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Daily View: What now for nuclear power?

Clare Spencer | 10:16 UK time, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Radiation sign


Commentators consider the pros and cons of nuclear power and question the facts following explosions at the nuclear plant in Fukushima in Japan.

Al Jazeera's Inside Story says the consequences of the explosions are still unclear:

"There are conflicting accounts of the radiation levels being measured in the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi plant - where sea water is being injected into at least two of the reactors in an attempt to prevent the nuclear fuel from melting as the temperature continues to rise.
"There was an explosion at the plant's number one reactor on Saturday - but the government says the massive concrete containment structure surrounding the nuclear core remains intact.
"But it has also been confirmed that the temperature is continuing to rise in at least one of the other reactors due to a failure of the back-up cooling systems."

Nick Butler predicts in the Financial Times that not all nuclear power plans will stop:

"[F]acts disappear into the cloud of fear that nuclear accidents produce. In the US and Europe, the building of new stations will be delayed and older ones will be closed sooner rather than later. In the developed world, the main business opportunity will be in decommissioning as the old stations come to the end of their lives. For the energy sector as a whole, events in Japan complicate an already divergent story. Unless the current problems at Fukushima spiral out of control and undermine all confidence in nuclear power as a source of electricity generation, building plans in China and India are likely to remain in place. Both countries need electricity to sustain the economic growth that has become the raison d'être of both governments. For now, both countries define energy security in terms of continuity of supply and cost."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has put all plans for nuclear power in the country up for review. Roland Nelles says in Der Spiegel that it's time to pull the plug:

"After the earthquake and tsunami in Japan followed by the ever-worsening stream of terrible news relating to the countries nuclear power facilities, even the last remaining advocates of the technology must realize that we can't go on like this. It is over. Done. Finished. Nuclear energy cannot be controlled by humans, no matter how good the arguments might be in its favor. The danger of disaster is real, and it can happen at any time - even in a super high-tech country like Japan."

The Guardian's editorial argues the tendency in Britain to postpone politically painful choices about building new nuclear stations is dangerous:

"For all the emotive force of events in Japan, though, this is one issue where there is a pressing need to listen to what our heads say about the needs of the future, as opposed to subjecting ourselves to jittery whims of the heart. One of the few solid lessons to emerge from the aged Fukushima plant is that the tendency in Britain and elsewhere to postpone politically painful choices about building new nuclear stations by extending the life-spans of existing ones is dangerous. Beyond that, with or without Fukushima, the undisputed nastiness of nuclear - the costs, the risks and the waste - still need to be carefully weighed in the balance against the different poisons pumped out by coal, which remains the chief economic alternative."

Max Hastings concedes in the Daily Mail that nuclear power plants are dangerous. But argues that, for Britain, the alternative is to "start hoarding candles":

"To be sure, if Fukushima releases lethal radiation affecting thousands of people, it will become much harder politically for any government to push through a new nuclear programme. But, today, this still seems unlikely.
"What could be a catastrophe for Britain, however, is the crisis that will fall upon us ten years hence unless this Government comes to its senses, and starts to plan for a credible energy future which must include nuclear power."

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