The Fukushima Dai-ichi accident so challenged nuclear safety that views of this controversial energy source are more sharply polarised than ever.
China, Finland, France, India, Poland, Russia and the United Kingdom are amongst those who have strongly reasserted their nuclear construction intentions, while Germany, Switzerland and Italy have decided to phase out nuclear energy.
But even these opponents of nuclear power doubtless realise that over the past two decades the world’s nuclear reactor fleet has been operated safely. The Fukushima accident, although unacceptable, was an unavoidable result of a major natural catastrophe which brought about the deaths of thousands of people and seriously damaged Japan’s economy and infrastructure.
The main reasons for developing nuclear power haven’t changed; they are still increases in fossil fuel prices and the need to ensure the security of energy supply and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear production is almost CO2 emission-free and geographically-diversified uranium resources mean stable prices and a low impact on the final cost of electricity.
In the years ahead, a slow-down in nuclear build rates is likely. Public confidence must be restored and both new and existing nuclear designs must be adapted to withstand extreme external events, including combined risks such as those we have witnessed in Japan.
The renewed interest in nuclear energy is likely to continue, though, now that emerging economies such as China and India have staunchly confirmed their support for nuclear power.