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Nuclear safety upgrades post-Fukushima cost $47 billion

Alternative Energy

Five years after the accident at Fukushima I in Japan resulted in three reactor meltdowns, the global nuclear industry is spending $47 billion on safety enhancements mandated after the accident revealed weaknesses in plant protection from earthquakes and flooding. This is according to a Platts review put together by Steven Dolley in DC, Benjamin Leveau in London, Yuzo Yamaguchi from Tokyo, as well as Platts correspondents in Sweden, South Korea and China.

Reactions to the March 11, 2011 accident ranged from pauses in new nuclear construction programs in China to Germany’s decision to gradually phase out nuclear generation.

But in the majority of countries with nuclear power, plans for new reactors have been scaled back, not just because of the Fukushima I accident but for economic reasons, as competing sources of power become less expensive, renewable energy grows in popularity and slow economic growth curbs demand.

Global nuclear regulators carried out reviews of the accident, and in most countries nuclear plant operators were required to install backup sources of electric power and cooling water along with additional protection from earthquakes and flooding. A record-setting earthquake triggered a tsunami that swamped backup emergency power generators and disabled on-site power distribution systems at Fukushima I, leading to a complete loss of cooling.

Those safety improvements have come at a high cost.

A Platts review found that in nine of the 13 countries with the largest nuclear fleets, costs to comply with post-Fukushima requirements will total more than $40 billion, mostly before 2020. Those countries accounted for 289, or two-thirds, of the power reactors in operation worldwide.

The median of the costs was $46.9 million/reactor.

If the remaining reactors not covered in the Platts survey spent the median amount to meet post-Fukushima regulatory requirements, the global cost to make post-Fukushima enhancements would be $47.2 billion.

Post-Fukushima nuclear safety costs through 2020

The greatest cost per country was in Japan, where operators may spend $640 million per reactor to enhance safety.

The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency released a five-year status report on the Fukushima I accident, concluding that actions implemented by member countries had improved the overall safety of the world’s nuclear fleet, but that enhancing safety remains “a long-term process.”

NEA Director General William Magwood said February 29 he believes the addition of portable power sources and sources of cooling is one of the most important improvements resulting from the Fukushima I accident. Validating the safety culture and independence of a country’s nuclear regulatory regime is another element that Magwood said is important.

While Magwood said he recognized member countries had responded differently to the Fukushima I accident, he said he had been “struck by the commonality” in the response to the accident.

In the US, Nuclear Regulatory Commission members in 2012 ordered power reactor operators to enhance their ability to mitigate severe accidents. The US nuclear industry has estimated more than $4 billion, or about $40 million/reactor, will be spent by 2017 or 2018 to meet the requirements.

“The industry has managed its response to Fukushima while avoiding costly new requirements that would have provided little benefit,” said Marvin Fertel, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, in New York February 11.

Anti-nuclear groups have said the regulatory and industry response following the Fukushima I accident has been insufficient. Regulators in the US have “capitulated” to industry by failing to order vent filters, the group Beyond Nuclear said in a March 10 statement.

Measures to protect nuclear plants from earthquakes and flooding have left unaddressed vulnerabilities in areas such as plant security, the group said.

The biggest problem facing US nuclear plant operators recently has been economic. Low natural gas prices and an abundance of cheap renewable electricity in some markets have created financial problems for nuclear plants in competitive electricity markets. Entergy in late 2015 said it would permanently shut two stations, the 849 MW FitzPatrick in New York state and 728 MW Pilgrim in Massachusetts.

Japan’s nuclear reactors were all shut following the Fukushima I accident, and only two have met regulatory requirements and restarted.

The country’s nuclear industry has budgeted about Yen 3.1 trillion ($27.5 billion) for earthquake and tsunami protection following the accident.

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Japanese nuclear regulator, said March 23 that Japanese reactors have to be protected from greater earthquake or tsunami risks than those in most other countries. “There have been few big earthquakes or tsunami in Europe, unlike in Japan.”

