With the rise of energy needs and global warming, world is on the way to adapt much safer and cleaner source of energy in form of nuclear power plants (NPPs). The use of nuclear energy can significantly deal with the problems of greenhouse emissions, growing economic needs and attaining energy security. No doubt, it will be instrumental in balancing the climatic changes but on the other hand, the fast changes in the climate itself pose serious threats to the safety and security of NPPs.

At present, 436 NPPs are generating fourteen percent of world’s electricity with zero greenhouse emissions. The efficiency of nuclear power revolves around to access the large volumes of water to cool the reactor and a supply of energy to move the water. This is the underlying reason that NPPs are traditionally sited near large bodies of water, often seas or estuaries. Ideally located near seas, NPPs become vulnerable to climate change.

The dynamic coastal areas bring questions to the safety of NPPs as these are more prone to storms, hurricanes, fluctuation in sea levels, land shifts, floods and rise of water temperatures. Floods may cause loss of power and communications, blockage of evacuation routes and equipment malfunctioning.

The increased heat waves due to climate changes bring certain significant impacts on the output of the plants energy generation. No doubt, the cold water makes the reactor work more quickly but the water has passed through the system it is often discharged back where it came from in a much warmer state. During the 2003 heat waves in Europe, the French government relaxed the regulations to maintain the supply of electricity and then it became a permanent measure during the summer months.

Nuclear power supply can severely be affected by low river flows and droughts. The plant needs a large amount of water to stay cool, and drought causes water shortages. Same like the nuclear energy supply is likely to be negatively affected by the fresh water shortage and made nuclear reactors to shut down, as happened in France during the 2003 and 2006 heat waves.

However, nuclear regulators are conscious about the complete structural security plan to run the plant and are designed to withstand and survive a certain level of flooding, hurricanes and earthquakes. But precautionary measures can fail as happened in Blayais Nuclear Power Plant 1999 in France and Fukushima power plant 2011 in Japan.

There are serious concerns about the safety and security of NPPs along with secure energy production within the parameters of rapid climate changes. As nuclear energy is now gaining its momentum to build out more rapidly, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seeks from the nuclear industry to build power plants to last for 100 years and possessing the capability to sustain climate changes. Numbers of possibilities are under consideration like relocation of plants and dry cooling system but permanent solution has not yet been achieved.

YUSRA MUSHTAQ,

Lahore, July 17.