AP
Workers at a nuclear power plant in Changchun, in northeast China's Jilin province. China is moving forward on plans to build more nuclear plants, even as authorities around the world intensify safety inspections of existing plants after Japan's March 11 disaster.
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updated 5/11/2011 5:02:02 PM ET 2011-05-11T21:02:02

Japan and Germany are limiting or phasing out reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima accident — moves that could raise petroleum prices — but most of the rest of the world is undaunted in its pursuit of nuclear energy.

Energy-hungry developing nations such as China, India, Mexico and Iran are moving forward on plans to build more nuclear plants, even as authorities around the world intensify safety inspections of existing plants after Japan's March 11 disaster.

Initial fears that erupted in the wake of the crisis, threatening to derail the nuclear renaissance of the last several years, have largely subsided. Many of the 30-plus countries with nuclear energy programs continue to promote them as a way to combat pollution and global warming — despite radiation risks and questions on what to do with nuclear waste.

"We're not going to stop eating for fear of choking," Chinese nuclear safety official Tian Jiashu was quoted in state media as saying after the Japanese disaster.

Story: Japan to scrap plan to boost nuclear energy to 50 percent

Chinese officials say they are revising their regulations to make sure no plants lack high exterior walls or access to emergency power — problems that contributed to the crisis unleashed at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant when a tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. Ensuing radiation leaks have forced the evacuation of 80,000 residents.

Beijing has said it will forge ahead with an ambitious scaling up of nuclear power. China has 13 nuclear reactors in operation, more than 25 under construction and even more under consideration, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The expansion is necessary, officials say, to fuel an economy that is overwhelmingly dependent on coal and demands more energy as more Chinese enter the middle-class.

India, which has also stepped up safety measures, is championing nuclear power as a clean and environmentally friendly alternative to polluting coal-fired power plants. It aims to increase the share of nuclear energy from 3 percent to 13 percent by 2030.

"Many of them think that what happened in Japan is a one-off," said Ravi Krishnaswamy, an energy analyst with consultancy Frost & Sullivan in Singapore. "As long as they improve the safety structure and have a stringent regulation, they feel they should be able to manage it."

Many countries also want to ensure they aren't too dependent on any one kind of energy, he added.

In Britain, the government's climate advisory panel said this week that the country should considering investing more — not less — in nuclear power as it "appears likely to be the most cost-effective form of low-carbon power generation" in coming years.

The panel's report envisioned more than doubling Britain's dependence on nuclear energy to 40 percent, and played down risks of a Fukushima-like crisis.

"The likelihood of natural disasters of this type and scale occurring in the U.K. is extremely small," the report said.

After the Japanese crisis erupted, French Energy Minister Eric Besson launched an impassioned defense of nuclear power — which accounts for more than 70 percent of the country's energy — saying it "will stay in Europe and the world and be one of the core energies of the 21st century."

Germany's reaction was the opposite.

It is accelerating a 25-year plan to phase out nuclear energy. Now the country's leaders seem determined to reach that goal as early as 2020. Chancellor Angela Merkel, a previous proponent of nuclear energy, said Tuesday that Fukushima had changed her attitude.

'Missing pieces'
Japan, like Germany, is a developed nation with strict safety rules, but "nevertheless there was a chain of events that wasn't expected," she said. And while Germany isn't prone to quakes or tsunamis, it could fall victim to events "we didn't previously view as likely or possible," Merkel said.

Elsewhere, anxiety over the Fukushima accident has contributed to anti-nuclear protests in India, Taiwan and Turkey.

The crisis has shaken Tokyo's faith in nuclear energy, which provided 30 percent of the nation's electricity.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced Tuesday that Japan will scrap its plans to raise that to 50 percent by 2030. He said the government also will promote renewable energy such as solar and wind and further step up conservation.

Japan — already grappling with electricity shortages with several nuclear plants taken off line — is likely to turn to oil and natural gas to meet the energy shortfall. That could mean higher energy prices globally, several experts said.

"They're not going to get the missing pieces from wind and air and other renewables and they're not going to get it from conservation," said Richard Samuels, head of MIT's Center for International Studies and the founder of its Japan Program. "They're going to have to fill in the missing pieces with liquefied natural gas and with oil. ... We should expect it to have an inflationary effect in Japan and maybe globally."

