Belgium's main political parties have agreed on a plan to shut down the country's nuclear power stations, though they have not yet set a firm deadline. But Britain, the Czech Republic and Taipei have confirmed details on new nuclear power projects, while Japan has restarted talks with Vietnam and India on exporting its nuclear technology.
According to Belgian officials, the new coalition government being set up will tackle the nuclear issue. The incoming government will decide on details for the move to alternative power sources in the six months following its installation.
If alternative energy sources can be found to fill the gap, then the country's three oldest reactors may be shut down as early as 2015. Belgium currently has seven nuclear reactors at two power stations.
The Belgian announcement follows Germany's decision to renounce nuclear energy, over safety fears sparked by the Fukushima disaster in March. Switzerland has also made a similar move, and Italian voters decided not to restart the country's nuclear programme.
Belgian politicians have been discussing a phase-out of nuclear energy some time: the initial decision to shift away from nuclear power was made in 2003, but was shelved during Belgium's political deadlock following the last government's collapse in April 2010.
Report: Belgium plans to phase out nuclear power [BBC, 31 Oct 2011]
Nuclear energy currently provides 55 percent of Belgium's energy needs. The country will need to replace 5,860 megawatts of power if it is to go ahead with the nuclear phase-out.
The company that operates most of Belgium's nuclear reactors has warned of high energy costs, environmental fallout and increased dependency on foreign suppliers if the country abandons nuclear power.
"A decision on the future of nuclear energy is an eminently political one in which Electrabel has no influence," said the operator, a subsidiary of French energy giant GDF-Suez. But it added the consequences could be dire.
Already a net importer of electricity, Belgium could become increasingly dependent on its neighbours, increase its carbon footprint by replacing nuclear with thermal energy, and be forced to considerably hike the price of electricity for consumers.
Report: Belgium to switch off nuclear, operator sees blackout ahead [AFP, 31 Oct 2011]
But even as Belgium moves away from nuclear energy, other European countries are continuing their nuclear plans.
In the United Kingdom, officials have confirmed that EDF Energy has submitted an application to build a new nuclear power plant.
British planners now have until 28 November to accept or reject the application to build a plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. If the application is accepted, the proposal will go through another approval process, expected to take about 12 months.
Last week, EDF, which is Britain's largest nuclear power producer, originally planned to start up its proposed new plant in early 2018, but the company was forced to delay its timetable following Japan's nuclear disaster and uncertainties about the future of nuclear power.
Report: EDF submits UK nuclear new build application-IPC [Reuters, 31 Oct 2011]
In the Czech Republic, three major international companies have been handed detailed technical documentation to allow them to make multibillion-dollar tenders to build two more reactors at one of the country's nuclear power stations.
Three bidders are competing, US-based Westinghouse Electric Co., France’s state-owned nuclear engineering giant Areva SA and a consortium led by Russia’s Atomstroyexport.
President Barack Obama discussed the lucrative tender — estimated at more than US$10 billion — in his talks with Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas last week in Washington. The issue is also expected to be high on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s agenda during his December trip to Prague.
The move is part of a plan to dramatically increase the Czech Republic's nuclear power production. Currently, nuclear power makes up a third of the country's electricity supply, and the country plans to double that output in the next 50 years.
But Austria is strongly protesting the Czech plans, since the plant is near the Austrian border.
Report: Bidders receive documentation in multibillion tender to build 2 more Czech nuclear reactors [Washington Post/AP, 31 Oct 2011]
Elsewhere in Europe, a German artist plans to buy a shut-down nuclear power plant in the belief that Germany's nuclear history should be preserved for future generations.
In a magazine interview published on Sunday, contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer said he was motivated by a desire to preserve a part of German history, which he said the Germans give up too readily and too quickly. The country is phasing out atomic power due to safety concerns following the Fukushima disaster.
Kiefer has his eye on a plant in western Germany that was mothballed by utility RWE in 1988. He said he wrote to RWE Chief Executive Juergen Grossmann and was certain he would get at least the cooling tower of the plant, whose nuclear fuel rods were removed nine years ago.
"Now I am thinking about what to do there. I definitely don't want to paint cows and clouds onto it," he said.
