Iranian nuclear power plant shutdown highlights unique risks of nuclear power


An Iranian nuclear power plant has been shut down due to a technical defect. The Bushehr facility has been off the grid for several days and the national electricity company is calling on the Iranians to minimize their electricity consumption. Repairs may not be completed until Friday. As global nuclear capacity increases, the continuing difficulties of the Bushehr facility should remind us of the unique risks associated with nuclear power.

Nuclear power is a particularly risky source of energy

The catastrophic damage that nuclear accidents can cause is well known. The Chernobyl disaster is the most infamous case. Consequently, nuclear’s “social license to operate” is more fragile than that of any other source of energy. Public opinion will oppose nuclear operations at the first sign of danger, and nuclear energy projects must proactively allay fears of disaster. The Fukushima disaster in 2011 was caused by an earthquake and a tsunami. Several countries bordering Iran have expressed concern about earthquakes causing radioactive leaks at the Bushehr facility. After a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in April, Bushehr officials reported that the facility had suffered no damage.

In addition to its inherent risk, nuclear facilities also attract the external risk of malicious actors. The Bushehr facility has been attacked several times in the Iran-Iraq war. Saboteurs know that an effective attack on a nuclear facility can cause massive fallout. Last year, the Natanz atomic power station was reportedly sabotaged. Today, as warfare escalates in cyberspace, nuclear facilities will undoubtedly be the target of hackers. And if nuclear operators are following the industry trend and improving their operations through the installation of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and the use of machine learning algorithms, they need to be extremely careful with their cybersecurity. : Every new sensor is a potential new entry point for hackers. . Finally, two of Iran’s top nuclear scientists were assassinated last year. Assassination does not tend to be a danger to those who use other sources of energy.

Opinions on nuclear power are divided

Currently, the United States, France, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea each have over 25 gigawatts (GW) of installed nuclear capacity. Canada and Ukraine operate approximately 13 GW each. The UK, Germany, Sweden, Spain, India and Belgium each have five to ten GW of installed nuclear power. 16 other countries have one or more reactors.

The United States, the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, plans little nuclear expansion. Of its 95 reactors, 90 are over 30 years old and there are only two reactors planned for future construction. Other countries are actively reducing their nuclear portfolios; Germany has already halved its capacity since 2010 and is on track to zero capacity by 2022. Belgium, Taiwan and Switzerland are implementing similar programs to phase out nuclear energy from here 2030. too risky.

Overall, however, the nuclear power market will grow. Globally, more than 400 active nuclear reactors are currently in operation and 55 nuclear reactors are under construction in 17 different nuclear countries. There are around 475 nuclear reactors announced to come. This growth is due to the attractive cleanliness and reliability of nuclear power in the face of growing concerns about sustainability. China will lead this growth.

Resilience during COVID

Because safety is so crucial to the nuclear power industry, almost all nuclear reactor sites had several contingency plans, including one in the event of a pandemic. As a result, nuclear operations have been particularly resilient to COVID-related disruptions. Very few active reactors have reported layoffs during COVID-19.

Expansion must be careful

Nuclear power is a promising source of clean energy, provided operators are aware of the unique risks that accompany it.

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