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The Return of Nuclear Power in Governments' Strategy

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

By Anaïs Penin


Today, the war in Russia which raises the question of energy dependence between countries, and among other things global warming which forces us to move towards renewable energies and new ways of producing energy make us interested in nuclear power again after blaming it for decades.


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Energy has become a sensitive issue nowadays. In the last two years, oil and gas prices have risen sharply, and electricity bills are becoming very high.


On top of that, countries seem to be failing to meet their CO2 emission targets (aiming to slow down global warming) and the Russo-Ukrainian war has exposed loopholes in the energy dependency of some countries on others (Europe is dependent on Russian gas, and Russia is blackmailing them by threatening to cut off their gas and oil supply).


There is a need to find a way of generating electricity that does not rely on fossil fuels. The two solutions mentioned most often are renewable energies and nuclear power.


But What is Nuclear Power?


Renewable energies are interesting since they represent environmental friendly source of energy production, but to be efficient they need the right weather and space. Moreover, the production capacity of renewable energies is limited and irregular, and this is a reason for considering a return to nuclear power, even if many countries have tried to prohibit it for decades.


In a nuclear power plant, electricity is produced by the fission of uranium atoms (from the earth's subsoil) which produces heat, which then turns water into steam and sets in motion turbines connected to an alternator which produces electricity.


Challenges Linked to Nuclear Power


Nuclear power opponents say that in addition to being extremely costly, the dismantling of these nuclear power plants is extremely polluting, and the radioactive waste left behind by nuclear fuels is very complicated (if not impossible) to dispose of and poses dangers of radioactive contamination. This waste must be treated by being buried underground and can be toxic for thousands of years.


Moreover, the risk of accidents in a nuclear power plant is low but possible. In 1986, the reactor of the Chernobyl power plant exploded and created a radioactive cloud expended over multiple European countries. Even today, after having built a concrete sarcophagus, the reactor is still in fusion and radioactive.

Can nuclear power plants be an issue in the event of political conflict? As shown by Ukraine's war against Russia, they can indeed represent a danger for the population and the country. Yet, the IAEA ({International Atomic Energy Agency} one of the United Nations’ agencies) protects nuclear power plants with international laws, since they represent a considerable danger for the population if they are hit in the event of war.


However, even if they are protected, these infrastructures represent a danger in political tensions.The battles surrounding the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine make it a strategic issue for Russia, which could threaten the country with military action against the plant.


Japan's New Energy Strategy


More than 10 years after the tsunami that caused the reactor accident at Fukushima, Japan is planning to switch its nuclear reactors back on and expand nuclear power. In August, Japanese Prime Minister announced the revival of Japan's nuclear power to combat rising electricity costs and the multiple blackouts that have occurred in the country this year.

The country wants to change its energy policy and the prime minister Fumio Kishida announced the goal to build brand new reactors and restart those stopped after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But what do they expect from this change?


Japan (just like other countries such as France) hopes to cut its dependence on fossil fuels imported from abroad, solve its recurring power outage problem, as well as meeting its zero-emission challenge target by 2050. However, in a country where the people are still marked by the Fukushima accident 10 years earlier, the local population is skeptical about the safety plan in place in case of a nuclear accident.


The plan would aim to increase the lifespan of old nuclear power plants, which have been put on hold since the 2011 accident in Fukushima, and to build new nuclear infrastructures to boost this form of energy production, in a country that has been heavily marked by the 2011 accident.


Conclusion


Despite the dangers it represents, nuclear energy production is in full development and more and more countries (such as Japan) are moving back towards this type of energy in the hope of remedying the problem of electricity costs, foreign dependence on fossil fuels, and to respect their environmental objectives of CO2 emissions.


In addition to Japan, which after banning nuclear power because of the Fukushima accident has decided to re-adopt nuclear power, Europe is also considering resuming more nuclear activity, as the European Parliament has classified nuclear power as "green" energy in the European Union to attract public and private investment.

Nuclear energy is expanding today, and discoveries are being made. New generation EPR reactors are starting production in a few countries (China, Finland, France), and moving to control nuclear fusion in a few decades is at the heart of nuclear research programs both in Europe and in the US.


It is clear that nuclear power is an important element that will greatly influence our future; First of all from an environmental point of view (to meet our emission targets), from an economic point of view (to overcome the rising prices of gas and oil), but also from a political point of view, in terms of security and dependence of certain countries on others for natural resources for example.


It is therefore crucial that countries around the world - which turned their back to this form of energy - now re-evaluate the option of (re)investing in nuclear power plants. If not, the world might lack a powerful (and necessary?) ally for the years to come.



Sources: Le Monde, BBC, Asianews, Courrier International, Politico


Written by Anaïs Penin

January 2023

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