More than one year after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, the world is far from a nuclear phase-out. As Hanna Trojanowska points out, almost 50 countries are operating, building or actively considering nuclear energy plants as a viable solution for electricity generation. Safe nuclear power is part of a global solution to our three key energy challenges: security of supply, environmental protection and access to energy for everybody. To meet these, the world has no choice but accept all energy sources, so long as they are safe, efficient and environmentally sound.
Different countries are going to implement their own particular energy mixes, and will develop them at different speeds in line with their resources and needs. That means each country is responsible for choosing the energy sources that best suit their development criteria. But in these times of economic crisis, the path to developing energy safely and at a rapid pace while protecting the environment has become something of a slippery slope. Catastrophes like Fukushima and the Deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have shown that securing our energy sources can no longer be simply a national question. That said, as long as safety is being reinforced internationally through governance mechanisms that cover all energy sources, nuclear energy will remain one of the world’s agent of change in future years.
International agreement is hard to achieve in almost any policy area, but consensus on energy security is potentially within reach and is capable of being put into place. Both developed and developing countries have an interest in promoting such policies. Almost half the countries now developing their own nuclear energy sector are new to the game, and will need guidance on the rules and on safety. Those countries that are already well-versed in producing nuclear energy can look to experienced industrial organisations with a depth of specialist knowledge, but they must also face waning public acceptance. The creation of an efficient and internationally credible energy safety authority would certainly help improve trust and public opinion.
In the wake of the Rio +20 conference, there is room for concrete and pragmatic new ideas that could revitalise the dynamics of international negotiations. This comes at an opportune time because just as new power plants are being programmed, others are being revamped following post-Fukushima stress tests. In short, improved standards can now be implemented in a timely manner. When it comes to deep-water drilling, industry is still developing the technology it needs, and is thus able to adjust to new standards. Already there is an opportunity to build on existing initiatives and institutions in all the energy sectors, so an authoritative body of renowned energy safety experts under the aegis of the G20 could be entrusted with the task of defining standards in all areas of nuclear safety, from design and operation to crisis management and dismantling. National governments throughout the world could then subscribe to these standards, which would be supported, implemented and controlled by existing institutions in a specially configured group effort.
World leaders now have a great opportunity to promote consensual solutions to our energy security, while at the same time respecting the legitimate concerns of national governments’ and industries’ own sovereignty. The time has come to demonstrate that real international co-operation can be very successful indeed.
Pierre Gadonneix is chairman of the World Energy Council and a former CEO of Électricité de France (EDF). email@example.com