ENVIRONMENT, IPP | Staff Reporter, Singapore

How is Asian appetite for nuclear power four years after the Fukushima tragedy?

Growth has remarkably slowed down.

When a powerful earthquake shook Japan in 2011 and heavily damaged the nuclear reactors at Fukushima—resulting in a nuclear meltdown that cost billions of dollars, both in human life and in property—the aftermath for the nuclear industry was bleak. 

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident cast a troubling shadow over many nuclear programmes in the region, in one way or another. Growth, while still consistent, has now slackened.

Asian Power asked analysts their thoughts on this pressing issue, and in the first installment of this four-part article series, they share the status of the Asian appetite for nuke years after the Fukushima tragedy.

William S. Linton, Principal & CEO Linton Consulting: Asian populations and economies are the fastest growing globally.  This growth has required and will continue to require more electricity generation.  Of course, there are only so many ways to generate significant amounts of electric power. 

The big 3 are coal, natural gas, and nuclear.  Some countries with favorable climate and typography circumstances generate significant amounts of electricity through hydropower.  The growing popularity of wind and solar is being driven mostly by the desire to minimize environmental impacts. 

These sources will not by themselves produce sufficient and stable amounts of power to meet the needs of dynamically growing economies. 

 Diversification of generation and fuels is vitally important to assure a stable long term supply.  This means balancing the generation mix between the major sources of coal, natural gas and nuclear. 

Many countries are discouraging coal generation through increasingly stringent regulations due to environmental concerns about CO2 and other emissions.  Natural gas is a limited resource that is expensive to transport in many regions.  It also has alternative uses such as chemicals production. 

This means nuclear has to be in the mix for the future of Asia and the appetite for Asian countries for nuclear will be high.  In fact, Asia is and will continue to be the fastest growing nuclear market globally.  This trend will likely accelerate.  Asia, itself will become the hub of the nuclear supply chain and state-of-the-art technology. 

Jonathan Hinze, Senior Vice President, International, The Ux Consulting Company, LLC: In general, there is still a lot of interest in nuclear power in Asia despite the negative impacts from Fukushima.  However, we have seen a marked reduction in the pace of growth after Fukushima.

For example, China was building 8-10 new reactors each year until Fukushima happened, and we have only seen 9 total construction starts since then (4 in 2012, 2 in 2013, and 2 so far in 2015).  As the fastest growing nuclear power nation in Asia, China’s slowdown after Fukushima is a very big factor. 

It could be argued that the “time-out” in China to re-evaluate and improve its nuclear safety regulations was a very positive outcome from the Fukushima accident, but it also definitely has reduced the outlook for near term growth.  For example, people were thinking that China could reach close to 80 GWe in nuclear capacity by 2020 before Fukushima happened, but we now expect only about 50 GWe to be online by the end of 2020.  

Other countries have obviously also been affected.  As the most advanced nation in Asia, Japan’s shift in energy policy and expected reduction in reliance on nuclear power over the long term is clearly something that many others are watching closely. 

While Japan was unlikely to expand nuclear power all that much before Fukushima happened, it is now likely to only have around 25 GWe in capacity through 2030 compared with nearly 50 GWe before the accident. 

Some others have also turned their back on nuclear.  Taiwan is going through a major political debate on the issue, but it appears quite possible that a new law will be passed that will phase out all nuclear plants by 2025.  Both the Philippines and Singapore had serious plans prior to Fukushima to start nuclear power programs, but these have been indefinitely postponed now.

At the same time, a number of countries are still pursuing expansions or new programs.  South Korea has reduced its plans slightly, but it is still looking to add another 10 units over the coming 15 years to the 24 that are already operating.  India is also expanding quickly, and it could see a fourfold increase of nuclear capacity by 2030.  

Pakistan is also building more reactors with the help of China.  Vietnam remains committed to a new nuclear program, although it has delayed these by at least 5 years.  

Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan are also continuing to seriously evaluate the nuclear power option, although concrete plans for commercial reactors are yet to be announced. 

Dr Jonathan Cobb, Senior Communication Manager, World Nuclear Association: There is strong support for the use of nuclear energy in Asia. Across the world only a handful of countries changed their energy policy negatively on nuclear energy after the Fukushima accident.

Governments, regulators and the nuclear industry have examined what caused the accident at Fukushima and are implementing changes in response to what has been learnt.

China is leading the deployment of nuclear energy generation, with India and South Korea also making major strides. These countries want nuclear energy to play a major part in their generation mixes because it helps reduce air pollution today, avoids greenhouse gas emissions and provides a reliable and secure electricity supply.

And other countries in the region such as Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia are looking at the possibility of introducing nuclear energy into their electricity supply mixes. 

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