Post-Fukushima, some remain steadfast advocates of nuclear power and uranium mining

9th September 2011 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

While there has been a loss of confidence in nuclear power and uranium mining in the wake of what happened to the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, some remain steadfast advocates of what they see as an energy source that will continue to play a significant role.

While it is true that uranium companies that had a nicely buoyant share price position a year ago have been in a starkly different position since mid-March, advocates of nuclear power and uranium mining are proclaiming the current low as the ideal time to buy in.

One of the most vociferous of these is Dr Andrew Tunks, who recalls that, on that fateful day, Fukushima’s link to the seismic network ensured that it shut down its power generation within 20 seconds of the earthquake occurring.

As the CEO of the Australia- and Botswana-listed A-Cap Resources puts it, the power rods were inserted, the power stopped, there was a reversion to diesel-generation power and “everything was fine”.

That was until the 7-m-higher-than-expected tsunami that followed completely destroyed the infrastructure of the Fukushima nuclear plant, which made it impossible to reconnect the power.

While the uranium part of the reaction is stoppable in such circumstances, it is impossible to stop some of the associated products from continuing to produce heat, even though they are no longer producing electricity.

That is the issue. The water inside the reactor and coiling plant begins to boil, causing a release of radiation into the ocean and four workers received doses of radioactivity above the occupational limit.

Against that background, protagonists are undeterred in their conviction that nuclear power will play a significant role in the world’s energy future, mainly because of the energy intensity of uranium.

Tunks was quick to point out at the recent Botswana resources conference that one kilogram of uranium was capable of powering the lights in the conference hall in which the delegates were sitting for 140 years, compared with a kilogram of coal being able to power them for two days.

While the coal reaction is chemical, the uranium reaction involves the nucleus of the atom.
One ton of uranium, he says, is the equivalent of 16 000 t of coal and 88 000 barrels of oil.

There are currently 430 nuclear reactors in the world, 60 new ones are being built, 150 are in an advanced stage of planning and there are another 340 in early stages of planning.

While Germany has decided to close its nuclear reactors by 2020, China, the US and other countries have already committed to nuclear power.

Moreover, some nuclear protagonists like Tunks forecast that Germany will be forced to buy power from neighbours as a result, including nuclear power from France.

The three main nuclear power accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima have involved generation-two reactors that were designed many years ago.

The modern small modular reactors being built today, which provide about 150 MW of power at a cost of about $60-million, are self-contained.

Against that background, many are interested to see how it all pans out, despite the damage that the fifth-largest earthquake in the history of the earth and the tsunami that followed have had on the industry.

The ASX-listed A-Cap, for one, is putting its money where it has drilled 4 000 holes in its large uranium concession in Botswana, where it has a dual listing on the Botswana Stock Exchange, as do several other incipient mining developers in a country that is diversifying away from its large dependence on diamonds towards energy minerals, notably coal, but also uranium.