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SciDev.Net reporters from around the world tell us which countries are set on developing nuclear energy despite the Fukushima accident.
The quest for energy independence, rising power needs and a desire for political weight all mean that few developing countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned them in the light of the Fukushima accident.
Jordan’s planned nuclear plant is part of a strategy to deal with acute water and energy shortages.
The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) wants Jordan to get 60 per cent of its energy from nuclear by 2035. Currently, obtaining energy from neighbouring Arab countries costs Jordan about a fifth of its gross domestic product.
The country is also one of the world’s most water-poor nations. Jordan plans to desalinate sea water from the Gulf of Aqaba to the south, then pump it to population centres in Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa, using its nuclear-derived energy.
After the Fukushima disaster, Jordan started re-evaluating safety procedures for its nuclear reactor, scheduled to begin construction in 2013. The country also considered more safety procedures for construction and in ongoing geological and environmental investigations.
"The government would not reverse its decision to build nuclear reactors in Jordan because of the Fukushima disaster," says Abdel-Halim Wreikat, vice Chairman of the JAEC. "Our plant type is a third-generation pressurised water reactor, and it is safer than the Fukushima boiling water reactor."
Wreikat argues that "the nuclear option for Jordan at the moment is better than renewable energy options such as solar and wind, as they are still of high cost."
But some Jordanian researchers disagree. "The cost of electricity generated from solar plants comes down each year by about five per cent, while the cost of producing electricity from nuclear power is rising year after year," says Ahmed Al-Salaymeh, director of the Energy Centre at the University of Jordan. He called for more economic feasibility studies of the nuclear option.
And Ahmad Al-Malabeh, a professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences department of Hashemite University, adds: "Jordan is rich not only in solar and wind resources, but also in oil shale rock, from which we can extract oil that can cover Jordan’s energy needs in the coming years, starting between 2016 and 2017 … this could give us more time to have more economically feasible renewable energy."
The government conducted a safety review of its two nuclear reactors in Cape Town following the Fukushima event
Finance, rather than Fukushima, may delay South Africa’s nuclear plans, which were approved just five days after the Japanese disaster.
South Africa remains resolute in its plans to build six new nuclear reactors by 2030.
Katse Maphoto, the director of Nuclear Safety, Liabilities and Emergency Management at the Department of Energy, says that the government conducted a safety review of its two nuclear reactors in Cape Town, following the Fukushima event.
But the government adopted its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for 2010-2030 five days after the Fukushima accident. Elliot Mulane, communications manager for the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, (NECSA) a public company established under the 1999 Nuclear Energy Act that promotes nuclear research, said the timing of the decision indicated "the confidence that the government has in nuclear technologies".
And Dipuo Peters, energy minister, reiterated the commitment in her budget announcement earlier this year (26 May), saying: "We are still convinced that nuclear power is a necessary part of our strategy that seeks to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through a diversified portfolio, comprising some fossil-based, renewable and energy efficiency technologies".
James Larkin, director of the Radiation and Health Physics Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand, believes South Africa is likely to go for the relatively cheap, South Korean generation three reactor.
Larkin says nuclear energy is the only alternative to coal for generating adequate electricity.
"What other alternative do we have? Renewables are barely going to do anything," he said.
He argues that nuclear is capable of supplying 85 per cent of the base load, or constantly needed, power supply, while solar energy can only produce between 17 and 25 per cent.
But, despite government confidence, Larkin says that a shortage of money may delay the country’s nuclear plans.
"The government has said yes but hasn’t said how it will pay for it. This is going to end up delaying by 15 years any plans to build a nuclear station."
Vietnam hopes its first nuclear plant, Ninh Thuan, will be completed by 2020
Vietnam’s nuclear energy targets remain ambitious despite scientists’ warning of a tsunami risk.
Vietnam’s plan to power 10 per cent of its electricity grid with nuclear energy within 20 years is the most ambitious nuclear energy plan in South-East Asia. The country’s first nuclear plant, Ninh Thuan, is to be built with support from a state-owned Russian energy company and completed by 2020.
Le Huy Minh, director of the Earthquake and Tsunami Warning Centre at Vietnam’s Institute of Geophysics, has warned that Vietnam’s coast would be affected by tsunamis in the adjacent South China Sea.
The Ninh Thuan nuclear plant would sit 80 to 100 kilometres from a fault line on the Vietnamese coast, potentially exposing it to tsunamis, according to state media.
But Vuong Huu Tan, president of the state-owned Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission, told state media in March, however, that lessons from the Fukushima accident will help Vietnam develop safe technologies.
