15 Mar 2011

Japan: how will Fukushima crisis affect world's nuclear future?

Make no mistake, the disintegration of the four nuclear reactors at Fukushima represents a turning point for the world. The incident in the Daichi nuclear power plant is not over. What it has done – even thus far – is to accentuate what we already knew. Running a nuclear power plant represents a series of (to abbreviate Donald Rumsfeld) “known knowns; known unknowns; and unknown unknowns”.

We are in the phase of “known unknowns”.

Nobody knows where this goes..or where the crisis at Fukushima‘s second power plant goes. Nor indeed where the other two worrying nuclear plant failures here in Japan go.
Japan has lost vital generating capacity that she will not quickly replace. In the short term this is going to have economic consequences for Japan and maybe for us all.

There is already a run on Japanese stocks (the Nikkei down another 12 per cent as I write). But what about energy futures – the boiling Middle East and/or the nuclear dependent Western economies and suppliers?

We have a humanitarian disaster of vast proportions but one with which Japan is dealing in an ordered and disciplined manner. She will need help, and she will get help.

Read more: Channel 4 News Special Report on the Japan crisis

We have a nuclear disaster of untold proportions – untold in the sense that we have no knowing its limits…local…global.

And we have a potential hammer blow to the world economy, whose consequences we cannot predict.

Finally we have a vast challenge to our extraordinary complacency about energy use and supply. Fukushima will for ever sound the wake-up call that speaks a truth oft articulated; nuclear can only be an interim to global energy transition from oil to sustainable energy sources. We appear to have spent that interim.

Today, it is almost impossible to imagine any democracy approving another round of nuclear power build. That’s today. Tomorrow perhaps seismological cases will be made for “safe” building. But one of the known knowns, is that no one can absolutely guarantee against human error, unpredicted meteorological or seismological events.

Britain and other western economies may have to enter a new interim – that of serious energy conservation, and energy rationing – voluntary or imposed. And ultimately we may have to live as half the world does with power cuts. Parts of Tokyo are today losing power for three-hour cycles per day.

Hang on to your seats. Being here I may be exaggerating, but is it possible that Japan’s earthquake has just created just that? A global financial, energy based, nuclear-fuelled earthquake?

Japan: five key reasons Fukushima is not like Chernobyl

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