After Fukushima, can nuclear power actually help save the planet?

After Fukushima, can nuclear power actually help save the planet?

Ten years ago this week, a powerful earthquake off the coast of eastern Japan triggered a tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant, resulting in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. A decade and dozens of decommissioned reactors later, nuclear energy still supplies about 10 percent of global electricity, but its future remains uncertain.

As more countries pledge to curb emissions to mitigate climate change, nuclear could serve as a clean(ish) and reliable source of energy. But investing more in nuclear comes with tradeoffs.


Nuclear is greener than you think. It's not renewable like solar or wind, but nuclear's direct carbon dioxide emissions output is zero. Over its life cycle, a nuclear plant produces about the same volume of indirect emissions per unit of electricity (mainly to extract and process uranium, to build and operate the facilities, and store the waste) as wind, and one-third of solar. That helps explain why the use of nuclear power is not ruled out entirely by US proponents of the Green New Deal.

There's also the unintended environmental cost of shutting down. When the Fukushima disaster prompted Germany to take most of its nuclear plants offline, it was soon forced to fire up its coal plants, leading to 1,100 additional deaths per year from air pollution. Scientists estimate that not replacing all nuclear plants with fossil fuels by 2050 could save more than seven million lives.

Moreover, while solar and wind are both intermittent and therefore depend on energy storage, nuclear is as reliable as oil, gas, and coal. The International Energy Agency projects that the world could meet its Paris climate goals by 2040 by raising nuclear's share of the global energy mix to 15 percent and investing a lot more in cheaper, cleaner nuclear plants.

But nuclear is also very expensive, and understandably unpopular. Generating electricity from nuclear now costs about $112-189 per megawatt hour, much more than solar ($36-44) and wind ($29-56). Also, while the total lifetime cost of building and running a plant has declined for solar and wind over the last decade, it has increased for nuclear, so poorer countries can't afford it. Finally, the average construction time for a single plant is nearly 10 years — dangerously slow for the urgent battle against climate change.

The other major concern is safety. To be fair, unlike Chernobyl the Fukushima accident didn't kill anyone from radiation, and was caused not by a chain of human errors but a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a catastrophe on a scale that even the safety-conscious Japanese hadn't planned for. But they did build the site near the coast in a known quake-prone area, and they didn't protect the reactors as well as European countries did after a French plant flooded in 1999.

More importantly, Fukushima spurred a global popular backlash against nuclear power that has yet to dissipate. More than 49 percent of Japanese people said a year ago that they want nuclear power to be discontinued. Roughly the same percentage of Americans now have an unfavorable view of nuclear, making it the most unpopular source of energy in the US after coal.

So, who's still building new nuclear plants, and why? Russia, for now the dominant global player in the industry, is exporting its nuclear technology to countries with relatively friendly governments like those in Hungary, Iran, and Turkey. But China is catching up fast, and has plans to both finance and construct new plants in places as diverse as Pakistan, South Africa… and the UK.

Moscow and Beijing — the latter betting big on nuclear as part of its bid to go carbon-neutral by 2050 — are competing to fill the void briefly created by the US. (The Trump administration reversed Obama-era bans on US international public lenders financing nuclear projects abroad, although President Joe Biden has yet to say whether he'll stay the course.)

If the Americans stage a nuclear export comeback, things could get interesting. On the one hand, US-built plants might be preferable for countries committed to net zero emissions that can afford them. On the other hand, some of those same nations have popular environmentalist parties that want to abolish nuclear energy, and many locals will protest nuclear construction in their backyard.

A tough choice. Weighing the risks of a costly, unpopular source of energy against the benefits of emissions-free electricity will provoke debate in many countries. But as the drive for climate action becomes more urgent, governments are running out of time to make their choice.

Early employment can set a young person on a trajectory for success, providing both a paycheck and a stepping-stone for improving academic performance.

Bank of America is committed to investing in youth employment, funding $160 million since 2018 to connect youth and young adults to jobs and mentoring.

The minutiae of supply chains makes for boring dinner table talk, but it's increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation now that packages are taking much longer to arrive in the consumer-oriented US, while prices of goods soar.

With the issue unlikely to be resolved anytime soon, right-wing media have dubbed President Biden the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, conjuring images of sad Christmas trees surrounded by distraught children whose holiday gifts are stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

It hasn't been a good run for Uncle Joe in recent months. What issues are tripping him up?

More Show less

Three years ago, Facebook changed its algorithms to mitigate online rage and misinformation. But it only made Facebook worse by boosting toxic engagement, says Nick Thompson, The Atlantic CEO & former WIRED editor-in-chief. Thompson believes Facebook simply got in over its head, rather than becoming intentionally "evil" like, say, Big Tobacco with cigarettes. "I think they just created something they couldn't control. And I think they didn't grasp what was happening until too late." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

From overall health and wellness to representation in the global workforce, women and girls have faced serious setbacks over the past 18+ months. They also hold the key to more robust and inclusive growth in the months and years ahead: McKinsey & Company estimates that centering recovery efforts on women could contribute $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030.

On October 28th at 12pm ET, as part of our "Measuring What Matters" series, GZERO Media and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will look beyond traditional indicators of economic recovery to examine COVID-19's impact on girls and women, specifically in the areas of health and employment.

More Show less

This year, American kids who've asked Santa for L.O.L. Surprise! dolls, Nerf blasters, or classic Legos may be disappointed. The delivery of these and other in-demand toys could be delayed due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions that are still hitting US businesses and consumers hard. Container vessels loaded with precious cargo are waiting days to enter busy US ports, while within the country truck drivers are working flat out to meet soaring demand for goods of all kinds. Products are getting wildly expensive or arriving late. Here's a snapshot of the problem, showing longer delivery times, skyrocketing freight and shipping costs, and trucker employment.

Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A long-running Senate investigation in Brazil has found that by downplaying the severity of COVID, dithering on vaccines, and promoting quack cures, President Jair Bolsonaro directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. An earlier version of the report went so far as to recommend charges of homicide and genocide as well, but that was pulled back in the final copy to a mere charge of "crimes against humanity", according to the New York Times. The 1,200-page report alleges Bolsonaro's policies led directly to the deaths of at least half of the 600,000 Brazilians who have succumbed to the virus. It's a bombshell charge, but it's unlikely to land Bolsonaro in the dock — for that to happen he'd have to be formally accused by the justice minister, an ally whom he appointed, and the lower house of parliament, which his supporters control. Still, as the deeply unpopular Bolsonaro limps towards next year's presidential election, a rap of this kind isn't going to help.

More Show less

11,412: Irmgard Furchner, a 92-year-old former typist at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, is facing trial for contributing to the murder of 11,412 people there. Furchner tried to escape German authorities in late September by sneaking out of her nursing home, but was arrested hours later and slapped with an electronic wrist tag.

More Show less

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Russia's Vladimir Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal