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The travails of nuclear power

Author : Alan Franck, Editor, Hazardex

11 June 2015

Efforts to push nuclear power as the low carbon energy generation technology of choice around the world keep coming up against hurdles. A recent example of this was in late April, when a Japanese court ruled in favour of local residents who opposed the planned restart of two reactors at the Takahama power plant in western Japan.

Wishful thinking? The gate sign at Hinkley Point C
Wishful thinking? The gate sign at Hinkley Point C

Presiding judge Hideaki Higuchi said that the plant operator was over-optimistic in its assumption of the largest earthquake that the units could face. The judge also criticised the safety standards set by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), saying they were "lacking rationality".

Although another court threw out a similar case aiming to stop the Sendai plant in eastern Japan from switching on two reactors, the Takahama case shows that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to resume widespread nuclear generation in Japan will be fought tooth and nail by citizens’ groups and anti-nuclear campaigners, who have largely won over public opinion in the country.

Elsewhere, the announcement that “serious anomalies” have been identified in EPR reactor vessels at EDF’s new nuclear plant at Flamanville in western France, could have serious repercussions around the world. Similar vessels have already been supplied to nuclear plants under construction in Finland and China, and others have also been made for projects waiting to be greenlighted in the UK and USA.

On top of this, EDF's much delayed new EPR at Hinkley Point in Somerset also faces a serious legal challenge from the Austrian government, which is contesting EU support for the UK's planned subsidy regime for this plant.

In the light of these events, it seems likely that outside of command economies such as China and Russia where opposition can be largely ignored, planned nuclear projects will in many cases be delayed and in others brought to a complete halt by a combination of political opposition, complexity and cost.

We would do well to bear this in mind as we formulate plans to move towards a low carbon future.

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