And John Morris, an Australia-based energy consultant who has worked as a geologist in Vietnam, says the seismic risk for nuclear power plants in the country would not be "a major issue" as long as the plants were built properly. Japan’s nuclear plants are "a lot more earthquake prone" than Vietnam’s would be, he adds.
Vietnam is unlikely to experience much in the way of anti-nuclear protests, unlike neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines, where civil society groups have had more influence, says Kevin Punzalan, an energy expert at De La Salle University in the Philippines.
Warnings from the Vietnamese scientific community may force the country’s ruling communist party to choose alternative locations for nuclear reactors, or to modify reactor designs, but probably will not cause extreme shifts in the one-party state’s nuclear energy strategy, Punzalan tells SciDev.Net.
President Benigno Aquino III said the mothballed Bataan nuclear reactor will never be used for its original purpose.
Will the Philippines’ plans to rehabilitate a never-used nuclear power plant survive the Fukushima accident?
The Philippines is under a 25-year moratorium on the use of nuclear energy which expires in 2022. The government says it remains open to harnessing nuclear energy as a long-term solution to growing electricity demand, and its Department of Science and Technology has been making public pronouncements in favour of pursuing nuclear energy since the Fukushima accident.
Privately, however, DOST officials acknowledge that the accident has put back their job of winning the public over to nuclear by four or five years.
In the meantime, the government is trying to build capacity. The country lacks, for example, the technical expertise. Carmencita Bariso, assistant director of the Department of Energy’s planning bureau, says that, despite the Fukushima accident, her organisation has continued with a study on the viability, safety and social acceptability of nuclear energy.
Bariso says the study would include a proposal for "a way forward" for the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, the first nuclear reactor in South East Asia at the time of its completion in 1985. The $2.3-billion Westinghouse light water reactor, about 60 miles north of the capital, Manila, was never used, though it has the potential to generate 621 megawatts of power.
President Benigno Aquino III, whose mother, President Corazon Aquino, halted work on the facility in 1986 because of corruption and safety issues, has said it will never be used as a nuclear reactor but could be privatised and redeveloped as a conventional power plant.
But Mark Cojuangco, former lawmaker, authored a bill in 2008 seeking to start commercial nuclear operations at the Bataan reactor. His bill was not passed before Congress adjourned last year and he acknowledges that the Fukushima accident has made his struggle more difficult.
"To go nuclear is still the right thing to do," he says. "But this requires a societal decision. We are going to spark public debates with a vengeance as soon as the reports from Fukushima are out."
Amended bills seeking both to restart the reactor, and to close the issue by allowing either conversion or permanent closure, are pending in both the House and the Senate.
Greenpeace, which campaigns against nuclear power, believes the Fukushima accident has dimmed the chances of commissioning the Bataan plant because of "increased awareness of what radioactivity can do to a place". Many parts of the country are prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, which critics say makes it unsuitable both for the siting of nuclear power stations and the disposal of radioactive waste.
The demand for electricity is overwhelming in Kenya
In Kenya, nuclear proponents argue for a geothermal – nuclear mix
In the same month as the Fukushima accident, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency approved Kenya’s application for its first nuclear power station (31 March), a 35,000 megawatt facility to be built at a cost of Sh950 billion (US$9.8 billion) on a 200-acre plot on the Athi Plains, about 50km from Nairobi.
The plant, with construction driven by Kenya’s Nuclear Electricity Project Committee, should be commissioned in 2022. The government claims it could satisfy all of Kenya’s energy needs until 2040.
The demand for electricity is overwhelming in Kenya. Less than half of residents in the capital, Nairobi, have grid electricity, while the rural rate is two per cent.
James Rege, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Communication and Information, takes a broader view than the official government line, saying that geothermal energy, from the Rift Valley project is the most promising option. It has a high production cost but remains the country’s "best hope". Nuclear should be included as "backup".
"We are viewing nuclear energy as an alternative source of power. The cost of fossil fuel keeps escalating and ordinary Kenyans can’t afford it," Rege tells SciDev.Net.
Hydropower is limited by rivers running dry, he says. And switching the country’s arable land to biofuel production would threaten food supplies.
David Otwoma, secretary to the Energy Ministry’s Nuclear Electricity Development Project, agrees that Kenya will not be able to industrialise without diversifying its energy mix to include more geothermal, nuclear and coal. Otwoma believes the expense of generating nuclear energy could one day be met through shared regional projects but, until then, Kenya has to move forward on its own.
