Madrid, Spain - Seen from Europe, the irrationality of the political and media discourse over nuclear energy has, if anything, increased and intensified in the year since the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Yet a dispassionate assessment of nuclear energy's place in the world remains as necessary as it is challenging.
Europeans should not pontificate on nuclear energy policy as if our opinion mattered worldwide, but we do. On the other hand, Europe does have a qualified responsibility in the area of security, where we still can promote an international regulatory and institutional framework that would discipline states and bring about greater transparency where global risks such as nuclear power are concerned.
Europe is equally responsible for advancing research on more secure technologies, particularly a fourth generation of nuclear reactor technology. We Europeans cannot afford the luxury of dismantling a high-value-added industrial sector in which we still have a real comparative advantage.
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In Europe, Fukushima prompted a media blitz of gloom and doom over nuclear energy. The German magazine Der Spiegelheralded the "9/11 of the nuclear industry" and "the end of the nuclear era", while Spain's leading newspaper El Pais preached that supporting "this energy [was] irrational", and that "China has put a brake on its nuclear ambitions". But reality has proven such assessments to be both biased and hopelessly wrong.
True, a few countries - Belgium, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, with Peru the only non-European country to join the trend - formally declared their intention to phase out or avoid nuclear energy. These decisions affect a total of 26 reactors, while 61 reactors are under construction around the world, with another 156 projected and 343 under official consideration. If these plans are realised, the number of functioning reactors, currently 437, will double.
But, more interestingly, the nuclear boom is not global: Brazil is at the forefront in Latin America, while the fastest development is occurring in Asia, mostly in China and India. If we compare this geographical distribution with a global snapshot of nuclear sites prior to the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in the United States in 1979, a striking correlation emerges between countries' nuclear energy policy and their geopolitical standing and economic vigour. More
To make the transition to alternative energy and hopefully nuclear fusion, we are going to have to continue using nuclear. Having said this, I will say that we have to retrofit all the 60+ year old nuclear plants to a vastly higher safety standard. We must also start using the latest nuclear reactor technologies, the fourth generation designs like the Toshiba 4s, TerraPower’s Travelling Wave and the Hyperion design. These are all a great deal safer and proliferation proof. You may want to read Power To Save The World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy by Gwyneth Cravens and Richard Rhodes. Editor