Japan on the Anniversary of Fukushima: Anger, Protests and Hope

On the two-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, 40,000 people rallied in downtown Tokyo against the current conservative government’s plans to start back up Japan’s nuclear reactors.

Asahi Shimbun reports that it may take 40 years to decommission the four reactors there. Some 60 percent of Fukushima residents have no hope of returning home for many years.

Russia Today reports

With appropriate irony, Japan is putting the world’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Fukushima, hoping to generate a gigawatt of electricity with it. Japan’s current conservative government may not be as helpful as its predecessor, but surely renewables are in Japan’s future. The country has the scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs to become a leader in the field, if only it will commit to it. Indeed, a big turn toward green energy, on the scale being attempted by Germany, could help pull the country out of its long economic doldrums.

13 Responses

  1. Professor Cole, isn’t this the ultimate irony:
    link to world-nuclear-news.org

    Russian nuclear-powered ice-breakers go straight through the AGW-thinned North Pole ice to deliver Russian natural gas to a Japan that dares not restart its nuclear plants.

    Japans CO2 emissions have risen sharply since Fukushima, and so will its coal particulate cancers. All the while, Beijings air quality is literally a killer due to coal pollution, and hundreds of thousands of Indian children die every year from renewable biomass burning for cooking. More than a million was permanently evacuated from renewable Three Gorges dam and Germany’s has already committed more money to it’s experiment with solar power than what is estimated for Fukushima’s cleanup and damage. Many coastal areas, and some island nations, will be eradicated due to rising seas in the coming decades, far more than Fukushima temporarily put off-limits for humans.

    I fear that the fear of nuclear power might be our undoing. I frequently marvel at how fellow environmentalists can reject nuclear power’s proven speed and efficiency in replacing fossil fuels in the hope that more expensive, intermittent renewable sources will one day be able to do the same job. I feel there is a lack of urgency when it comes to AGW and a lack of proportion in how nuclear power is portrayed.

    • Nuclear plants take forever to build, are extremely expensive, and produce waste that is extremely dangerous and can’t be safely disposed of. They are not a solution to our energy crises because you’d have to build one a day for decades to solve it and that isn’t going to happen. If Japan went Germany’s route it could have 20% of its electricity from green energy within only a few years.

      • I fully agree that Japan could get 20% from solar and wind in fairly short order. Even 30%, perhaps. But it would be extremely expensive and after that, it would be almost impossible to integrate more intermittent power into the Japanese grid. Also, Japan already has that amount of nuclear, so why replace that and let the fossils remain? AGW-wise, you wouldn’t have gained a thing.

        If you look in, for instance, the WNA database, you will see that almost all reactors built since 2009 (about a dozen) has been built in 4-5 years from construction start to first criticality. Far from being extremely expensive, they are quite cheap in comparison to coal damage, AGW, and compared to wind and solar. This is especially true in China, India and Korea, since their regulatory environments doesn’t drive costs as much as is done in the Western countries.

        My own Sweden started more than one reactor per year in the period of 1975-1985 with a population of only 7 million. With a world population of 7 billion, that would scale to 1000 reactors per year, which is some 3 reactors per day. So one reactor per day is very doable after a period of ramping. Importantly, it is much more doable than the equivalent amount of solar and wind, since that would be more expensive – money is time. The waste is compact and is easily and safely disposed of in geological repositories.

        • Solar and wind are now cheaper than nuclear plants. In many states, wind is at grid parity and solar is falling toward it (not counting hydrocarbon externalities).

          Grids have to be revamped for the wind; they can be revamped. The investment is less than would be necessary for a big nuclear expansion.

          You still haven’t said where you are going to store all that nuclear waste for the next tens of thousands of years.

          We don’t need nuclear plants. We need to put that money into wind and solar, now.

      • Forever to build — the Chinese Taishan reactors are on schedule to come online about four years after first concrete was poured. The rare cases where the first-of-a-design reactors take long times to complete get the news headlines, that’s all.

        Reactors are expensive to build but very cheap to run with no CO2 emissions and the latest designs have an initial lifespan of 60 years with possible extensions to a century of operation — the expensive parts are basically very large concrete structures that don’t degrade or weather and the new designs allow worn-out reactor parts to be swapped out more easily.

        Nuclear waste isn’t as dangerous as the panic merchants have been making out; reduce it in volume by reprocessing the spent fuel, vitrify it (turn it into glass), encapsulate it and bury it in deep geological repositories and the problem goes away forever. At the moment there’s so little nuclear waste around that there’s no immediate demand for such depositories although the Finns have started building a deep store that will accept a hundred years of waste from their current and planned reactors.

        Germany intends to be still burning hundreds of millions of tonnes of low-quality coal each year into the the 2050s to generate about 80% of their electricity needs after their non-CO2 nuclear stations are shut down. In contrast their neighbour, France generates 80% of its electricity CO2-free using cheap nuclear reactors, it’s why their electricity costs are half the price of their neighbour while “green” Germany’s carbon footprint is double that of France.

