Thirty-five years after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion, it is clear that the long-term consequences were vastly different from what was expected at the time. Unusual environmental recovery at the site of the explosion and in the surrounding area has shown the impact of human activity on the natural world, not nuclear energy or radiation associated with it. .
Chernobyl left a deep and enduring imprint on trust in the former Soviet regime. It also triggered a complete, much-needed and very successful restructuring of Russia’s nuclear energy industry. At the same time, safety requirements, which are already extremely stringent in other countries, have been tightened at a huge cost, possibly even to the point where they are scientifically necessary and certainly rigorous. far more than requirements apply to the rest of the energy industry. All of these changes have made nuclear a part of the global energy mix.
Chernobyl’s aftermath contrasts sharply with the hasty response predicted to the Fukushima accident ten years ago. Both of these disasters caused heavy loss of life, but while Chernobyl was a nuclear accident, Fukushima did not. It was an industrial accident caused by a tsunami that disrupted the operation of an old nuclear plant that had been designed in ways that were long abandoned. However, Fukushima made sudden and unreasonable changes in energy policy that did not happen after Chernobyl.
In 1986, the UK, under its mighty scientific training, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, went ahead the following year with the construction of a new nuclear plant, Sizewell B. In contrast in 2011, a Equally impressive scientifically-trained leader, Angela Merkel of Germany, faces stiff domestic political pressures. . Unfortunately, these policies have resulted in policies that unnecessarily raise consumer prices, undermine national security and compromise the fight against climate change.
Similarly in 2010, Japan was the world leader in nuclear energy with 54 reactors. They were decommissioned and only 9 were allowed to restart today. Instead, Japan has focused on building new coal-fired power plants with the result that in 2019, fossil fuels already supply 70% of the country’s electricity. If Japan switched its nuclear plants back to current coal consumption, their coal consumption would now be halved.
Populist anti-nuclear movements are not limited to Germany. They drew support in Spain and other EU countries, ignoring the fact that if Germany continued to operate its nuclear plants it would now burn less than a third of the coal and one part. gas investment. It will also save the lives of more than a thousand German citizens who die prematurely from air pollution caused by coal-fired power plants each year. Estimates show that coal is nearly four hundred times more lethal per unit of energy than nuclear.
Back in 1986, climate change was not even heard outside of a small group of scientists and scholars. Long-term energy concerns focus on how far future oil reserves could last to meet the world’s ever-increasing demand for oil. The notion that a fossil fuel might one day need to be urgently replaced, if proposed later, has been treated with confusion. As for renewables, at the time known as “alternative” energy, they were the conservation of a small number of enthusiasts who never dreamed of a dramatic cost drop. Their appearance began two decades later.
With the enormous advantage of insight and a much clearer understanding of the existential threat posed by climate change to humankind, the world has a chance to learn the right lessons from the tragedy. the twins Chernobyl and Fukushima. Encouraging is that there are signs that this may be imminent.
This month, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center released a Report expressing its strong support for nuclear energy. As the previous Commission’s attitude towards the nucleus has turned between skepticism and outright hostility, this Report is highly welcomed and goes against recent efforts by several member states. to expand Germany’s anti-nuclear stance across the EU.
The report claims that Generation III nuclear plants have the lowest accidental death rate of all generation technologies. Its analysis “does not reveal any science-based evidence that the nucleus is more harmful to human health than other power generation technologies that have been included in the EU classification for durable activities. with low carbon renewable energy technologies.
Furthermore, the JRC confirms that the life cycle average greenhouse gas emissions for nuclear-generated electricity are equivalent to those from hydro and wind, Nox and Sox emissions from energy. Nuclear is very low, comparable or better than emissions from solar and wind energy, and the land required for nuclear power is significantly less than wind and solar.
After Covid pushed global GHG emissions down by an unprecedented 5.8% drop in 2020, the biggest decline since World War II, they have started to rise again, according to the International Energy Agency. In December 2020, the emissions were higher than for the same period in 2019.
This is the alarming scene for COP26 critical in November as world leaders must take the necessary decisions to prevent dangerous irreversible climate change. The heavy system costs due to reliance on intermittent sources of energy are increasing to a very high level now recognized, so there is a need for nuclear to replenish renewable energy as a supplier. Low carbon power is obvious.
With the EU’s unqualified confirmation that there is no health or environmental reason to limit new investment in nuclear, the door will open wide, 35 and 10 years later, for the right lessons to be learned. from Chernobyl and Fukushima.
It was a welcome opportunity as both President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping were nuclear power advocates. Let 2021 be the year when, just in time, nuclear begins to return to its rightful place as an essential part of the global solution to climate change.