Post-Fukushima Article in the NY Times

In response to my recent guest column in the New York Times on the nuclear industry’s future after Fukushima, the pro nuclear blogger at Idaho Samizdat criticized me for “starting off with a Halloween type scare tactic of saying the Fukushima crisis is a ‘fearful reminder’ of what can go wrong.” The blogger  (2 clicks to discover his identity) said he had “serious objections to Cooke’s views. I emailed them to her earlier this week. She has not responded with even an acknowledgement. I am writing this blog post without the benefit of her input and instead rely on the OP ED as published for my comments.” He also complained I wasn’t “nuanced” enough in my analysis.

I won’t comment on his criticism of my choice of adjectives. However, lest he think I am ignoring his criticism I’d like to point out that I was overseas when the column appeared and unable to respond to a bunch of emails because of time constraints and limited computer access. Now that I’m back and have had a chance to catch my breath and read the blogpost, I’d like to make a few points.

After initially stating that he has “serious objections” to my views, djysrv (Dan Yurman) ends his blog by concluding that  “Ms. Cooke’s negative musings about the future of nuclear energy, while mostly true in the broad sweep of things, appear to require significant clarification once a reader adopts a ‘skeptical attitude.’” In fact, it is Mr. Yurman’s analysis that requires correction and clarification, particularly with respect to China. While China was unofficially planning for 86 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020 (and much higher than that for 2030), it now looks like that figure is being cut back to somewhere between 60 and 70 GW. Also the 86 GW had not been made official prior to Fukushima, and as a previous commenter indicated, China is unlikely to resume new reactor approvals until early next year because it is still getting comment on its safety review. As for “delusional” Germany, it’s hardly news that the Czech Republic is planning new reactors and that it has its eyes on the European electricity market. But that was true before Fukushima. India certainly wants to move forward with newbuild but is being held back by a combination of political opposition and the government’s inability to satisfy vendor demands for liability legislation that would remove all vendor risk in the event of an accident. (Yurman calls the existing legislation which would assign some risk to vendors “harsh”.)  The UAE is in no way ready to move forward with its reactor project at the end of this year, as Mr. Yurman asserts (as someone else on his site has already pointed out). There is no contract yet with the South Koreans — and much negotiating lies ahead before any signing is likely. I think his projections for new nuclear capacity in countries like Vietnam and the UK are, shall we say, optimistic.

As for nuances, I can only say I tend to like to let the facts speak for themselves. The outlook for nuclear energy prior to Fukushima was not particularly bright with the exception of China, India and perhaps a few other countries, and both China and India were also facing numerous obstacles. After Fukushima, the industry’s future looks even less bright.