Two Years on, Fukushima Casts No Shadow Over Nuclear.
Two years ago today, Japan was devastated by eruptions of the land, the sea, and the atom. Nearly 20,000 perished after an earthquake and its consequent tsunami liquified roads and swept away entire villages. In a final blow, the invading ocean wrecked backup cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing three full reactor meltdowns and an explosion that vented radioactive material into the atmosphere. The world’s second-worst nuclear disaster drove thousands of residents from their homes and caused the government to shut down all 50 of the nation’s reactors.

Very few were killed in the reactor disaster itself, but cleaning up will be arduous. It may take up to 40 years to fully decontaminate the area, and a recent estimate from plant operator Tepco pegs the cleanup bill at $125 billion. Worse still, nuclear’s abrupt suspension may further stall Japan’s leaden economy. Nuclear reactors supplied 30 percent of Japan’s electricity prior to the incident; to date only two have been restarted, and power costs are rising as Japan makes up its electricity deficit with imported natural gas.

Although Japan was badly shaken by the meltdowns, it’s important to note that Fukushima was not a repeat of Chernobyl. The radiation vented from the stricken reactors was only a fraction of what blanketed Ukraine, and a recent World Health Organization report on medical risks notes that though residents of the most contaminated areas do face an increased risk of cancer, the bump amounts to one-half of 1 percent over a lifetime. Even most of the emergency workers deployed in contaminated areas are no more likely to develop cancer than the general population.

Even if Fukushima turns out to be less deadly for residents than some predicted, did the incident kill the nuclear business?

Like its persistent byproducts, however, nuclear energy won’t be so easily banished. Even Japan is giving it another chance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was bullish on nuclear energy in a recent speech to parliament, plus Japan can save an estimated $20 billion by restarting at least half its reactors by next year. Construction has resumed on a new nuclear reactor in the northern city of Oma.

“Fukushima has not had a tremendous effect on the industry,” says Jeremy Gordon at the World Nuclear Association, a trade group. Manufacturers and construction companies are cautiously optimistic as the developing world embraces atomic energy. “With Russia going strong, India planning a lot of new builds, and China back on the ball, in five years nuclear construction might be growing as fast as it was back in the 1970s,” Gordon says. Those nations play a huge role in nuclear’s continued growth: 70 percent of new reactor construction is taking place in China, Russia, India, and Korea.

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from Bloomberg BusinessWeek,

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