A Ticking Bomb or the Ultimate Clean Energy Solution?

Takahama reopening raises public concern: a case study

On March 9, the district court in Otsu issued an injunction against the operation of two nuclear reactors at Kansai Electricity Co.’s Takahama nuclear reactor. This brought the argument about whether Japan should continue on the road of nuclear free or give up.

Nuclear, with its high-energy density and zero CO2 emission property, can produce a significant amount of cheap electricity with no emission of greenhouse gas. It is true that with nuclear power, the situation of electricity shortage in Japan could be effectively relieved and more economical benefits to the company would be created. However, the radioactive material in the reaction has the potential risks of leakage and can lead to enormous damage to the environment. The catastrophe in Fukushima is an example.

On the spot of Kansai Electricity Company, one of the leading power companies in Japan, before the reopening action takes place, a question should be asked: is it worth the price? Japanese still live in the shadow of the nuclear disaster. A more comprehensive and thoughtful decision should be made, which balances the interest of both the company and the residents.

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No more nukes: search for alternatives

After Fukushima accident, maybe it’s time to leave nuclear energy behind. Renewable energy is a promising alternative solution instead of nuclear power, and could even possibly substitute the fossil fuel. Even after six years, there still is the momentum of anti-nuclear groups among Japanese public protesting against nuclear energy. From the perspective of an energy industry, focusing more on clean and safe sources can help it regaining its reputation as well as fulfilling its social responsibility. The change of energy policies, along with its advance in renewable energy technology, can further support this transformation.

The ultimate goal is to provide safe and clean energy to its citizens. In fact, although nuclear power seems cheap and clean on the surface, its potential costs rise dramatically once an accident happens. These include environmental, health, monetary as well as reputation damages. Avoiding the risk or the threatening outcome of an action could all root back to human natural.

Acknowledging far more severe and long-lasting consequences of a nuclear accident, it seems more sensible to pass this high-risk option for good. Moreover, with increasing environmental awareness among the public, more people tend not to risk our only planet in exchange of relatively cheaper electricity. As time goes by, nuclear hype from the 1950s faded away when people had much better understanding of nuclear energy. It is just common sense to avoid them. Perhaps it’s time to abandon nuclear power and move on to the future of renewable energy.

Stick to the nuclear path: reconsideration on safety

The nuclear power should be utilised to generate electricity. However, the location of the nuclear power plant needs to be limited. Firstly, there should be no residential area within 20 kilometres from the nuclear plant. Secondly, plants shall not be built along the upper reaches of the rivers. Further, the geological conditions and the seismic activities should also be investigated.

In this scenario, the maximum pleasure of the local people or even the entire world could be achieved. Locating in remote areas might be inconvenient to the people working in the plant. Although it is unfair for them, the utilitarianism is not about a private individual. As Bentham said, “the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question”. It is about the amount of pleasure that will be brought to all people who involved. To achieve the maximum happiness to human beings, those requirements above for site selection should be applied.

Besides locations, why couldn’t we formulate international codes and standards for nuclear plants? Currently, American, French and the other countries are following their national nuclear project regulations. In China, more than three different standards are used parallel to one another. The lack of unified standards exacerbates the complicity during the disaster relief, as foreign rescue workers are not familiar with the different criteria. Contrastingly, if nuclear plants around the world could follow a common standard, the experience of plant management and accident prevention can be shared on a global scale.

As issues caused by distinctive rules being minimised, the development and further application nuclear technology can be facilitated. There could be a situation that some companies may be unwilling to follow the international standard. Hence, it should possess the same validity as UN resolution does. From the utilitarianism framework, though the profits of some companies might reduce if they follow the new standard, the complexity of rescue and the global nuclear safety will be further ensured. As it is a greater pleasure for the human being than the profits of a company, the international standard should be formulated.

Further remarks

The option of banning nuclear plants focuses on the current weaknesses of a nuclear plant. However, these drawbacks might be overcome soon and may no longer be issues anymore. Furthermore, the common sense framework ignores the potential benefits. For instance, the energy gap caused by closing nuclear plants cannot be made up effectively by renewable energy. Comparatively, reopening nuclear plants is a more desirable solution for the current situation.

As for applying utilitarianism in the case of reopening, it is unfair to neglect the moral duties and rights of anyone. Each individual has equal right to be treated morally, no matter if they were the minority. Regardless of the remoteness of chosen location, there will still be someone suffering from this decision. The same principle applies for the formulation of the new standard, no matter how beneficial it is for the people, it is unfair for the energy industry to bear the additional losses. It can neither be validated that this option will be in the best interest of the collective nor be justified whether this action is morally acceptable.

In summary, although the consequences of a nuclear accident are frustrating and will have an unimaginable impact, there are no such reliable alternative sources for nuclear any time soon. Once the laws and regulations are established soundly, the nuclear plant can then be reopened to satisfy energy needs.

Group 3: Minhua Zheng, Junping Li, Haocheng Lu, Zihan Song

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16 thoughts on “A Ticking Bomb or the Ultimate Clean Energy Solution?