According to Rege, much as the nuclear energy alternative is promising, it is extremely important to take into consideration the Fukushima accident.
"Data is available and it must be one step at a time without rushing things," he says.
Otwoma says the new nuclear Kenya can develop a good nuclear safety culture from the outset, "but to do this we need to be willing to learn all the lessons and embrace them, not forget them and assume that won’t happen to us".
Nigeria: would nuclear bring more benefit than oil has?
Undeterred by Fukushima, Nigeria is forging ahead with nuclear collaborations.
There is no need to panic because of the Fukushima accident, says Shamsideen Elegba, chair of the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa. Nigeria has the necessary regulatory system to keep nuclear activities safe.
"The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority [NNRA] has established itself as a credible organisation for regulatory oversight on all uses of ionising radiation, nuclear materials and radioactive sources," says Elegba who was, until recently, the NNRA’s director general.
"It is not only that we say so: an international audit came here in 2006 to assess our procedure and processes and confirmed the same.
Elegba is firmly of the view that blame for the Fukushima accident should be allocated to nature rather than human error.
"Japan is one of the leaders not only in that industry, but in terms of regulatory oversight. They have a very rigorous system of licensing. We have to make a distinction between a natural event, or series of natural events and engineering infrastructure, regulatory infrastructure, and safety oversight."
Erepamo Osaisai, Director General of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), has said there is "no going back" on Nigeria’s nuclear energy project after Fukushima.
Nigeria is likely to recruit the Russian State Corporation for Atomic Energy, ROSATOM, to build its first proposed nuclear plant. A delegation visited Nigeria (26- 28 July) and a bilateral document is to be finalised before December.
Nikolay Spassy, director general of the corporation, said during the visit: "The peaceful use of nuclear power is the bedrock of development, and achieving [Nigeria’s] goal of being one of the twenty most developed countries by the year 2020 would depend heavily on developing nuclear power plants." ROSATOM points out that the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors and regulates power plant construction in previously non-nuclear countries.
But Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), said "We cannot see the logic behind the government’s support for a technology that former promoters in Europe, and other technologically advanced nations, are now applying brakes to.
"What Nigeria needs now is investment in safe alternatives that will not harm the environment and the people. We cannot accept the nuclear option."
Egypt was the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to have a nuclear programme
Thirsty for electricity, and desirous of political clout, Egypt is determined that neither Fukushima ― nor revolution ― will derail its nuclear plans.
Egypt was the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to own a nuclear programme, launching a research reactor in 1961. In 2007 Egypt ‘unfroze’ a nuclear programme that had stalled in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster.
After the Egyptian uprising in early 2011, and the Fukushima accident, the government postponed an international tender for the construction of its first plant.
Yassin Ibrahim, chairman of the Nuclear Power Plants Authority, told SciDev.Net: "We put additional procedures in place to avoid any states of emergency but, because of the uprising, the tender will be postponed until we have political stability after the presidential and parliamentary election at the end of 2011".
Ibrahim denies the nuclear programme could be cancelled, saying: "The design specifications for the Egyptian nuclear plant take into account resistance to earthquakes and tsunamis, including those greater in magnitude than any that have happened in the region for the last four thousand years.
"The reactor type is of the third generation of pressurised water reactors, which have not resulted in any adverse effects to the environment since they began operation in the early sixties."
Ibrahim El-Osery, a consultant in nuclear affairs and energy at the country’s Nuclear Power Plants Authority, points out that Egypt’s limited resources of oil and natural gas will run out in 20 years.
"Then we will have to import electricity, and we can’t rely on renewable energy as it is still not economic yet — Egypt in 2010 produced only two per cent of its needs through it."
But there are other motives for going nuclear, says Nadia Sharara, professor of mineralogy at Assiut University.
"Owning nuclear plants is a political decision in the first place, especially in our region. And any state that has acquired nuclear technology has political weight in the international community," she says. "Egypt has the potential to own this power as Egypt’s Nuclear Materials Authority estimates there are 15,000 tons of untapped uranium in Egypt."
And she points out it is about staying ahead with technology too. "If Egypt freezes its programme now because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster it will fall behind in many science research fields for at least the next 50 years," she warned.
Articles written by Hanan AlKiswany (Jordan), Lizette Damons (South Africa), Mike Ives (Vietnam), Theresa V. Ilano and Joel Adriano (Philippines), Ochieng’ Ogodo (Kenya), Emeka Johnkingsley (Nigeria), Ma. Nehal Lasheen (Egypt).