Pakistan Observer

Nuclear renaissance may continue

K.S. Parthasarathy

Friday, April 13, 2012 - IN his grossly one-sided article (“The end of nuclear illusion,” The Daily Star, March 20) Mr. Praful Bidwai fervently hopes that post Fukushima, the world has a historic chance to put an end to nuclear technology! Fukushima impacted adversely on the nuclear industry in Italy, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Other countries shall slowly but surely continue with the nuclear renaissance. Happiest are the French and the Czechs; they found a market for their nuclear electricity in Germany.

Nuclear power reactors provide base load electricity in 30 countries. Spin-off from the technology led to unique and priceless applications in industry, medicine and agriculture. However, Bidwai considers this technology, nurtured by the best brains in many parts of the world, as one of the biggest-ever frauds played on people!In his opinion, nuclear power is patently unsafe, accident-prone and expensive. What are the facts?In over 14,500 reactor years of operation, there were three nuclear accidents: at the Three Mile Island in 1979; at Chernobyl in 1986 and at Fukushima in 2011. Totally, 31 workers died in these accidents, all at the Chernobyl nuclear power station.

How does this record compare with accidents in other energy sectors? During 1969-2000, there were 1,044 accidents causing 18,017 deaths in coal energy chain in non OECD countries alone; 10 accidents in hydropower facilities killed 29,924 persons; 232 accidents in oil energy sector killed 16,605 individuals and 45 accidents in natural gas energy sector killed 1,000 persons.Anti-nuclear activists spread the myth that nuclear accidents were far more dangerous than those in other energy sectors.

Currently, the percentages of nuclear power in various countries are: France: 74.1; Slovakia: 51.8; Belgium: 51.2; Ukraine: 48.1; Hungary: 42.1; Armenia: 39.4; Sweden: 38.1; Switzerland: 38; Slovakia: 37.3; Bulgaria: 33.1; Czech Republic: 33.3; Rep. Korea: 32.2; Japan: 29.2; Finland: 28.4 etc. Despite the steep expenses upfront, countries across the political spectrum have invested in nuclear sector. Bidwai’s claim that nuclear power is expensive is unsubstantiated.Neither the accident at Chernobyl nor the one at TMI stopped the growth of nuclear power world-wide. 50 out of the currently-operating 104 nuclear power reactors in the US were connected to the grid after 1979, the year in which TMI accident took place.

The grid received power from 19 of these after 1986, the year in which Chernobyl accident occurred. Fourteen nuclear power reactors started delivering electric power to the Canadian grid after 1979. Fifty-three of the currently operating 59 reactors in France came on-line after 1979.Since 1970, the US added 6,194 MWe through power up rates; applications for up rates totaling 1,493 MWe are pending; 1,160 MWe from up rates are expected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the period of licence of 50 nuclear power reactors from 40 to 20 more years.

The average capacity factor (ratio of the electricity produced, compared with the maximum electric power a plant can produce, operating at full power all the year round) of US nuclear power plants was 56.3 percent in 1980 — a year after the accident at TMI — it increased gradually and remained mostly above 90% since 2002 to date; 17 of the 104, operated with a capacity factor of over 100% in 2011. The capacity factor remains the highest among all fuel types.Yet Bidwai wrongly claims that nuclear power declined on its home ground!Bidwai ignores these facts and the success story of the French nuclear industry. These notable achievements will weaken his case against nuclear power.

“Western Europe hasn’t completed a new reactor since Chernobyl (1986),” he added. France connected 20 reactors to the grid after 1986; similarly Germany: 3; Spain: 2.Bidwai makes the unrealistic assumption that “all of the world’s 400-odd reactors can undergo a catastrophic accident.””They will also leave behind nuclear waste, which remains hazardous for thousands of years, and which science has no way of storing safely.” Bidwai ignores that fact that scientists universally chose deep geological disposal as the safest long term option to deal with high level nuclear waste and Finland, France, Sweden and UK are on the way to tackle it through informed public opinion.

He observes that nuclear energy contributes just 2% of global final energy consumption. It is irrelevant as this two percent is hundred percent electrical energy, the most versatile form of energy which we can convert into other forms easily.

Bidwai scares us by stating that nuclear reactors are high-pressure, high-temperature systems, in which a fission chain-reaction is barely checked from getting out of control.”But controls can fail for many reasons, including short circuits, faulty valves, operator error, fire, earthquakes or tsunamis,” he warns. Courtesy - TDS.[The writer is a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Mumbai.E-mail: kspart].
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