Chile: Japan Shows Dangers of Using Nuclear Energy in an Earthquake-Prone Country

Por Dialogo
marzo 18, 2011

I agree with Chile's inhabitants because we have to try to avoid death and destruction...Well, this the friend commenting on the first: well I think that the plant's safety should be improved. Take care!!
Chile, a highly earthquake-prone country, is debating the government’s initiatives on the use of nuclear energy, under the influence of the trauma of the disaster in Japan and a few days before Santiago is to sign a cooperation agreement on the subject with the United States.

The emergency – due to successive explosions at the Fukushima nuclear plant – sparked by the powerful earthquake that struck Japan on 11 March found Chile right in the middle of a debate on including nuclear energy in its energy grid, in a scenario of scarcity and urgent demands to increase its electricity generation.

Following the tragedy, however, considering that Chile’s risk of earthquakes is as high as Japan’s and that it suffered an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that also generated a tsunami a year ago, the possibility of building nuclear reactors is generating a different reaction.

“Until the earthquake in Japan, I was in favor of promoting nuclear energy. Now I have doubts,” indicated a senator from the ruling party, the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), Jaime Orpis.

“No doubt, the Japanese experience should be analyzed in order not to make their mistakes, but there is no justification for the country renouncing the development of nuclear energy in the short term,” a legislator from the same party, Juan Lobos, said for his part.

“Chile does not have a nuclear plan in effect. It does not have a plan for building nuclear plants, there are no nuclear power plants in Chile; therefore, let’s keep the scale of the debate in due proportion,” Energy Minister Laurence Golborne affirmed on 15 March.

Despite the existence of an official commitment to make no decisions about developing nuclear energy in the next ten years, Golborne himself traveled to France at the beginning of March in order to familiarize himself with developments in nuclear energy and sign a cooperation agreement in this area, involving the training of technicians.

The signing of another, similar nuclear cooperation agreement is planned for 18 March in Santiago, this time between Chile and the United States, days before a visit to Santiago by President Barack Obama, part of a trip that will also include Brazil and El Salvador.

“The Chilean government is moving forward on the nuclear debate behind the backs of its citizens,” Greenpeace Chile’s campaign coordinator, Samuel Leiva, told AFP.

“We’re opposed to the development of nuclear energy due to all that it entails, and particularly in Chile, which has a high level of seismic activity and is a country that is not prepared to tackle these development capabilities,” the environmentalist added.

Chile urgently needs to increase its energy generation, especially in order to feed a growing demand from the copper industry, in which the country is the world’s leading producer.

The country is a net fuel importer and bases its energy grid on hydroelectricity and thermoelectric power.

“We need to look further ahead and take a long-term view of the energy grid, and that means considering all available sources of energy: solar energy, wind energy, but also thermoelectric energy,” Minister Golborne said.

“Obviously, we can’t say no to everything; we have to say yes to something,” the minister added, alluding to the fierce criticism put forward by environmentalists who oppose a series of thermoelectric projects underway and the building of dams in Chilean Patagonia.

Chile already has two small experimental reactors, in the commune of La Reina and in Lo Aguirre in Santiago, used for medical and research purposes. Neither reactor was damaged in last year’s Chilean earthquake.