Power companies in Japan are willing to spend billions of dollars on reactor upgrades because they expect the investments will help them reduce substantial costs spent on replacement fossil fuels. Restarting the two Takahama reactors, for example, could save about Yen 10 billion/month for Kansai Electric Power Co., a company spokesman said March 22.

For Germany, the Fukushima I accident was the catalyst for a government decision to permanently shut the country’s nuclear reactors.

In April 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government was moving to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewables. After the accident, the government ordered that the country’s seven oldest units be shut permanently and set a schedule for nine remaining units to shut by 2022.

The phase-out decision, which parliament confirmed, sparked a number of lawsuits by German nuclear utilities that are still pending.

Because of the broad German political consensus on shutting nuclear power, politicians have said there is no reversing the phase-out decision.

“The nuclear phase-out decision will not be reversed as there is no serious political party favoring nuclear power,” Claudia Kemfert, a professor of energy economics at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said.

Despite the Fukushima I accident, the political consensus in favor of nuclear energy and the UK’s new nuclear plant construction program remains.

Tim Yeo, who was an environment and energy minister in the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major in the mid-1990s, said March 14 he attributes this to a combination of bipartisan support for nuclear power and a robust and the UK regulator’s 2011 report concluding there was no inherent weakness in the regulation of UK nuclear stations.

France ratified last year a law that aims to change the country’s energy mix, reducing the share of nuclear energy in electricity production to 50% from 75% and promoting renewable energy use in its place. But the practical steps to reduce nuclear power’s share of generation have yet to be discussed.

State utility EDF estimated in late 2011 that it would cost Eur11 billion to 2033 to implement the safety measures that the country’s nuclear safety authority, ASN, recommends. The post-Fukushima measures were divided in phases, with the first two phases costing an estimated Eur4.5 billion to 2020.

South Korea will spend a total of Won 1.1 trillion ($930 million) to carry out post-Fukushima measures from 2011 to 2017, Kim Tae-Seok, a senior spokesman for the country’s state-run nuclear power operator, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, or KHNP, said March 15.

The political and economic impact of the accident in South Korea include larger protests by residents against plans to build new reactors, which has forced the government to offer larger economic aid packages to win support in those communities.

Following the Fukushima I accident, China’s government slowed the approval process for planned units and suspended approvals for the start of construction of any new plants, Xu Dazhe, the chairman of the China Atomic Energy Authority, said at a briefing January 27.

The country resumed new nuclear plant construction approvals in 2015, with the start of work at Hongyanhe-5.


17 Comments on "Nuclear safety upgrades post-Fukushima cost $47 billion"

  1. Pennsyguy on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 1:20 pm 

    The nuclear power industry is one of the most efficient methods of turning tax dollars into corporate profits. the others: airlines and “defense” spending.

  2. freak on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 1:57 pm 

    Why have not the nuclear industry switched over to Thorium reactors which could consume 99% of nuclear waste and are safe?

  3. penury on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 2:09 pm 

    As large as the estimated cost appears, I wonder if they computed the value of the degradation o0f the oceans? How about the health effects which would continue for generations (this is a moot point)everywhere in the world.

  4. practicalMaina on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 2:51 pm 

    Yeah i do not understand how you can sell this business model, up front huge cost, project takes forever to get built all while costs and interest are working against you, if people are motivated and organized they can try to stop the death machine you have already sank huge money into, Once it is up and running you have to pay a bunch of specialized employees, who cant spend 2 much time at work because of exposure issues, really well. You purchase fuel and then have to pay to handle it for the next 1000 years. The machine slowly degrades and destroys itself threw the constant bombardment of radiation and energy.
    All this compared 2 a renewable farm, where if it is conventional pv, or wind, you can start generating power and subsidizing further building as the project is coming along, cash flow positive in weeks, for good. Give me a crap load of that fiat currency shit and that is what I would do. Instead of building something useless with something useless, build something useful with something useless…yay

  5. Outcast_Searcher on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 3:03 pm 

    practicalMaina: Well, why don’t you take your OWN money and go do this (build lots of wind and PV farms) since it is such a great deal. Why does it always take OTHER peoples’ money to build such causes if they’re so great.

