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Nuclear accident in Japan, prospects of “gas age”

The situation at Japanese NPPs hit by powerful earthquakes is developing rapidly and it is rather difficult to forecast the final scale of the accident. Anyway expectations of experts and politicians are becoming more alarming. In particular, EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger even described the situation at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant as apocalypse. The future will show whether these words are exaggeration; but even if Japanese engineers and state authorities manage to prevent catastrophic developments, the downward revision of plans to build new NPPs in the world is practically inevitable.

At least we can expect the surge in anti-nuclear sentiments in Europe; although the latter is not located in the seismically dangerous zone, it is very sensitive to environmental issues. In the next few years the word ecology will be surely associated with nuclear problems in public debates about energy pushing back discussions about greenhouse gas and other emissions.

In this case (at least on the European market) the demand for energy sources alternative to nuclear energy will emerge. And only natural gas can be this alternative. Oil and coal are not worthy competitors to gas because of their low environmental friendliness, while nontraditional sources of energy (bio fuel, wind and solar plants, hydrogen fuel elements) are expensive; besides, the current level of technological development cannot ensure uninterrupted generation of energy from these sources regardless of weather conditions. This leads to the creation of objective conditions for the “gas age” – the period of active use of this fuel for at least 15 to 20 or even 30 years. The duration of this “gas age” will depend on the pace of technological progress in the sphere of alternative energy or on the quality breakthrough in safety and economy of peaceful nuclear energy (if the latter breakthrough happens at all).

Obviously the “gas age” opens serious commercial and probably political prospects for major gas exporters such as Russia. Many large importers including Europe will feel the connection between commercial and political prospects of Russia, which will require delicate moves by Moscow to remove at least part of its partners’ concerns. 

By Stanistav Mitrakhovich, NESF leading expert



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