The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan has had an immediate impact on resurgent interest in nuclear power worldwide.
Numerous governments have announced plans to re-examine nuclear energy policy and review the safety of their reactors and the adequacy of their regulatory frameworks.
On March 16, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger called for safety and stress tests on all 143 reactors in member countries. In the United States, President Barack Obama called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct “a comprehensive safety review…of all our existing nuclear energy facilities.” Germany has temporarily closed seven old plants and suspended a previous decision on life extensions for all its 17 nuclear generators. China, with the world’s largest nuclear reactor construction program, suspended approval of new plants while conducting safety reviews at existing plants.
In the wake of the accident, all aspects of nuclear power plant construction and operation are facing increased scrutiny, with particular attention focused on the ability of reactors to withstand catastrophic events and seismic activity; emergency preparedness and the adequacy of backup power systems; the siting of multiple units in one location; the re-licensing of older facilities; the handling and storage of spent fuel; and liability in the event of an accident. The examination of these issues and assessment of the events at Fukushima in detail will almost certainly result in new policy and regulatory revisions, which in turn will likely cause delays to global nuclear expansion plans in the short term.
Ironically, the precise strength of the U.S. energy sector—that it is driven by the market and not by a government—also means that it is not a stick to beat people with.