‘Fukushima may delay world nuclear energy growth by ten years’

The Fukushima nuclear disaster may even delay the growth of world nuclear energy market by ten years, as forecasts have been revised downward repeatedly, a senior expert of the IAEA said.

Singapore: The Fukushima nuclear disaster may even delay the growth of world nuclear energy market by ten years, as forecasts have been revised downward repeatedly, a senior expert of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Wednesday.

However, this does not mean that the growth of the nuclear energy demand will be reversed. It will continue to grow, said Alan McDonald, program coordinator at the IAEA.

Speaking at the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle conference in Singapore, McDonald said that the IAEA had been constantly revising its growth forecasts upward for the nuclear energy industry amid a rosy picture in the several years before the Fukushima incident in March 2011.

However, the growth forecasts were cut substantially after the incident.

In one of its forecasts made in 2012, the watchdog projected a total installed generating capacity in the range of 456 gigawatts to 740 gigawatts for the world by 2030, compared with 370 gigawatts at the time.

This represents a downward revision by 9 percent and 1 percent from projections made in 2011 for the lower and upper ends of the range, respectively.

If compared them with the projections made before Fukushima, the projections were revised downward by 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

"In the lower case, the accident has effectively delayed projected growth by ten years, with the capacity that was projected for 2020 before the accident now being projected for 2030," McDonald said.

Despite the revision, the installed capacity is still projected to grow by 25 percent to 100 percent by 2030, he added.

Some of the industry players said that it could be that people had turned too bullish about the prospects of the industry before the Fukushima incident. One thing or another inevitably weighs on the projections, based on experience from the past, they said.

The growth of the market eventually is determined by whether there is a business case for the nuclear energy in terms of cost and returns, said Geoff Varley, vice president of commercial consulting at NAC International.

The World Nuclear Fuel Cycle is an annual event organized by the London-based World Nuclear Association and the United States Nuclear Energy Institute.

There are now 433 nuclear reactors in operation around the world as of mid-2012, with 104 in the United States, 58 in France, 50 in Japan, 33 in Russia and 23 in South Korea, according to statistics from the World Nuclear Association.

However, Asia is now by far the fastest growing market for nuclear energy. Of the 68 nuclear power reactors under construction now across the world, 46 are in Asia. By March this year, the Chinese mainland has 17 nuclear power reactors in operation and 28 under construction.

China established a strategic plan to develop nuclear power in a bid to optimize its energy market structure, with the installed nuclear power generating capacity projected to grow to 58 gigawatts by 2020, said Yan Jinquan, vice president and chief engineer at Shanghai Nuclear Engineering Research and Design Institute.

People now have a more thorough and objective understanding of Fukushima two years after the incident, and industry players and regulators have been reviewing their nuclear development plans and safety requirements, said Tian Jiashu, deputy chief engineer of China National Nuclear Corporation.

"The incident, which happened under extreme conditions, should not stop us from exploring the option of nuclear energy in the long run," he said.

Tian said that China has always put safety first and adopted the highest safety standards in developing nuclear power plants and that it is also prudent in approving new nuclear power projects.

"Nuclear power is an essential part of our long-term national energy strategy, though it only accounts for 1.8 percent of our energy consumption, down from 2.1 percent several years earlier," he said.