Nuclear as Usual: Why Fukushima Will Change Less Than You Think

Despite the sturm-und-drang and political posturing about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the event won’t do much to change the basic political economy of atomic energy.

Japan_on_MapWhile the full extent of the problems at the Fukushima nuclear plants is still unclear and may remain so for many weeks or months, one thing is clear and has been since the very earliest reports of trouble. The public health, economic, and environmental impacts of the Fukushima accident will pale beside those of the natural disaster that caused it.

Lost in the hyperbolic claims of nuclear opponents, the defensive reactions of the nuclear industry, and the carefully calibrated repositioning of politicians and policymakers is the reality that Fukushima is unlikely to much change the basic political economy of nuclear power. Wealthy, developed economies, with relatively flat energy growth and mature energy infrastructure haven’t built a lot of nuclear in decades and were unlikely to build much more anytime soon, even before the Fukushima accident. The nuclear renaissance, such as it is, has been occurring in the developing world, where fast growing, modernizing economies need as much new energy generation as possible and where China and India alone have constructed dozens of new plants, with many more on the drawing board.

Absent Fukushima, developed world economies were not going to build much new nuclear power anytime soon. The deliberations in Germany have involved whether to retire old plants or extend their lifetimes, not whether to build new plants. The decade long effort to restart the U.S. nuclear industry may result in the construction of, at most, two new plants over the next decade.

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Source: Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger and Jesse Jenkins | The Atlantic