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March 11
2012年3月11日

對能源及全球安全的反思

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這次轉載的文章曾於2012年3月11日福島核災難一周年日發表於英文版《南華早報》。此文與我在福島事故後撰寫的其他文章一樣,在於體現個人的承諾,幫助世人在七彩能源大背景下,消除疑懼和偏見,以理性態度解決人類面對的能源問題。

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2011年3月11日,日本史無前例的九級大地震及隨後引發的海嘯造成福島第一核電廠的嚴重事故。事過一年,我們有充足的時間,反思造成如此巨大破壞的原因及由此帶來的後果。

地震與海嘯造成兩萬人喪生,數十萬人失去家園;凝神回思這兩大自然災難,悲劇給直接受害者以及生活在地球其他地方的人造成的心靈創傷,歷歷在目。

不容置疑,核能是否能最終替代其他可持續能源的辯論已愈來愈激烈。德國宣佈將在2022年前關閉所有核反應爐,並將重新制定其能源策略,立足於使用可再生的替代能源。其他國家也開始重新思考各自的能源政策。

去年3月的災難場面在腦海裡栩栩如生,但我們應用理性的觀點來看待今後的能源發展,並認真還原福島第一核電廠發生的一切。

值得注意的是,福島第一核電廠並非離震央最近的核電廠。與福島核電廠相比,女川核電廠離震央更近,分別擁有三座於1984、1995及2002年建造的核反應爐。然而,女川核電廠既未出現運轉失靈的問題,也沒有洩漏核輻射。面對海嘯帶來的高達數十呎的巨浪,這三個核反應爐安然無恙,原因就在於它們建造在坡地上。

就可靠性及核電廠的安全來說,這一事實給我們帶來什麼啟示呢?

顯而易見,福島核電廠的悲劇同電廠的老化有關。該核電廠已運轉40年,到了設計壽命的期限。設備有時會失靈。今年1月底,美國伊利諾州北部的核電廠停止運轉,就是現成例子。所謂老化,就是說每樣事物都有使用壽命,不管是航母還是太空站,橋樑或住房,核電廠當然也不例外。這就意味著,到了一定年限,所有核電廠都必須修理、更換或重建,並且在使用壽命結束時予以關閉。

所有能源的安全,包括核能在內,取決於硬體、人為因素及管理三大要素。在許多情況下,管理與人為因素更是主要問題。世界三大核電事故:三哩島(1979)、切爾諾貝利(1986)以及福島(2011),無一例外。

由於吸取了福島核事故的教訓,我們重新審核與修訂了核安全規範,修改了彙報程序,並提高了核反應爐的設計標準。在世界各地,核電廠必須接受嚴格的品質監控。福島核電廠應急發電機遭水淹給我們的教訓是,今後必須將應急發電設備安裝在高處或不會漏水的機房內。

此外,無奈之下用海水冷卻核反應爐的做法,促使人們思考一系列冷卻改進程式,其中包括就近部署備用發電車,以及確保可無電操作的冷卻系統的所有部件須用人手也能操作。

福島核事故促使全球重新審視未來核能及全球的安全,但我們需要認真考慮,在其他能源的消費、可靠性、成本效益及可持續性之間取得平衡。

就以長江中下游遭遇60年未遇的嚴重旱災為例。去年4、5月份,湖南省由於乾旱無水,水力發電比兩年前同期減少40%。然而6月初,這一地區又遭受暴雨洪澇之災,奪去數百人生命,並造成巨大財產損失。變化無常的氣候使水電廠無所適從,更不用說河中築壩所造成的生態後果。

再以玉米生產的生物燃料乙醇為例。作為美國玉米最大生產地的愛荷華州,20年前開始推動使用乙醇,作為石油的替代品與添加物。但是,由於大量玉米被用來生產燃料,食用和飼料用玉米的價格瘋漲,從而加劇了全球糧食短缺問題。這種戰略不利於民生福祉,因而不是令人信服的解決方案。

太陽能和風力發電也都不可靠,因為這兩種能源使我們受制於變化無常的天氣;而煤礦燃料污染嚴重,對公眾健康極其有害,每年全球煤礦發生的傷亡事故數以萬計。

迄今為止,核能是現有七彩能源中成本效益最高的能源,這一事實在今後將變得愈來愈重要。根據德國2012年1月的調查資料,至少20%的德國企業計劃遷往國外,其理由之一就是政府提議關閉所有核電廠,造成能源開支高漲。另據路透社2012年1月17日的報導,西門子公司估計,如果核電廠按計劃停用,2030年德國將多支出超過2兆美元。

許多人被核事故嚇得惶恐不安,而事實上核能有很好的安全記錄。在要求改進的呼聲中,不乏理據充足的擔憂,但是社會反應和心理反應並非總是有理。民眾必須依據全面的科學知識,著眼於人類福祉和經濟持續發展,理性地探討能源戰略。否則,這場辯論將被意識形態的偏見及詭辯所左右,從而偏離了實質問題。

要應對能源危機,解決這個問題牽涉到的社會及政治因素,我們必須提高公眾參與度及增強公眾對能源決策的信任感。政府管制到位、資訊透明以及監管機構稱職,對於達到有效管理能源的目的至關重要。

解決能源問題的創意需要投資。目前,對於能源形勢提出的挑戰還沒有完美的解決方案。根據集體責任的原則,可將電費一部分用於安全及專業培訓,以便增加可靠性及提高標準。

福島核事故再次印證了「每有危難必有機遇」的說法。一種可靠的能源,不僅能夠推動經濟的可持續發展,而且能提高生活品質。在應對能源問題時,我們應該全盤考慮能源發展,與其使用會造成污染及不穩定的能源,我們應優先生產和使用清潔可靠的能源。與此同時,我們應該制定一項鼓勵及獎賞保護能源及重視能源效益的政策。

註:本文原文為英文,曾刊於《南華早報》(2012年3月11日)。

 

 

 


 

 


Reflections on energy security and global safety

The following blog entry was published in the South China Morning Post on 11 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear tragedy. As with other articles I wrote in the wake of the accident, this commentary reflects my commitment to helping people move beyond fear and prejudice against a broader background of energies, and deal with the world’s energy problems in a rational way.

