ENVIRONMENT | Contributed Content, Japan
Akira Tokuhiro

Can AsiaPac still lead global nuclear power after Fukushima?


Nearing the one year anniversary (March 11, 2011) of the historic Tohoku earthquake (M9.0), subsequent tsunami (~14-15m waves), and unfortunately, the ongoing consequences of the ‘Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) accident’, allow me to take this opportunity to reflect upon the significance and relevance of this tragic loss-of-life and the importance of energy for economic development and the human condition in Asia-Pacific (AP).

With all due respect, we must also not forget the larger Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 when over 230,000 lives were lost. It is clear that ‘energy/power’ is directly correlated with the standard-of-living and economic development.

AP since 2000 has clearly had the increasing means to lead global economic growth, relative to stagnating economies of scale in Europe and U.S. AP also has the majority of larger-scale industrial concerns (and perhaps capital) that have the capability to construct ‘new builds’ (NPPs) in partnership with leading NPP vendors. Korea’s construction contract in UAE is a landmark accomplishment. AP is thus revitalizing the term – Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP1) and has the imminent opportunity to become the Global Nuclear Energy Power (GNEP2).

Before describing my perspective from above, allow me to be professorial and propose a means to consider, analyze and discuss complex issues such as energy, economy and human activity.

Complex issues are often not amenable to analytical methods and thus require huge computational codes (example climate change) because the number of variables is large and at the least, require ‘integro-differential expressions and closure models’.

Nevertheless, such issues are subject to at least 7 guiding metric ‘scales’ as follows: L-length, E-energy, N-number, D-distribution, I-information and T-time (together called LENDIT). LENDIT-scales when adopted can facilitate discussion of complex issues and can span both analytical and socio-politico-economic arguments.

Focusing briefly on the Fukushima NPP accident, 6 units at the site all survived the quake and tsunami but were damaged. The reactors were either shutdown (SD) at the time or shutdown when the quake exceeded safety system set-points.

The SD-systems worked as designed and until the tsunami, the back-up diesel generators operated to remove ‘decay heat’ from the reactors. However, with loss of on-site and off-site electrical power, providing automatic and/or planned response to the reactor became overwhelming. As a result, 3 reactor cores are likely melted and one other unit is severely damaged.

The recovery, remediation and restoration in the aftermath will likely require at least 20 years, 10,000+ personnel, perhaps US$100B and require management of large volumes of waste. Further technical details are available in a number of reports, including the anticipated American Nuclear Society’s Technical Report.

Months following March 2011, and as engineering professor, I started to consider what the post-Fukushima world might look like, especially with rapid growth in China, India and along the Pacific Rim. As noted energy is key to economic growth and sustainability.

Thus those nations that construct or pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy will benefit over the next 10-100 years; that is, to the detriment of those who give up on nuclear energy or reduce expectations (Germany, U.S. etc.). It is also clear that perhaps solar and wind energy will contribute, only nuclear energy can provide energy of scale (large) while mitigating the emerging evidence for climate change. Remember, one has to build one thousand 1MWe wind turbines (wind blowing 100% of the time) to generate the (electrical) power output of one NPP.

Thus with China, India and Korea (Russia) leading the way, Japan with 3 leading NPP vendors (Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi), and anticipated energy demand in AP, the region is naturally poised to assume leadership under ‘GNEP2’ as noted.

Indeed, I predict that the rapid energy growth in AP will further ‘shift’ the balance of global economic influence toward AP itself. The only weakness is the lack of a common working language and stronger unity in AP that looks toward a future more than its historical legacy.

Thus, if AP can equally establish an English-speaking technical workforce and industry standards, we will see a transforming world as early as 2022. Please consider future of energy and Asia-Pacific in terms of LENDIT-scales. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Power. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Akira Tokuhiro

Akira Tokuhiro

Akira Tokuhiro was a Professor of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at University of Idaho/Center for Advanced Energy Studies (USA).

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