Sunday, March 11, 2012

Atomic theory

Today marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeastern coast of Tomoku province, Honshu. The quake (the largest ever recorded in Japan) and subsequent tsunami devastated coastal cities in the region.

The incredible images of washed-away towns and the mounting death toll were soon eclipsed by a series of explosions at the nuclear reactor in Fukushima. While initial rumors that these represented nuclear meltdown were dismissed by the Japanese government, they were subsequently acknowledged as representing a level 7 (the highest) event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).

Evacuees after the 2011 earthquake in Japan (Reuters)

Until the accident Japan had produced around 30 percent of its power from nuclear generators. Now, however, all but two of its 54 nuclear generators (with a combined power output of 47.5 GW) stand idle. And Japan is not alone in its volte-face on nuclear: Germany, for example -- despite being one of the 15 countries in the world reliant on nuclear for more than 25 percent of energy generation -- last year announced plans to close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

While the end is far from nigh for nuclear, its time as the cornerstone of “green” national energy policies -- thanks to its minimal carbon emissions -- is well and truly over.

The global trend is toward a declining reliance on atomic energy, but it remains a key part of plans for expanding the power generating capacity of developing countries, Turkey among them. Ankara has announced its intentions to install at least three nuclear power plants, likely to be built in cooperation with Korea and China.

Turkey has one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world and, with a rapidly expanding population and continuing economic growth, power demand is only going one way.

Is nuclear an inevitable part of the solution? And what would be the implications of Turkey’s abandoning its atomic ambitions? Not just for Ankara’s attempts to reduce its energy imports from Iran, but for efforts to stop hydroelectric projects like Ilısu...


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