Cards on the table. (1) As readers will know I am strongly opposed to subsidising the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK; (2) I am not any kind of engineer. As such, I very much hope that this sanguine assessment of the situation at Fukushima is correct.
But base-level 'democratic' politics is at best lightly concerned with fact, and it is at least a strong possibility that as regards new nukes the terms of trade, only recently minted for the benefit of EDF et al, are set to change.
Wind back the clock to 1986 and Chernobyl, a Soviet plant that was hardly representative of worldwide state-of-the-art nuclear technology at the time. Yet, when it blew, the CEO of a then-obscure Texas gas pipeline company (Enron) immediately predicted that no-one would build another nuke in his lifetime. But people still need electricity, he reasoned, and thus correctly foresaw, and triumphantly acted upon the 'dashes for gas' that swept the USA, then the UK, and subsequently went fairly global.
In 2011 the UK, as elsewhere, is on the brink of what could be - or could have been - a mighty nuclear renaissance. After lengthy lobbying by EDF the stock was sold, the press was squared, the middle class was quite prepared - yea, even unto Chris Huhne, against his better judgment.
What happens next ? Obviously we don't even have a definitive outcome at Fukushima, still less a measured analysis. But I'll wager any money you like that at the very least (a) the timetable for any programme of new nukes in Western countries (already slipping badly for reasons inherent to its own dodgy dynamics) has just taken a considerable extension; and (b) that the costs have just gone up significantly**, and the economics correspondingly down. At worst (if you are Areva) the politicians take fright & the shutters go back down for another decade or so.
But the pressing need for more generating capacity still needs to be met. For sure, it will be offset by a steeply rising oil-price. (Japan's need for reconstruction on a gigantic scale will potentially drive up commodities prices still further, as did the Chinese rebuilding after the Sichuan 'quake of 2008). However, just as 25 years ago, the main effect is likely to be yet another round of dash-for-gas. Perhaps high-tech coal will also get a look-in. Even some renewables will become genuinely economic eventually ...
As we've endlessly written, there's plenty of gas around - at the moment. But it will look different after half a decade of 'new dash'. Just as with Enron back in 1986, the race will be to those who make simple (& correct!) judgments on these things and act boldly. Memo to Huhne: this doesn't need subsidy (which we can't afford anyway) but it does need you to turn your politics around, as quickly as possible.
** there is the possibility of a counter-intuitive opposite effect, which I'll write about later