Samuels and Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy program at Carnegie Mellon University, predicted that the Fukushima accident could slow but not stop the nuclear energy renaissance.

"I just don't see how the world continues without nuclear as part of the portfolio," Morgan said. "It looks like a few years until we get back on an even keel as a result of this."

In Mexico, Japan's crisis has not put a halt to plans being studied to add six new reactors to the two it has, said Ricardo Cordoba, deputy director of nuclear security at the Federal Electricity Commission. Nuclear energy should still be considered a clean source of power, he said.

And Iran says it is determined to build a 20-reactor nuclear network across the country, one of the most earthquake-prone in the world.

'Diversified energy mix'
In the U.S., nuclear energy remains a key priority for the Obama administration as part of a "diversified energy mix" that includes solar and wind power, said Department of Energy spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller.

But the crisis in Japan did contribute to a decision last month by Princeton, New Jersey-based NRG Energy to write down its $481 million investment in two planned nuclear reactors in South Texas. One of NRG's partners was to be Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Japanese utility that owns the Fukushima complex and is likely on the hook for enormous compensation.

Top officials with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have said repeatedly in the wake of the Fukushima accident that — while inspections at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors have redoubled — operations are safe and no immediate changes are needed.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is continuing with its review of applications for licensing recently submitted for 12 nuclear power plants, said Gregory Jaczko, the commission's chairman.

"We are doing a very thorough review of the lessons from Japan. If there is information that comes out of that review, we will certainly apply it to the existing plants," he said.

___

Jahn reported from Vienna. Charles Hutzler in Beijing, Nirmala George in New Delhi, Seth Borenstein and Matthew Daly in Washington, Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains, New York, and other AP writers worldwide contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Interactive: Japan before and after the disaster

These aerial photos show locations in Japan before and after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck March 11. Use the slider below the images to reveal the changes in the landscape.

  1. Above: Interactive Japan before and after the disaster
  2. Image: The wave from a tsunami crashes over a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan
    Ho / Reuters
    Timeline Crisis in Japan

