[Viewpoint] The need for nuclear power strategy

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[Viewpoint] The need for nuclear power strategy

How is Japan doing 100 days after the tsunami and the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant? After one hour and 40 minutes on the bullet train from Tokyo and a 40 minute taxi ride, I arrived at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant on the Pacific coast.

Major earthquakes of 8.0 magnitude or higher occur every 100 to 150 years in the sea near the power plant, which is operated by Chubu Electric Power Co. There has not been a major earthquake there since 1854, so there is growing anxiety that another devastating natural disaster will occur anytime.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan recently requested reactors 4 and 5 at Hamaoka be shut down. With the suspension of the Hamaoka power plant, Toyota’s nearby manufacturing plant has been affected. The fatal blow in the Fukushima nuclear accident was when seawater flooded the nuclear reactors and the emergency system that cools down the reactors. The failure of the cooling system made the situation even more serious.

In order to not repeat that painful mistake, the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant installed a new emergency power generator to make sure the cooling system would operate even when the nuclear reactor is submerged. There are 54 nuclear reactors in Japan, generating 29 percent of the country’s total electricity. However, after the Fukushima accident, other power plants have suspended operations, and the country’s nuclear power generation will be reduced.

Japan’s energy production is made up of 64 percent from fossil fuels, 29 percent from nuclear energy, 6 percent from hydroelectric energy and 1 percent from other renewable energy. Prime Minister Kan proposed to expand the production of renewable energy, such as solar energy, from 1 percent to 20 percent to make up for the short energy supply, but many people don’t think the idea is at all plausible.

A more realistic solution lies in Japan’s plan to build more liquefied natural gas power plants to produce up to 49 percent of the total energy, from 30 percent today. However, the question is securing stable supplies of liquefied natural gas as demand rapidly increases. Since it takes time to build the power stations, people in Japan are expected to conserve energy this summer, cutting down on the use of air-conditioning.

The Three Mile Island accident in the United States and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine were the results of human error, providing the impetus to prepare emergency measures and develop safe ways to generate nuclear power. The Fukushima nuclear accident provides an opportunity to think and plan for natural disasters. We should learn from the disaster and devise a system and technological advancements for the safe operation of nuclear power plants.

The Fukushima nuclear accident brought many challenges for Japan, such as radiation contamination and compensation for victims. At the same time, Japan wants to continue nuclear power generation by supplementing existing safety measures as the United States and France do. It would be nearly impossible to supply electricity smoothly and maintain the country’s world-class industrial capacity if Japan drops nuclear power and opts for other means.

Just as when Korea was taking a step toward global leadership in nuclear power generation through its export of a nuclear power plant to the United Arab Emirates, the industry was taken aback by the Fukushima accident.

But a crisis doesn’t only end as a crisis. It brings opportunities as well. Japan had been one of Korea’s competitors in nuclear power generation, but while Japan focuses its strength on putting its post-tsunami situation under control, Korea needs to cooperate with the United States and implement a future-oriented nuclear strategy to be at the forefront of nuclear power in the world, one that had been dominated by France and Japan.

*The writer is a professor of political science and diplomacy at Hanyang University.

By Kim Kyung-min
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