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Sunil Chacko

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Cost of Nuclear Power May Enable Renewable Energy to Gain Further Ground

Posted: 07/22/11 12:13 PM ET

In the past, renewable sources of energy, such as solar, wind, bio-fuels, and geothermal, had been relegated in comparison with the pre-Fukushima rush for nuclear energy. Indeed, Japan went so far as to plan for 50% of its power to come from nuclear by 2030, in a nation where people have grown accustomed to not having to open doors because electric motor-driven doors open automatically, and there is similar use or wastage of power, depending on the perspective of the beholder.

The tragic calamity that has gripped Japan, starting from the horrendous tsunami and subsequent radiation leaks, has not just impacted the nuclear plans of Japan, but the entire nuclear energy industry of the world. Germany has already announced that it will give up nuclear power in its entirety. Pressure is on countries like India that had major nuclear power goals, to now take a closer look in the light of the experience of Fukushima. In India, however, it is not so much its natural disasters, which pale in comparison to the near-continuous cycle of Japan's earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcanoes, landslides, and other calamities that the industrious Japanese people have had to deal with over centuries. But rather, perhaps the even more dangerous possibility of man-made criminal and terrorist actions that could trigger a nuclear cloud release from a reactor, and ensuing nuclear fallout, that my late statistician father researched the probability predictions of at the University of California, Berkeley, half a century ago. And, the possibility of accidents en route for nuclear wastes that are being transported by rail or road.

In the meantime, disposal of nuclear waste has become controversial, as has the cost of commissioning and later de-commissioning nuclear power plants. Caribbean countries have called for an immediate end to shipment of nuclear waste through the Caribbean Sea and emphasized how much the ocean is integral to their tourism and fishing based economy, which in fact is also the case for the island nation of Japan.

Further, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid has successfully kept nuclear waste away from his home State of Nevada's vast Yucca Mountain, which was for decades contemplated as a potential dumping ground.

The post-Fukushima Japanese store shelves that display unsold meat and fish following news of contaminated fodder having being used as feed, and continuing tainted fluids being released into the ocean around the stricken nuclear power plants, are just one category of losses suffered by small and large businesses. As for families and communities, the losses have been severe, beyond the untold suffering of the tsunami/radiation affected.

But nowhere has a full costing been done. And that enables a fuzzy debate to continue with polarized intellectuals berating one another, as Prof. Jitsuro Terashima, Chairman of the Japan Research Institute, points out. He calls for reducing dependence on nuclear energy through a revision in Japan's Strategic Energy Plan. Meanwhile, Prof. Hiroshi Komiyama, Chairman of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, has strongly advocated a low-carbon future through enhanced use of renewable energy.

There is no question that Japan and most other nations with abundant sunlight should utilize solar energy much more through high efficiency photovoltaic and thermal routes. Indeed, Dr. Kazuo Inamori, the founder of Kyocera, for instance, has been a pioneer in this respect.

It is time to support renewable energy with Japan's low cost of capital to reduce the risks of nuclear power and alleviate the impending electricity shortages as Japan and indeed the world comprehensively contemplate a post-Fukushima energy future.