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Chairman's Articles

Lunch in Fukushima and Nuclear Renaissance

Well, some pun and drama is intended here. Though I was in Fukushima, there was no probability of earthquake, not even a tremor . Yes, I was on the banks of water - but there was zero chance of any tsunami. Yes, there was authentic Japanese food but there was no fear that it would be contaminated by nuclear radiation.

Lunch in Fukushima and Nuclear Renaissance I was in a restaurant in Paris, called “Fukushima”. Probably only Japanese restaurant in Paris with that name. It was on boulevard Grenelle, on the banks of river Seine and situated quite close to International Energy Agency’s (  IEA ) office in Paris.

More than famous menu of yakitori, ashimi, maki and omni-present sushi, my favourite still is vegetable tempura and aubergine in miso. And what brings tsunami in mouth is my favourite of favourites : wasabi with any dish. It was not the first time that I was lunching there. But it was for the first time after tsunami of 2011. Every time I went there, it was always with the friends from IEA. I have curiously observed the shift in the emphasis of IEA. The way Fukushima disaster has made policy makers make U-turn on their perception about the nuclear energy, I have observed the similar transformation within IEA . The lunch in ‘Fukushima’ once again revealed that transformation in renewed way.

IEA came into existence in 1974, after the first oil shock of 1973. It is said that IEA was founded when the governments in OECD countries were inspired by the London speech by Henri Kissinger. The speech suggested that developed countries should build a mechanism to ensure security of oil supply. IEA’s founding mandate, indeed, included four items, each of which had word ‘oil’ in it and all dealt directly with ‘oil issues’. That was obvious, considering the oil-addiction of OECD countries and intensity of the ‘oil-shock’ felt at that time .

Today, the transformed aim of IEA deals with 5 items and only one of those items has word ‘oil ‘ in it. IEA now more and more deals with sustainable energy policies, energy efficiency, low carbon energy sources and carbon emissions and now nuclear power. For example just before Durban meeting IEA released it assessment which said, “Energy will become “viciously more expensive” and polluting if governments don’t promote renewable and nuclear power in the next two decades instead of burning coal”.

Without nuclear, keeping world temperature gains at 2 degrees Celsius would cost an extra $1.5 trillion through 2035, as per that report adding that a shift away from nuclear power “would definitely be bad news for energy security, for climate change and also for the economics of the electricity price.” That was bold statement considering many important OECD countries already have plans to phased down of nuclear reactor.

I recall my meeting in Kyoto in 1997 with Japanese nuclear-passionate managers of Tokyo Electric Power company (  TEPCO ) who were quite upbeat about the fact that nuclear power was answer to climate change. That time, vehemently defending the nuclear reactors, they asked me “Did the world shutdown the chemical industry because there were serious accidents in the chemical industries ? Why one should then shut down nuclear energy? “

IEA’s assessment of Nov 2011 that warns against the nuclear shutdown would ring sweet music in the ears of TEPCO’s managers, though probably they are not yet recovered from the ‘nuclear shock”

I keep wondering while finishing with tempura , had France leveraged its innovative ‘Marie Curie’ power and had Japan deployed its ‘Yoshio Nishina’ strength in developing Solar energy, by this time the world would have had ‘solar reactors’ all around. It would have made Japan live up to its famous name as “Land of rising sun” and France as “ land of unbeatable Gaulois”.

The word Fukushima literally mean ‘Good fortune’ island. One never knows, the Fukushima disaster may lead to good fortune for the world. The OECD countries are already thinking of phased shutdown of nearly 100 reactors over next couple of decades, half of it would be from Japan. And developing countries are becoming more safety cautious, though they continue to build them.

At the end of the Japanese lunch, the French café was essential. Conclusion with my IEA friend was :  “Though Kissinger is now too old to give powerful speech to recommend building defense mechanism against the ‘nuclear shock’ , the world definitely needs “International Solar Energy Agency" to prepare the guidelines of reserve stock of the minimum solar energy in case of disaster! And that should again be based in Paris based-on the banks of Seine. Nothing can honor more for the French scientist Edmond Becquerel who for the first time shown that light can be converted to energy.

Nuclear industry, world-wide may be entering a flat trend in terms of its capacity and share of electricity production, but French Café after wasabi’s lingering taste in ‘Fukushima’ was a experience that refuses to flatten out .

 

Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE, Former Director, UNEP

Rajendra Shende

Chairman TERRE
Former Director, UNEP