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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fukushima I blasts nuclear ambitions of the world skyhigh. But just like the terminator “they’ll be back…”

Blown round by the wind
thrown down in a spin […]
I have gave you all I had to give
why did it have to stop.
You've blown it all sky high by telling me a lie.
Without a reason why
you've blown it all sky high

When the reactors of Fukushima were exploding due to a combination of factors caused by the shattering combination of a 9.0 scale earthquake and a subsequent tsunami, it blew the nuclear ambitions of the western world skyhigh too.

And boy… did the western world have nuclear ambitions lately. These ambitions were triggered by:
-     the societal unrest in the Middle-East making oil much more expensive
-     the lasting battles between Gazprom (Russia), Belarus and the Ukrain over the transport of Liquified Natural Gas to Europe
-     the repeating stories of exploding coal mines in Chile, China, Poland, the USA and the Ukraine killing hundreds of miners per year.
-     The wind energy lobby proving with every modern windmill that wind energy certainly is not the solution [as a I have a green heart, I don’t like to bring this message, but it is true: the almost 1000 windmills in my region can only deliver a fraction of the energy demand, although it is always windy overhere- EL]

Chernobyl and Three Miles Island were (almost) more than 25 years ago. A whole new generation was growing up without knowing what it was to watch the wind direction on the weather forecast in 1986 and throwing a whole crop of sprouts and spinach into the waste containers. Radiation sickness was a phenomena from the past.

And Chernobyl? In those days it were the “bloody Soviets” that were “too stupid” to build a robust and safe nuclear power plant. As if this could happen to our modern state-of-the-art, liquid carbon dioxide-cooled nuclear plants. Everybody forgot the fears we had about our nuclear power plants during the Cold War.

Summarizing: the nuclear lobby was living its finest hour in 2010, except for a “small” problem in Iran about ultracentrifuges, or something like that. But what the hell…

And who can blame them. The questions posed by “peak oil”, the environmental problems in China, due to the usage of pit coal and brown coal and the gas wars between Russia and its neighbours could only be answered by the usage of nuclear energy and (on a very small scale) solar energy.

The growing enthousiasm for nuclear power was so big that the Dutch government wanted to bring back the process of producing a permit for a new nuclear power plant from 8 years to 3 years and a Dutch lobby group, called “Atoomstroom” (nuclear power), was even sponsoring commercials on Dutch national radio.

And then came the tsunami…

The impact of it was so big that the German government immediately closed seven nuclear power plants, built before 1980 and the Atoomstroom commercials were withdrawn immediately from national radio.

On March 14 and 15 the stocks of companies committed to nuclear energy were all more or less flushed away on the international stock exchanges in two trading days:
-     Tepco                : -/- $24 bln in stock value
-     Areva                : -/- 16.5% 
-     Exelon               : -/- 4.21 
-     General Electric   : -/- 3.68 
-     Alstom               : -/- 3.4%
-     Siemens             : -/- 2.44% 

Now on March 16 the exchange rates seem to be stabilizing or even rising a bit. And that makes sense: the reason for wanting nuclear energy is just as valid as one week ago. It is the only serious alternative for fossile fuels on a world scale.

Therefore I expect that all orders for new nuclear power plants will return in a few weeks or months.

But something has changed: the risk profile of nuclear energy is back where it belongs.

It is a relatively clean and stable source of energy and it is much less polluting than the fossile fuels known to man. But is it as safe as the nuclear lobby promised you: No.

With nuclear power everything is safe until the day that it isn’t. And that day was Friday March 11, 2011.

Update from the writer:

This is an article written from an economic point-of-view: about the consequences that disasters have on stock prices and about the necessity of nuclear energy for our near future. Never meant to be cynical, but with the presumed knowledge that people after a while will learn to live again with the risks of nuclear energy, as there is no real substitute for it.

But I want to add a personal note: in this nuclear power plant more than 50 people are fighting for their lives and for the lives of millions of people in the neighborhood of Fukushima. The odds of their fight look very, very bad at this moment. Even if these 50 people are able to stop the nuclear catastrophe in time, which is doubtful at the time, they received such a lethal dosis of radiation, that their chances of survival in the long run are very slim.

You can call them heroes or just dutiful, normal people. But we should never forget their sacrifice and the sacrifice of the heroes that saved Europe from Chernobyl. Let us think of these people and their families and commemorate them in our thoughts and prayers. 

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