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Lessons Learned from Fukushima, Nuclear Power Plant Development Has Entered Its Sunset Years

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Jakarta, March 11, 2022 – Amid energy decarbonization efforts to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as mid-century or in 2060, the Indonesian government is considering developing a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). However, several nuclear power plant accidents in the world, such as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011), indicate that nuclear power plants are full of security risks and adverse economic impacts. Commemorating 11 years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) and the Earth Rekso Society (Marem) held a Webinar “Dynamics of the Development of Nuclear Power Plants after the Fukushima Accident”.

Even though it has been regulated in PP No. 79 of 2014 concerning nuclear as a last choice, the government and PLN are still discussing nuclear power plants, such as small modular reactor technology, as one of the solutions on the net-zero roadmaps that is being prepared. However, Fabby Tumiwa, Executive Director of IESR, views that in energy policy the government should prioritize technology that is reliable and can be built quickly so that it can overcome the urgent climate crisis.

“If the government relies on unreliable technology, it will only waste resources that should be used to encourage the development of other energy sources that are safer, more reliable, and effective in dealing with climate change,” said Fabby.

Learning from Japan’s experience, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Professor at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University, who also served as the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (2010-2014) stated that the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident has changed the energy sector and public perception of Japan. Before the Fukushima tragedy, there were 54 units of nuclear power plants operating, but this number was reduced to 10 units by 2021. The Japanese public perception changed drastically from 87 percent (2010) who thought nuclear power plants were a necessary power plant, to only 24 percent in 2013. As a result of the accident, investment in nuclear power plant safety and accident costs increased so that the cost of nuclear power plants was no longer the cheapest in Japan. Based on data from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), the average cost of generating nuclear power plants in 2021 will be around 11 yen/kWh, higher than solar and wind energy, which costs 8-9 yen/kWh.

Furthermore, Suzuki explained that the Fukushima accident cost around USD 322 billion up to USD 719 billion according to data from the Japan Center for Economic Research. The government’s calculation is lower, namely USD 74.3 billion up to USD 223.1 billion because it does not include the disposal costs of the remaining radioactive fuel of nuclear power plants. Moreover, radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear power plant contaminates water, soil, and food. Meanwhile, out of 35,000 refugees (as of April 2021), only 2.5 percent of people returned to affected cities such as Okuma City and 9.2 percent to Tomioka City.

“The impact of the accident is not only from the engineering section, we have to consider social economics, political, and ethical points of view. In addition, the government needs to involve independent scientific institutions in the policy making process and finally be able to increase public trust, because policy without science is a gamble,” said Suzuki.

He also added that nuclear power plants are like medicine which has a strong effect. It should not be taken if not needed.  

In line with Suzuki, MV Ramana, Professor, and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues from the University of British Columbia emphasized that the golden era of nuclear power plants has passed, about 3 decades ago. According to him, many factors have contributed to the decline in nuclear power plant development, including the cost of making reactors too expensive compared to the declining prices of solar and wind power. Ramana explained that the innovation of the Small Modular Reactor (a nuclear reactor designed in a size of less than 300 MW and consisting of modules/parts that can be built separately) is also not able to solve all of the problems in one design.

“Even if we assume the learning (about the nuclear industry) ends up with a positive rate, you still have to manufacture hundreds, if not thousands of small reactors before it can be as cheap as large reactors. While the large one is not economically competitive against solar or wind,” said Ramana.

Ramana views that instead of building a nuclear power plant with all the risks, it is better to use the investment for other sustainable solutions.

 

“On solar and wind power, 20 years ago people used to say more than 20% Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) in the grid will make it unstable. Now, the planners say you could go as high as 80%, maybe 90% on just VRE with the rest being storage or base load plants,” he explained.

Herman Darnel Ibrahim, a member of the National Energy Council on the same occasion said that without nuclear power, Indonesia can achieve carbon neutrality in 2060 by maximizing renewable energy; hydropower, geothermal, and biomass, and developing massive solar energy with a capacity of hundreds of GW.

“The conditions needed to be able to fulfill are the successful discovery of technology for penetration of up to 75% of the electricity grid, the successful development of cheaper energy storage that allows the development of Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) with storage capacity, as well as Levelized Cost of Electricity ( LCOE) solar and wind energy with storage is cheaper than a nuclear energy LCOE,” he concluded.

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