The Economist: Independent regulators needed for strong nuclear power

March 8, 2021, 9:28AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Nuclear power is an important component in the fight against climate change, but independent regulation is needed to gain the public’s---and governments'---trust, according to a March 6 article in The Economist, “Nuclear power must be well regulated, not ditched.”

The article reviews the negative effect that the Fukushima Daiichi accident had on the worldwide nuclear industry following the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Japan’s direct economic cost, estimated at more than $200 billion, was larger than that of any other natural disaster the world has seen, according to the article.

The world’s reaction: “The world looked on aghast,” the article stated. Following the accident, iodine tablets and iodized salt flew off store shelves. In Germany, the government ordered its reactors phased out. In China, the world’s largest new-build nuclear program was put on hold. Talk of a nuclear renaissance to fight climate change was abandoned. “The reaction, though understandable, was wrong,” the article said.

Course correction: A reason that the reaction was in error, the article continued, is that well-regulated nuclear power is safe. A second reason is that “the climate is in crisis, and nuclear plants can supply some of the vast amounts of emissions-free electricity the world needs if it is to cope.”

Regulation: The article said that the argument for keeping existing nuclear plants open has been strengthened, in some places, by one of the responses to Fukushima: greater independence for nuclear regulators. “Britain granted new freedom to its regulator after 2011," the article said. "So did Japan. Though grander hopes for reform after the tsunami bore little fruit, Japan did largely take the regulators’ hand from the power companies’ glove. Its new supervisor has made reopening mothballed nuclear power plants harder than the government would like, but that is as it should be.”

Eye on China: Following a pause after Fukushima, China’s nuclear plans accelerated. The country produced four times as much nuclear energy in 2019 as it did in 2011, and it has 16 reactors under construction and another 39 planned. “If Chinese reactors are designed in the knowledge that they will have to meet with the approval of independent regulators, the world will be a safer place,” the articles concluded.

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