Report: Artist Anselm Kiefer wants nuclear plant: magazine [Reuters, 30 Oct 2011]
Over in Japan, a new study says the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan was responsible for the biggest discharge of radioactive material into the ocean in history.
The radioactive cesium that flowed into the sea from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was 20 times the amount estimated by its owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco). The oceanic study estimates 27,000 terabecquerels of radioactive cesium 137 leaked into the sea from the Fukushima plant.
The study by the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, which is funded by the French government, is the second report released in the past week that challenges official estimates from Japan’s government and the operator of the damaged Fukushima plant.
Last week, a Norwegian study in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal similarly claimed that the radiation released into the atmosphere from Fukushima was greater than official figures.
Report: Fukushima Plant Released Record Amount of Radiation Into Sea [Bloomberg, 31 Oct 2011]
In related news, experts in Japan have warned it could take more than 30 years to clean up the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. A panel set up by the country's nuclear energy commission said the severity of the accident meant it would take decades to remove melted fuel rods and decommission the plant.
The commission called on the facility's operator, Tepco, to begin removing the fuel rods within 10 years. The damage to Fukushima is more difficult to repair than that sustained at Three Mile Island, where fuel removal began six years after an accident in 1979. Work to decommission four of Fukushima's six reactors could start this year if Tepco brings the plant to a safe state known as cold shutdown.
The decommissioning report was released as another government panel set up to determine the cause of the accident said it would invite opinions from three overseas experts early next year.
The panel has already come under fire after it emerged that of the 340 people it has interviewed so far, not one was a politician involved in the handling of the crisis.
Report: Fukushima nuclear plant could take 30 years to clean up [The Guardian, 31 Oct 2011]
On Sunday, a new group of Japanese lawyers launched a legal team to help victims of the Fukushima accident seek compensation from Tepco and Japan's government. The group of 30 lawyers, mostly based in the northern affected region, has vowed to help victims of the disaster. This includes businesses engaged in tourism and farming that have suffered due to fears of radiation from the plant.
A similar group of lawyers based in southern Fukushima was previously formed in mid-October.
Report: Lawyers launch Fukushima compensation team [AFP, 31 Oct 2011]
Meanwhile, Japan has reignited talks with Vietnam and India on exporting its nuclear technology, despite the Fukushima crisis that shattered domestic consensus on atomic energy.
At a joint news conference, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said: “We will move ahead with the construction of nuclear power stations with (Japan’s) support".
He made the comments during a trip to Tokyo, where he met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. They also agreed on Monday to jointly mine rare earth minerals in Vietnam.
Last October, energy-hungry Vietnam accepted Japan as a partner in the construction of two nuclear reactors in Ninh Thuan province in central Vietnam, previously set to begin operating in 2021. Plans were cast into some uncertainty after the Fukushima disaster, but Mr. Dung said Vietnam trusts Japan's advanced nuclear technology and wants Tokyo to use the Fukushima disaster as a basis for building the world's safest nuclear plants.
At the weekend, India's External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, also told his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba that negotiations on a nuclear co-operation pact designed to lead to the export of reactor technology to India would resume.
Report: Vietnam, Japan nuclear project intact despite Fukushima [Reuters, 31 Oct 2011]
Report: India and Vietnam set to buy Japanese reactors [The Australian, 1 Nov 2011]
Finally, Taiwan has confirmed their fourth nuclear power plant will go online no later than 2017.
According to Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-shiang, the fourth plant will start commercial operations after fuel filling and test runs, and only after approval has been granted by Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council (AEC) and international nuclear safety organisations.
Taiwan has already decided not to extend the service life of its three existing nuclear power plants. But Mr. Shih said the decision on whether to decommission Taiwan's first plant earlier than planned would depend on whether the new plant starts operations, and how stable Taiwan's electricity supply looks.
Taiwan's nuclear safety body, the AEC, also presented its latest inspection results on radioactive waste stored on Orchid Island yesterday. No problems were reported. Officials also confirmed Taiwan is on track to construct new nuclear spent fuel dry storage facilities in Shihmen District, New Taipei City, to hold excess spent fuel that can no longer be kept at Taiwan's first nuclear power plant. If it passes safety inspections, the new facilities are expected to be complete by April 2013.
Report: Fourth Nuclear Power Plant set to go online in 2017 [Taipei Times, 1 Nov 2011]