Post-Fukushima: Signs Of A New Surge In Nuclear Plant Construction

Fukushima raised serious questions about nuclear safety and prompted a global building freeze on new atomic power plants. But as 2012 begins, it is becoming clear that the freeze is beginning to thaw. And the BRICS nations will lead the way.

A nuclear power plant being built in Liangshan Yizu, China (CookieEvans5)

PARIS -- Last year's tsunami in Japan and the nuclear accident that followed at the Fukushima reactor threw up an unprecedented roadblock for the world's atomic power industry.

Prior to the disaster, nuclear power had been enjoying a global "renaissance" thanks in large part to higher commodity prices and growing energy demand in developing economies. The Fukushima catastrophe – the world's worst since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 – stopped that resurgence dead in its tracks.

Over the months that followed the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami, citizens and politicians in numerous countries – particularly in Europe – aired concerns about nuclear safety and managed to place the atomic energy issue back on the table. Germany's decision to get out of the nuclear energy business was the most notable example. And in Europe, at least, that decision seemed to forecast a real decline for the industry.

Seven months later, however, nuclear power suddenly looks as if it may be on the comeback trail.

Prior to the Fukushima accident, the United States had been looking to revive its nuclear power program. In February 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama granted public subsidies to build third-generation plants on American soil. These reactors were to be the first since the 1980s in America, which halted nuclear plant construction after the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

Even if the Japanese disaster didn't mobilize anti-nuclear activists in the United States the way it did in Europe, U.S. authorities still decided to put new nuclear power plant projects on hold. That construction freeze, however, is now beginning to thaw. On Dec. 22, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced its approval of the latest version of Westinghouse Electric's AP1000 reactor design. Analysts hailed the move as a symbolic step toward new atomic power plant construction in the United States.

The United States isn't the only large western power ready to delve back into nuclear energy. The British government, concerned about diminishing North Sea oil reserves and keen to limit its dependence of foreign fossil fuels, has decided to build a dozen nuclear plants between now and 2020. The decision had almost universal support in the British parliament, where it was supported by both the Conservative and Labour parties.

More nukes for the BRICS

The principal emerging powers – notably China, India, Brazil and South Africa – likewise put their respective nuclear programs on hold during the months that followed Fukushima. That's not to say, however, that they ever really considered turning their backs on nuclear energy.

With growth rates of more than 5%, these emerging economies are going to need more and more energy, especially given their role as the globalized world's new centers of manufacturing. Nuclear energy offers these countries obvious benefits, particularly in terms of cost.

In China, there are no fewer than 25 nuclear reactors currently under construction. Authorities are considering even more nuclear projects that together could make China the world's biggest nuclear energy producer by 2030.

India has proposed upping the percentage of electricity it generates from nuclear plants from the current 3% to 25% by 2050. And between now and 2030 Brazil plans to build between four and eight new atomic power plants.

According to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), between 90 and 350 new reactors will be built worldwide over the next 20 years. Most of those will be in emerging countries.

Read the original article in French

Photo - CookieEvans5

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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