Nuclear Fuel Cycle:
Shouldering Japan's 21st Century Energy Needs
OIL, COAL, natural gas, uranium. They are the energy sources
that sustain and support the daily activities of our lives as
well as our industries. Yet these resources will only be available
for a limited number of years.
There are, however, key differences between them. Unlike oil
or coal, uranium offers a number of advantages over fossil fuels.
One of its biggest merits is that it is recyclable: Some 97% of
spent fuel can be reused, with a portion converted back into fuel.
This fact has tremendous appeal for Japan, as it relies on 80%
of its energy requirements from abroad. Uranium's recyclability
therefore makes it a semi-domestic' energy source for resource-poor
Spiraling Demand for Energy
ENERGY RESOURCE availability is a major issue that will
grow more serious in the years ahead. Why? Because the energy
consumption of developing nations, not only in Asia but the rest
of the world, is projected to rise. Asia (excluding Japan) and
other developing nations consumed 24% of the world's energy in
1996. Yet that ratio is expected to jump to 39% by 2010 showing
that these countries are bound to become major energy consumers
in the near-future.
Yet the estimated recoverable energy reserves of oil are forecast
to last only another 43 years, natural gas for 63 years, coal-by
far the most abundant energy resource-for 231 years, and uranium
for 72 years. To avoid the escalation of international tension
and conflict in a scramble for energy, it is imperative to secure
sources of energy to supplement those currently available.
Nuclear Power: A Global Choice
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY sources such as solar and wind power are attractive
options in that they are clean and inexhaustible. And while their
use will no doubt grow over the years, such resources remain hamstrung
by a variety of drawbacks, from their susceptibility to the vagaries
of weather and poor energy conversion rates to inferior cost efficiency.
Continuous efforts will be made in research and development in
order to utilize such alternative energy sources. However, until
the technological hurdles obstructing them-and there are many-
are overcome, nuclear power remains among the most viable means
of power generation. It is compact in that a 1-million kilowatt
nuclearpower plant requires 30 tons of fuel per year versus 1.4
million tons of oil needed to fuel conventional plants. This edge
allows for lower costs and less energy expenditure to extract,
transport and store uranium.
Nuclear power is also less disruptive to the environment. Unlike
fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and sulfurous oxides-the two leading
culprits in global warming and acid rain-emitted from nuclear
energy are minimal.
Which is why as in the end of 1999, 31 countries today are using
425 nuclear reactors with a generating capacity of 360 million
kw. France, for instance, relies on nuclear power for 75% of its
electricity needs; Japan, which finds itself in a similar energy
predicament as France, depends on 37% of its electricity needs.