As the world faces up to the need for long-term sustainable energy development, we have to recognise that oil and gas are limited in reserves and unequally distributed around the globe. These significant constraints mean that nuclear power has strong advantages since it is both sustainable for a very long period, and can be developed in any country regardless of any domestic uranium reserves.
Nuclear technology has continuously been developed and upgraded to meet growing expectations and regulations. Based on proven technology, if we add countermeasures for dealing with natural disasters, nuclear power will be able to strengthen its position as a major alternative for supplying large amounts of electricity.
The International Energy Agency forecasts that the global energy demand will climb 36 per cent and electricity consumption will rise more than 80 per cent from 2008 to 2030 due to economic growth and improving living standards in developing nations. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas which will be depleted in the not so distant future cannot keep up with the world's economic development. Moreover, most developing/developed countries have no choice but to join the global rush in developing renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic energy to reduce the carbon gas emissions generated from fossil fuels, which are accountable for 41 per cent of total carbon emissions. Despite this global need for renewable energy, any planning for long-term power development must include the right energy mix, security, economics and environmental protection. The heavily oil-dependent energy structure of the world economy during the 1970s should have been forced to restructure into a more diverse energy mix.
But two nuclear accidents, the Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl accidents, cooled demand for nuclear power development. People began to worry about nuclear disasters and opposition against nuclear power increased. But despite the rising concern and resistance towards nuclear power, the global nuclear industry has stubbornly continued to develop new technology and strengthen nuclear safety. International communities have been established and information, technology and expertise are being exchanged.
Some buzzwords that have maintained their status for quite some time are global warming and environment protection. Based on the contribution of nuclear power generation with large energy capacities, the economic benefits and safe operation, the renaissance of nuclear power, a widely recognised alternative energy source, was foreseen by many, and will be introduced or resumed by not only several developed but also developing countries. Unfortunately, this rosy picture was affected again by the Fukushima accident of March 2011. The global nuclear industry including the International Atomic Energy Agency gathered to maintain the safety of the Fukushima nuclear power plants and to mitigate the impact. Most countries began to reconsider the option of nuclear power and its necessity.
Though the effect of the Three Mile Island accident was devastating, the actions that followed contributed to enhancing and strengthening nuclear safety. Likewise, the post-Fukushima actions will also make nuclear technology much safer and environment-friendly. These actions will address prevention of damage caused by natural disasters, mitigation of accidents, emergency response towards nuclear disasters, robust nuclear regulations and a stronger safety culture. Immediately after the Japanese incident, the government of South Korea was quick to organise an expert group to diagnose the nuclear safety of the country's operating power plants and new ones and issue an action plan. Moreover a new organisation, the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, was launched under direct presidential control in order to reinforce overall nuclear safety and security. Other nuclear plant operating countries are also performing stress tests and taking measures to address the situation at hand.
In this context, we have to ask if we really need nuclear power?
I would say "yes." We have been standing at crossroads since the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. The previous accidents were mainly due to human errors, but the Fukushima accident resulted from a major natural disaster. As we dedicate ourselves to enhancing nuclear safety and culture of safety through post-Three Mile Island actions, we can also better prepare ourselves and nuclear facilities against natural disasters. No other energy resource has experienced this kind of challenge.
In conclusion, even though many countries have hesitated to develop nuclear power since the 1970s (with some exceptions such as Korea, France, Japan and China), only the brave can overcome challenges. The UAE will become an icon within the Middle East and North Africa region for peaceful use of nuclear power. Nuclear power will be an energy source for supplying stable, sustainable, economical and environment-friendly electricity to the UAE.
The Nuclear Security Summit and the Nuclear Industry Summit is under way in Seoul from March 23 and will continue until March 27. Government and nuclear industry leaders from the world are discussing about nuclear security and the role of nuclear industry in enhancing nuclear security and safety. Such intensive efforts to arrive at a consensus will pave the way for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Hee-Yong Lee used to be a Senior Vice President of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), and is responsible for the implementation of the nuclear power project in the UAE. This article was written ahead of the summit.