Nuclear Energy on the Anvil in Vienna

ENERGY, 13 Jun 2011

Ronald Joshua - InDepth News

When 151 ministers of United Nations’ atomic energy agency gather in Vienna on June 20, for four days, they will be dealing with a world that has changed in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster, the third after serious accidents in Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, thus imposing a global review of the regulations governing nuclear safety.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, the French minister for ecology, sustainable development, transport and housing, summed up the widespread thinking: “We cannot continue to think the way we did before Fukushima. What we have learned from this disaster, and what we must remember, is that one accident at a nuclear power plant is enough to create grave and irreversible consequences for man and the environment.”

This was the reason behind Germany’s singular decision to close all 17 nuclear power stations by 2022. As international observers point out, the plan sets Germany apart from most of the other major industrialised nations. Among the other Group of Eight countries, only Italy has abandoned nuclear power, which was voted down in a referendum after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

“The greatest challenge isn’t phasing out nuclear power but triggering a new energy system which is sustainable, efficient, and acceptable for society. That’s a real feat of strength,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist of the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

He presented the findings of a study, commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, in Berlin on June 10. The study was carried out together with the Institute for Infrastructure and Resource Management of Leipzig University, the project coordinator is Brigitte Knopf (PIK).

“Phasing out nuclear power in 2020 compared to 2022 – the latter being the date envisaged by the German government – would cost an average consumer’s household in 2020 just an additional 90 cents per month,” the study says.

Even an exit as early as in 2015 would increase electricity costs for an average household by only an additional amount of 2 Euros per month, compared to phasing out in 2020. The price for electricity on the spot market would rise from today’s approximately 5 cents, in the case of a nuclear phase out date of 2020, to 5.9 cents in 2015. In the case of an exit date of 2015 the price would rise to 6.7 cents.

Both scenarios show that the price would roughly go back to the original 5 cents in the year 2030 – provided that in particular the expansion of renewable energies proceeds faster than current plans foresee, the study says.

PARIS MEETING

Ahead of the Vienna gathering, representatives of 33 countries including Australia, South Korea and USA met in Paris on June 7, 2011 and came to the conclusion that “the international community must learn from Fukushima in order to improve international cooperation, both in terms of crisis management and the prevention of risks”.

The participating countries reflected on how to give greater shape to international solidarity for this type of accident, by developing emergency intervention teams and providing for the sharing of safety and assistance mechanisms. Modifications to the appropriate international conventions (early notification, assistance) should also be proposed, they agreed.

The experts resolved that crisis management training should be carried out at the international level in order to bring together a maximum amount of experience. It is also necessary to harmonise procedures for crisis management (for example, by making the distances of the evacuation zones surrounding nuclear power plants or the ceilings above which iodine tablets should be taken, coherent between countries in similar geographic locations), and to facilitate co-operation among crisis management teams, they concurred.

The results of the June 7 gathering will be tabled in Vienna.

Participating countries in Paris largely agreed further that all countries with nuclear facilities should carry out safety audits or “stress tests”. The stress tests, based directly on the first elements of immediate feedback from the Fukushima accident, will enable an evaluation of their safety and to test their capacity to withstand major incidents.

They also recalled the importance of carrying out in each country periodic safety reviews of their facilities, at each stage of operation, examining together the components of the facilities and ensuring their proper functioning.

The meeting convened by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) on the request of France, who chairs the Group of 8 major industrial nations, came to the conclusion that it is necessary to reinforce the global role and missions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and in particular the review mechanisms of the national safety frameworks, of the nuclear facilities for which it is responsible.

The French Chair of the gathering requested the IAEA to review its safety standards in light of the Fukushima accident and to ensure their proper application. In particular, as requested by the G8, the IAEA is invited to review its standards on the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in seismic zones and taking account of the overall impact of climate-related events.

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