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Over the past twelve months we have had time to reflect on the causes and consequences of the damage inflicted on the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami on 11 March 2011.

As we pause to remember the tens of thousands who died and others who were made homeless because of these two natural disasters, the psychological scars for those directly affected by this tragedy and for those living elsewhere on the planet are still fresh.

Understandably the debate surrounding the nuclear option as a viable and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels has intensified. Germany has announced it will shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2022 and redefine its energy strategies by using alternative renewable energy sources. Other countries are rethinking their own energy policies.

While the images of the disaster that unfolded in Japan in March last year remain vivid in our minds, it is important to maintain a rational view of the future development of energy, and to establish exactly what happened at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and why.

It is worth knowing that the Fukushima nuclear plant was not the one nearest to the epicentre of the earthquake. The Onagawa nuclear plant, composed of three reactors set up in 1984, 1995 and 2002, respectively, is closer. But it suffered no operational problems or radiation leaks. The three reactors were safe from the 54-feet high waves from the tsunami as well because they are perched high upon a hill.

What does this tell us about reliability and nuclear power plants?

It is clear that the tragedy at the Fukushima nuclear plant had something to do with ageing: the plant was 40 years old, which was the designed age of the plant. Equipment will fail at times, as we saw when the nuclear plant in northern Illinois shut down at the end of January this year. Ageing means there is a shelf-life for everything, from aircraft carriers to space stations, bridges, your house, and nuclear plants. This means that, in due course, all nuclear plants have to be repaired, restructured, and then decommissioned when they reach their serviceable-life limit.

Safety for all energies, including nuclear, depends on hardware, human factors and management. In many cases, management and human factor are the problem, as shown in all three of the world's major nuclear accidents: Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011).

As a result of the Fukushima accident, nuclear safety codes have been reviewed and enhanced, reporting procedures have been revised, and the designs of nuclear reactors have been upgraded. Nuclear power has always been subject to rigorous quality control across the world. What the flooding of the emergency generators at Fukushima has taught us is that we have to install future generators at a high elevation and in watertight chambers.

In addition, the use of sea water to cool the reactors, an unprecedented last-resort endeavour, has resulted in a number of cooling improvement procedures. These include keeping back-up power trucks nearby and keeping all parts operable manually if a cooling system is intended to operate without power.

While the Fukushima accident has called the world's attention to the future of nuclear energy security and global safety, we need to consider seriously the trade-off between energy consumption, reliability, cost-effectiveness and the sustainability of other sources of energy.

Take the worst drought for 60 years in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River as an example. In April and May last year, the lack of water for generating hydroelectric power resulted in 40 per cent less electrical power generated in Hunan province compared with the same period two years ago. Then in early June, the same region was ravaged by storms and floods which killed hundreds of residents and caused tremendous loss of property. The capricious climate made it hard for the hydroelectric power plants to meet demand, not to mention the ecological consequences of damming rivers.

Another case involves ethanol, a biofuel produced from corn. Iowa, the largest corn-producing state in the US, started promoting ethanol as a substitute and additive for petroleum about 20 years ago. But since such large amounts of corn were used to produce the fuel, the price of corn for food and fodder rose sharply, aggravating the global food shortage problem. These strategies, which are not good for people's livelihood or welfare, cannot be regarded as convincing solutions.

Solar and wind power can generate energy but neither is reliable, and they shackle us to the fickle behaviour of the weather. And fossil fuels are powerful pollutants, highly dangerous to public health. Each year coal mining itself causes tens of thousands of casualties.

So far nuclear power is one of the most cost-effective energy sources in the full spectrum of available energies, a fact which may assume increasing significance in the future. According to a January 2012 survey in Germany, at least 20% of businesses are planning to move out of the country with one of the reasons cited being rising energy costs in the wake of the proposed elimination of nuclear power plants. Siemens estimates that phasing out nuclear power as planned will cost Germany more than US$2 trillion by 2030, as reported by Reuters on 17 January 2012.

Many people are haunted by a fear of a nuclear disaster when in reality nuclear energy has a strong safety record. Among the calls for improvement there are indeed some well-grounded concerns, but the social and psychological reactions are not always justified. The general public has to explore energy strategies rationally in terms of human welfare and sustainable economic development on the basis of sound scientific knowledge. Otherwise, the debate will be chained to ideological biases and rhetoric, which, unfortunately, confound the real issue.

To cope with the energy crisis, we must address the issue's social and political dimensions by enhancing public engagement and public trust in energy decision-making. Government competence, information transparency, and the capacity of the regulatory authorities are critical to achieving effective energy governance.

New energy ideas require investment. There is no perfect solution to the challenges posed by the energy situation. Under the principle of collective responsibility, portions of electricity charges should be used for research into safety and professional training to boost reliability and raise standards.

The Fukushima incidence once again enlists the common saying that every crisis is an opportunity. A reliable energy source not only supports sustainable economic development, it enhances quality of life. In dealing with the energy issue, we should take a holistic view of energy development, prioritising the production and use of clean and reliable energy sources over that of polluting and volatile energy sources. At the same time, we should map out a policy that encourages and rewards the conservation of energy and efficiency in energy use.

Note:
This article was originally published in the South China Morning Post (11 March, 2012).


March 11, 2012

 

 


 

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