Photos: Triple tragedy for Japan

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  1. Office workers in Tokyo look at smoke rising over the skyline after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan's northeast coast on March 11, 2011. (Xinhua via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Waves pour over a seawall and roar into a seaside village near the mouth of Hei River on March 11 as the tsunami generated by the massive earthquake hits shore. (Mainichi Newspaper via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Hotel employees squat around a pillar at the hotel's entrance in Tokyo after the powerful earthquake on March 11. (Itsuo Inouye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A tsunami wave sweeps away homes in its path in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, on March 11. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. One house bursts into flames after the tsunami swept it and many of its neighbors off their foundations in Natori on March 11. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Shaken evacuees gather in Shinjuku Central Park in Tokyo on March 11. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial photo shows Sendai Airport being inundated by a tsunami on March 11. Later reports said the first wave hit 26 minutes after the quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A swirling pattern is evident in this aerial photo of the tsunami as it hit a port in Oarai, Ibaraki prefecture on March 11. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Toya Chiba, a reporter for local newspaper Iwate Tokai Shimbun, is swept away while taking pictures at the mouth of the Owatari River during the tsunami at Kamaishi port, Iwate prefecture. Chiba managed to survive in the rush of water by grabbing a dangling rope and climbing onto a coal heap around 30 feet high after being swept away for about 100 feet, Kyodo News reports. (Kamaishi Port Office / Kyodo via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Natural gas containers burn in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo, on March 11. The massive earthquake triggered many fires, posing additional problems for first responders. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Containers for cargo are strewn about like giant Legos in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, on March 12. (Itsuo Inouye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. People use a floating container to ferry survivors to higher ground in Kesennuma City, Miyagi prefecture, on March 12. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Cars swept into a jumble by the tsunami are seen in Hitachi City, Ibaraki prefecture, on March 12. (Yomiuri via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A line of residents seeking water snakes across the playground of a school in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, on March 13, two days after the earthquake. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Japanese firefighters rescue tsunami survivors in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, on March 13. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Japanese home drifts in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Sendai in this photograph taken on March 13. (Dylan McCord / U.S. Navy via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A woman cries while sitting on a road in the devastated city of Natori, Miyagi prefecture, on March 13. (Asahi Shimbun / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. An "SOS" signal scrawled on the sports field of a high school beckons potential rescuers on March 13 in the town of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi prefecture. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    The body of a victim of the twin disaster lays on the stairs of a destroyed house in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, on March 13. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Sixty-year-old Hiromitsu Shinkawa waves to members of Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force preparing to rescue him about 9 miles off Fukushima prefecture on March 13. Shinkawa survived by clinging to a piece of roof after the tsunami hit his hometown of Minamisoma. (Japanese Defense Forces via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People walk along a flooded street in Ishimaki City, Miyagi prefecture on March 13. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. An explosion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant sends a plume of smoke skyward on March 14. The blast was believed to have been caused by a buildup of hydrogen inside the reactor building, caused by the partial meltdown of nuclear fuel inside. The plant was crippled after the earthquake cut power to the station and tsunami waves knocked out backup generators. (NTV / FCT) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A 1-year-old boy is re-checked for radiation exposure after being decontaminated in Nihonmatsu, Fukushiima prefecture, on March 14. (Toru Nakata / Asahi Shimbun via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Officers examine a Mitsubishi F-2 fighter jet of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force on March 14. The warplane was swept by the tsunami into a building at Matsushima base in Higashimatsushima, Iwate prefecture. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Japanese rescue team members carry the body of a man out of the village of Saito on March 14. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A woman survivor is reunited with her relatives at a shelter in Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture, on March 15. (Lee Jae-Won / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A bicyclist wheels across a hellish landscape in what was the city of Minami Sanriku, Miyagi prefecture, on March 15. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Tsunami survivors cook on an open fire in front of their damaged house in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Vehicle headlamps illuminate a devastated section of Yamada town, Iwate prefecture, on March 16. (Jiji Press via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Evacuees carry bowls of pork soup from a soup kitchen to a makeshift shelter in Minami Sanriku, Miyagi prefecture, on March 16. (Tsuyoshi Matsumoto / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Refugees, including 53 people who were rescued from a retirement home during the tsunami, take shelter inside a school gym in the leveled city of Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, on March 17. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Members of Japan Self-Defense Force pray over the body of a tsunami victim in Onagawa, Miyagi prefecture, on March 20. (Shuji Kajiyama / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Tomoko Yagi looks at two firetrucks that were tossed around like toys in the tsunami in Kamaishi, Iwate prefecture, on March 20. (Lee Jae-Won / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Survivors relay boxes of relief supplies arriving at their evacuation center in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, on March 21. (Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A boat juts out from the top of a building in Otsuchi, Iwate prefecture, on March 22. (Hiroto Nomoto / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Manami Kon, 4, uses the Japanese "hiragana" characters she just learned to write a letter to her missing mother in the devastated city of Miyako, Iwate prefecture, on March 22 . "Dear Mommy. I hope you're alive. Are you OK?" read the letter, which took about an hour to write. Also missing were the little girl's father and sister. (Norikazu Tateishi / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for the Unit 1 and 2 reactors at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on March 23. (Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. An aerial photo taken by an unmanned drone shows the damaged units of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant on March 24. (Air Photo Service via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Two residents exchange words as they are reunited two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami in a makeshift public bath set up outside a shelter in Yamamoto, Miyagi prefecture, on March 25. (Shuji Kajiyama / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A Japanese funeral parlor worker shovels dirt onto the coffins of victims of the earthquake and tsunami at a mass funeral in Yamamoto, Miyagi prefecture, on March 26. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A lone pine tree stands in a devastated area iof Rikuzentakaka, Iwate prefecture, on March 27. It was the only one among tens of thousands of other pine trees forming "Takata Matsubara," or Takata seaside pine forest, standing after the March 11 tsunami washed away all the others, local media said. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A woman whose house was washed away loses control of her emotions on March 29 as she talks about the disaster that befell her hometown of Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture. (Kuni Takahashi) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, left, talk with evacuees at Tokyo Budoh-kan evacuation center on March 30. (Issei Kato / Pool via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., (TEPCO), including Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, center, Vice President Takashi Fujimoto, second from left, bow before a news conference at the company's head office in Tokyo on March 30. (Itsuo Inouye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. A man rides a bicycle in between the ships that were washed ashore by the March 11 tsunami, on March 30, in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture. (Eugene Hoshiko / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. An elderly woman waves to her grandchildren in Minamisanriku, Miyagi prefecture, on April 3, as authorities began a mass evacuation of approximately 1,100 homeless survivors to shelters elsewhere. (Jiji Press via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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