The Fukushima Daiichi situation stoked
those concerns. In Germany, where protests
were already planned prior to the quake, tens
of thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators
took to the streets in opposition to plans to
extend the life of Germany’s reactors. Those
plans have been put on hold until June.
NRG Energy is slated to expand its
Texas, USA nuclear facility, but company
CEO David Crane told Fortune magazine that Japan’s “once-in-a-millennium
natural disaster” puts nuclear projects
“I have this empty feeling in my
gut that our society is on the brink of
making a knee-jerk, anti-nuke decision
that will be bad for the environment
and bad for national energy security,”
The U.K. government’s plans for
eight nuclear facility construction projects are also under fire. Several members of Parliament called for a rethink
of plans in light of the Japan crisis,
citing safety fears and renewed public
opposition. Proponents point to the
lack of seismic activity in Britain compared with that in Japan.
As the Fukushima Daiichi plant
demonstrated, the selection of a project site can cause major complications
down the road. Nuclear plants are
often built near the sea due to their
water needs—which helped doom Fukushima.
The plant’s position on the Pacific coast put
it right in the tsunami’s path, which led to
flooding of its backup generators while damage from the earthquake slowed aid responses.
Such concerns have already prompted calls
to halt a proposed plant in Jaitapur, India on
the Arabian Sea. Project leaders downplayed
the risk, noting that the site sits on a plateau
25 meters (80 feet) above sea level.
If—and for now it still is an “if”—nuclear
projects go forward, it will only be under
profoundly stringent safety processes and procedures. That means tighter risk management
and project planning, with a new eye on scenarios once beyond belief.
“Before Fukushima, no one could have
imagined that such a convergence of multiple
factors could all happen together,” Dr. Ghavi
says. “Then we saw the inconceivable happen.
Now we have to factor the inconceivable into
our risk-management planning.”
All the extra safety measures could drive
up construction costs “so much as to make it
unfeasible,” Julio Vergara, a professor at the
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and a
former board member of Chile’s Nuclear Energy
Commission, told Dow Jones newswires.
But Dr. Ghavi predicted that demand—
combined with now-inevitable safety adjustments—mean the Japan catastrophe won’t
spell the end of nuclear projects. It might slow
them down, but it won’t stop them completely.
“There’s no point in closing our eyes and
saying we won’t do nuclear anymore,” he says.
“There are lessons to be learned, and the industry is ready to look at these issues and move forward.” —Donovan Burba & Sarah Fister Gale