Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster may be central to the wave of public sentiment against nuclear power but emerging economies such as China and India must learn their lessons from the catastrophe as they “inevitably will depend on nuclear power”, said the former executive director of the International Energy Agency, Nobuo Tanaka.
The Paris-based IEA was established in 1974, in the wake of the then global oil crisis, as an autonomous inter-government body to advise on policy. Tanaka, 61, headed it for a four-year term ending last month.
“We have lots of lessons (to learn) from Fukushima — design of the reactor, design of the plant and also the architecture programmes. There are plenty of possible human errors there and we can build much safer reactors in the future. So, replacing old reactors with new and much safer reactors is one way… If the replacement will not happen, then we will, sooner or later, lose all the power and in the mid-term, I think this is not acceptable for anybody,” Tanaka said at the Singapore International Energy Week.
While each country would have to make an independent decision, he emphasised that for “energy security, for economic growth and the sake of sustainability, nuclear is a very important option”.
In Japan, for instance, the government is making a full review of its nuclear policy, besides an independent commission that is examining the Fukushima episode. Although the government is yet to decide, Tanaka felt keeping the country’s nuclear programme stalled would be illogical. “It is very difficult to predict when the government will decide on restarting nuclear power. Logically speaking, if Japan is not restarting nuclear power, it means ¥3 trillion more expenditure on fuels. Do we waste ¥3 trillion for just idling nuclear power? This is an irrational choice,” he said.
His comments come just days after Indian foreign minister S M Krishna and his Japanese counterpart, Koichiro Gemba, met in Tokyo and decided to move ahead with discussions on a civil nuclear power pact. “Already India is moving towards more cooperation with Japan, the US, for introducing civil technologies. Just like China, these big emerging economies inevitably will depend on nuclear power,” he added.
Even as some European economies, particularly Germany, have decided to draw down their nuclear power generation programmes, those in Asia do not have that option and must continue to keep nuclear power within their energy mix, said Tanaka. “Germany can do it because it is connected by grid to their neighbours and they can import electricity but this is not the case for many Asian countries, including Japan. So, maintaining the nuclear option is very important because of these considerations,” he explained.
At the same time, the Fukushima incident is an opportunity for the nuclear industry and authorities to upgrade their facilities, as the technology already exists.
“The lessons from Fukushima tell us that some nuclear reactors must be replaced earlier than its (intended) life. If that’s the case, the utilities and government should move in that direction. In that case, newer, safer technologies, larger or sometimes smaller power plants could be envisaged. There are lots of options already in the industry,” said Tanaka.