As U.S. lawmakers and energy experts urged federal regulators to delay decisions on reactor designs and new builds, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Gregory Jaczko said there was no need for concern about U.S. nuclear power. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday astonished the opposition and suspended an unpopular coalition decision made last fall to extend the lives of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants. Merkel also ordered seven nuclear plants that began operating before 1980 to shut down until at least June. Switzerland took similar measures.
In contrast, France—which relies on nuclear power for 80% of its electricity needs—signaled it would not pull the plug on its flagship nuclear industry. Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic—and even quake-afflicted Turkey—said they would stick to their energy policies.
China and India, where nuclear plans are the most ambitious, also said that the crisis wouldn’t hamper new-build plans. While it was closely monitoring the situation at Daiichi, China—a country whose plans to secure its energy future include ramping up nuclear power capacity to at least 80 GW by 2020 and 400 GW by 2050 (from the current 10.2 GW)—said geological and other natural risks had been thoroughly assessed before deciding the location of 27 plants that are under construction. Officials also pledged to strengthen “evaluation of nuclear safety and monitoring of plants.”
At a press conference on March 13, Srikumar Banerjee, chair of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, said India, whose amplified nuclear power ambitions include spending an estimated $150 billion to add dozens of new plants, would continue investing in nuclear power because it was essential for the “power-hungry country.” Pointing out that 40% of its 1.2 billion population did not have regular access to power, Banerjee said his country’s Department of Atomic Energy would review all safety systems, “particularly with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes.”
Major players in the nuclear sector, meanwhile, were unsure of what the Japanese nuclear crisis would mean for the market. GE Chair and CEO Jeffery Immelt told Indian network NDTV in New Delhi that it was essential “to let discovery take place, and let countries reach their own conclusions.” Immelt, who defended his company’s nuclear reactor designs, stressed that the company had an excellent track record for almost 50 years. At the same time, AREVA’s CEO Anne Lauvergeon told television station France 2 that the quake-crippled nuclear power plants were proof that “low-cost nuclear reactors is not the future.” Lauvergeon added that the firm’s flagship Gen. III design, the EPR, would “not release radioactivity in the air even in the very unlikely event of a meltdown of the core."