    Over time, green energy will continue to be built out. But in the real world, people value economics, families need to feed and house themselves, etc.

  6. Ralph on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 3:46 pm 

    I have inherited some money and yet in the UK I am finding it difficult to find a wind farm scheme to sink it into. The government has killed off all subsidies for new onshore wind, and all the offshore wind is foreign owned.

    I done’t want money sitting in the bank when the next financial crisis hits.

  7. Anonymous on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 6:22 pm 

    47 billion eh? Sounds impressive. Protection from earthquakes and flooding. Laudable. One thing though, how much are the spending to protect us from the nuclear power itself? Or how much is being spent(to measureable effect) to deal with the 100’s of thousands of tons of radioactive waste still sitting above ground in (mostly) leaking containers since the 1950’s?

    Yea about none and very little. That 47 billion will do little to protect anyone. And another question, who exactly, is footing the bill for all that ‘safety’ work? Its a safe bet all the ‘little’ people will get that bill too. Not corporations, or the engineers or designers that built those crappy uS designed reactors in the first place.

  8. makati1 on Tue, 29th Mar 2016 8:52 pm 


    Just one of many leaks and problems with the Us nuclear power industry.

  9. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 12:14 am 

    Answer to Mr. freak ….. we cannot build Thorium reactors. The molten salt Thorium reactor doesn’t require fuel rods, so then GE can’t sell expensive fuel assemblies into the new design.

    Therefore we must continue with the old design so that GE can continue to make lots of profit.

  10. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 12:23 am 

    Blow up Fukushima with a hydrogen fusion bomb. Enough of this stupid ‘water tank farm’ and people pretending to clean it up.

    Here is how you clean it up:

    And the fallout? Just make sure its blowing towards North Korea.
    And the big mushroom cloud? Hell’s bells, sell tickets, lots of ’em. Make a big profit. Now it’s Miller Time.

  11. PracticalMaina on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:45 am 

    Outcast searcher. I am slowly building renewables and cost saving measures into my life. It would just be nice to have the massive economy of scale you could get from these multi billion dollar projects.

  12. PracticalMaina on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 7:50 am 

    If renewable contractors could dick around the customer and government the way nukes can than the playing field would be much more level.

  13. Dubya on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:33 am 

    Yes, now the reactors are safe so they can produce more product.
    Too bad the longest term solution to the waste problem is about 50 years.
    I’m sure they will figure out something.

  14. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:45 am 

    Blow up Fukushima. Fun for the whole family.

    They used to sell tickets to head-on steam engine train wrecks. Ka-Blam! Now do it nuclear style. Fight fire with fire.

    Use only under adult supervision. Do not hold in hand. Light fuse and get away.

  15. Kenz300 on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:47 am 

    Fukushima Should Have Served as Wake-Up Call for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    7 Top NRC Experts Break Ranks to Warn of Critical Danger at Aging Nuke Plants

  16. Kenz300 on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 8:47 am 

    Nuclear energy is poisoning the planet…………

    5 Years After Fukushima, ‘No End in Sight’ to Ecological Fallout

  17. peakyeast on Wed, 30th Mar 2016 4:08 pm 

    The worlds nuclear fleet was so safe that only 47billion$ was needed to protect them against an obvious and reoccuring threat.

    I wonder how many other obvious threats that has been judged too insignificant to handle.

    Besides when working with nuclear power for multibillions and putting whole nations health and future at risk – shouldnt those problem have been handled BEFORE something happened.

    Oh wait no… Thats not COST effective. Besides we might risk using too much money on making it too safe. We wouldnt want that – it ruins our profits !!

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