        Japan used to generate about 25% of its electricity with non-CO2 nuclear, now it’s importing hundreds of millions of tonnes of Australian coal as well as crude oil and natural gas to cover that loss of generating capacity. This is hitting their balance of exports hard while smashing their CO2 emission targets and also reducing their air quality figures. As for wind power, Japan is the nation that gave the world with word “typhoon”. Any wind turbines installed either onshore or offshore in Japan will have to be built very tough to survive for more than a few years.

    • The three biggest nuclear accidents happened in the three most powerful countries of the latter 20th century; Russia, the US, and Japan. The two superpowers that had done the most nuclear research, and the great economic miracle nation built on quality engineering. All their nuclear industries were exposed as corrupt… to the core.

      France is the only one left to make it a dirty sweep of the major nuclear players you’d expect to know what they’re doing. No chance that its statist model would be embraced by capitalist investors anywhere else. All the remaining countries are ones you’d be afraid of having any nuclear technology at all – given that Germany has opted out. Chinese earthquake, anyone?

      • Some of France’s reactors (Blayais eg) are in danger from climate-change induced storm surges.

      • Actually that is incorrect. The worst nuclear reactor accident was Chernobyl in Ukraine, the second worst was Windscale in the UK. Fukushima and Three Mile Island were trivial.

        The epidemiology of Chernobyl was that the radio iodine release caused maybe 2000 cases of treatable childhood thyroid cancer. causing about 50 fatalities, acute radiation sickness killed about 50 of the first responders. No other statistically detectable results. The half life of the iodine is short enough (about 8 days) that essentially all had decayed within three months.

        Using a linear no-threshold model based on the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs seems based on Chernobyl to severely overestimate the effects of low level exposure. Even using this model we have very good reason to believe exaggerates the risk Windscale is estimated to have caused 2-3 additional deaths Fukushima about maybe one and three mile island probably none. If there is, as actually seems likely, a threshold then they may have caused zero deaths.

        Nuclear power has by a sizeable margin the lowest death rate of any form of power generation per unit generated. For rooftop solar the main cause of death is falls during installation.

        Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

        Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
        Coal – China 278
        Coal – USA 15
        Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
        Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
        Biofuel/Biomass 12
        Peat 12
        Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
        Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
        Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
        Hydro – world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
        Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

        • Seems to me that the Japanese corpolitical entity is doing a much better job of concealing the toll of dead and wounded and “damage” than the Soviets managed to do. And unless I am not reading the right stuff, it appears that those structures with all that fuel inside are still adding significantly to the amount of ionizing radiation out where the rest of us live, not to mention straight chemical toxicity and of course economic devastation and “exclusion” of people from a pretty large area. That much of the crap is going out to sea is not cause for celebration — even us older people know that “dilution is not the solution to pollution,” and hey, actual scientists with data are actually starting to get a little worried about the myth of the Infinite Capacity of the Oceans To Regenerate…

        • @Juan: I can understand that you are saying that wind is cheaper – it may very well be in the US, when you compare mass produced wind turbines to the first nuclear reactor in the US for decades. Considering cost escalations by the regulatory environment and political risk in the US, that may very well be the case. In China, however, nuclear wins hands down.

          What I cannot understand is that you say that solar is cheaper. That statement is simply outrageous and does not stand up to any kind of calculation of levelized energy cost. Solar has become much cheaper over the last few years, but is still 3-4 times as expensive as nuclear. Yes, it might be competitive with grid prices in a few locations, but never with production costs.

          And I’m sorry, but that grids can be expanded to cope is unproven, and is really, really expensive even now in the beginning of the curve. France has proven the feasibility of 80% nuclear, but has less problems with that than other countries have with 20% wind. Also, please remember that Japan is an island nation. Is it really feasible for it to rely on neighbors to balance its intermittent power?

  2. You still haven’t said where you are going to store all that nuclear waste for the next tens of thousands of years.

    You store it on-site and recycle it, like the French do. Technology advances all the time; you understand this when it comes to solar voltaic efficiency, so why forget it when it comes to spent nuclear fuel handling?

    • Yah, that’s all we have to do is be all tech-y and “recycle it.” Do the French “recycle” spent nuclear fuel into plutonium, from which we get substantial security headaches since it’s so much easier to make a backyard nuclear or dirty weapon with Pu, which has a certain, shall we say, chemical toxicity all its own too? Are you mixing FUEL RODS in with “high-level radioactive waste” in the notion that it’s simple to recycle all that stuff if one is just as “green” about it as about solar energy? And it is the case for some reason that most of the entries when you google nuclear waste that most of the early entries in the data dump are from nuclear-industry and government-interested entities, though if you look you can find a few people who seem to have some informed and reasonable concerns about what to do with 70,000 tons of the stuff? link to oilprice.com

      And as to the wonderful “recycling,” maybe you could read the AREVA La Hague advertising, indicating that maybe there is still a lot of high-level schmutz left after “reprocessing,” that has to be shipped back to the Homeland, or dumped off the coast of Somalia, or in the case of France,

      n accordance with French law:

      The waste taken from used fuel from foreign electricity companies are returned to their country of origin after processing.
      French waste is temporarily stored onsite pending a permanent storage facility.

      link to areva.com

      No glib answers to an intractable problem here, I guess…

  3. All that a nuclear reactor does is boil water to turn a turbine that makes electricity. You can boil water with an array of mirrors.

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