Heads up on nuclear risks for engagement programme
Liesel van Ast
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11 March put Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) at the centre of the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Almost two months on, the International Atomic Energy Agency is still describing the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as "very serious", as TEPCO struggles to meet three basic safety standards: "Prevention of criticality, removal of decay heat and mitigation of radioactive releases". Meanwhile, more thermal power generation to make up for a fall in nuclear power looks set to increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
We analysed TEPCO - among other utilities in the MSCI World Index - for an asset manager back in 2008, to provide research for an engagement programme. The analysis focused on generation mixes, environmental performance, carbon management strategies, regulatory risks and disclosure.
We advised: "Given the earthquake-prone geology in Japan, Tepco faces the risk of volatile GHG emissions due to outages at its nuclear plants, as well as the risk of wider environmental impacts at its nuclear power facilities." Trucost recommended engaging with TEPCO to encourage it to expand its renewable energy capacity to address nuclear power-related risks, alongside potential exposure to carbon costs.
The current crisis underlines the urgency of reviewing plans to invest far more in expanding nuclear rather than renewable energy capacity. It also highlights the need for swifter improvements in grid connections and energy storage technologies.
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