  1. Good analysis on the current situation. Instead of simply implying the morally ideal solution, the possible consequences of with or without nuclear power have both been considered. At present, it is not likely that nuclear power will just be gone for good. It is here to stay, at least for now.

    Agreeing with the authors here, the problem is how can we make better use of this energy. Simply abandon this technology is hardly possible, instead we shall focus on how to improve or evolve this technology in terms of safety, disaster prevention and nuclear proliferation issues.

    Very insightful analysis, strongly recommended.

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    1. An interesting article, but have you ever thought about why there are so many protesters urge the government to abandon nuclear power? As you said ”although the consequences of a nuclear accident are frustrating and will have an unimaginable impact, there are no such reliable alternative sources for nuclear any time soon”. Yes ,of course, But do you wanna live there? Do you think everyone can afford to move home?Do you wanna your hometown be destroyed by nuclear diffusion?

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      1. Hi Andy,

        I’m afraid I couldn’t quite agree with you. As mentioned in the blog, the fear of nuclear energy may come from the insecurity, the high risk to be more specific. But it may not always be the case,
        For the residents living near the nuclear plant, the station can be the major employer accounting for hundreds of jobs. Nuclear plant are quite transparent and regulated according to the interview of some locals living near Dungeness power station in Kent, UK. The coexisting is not the problem, but the safety is.
        Some of the facility are built almost 30 years ago, is pretty much outdated. The obsolete infrastructure is the real safety risk. I won’t mind living near the area as long as the regulation are strictly follow, the plant is regularly maintained and retrofitted. If the risk is acceptable, it is not a problem. It is the same for those living near some chemical factories. For me, improving the safety is the priority. If it is reliable and generally safe, why would someone want to move away from it?

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  2. A very interesting read. Surely there should be a globally enforced standard just as the impact of any potential disaster will not be limited to the country where the plant is located. More importantly, all these concerns should also be served as the driving force behind the persistent exploration for more sustainable and safe approaches to energy consumption (i.e. tide power) and keeps promoting scientific advance.

    In terms of phasing out nuclear power and coordinating other alternatives without loosing capacity, Germany could be a good example.

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  3. pertinent and critical commentary. nuclear is a double-edged sword and what we human could do is to take use of it in the safest possible context. besides, we should continue developing renewable energy and hope that one day it could become an alternative source of energy that is both clean and efficient.

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  4. This is a detailed explanation of Nuclear Plant to someone who has little knowledge on it. It gives comprehensive and critical analysis on the subject. When elaborating on the various options we may have in reopening the nuclear plants, the article provides thoughtful and strong evidences, which I’ve never thought about.
    Like the author says, the only condition that we can reopen the nuclear plant is that we can handle all problems, which the nuclear plant brings. Therefore, the unreliability and the unpredictability leaves the human society in jeopardy. Also, some of the solutions are not fair to its stuff and the local residents as well.
    In my opinion, it is a really great piece that gets me think about whether the nuclear plant should be reopened. Anyway, look forward to seeing all problems are solved and we can benefit from it.

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  5. Though more nuclear power plant haven been planned or under construction, it just doesn’t seems to fit a clean and sustainable future. The hype from the last century faded for a reason. The dreadful nuclear accidents are partial of it. The other issue is weaponize this technology. In nuclear power plant, the fission process is controlled and is evidently more difficult than uncontrolled fission process in, say a atomic bomb (could be wrong though). If this technology is exported to a nation and maturely developed as well, it is possible for that country to proliferate in a relatively short time. This could be the reason why some countries are eager to have this tech. Nuclear deterrent is still very powerful measure at international relation level.

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  6. It’s true reopening the plant is unfair to those live near, however, only banning nuclear also doesn’t work. What’s important is that the disaster as in Fukushima won’t happen again. The government and company should take the responsibility that the nuclear is used safely.

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  7. An interesting debate. It is hard to say whether to abandon this ‘dangerous’ energy or not.
    Nuclear energy does have its benefits like cleaner and more efficient than traditional one, however, when human do not hold technologies to solve potential problems it may bring, it is a big issue to decide whether to adopt it.
    very worth reading and thinking.

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  8. It’s a very nice article which shows a good picture of the status quo of the nuclear and allows us to have a deep thought. The nuclear plants do bring people benefits but it has the potential that someone utilize this tech to make nuclear weapon, isn’t it?

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  9. These solutions sound great, but I wanna ask, how can you make sure those companies are willing to follow the standards you mentioned, as these standards would increase their cost. Could you explain how to deal with it?

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    1. Thanks for your reply. It is an interesting question.
      I think those developed countries should help the developing countries to improve their tech to meet the new standards. Additionally, the developed countries will have economic benefit in turn.

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  10. You mentioned an international standard might minimize the complexity of rescue and will be helpful in solving issues. I think it sounds great. But, how to make everyone follow it? I mean some standard might be option. I think you want to make it kind of “International Nuclear law” right? I suggest name it as a COMPLUSORY LAW instead of optional STANDARD? Does it make sense?

    Like

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