to be ready to manage the build and operation of these units. Eventually, Vietnam will move forward with its first nuclear power station to provide electricity to support a finished goods aluminum industry and to provide reliable power for more high tech manufacturing like the Intel chip factory. Indonesia appears to have a divided government when it comes to executing a policy to develop nuclear energy.
Other South East Asia countries need to develop regulatory capabilities before embarking on development of new reactors. South East Asia countries can benefit from Vietnam’s example by developing their capabilities to manage nuclear power stations before committing to actually breaking ground on new plants. These steps are confidence builders that can overcome fears of another accident.
What do you believe is the “next big move” around the corner for the nuclear energy industry in Southeast Asia? What is your 12 month vision?
South Korea will begin pursuing development of spent fuel reprocessing and development of advanced fast reactors now that the crucial umbrella agreement with the US has gotten a new lease on life. The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is an R&D partner in the fast reactor effort.
Do you have a take home message for Nuclear Forum Asia readers?
China will continue to be the world leader in starting and completing new domestic nuclear power plants. It has 30 reactors in operation and 21 under construction. Additionally, China will continue to pursue its export drive with deals in Argentina, Romania, and the UK among others.
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