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Nuclear experts call for heightenedsafety measures and increased nuclear literacy

at a CityU symposium

Experts from Japan, mainlandChina, Taiwan, France and US gathered at City University of Hong Kong (CityU)today (10 March) to share their insights on the Fukushima nuclear accident at asymposium jointly organised by CityU’s Department of Mechanical and BiomedicalEngineering and the newly formed Hong Kong Nuclear Society.

General Observation

Local and overseasexperts agreed that the Fukushima accident has sparked off a global debate onhow the world can meet growing energy demand and the role of nuclear energy.While many lessons have been learnt after the accidents at Three Mile Islandand Chernobyl, the Fukushima accident has heightened risks assessment, safetyand nuclear governance concerns. The symposium conclusion is that while thegovernments and regulators of nuclear nations are responding to public concernsabout safety, how they will act and what measures they will take will determineif the concerns can be adequately addressed.

Japan after Fukushima

Professor Akira Yamaguchi (Japan) noted that prior to Fukushima, Japanhad 54 functional nuclear reactors and was the world’s third largest producerof nuclear electricity, accounting for 30% of the country’s total electricity.There were plans to increase nuclear electricity to 53% by 2030. Although theFukushima nuclear reactors shut down as designed, the subsequent power outagecaused by the tsunami resulted in a failure of the cooling systems, eventuallyleading to a major release of radioactive materials. Today, only 2 reactors areoperating. The rest were shut down for inspection and undergoing stress tests. Thedamaged Fukushima reactors will be decommissioned. While tests have beencompleted at various nuclear power plants, they are still waiting for theregulator’s permission to restart. This means Japan lost nearly 30% of itselectricity over the past year. To make up for this loss, Japan is importingmuch more fossil fuels, especially LNG, which is leading to higher electricitycharges. Japan is working on a new energy strategy that aims to achieve 4objectives: promote energy conservation and efficiency; use fossil fuelsefficiently; accelerate use of renewables; and reduce dependence on nuclearpower. There is also the question of how Japan will meet its carbon target andenergy supply in a consistent manner.

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China’s nuclear plans

Dr Ren Junsheng (China) emphasised nuclear power remainsimportant to China’s energy development strategy because of its quest for cleanenergy and climate change mitigation. After the Fukushima accident, Chinaconducted safety inspections of its nuclear plants, the scope of which includedappropriateness of site selection, ability to withstand earthquakes and floods,robustness of measures to address various extreme natural events, andeffectiveness of monitoring and emergency preparedness etc. A key lesson for Chinais to minimise risks, starting from site selection to safety design, managing events,and dealing with human and organisational factors. The Chinese nuclear industrystill feels confident to meet the install capacity targets of 40 million and 70million kilowatts by year 2015 and 2020 respectively. Details will be releasedafter the formal release of the national plan on nuclear power safety anddevelopment later this year. China is also actively developing a new generationof nuclear energy technologies, including passive safety system and new nuclearpower generation technology such as high temperature gas reactor and fastneutron reactor, to further enhance nuclear safety standard and performance.

Taiwan’s preparedness

Dr Kao Tsu-mu (Taiwan) sees Taiwan as part of the globalnuclear community. He considers Taiwan’s major nuclear concerns to beearthquakes, tsunami, emergency preparedness and public acceptance. Extensiverisks assessments have been carried out since Fukushima, including re-examiningemergency preparedness and back-up systems to deal with beyond design failuresand multiple failures. The way ahead is to identify and eliminate risks ratherthan assume extremely unlikely events won’t happen.

Dr Bruce Hallbert (USA) discussed post-accident management andlong-term recovery challenges, and DrJean-Christophe Gariel(France) discussed France’s assessment of Fukushima, including radiationreleased into the air and water, and Fukushima’s impact on the French nuclearindustry.

For general inquiry aboutthe symposium, CityU and HKNS, please contact Dr Luk Bing-lam at 3442 8673.

10 March 2012

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