Nuclear power, yes or no?

After the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis in Japan, nuclear energy has once more come under the spotlight after a period of rehabilitation.

China’s current energy system is based on coal-based fossil fuels. For China, one of the world’s largest energy consumers with limited coal and oil resources and sustainable development goals, nuclear energy still looks an attractive proposition, as it does not pollute the air, does not produce greenhouse gases and is cost effective.

However, there is a downside.

During the generation process, nuclear energy produces radioactive waste, which needs to be disposed of, and though rare, leaks and accidents do occur, damaging the ecology and people’s health.

Japan’s nuclear crisis has been a wake up call.

Tokyo Electric Power Co president Masataka Shimizu apologized and said he takes responsibility for the Fuushima tragedy. But this is unimportant. The safety environment was clearly compromised. The truth is that radioactive water from Japan’s tsunami-crippled nuclear power resulted in about 100 times the permitted level of radioactive material flowing into the sea, according to operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

China currently has six nuclear plants in operation, which are located along the country’s eastern and southern coasts. According to Global Times, “Nuclear power accounted for 1.2 percent of China’s total energy supply in 2007. China originally planned to raise the number to 5 percent by 2020 and 10 percent by 2030.”

Clearly the government sees nuclear energy as important for China’s future.

But Japan’s nuclear crisis has resulted in high-level attention to nuclear safety. On March 16, five days after the nuclear crisis in Japan began, China’s State Council ordered safety checks at all the country’s nuclear power plants and suspended approval for new nuclear power stations.

It’s lucky for China that no serious accident has ever been reported at one of China’s operating pressurized-water reactors. But that should not make us complacent.  

With the world’s insatiable demand for energy, many countries will not give up nuclear energy. However, Japan’s nuclear tragedy has shown us that even the most advanced things can go terribly wrong. It’s high time that the countries with nuclear power made joint efforts to avoid nuclear accidents.

With the help of International Atomic Energy Agency, these countries should actively resolve the existing nuclear crisis in Japan and jointly develop safer and more advanced plants.

Each country should fortify the sense of safety and spend more resources on their exiting nuclear plants, and adopt strict safety standards and construct disaster-response capability and environment monitoring systems.

As Xu Kuangdi, former president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said at an energy forum held in Beijing, ” We should carefully examine all possible nuclear power plant sites. We should only use sites that haven’t been hit by an earthquake of magnitude 4 or greater over the last 1,000 years.”

In fact, the ultimate solution is to explore renewable resources instead of nuclear energy.

The author Ma Xin is an intern editor of M4.cn. She can be reached at tomaxin@163.com.

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