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The energy crisis revives interest in nuclear power plants

Between the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and climate goals, the nuclear issue is regaining interest in many countries, from Japan to Germany, although the ambitions are different.

Eleven years after the Fukushima catastrophe, which put a brake on this type of energy, the winds seem to be changing and the industrialists and politicians who support the atom do not hide their optimism.

Especially symbolic is Japan’s intention to eventually resume construction of new plants.

The government announced on Wednesday a period of reflection on future “new generation reactors, equipped with new safety mechanisms” to help achieve carbon neutrality but also to combat the rise in electricity and gas prices, which has also affected the archipelago since the war in Ukraine.

At the moment, Tokyo is considering restarting some facilities and extending their lifespan, a sharp turn for a country where the previous year less than 4% of its energy was of nuclear origin, against 30% produced by 54 reactors before. from 2011.

Public opinion, concerned about a hypothetical shortage and dependence on imported gas, oil and coal, now sees this project with better eyes.

– Multiple crises –
Other countries aiming to get rid of this energy backtracked, such as Belgium, which wants to extend two ten-year reactors.

In Germany, which had to close its last three plants by the end of 2022, the taboo was broken when the Minister for the Economy and Climate, the environmentalist Robert Habeck, opined in February that a postponement could be “relevant” against the background of the war in Ukraine.

To decide, Berlin awaits new studies on its electrical system and possible winter needs.

“Prolonging nuclear power is not a solution to the energy crisis”Gerald Neubauer, an energy expert at Greenpeace Germany, objects, arguing that its effectiveness in replacing Russian gas is limited. “Gas is mainly used for heating, not for electricity.”.

But for Nicolas Berghmans, an expert at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), “prolonging the plants can help”.

“Europe is in a very difficult energy situation, with multiple crises that overlap: the problem of Russian gas supply, the drought that reduced the capacity of the dams, the weak availability of the French nuclear park… so everything helps”He says.

The sector had already experienced a boost under the umbrella of the fight against climate change since nuclear power does not directly emit CO2.

In fact, in several scenarios of the IPCC, the panel of climatic experts of the UN, the atom takes on more prominence.

– Non-immediate solutions –
Faced with the announced boom in electrification in transport, industry or construction, several countries expressed their desire to develop nuclear infrastructure: China, which already has the largest number of reactors, or Poland, the Czech Republic or India, which want to reduce their coal dependence.

France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands showed similar ambitions, even the United States promotes the sector with the investment plan of President Joe Biden.

Nuclear power is currently present in 32 countries and supplies 10% of the world’s electricity. But the forecasts of the International Atomic Energy Agency for September 2021, the first published since Fukushima, predict that installed power will double between now and 2050 in the most favorable scenario.

However, IPCC scientists acknowledge that “future deployment of the nuclear (theme) may be limited by social preferences”: the issue divides opinion due to the risk of catastrophes or the still unresolved problem of waste.

Countries like New Zealand are against it, a line also expressed in Brussels during the debate on whether or not to include nuclear energy in the list of activities. “green”.

There is also the question of the ability to build new reactors with controlled costs and deadlines.

“Construction delays are long”Nicolas Berghmans points out. “We are talking here about medium-term solutions, which will not solve the issue of tensions in the market”He says.

They will also arrive too late, after 2035, to resolve the climate issue, which instead can be immediately exploited “industry dynamics” of renewable energies, he believes.

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