There’s plenty of information and commentary on the ongoing crisis in Japan, so I won’t go into that. What I will delve into is what will happen after all this is over. [Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, and hope that my terminology is accurate for the purposes of this post]
Re-assessment of nuclear technology
Nuclear technology is still arguably ‘clean’, but given the human tendency of risk aversion, especially when great catastrophes have recently occurred, Governments would likely put nuclear projects on hold, especially if the reactors are located near fault lines. Citizens in countries like Germany, already opposed to nuclear energy, will protest with an even louder voice, and politicians all around the world will listen to their electorate - especially when elections are near.
Countries and companies that stand to lose out would be the ones that promote and export nuclear technology, such as France. Until current fears abate, the citizenry living within a
3km20 to 30km radius of a nuclear plant may live in uncertainty, and (from a Singaporean perspective!) the land value is unlikely to go up. Obama and his energy secretary will have to review their endorsements of nuclear energy, at least for now.
Rise in other forms of energy generation, particularly green power
The world is growing and needs more energy every day. If nuclear energy is no longer the popular option, then Governments will increasingly turn to alternative sources within their means. Advocates of alternative sources of power will seize this opportunity to sell their solutions. The more educated, well-off and conscience-driven populaces will prefer green power, and companies seeking to hone their corporate social responsibility credentials are likely to capitalise on this.
However, I wonder what less developed countries will do, as their population swells and demands more energy. China is flush with cash and power hungry, but remember that its Beijing residents felt the tremors all the way from Japan. India, with less developed infrastructure, may adopt a different approach. Both countries have not been known for a particularly strong environmental record.
Status quo for countries mainly using nuclear power
It isn’t cheap to set up a nuclear power plant, so countries that are already dependent on nuclear power are unlikely to take down everything and rebuild alternative power plants, even though that could technically be classified as a ‘sunk cost’. At most, extra safety measures will be put in place, with public education and early warning systems. Government agencies will have to inspire confidence among citizens that their nuclear plants are safe and able to withstand natural disasters.