Posted by Mark Halper

Sleepless no more. WEC secretary general Christoph Frei says nuclear worries are no longer keeping energy leaders up at night.

Here’s another sign that the global backlash against nuclear power following Japan’s tragic tsunami and earthquake two years ago is easing: World energy leaders now say that concerns over nuclear power are no longer keeping them up at night.

Rather, the top energy issues that are causing them to lose sleep are: uncertainty over climate change; political instability in regions of the world key to traditional energy supplies; energy price volatility; and global recession trends.

That’s according to the World Energy Council (WEC), which reported the shift in its World Energy Issues Monitor, an annual report that assesses the views of international energy leaders. WEC  – a London-based international group of industry, government, NGOs and academia committed to sustainable energy  – launched the 2013 edition at the opening of its World Energy Leaders’ Summit of energy ministers and CEOs last week in New Delhi.

It marks a shift in the anti-nuclear reactions that persisted following the nuclear meltdowns triggered when a tsunami knocked out poorly cited cooling systems at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station in March, 2011.


“The four top insomnia issues are the continued uncertainty towards a future climate framework, the fear of a lack of political stability in the Middle East / North Africa region, the high energy price volatility, as well as the global recessionary context, which has replaced post-Fukushima nuclear that was among the key critical uncertainties,” WEC Secretary General Christoph Frei writes in the report.

The geopolitical and volatility concerns echo views which we reported from Japan recently, where former International Energy Agency head Nobuo Tanaka has warned of a potential economic catastrophe if Japan does not return to nuclear power. Japan has temporarily shut all but two of its nuclear reactors.

Japan is among the countries where nuclear power is regaining support. A recent government advisory group said that even a partial return to nuclear power  could save the country $20.1 billion, new prime minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for a nuclear restart, and so is Japan’s largest daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun.

The international contingent at the WEC shares those sentiments. The press release accompanying the report notes:

“Concerns arising from the current depressed economic outlook have overtaken nuclear energy as one of the top critical issues. While nuclear energy continues to be closely observed and debated, its perceived uncertainty and impact have dropped to pre-Fukushima levels.  This reflects the prudent re-evaluation of nuclear energy in many countries.”


Allow me to append that observation: To truly carry on with this “prudent re-evaluation,” the industry should make sure to shift nuclear research and development toward alternative technologies including thorium fuel, high temperature reactors such as those that use a molten salt design, fast reactors, fusion and small reactors. These alternatives portend safer and more efficient and cost effective nuclear operations compared to conventional technology.

Fukushima has reaffirmed for us that safe and sound operations are a nuclear must. The meltdowns there were a fluke caused by poor engineering decisions, not by fundamental design flaws. They should never happen again. Alternative nuclear designs can help see to that.

Photo: Jonathan Dewe via Flickr.

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