Will Japan's earthquake kill the nuclear industry?
The plumes of smoke rising from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant raise questions about the nuclear industry as a whole.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
The explosions that emanated from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan have sent shockwaves throughout the world. There are more than 400 nuclear power plants operating in the world today, with more than 100 in the United States and 50 in Japan. Switzerland announced that it suspended the approval process for three nuclear power plants, and questions have been raised about the nuclear industry in the United States, too.
"There's no question that this will really deal a blow to what had been a warming public perception here in the US and elsewhere to nuclear power," Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center told The Takeaway. Still, Grumet says, "it's too early I think to suggest that what's going on right now in Japan has significant implications for facilities in the US."
Much of the warming of public perception toward nuclear power came over concern for climate change. Grumet says that nuclear power is "the only significant base load source of non-carbon energy."
Building nuclear power plants is expensive, though. The Obama Administration and Congress have tried to make it easier to build facilities, using loan guarantees and other policy shifts.
The biggest challenge to the nuclear industry isn't from earthquakes, according to Grumet. It's from cheap natural gas. Abundant reserves of natural gas, combined with the lack of a price on carbon, could do more to stop the construction of nuclear facilities than public questions over safety.
There have been lawsuits in Japan to stop nuclear facilities for being on fault lines, but Grumet says, the situation is "a pretty unusual combination of an incredibly powerful earthquake and tsunami."
The earthquake inevitably raises questions about nuclear facilities, but Grumet insists, "the real issue I think is going to be the basic economics of nuclear power."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.