What if? and the Meltdown Threat

If the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been a bank of wind turbines, we wouldn’t all be on hanging on every item about radiation release. The talk would just be about rebuilding the turbines.

Germany Offshore Wind Farm

Germany Offshore Wind Farm

Germany is hoping to replace its aging nuclear reactors with offshore wind farms

Euronews reports that reactor number 3 may already have released radioactive steam…


To help Japanese victims of the catastrophe, donate to the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund.

19 Responses

  1. Although wind power and photovoltaics are always discussed in relation to the dangers of electricity generation by nuclear reactors (or the climate change problems if fossil fuels are used), it is extremely rare that the German Desertec project is mentioned. And yet this seems to provide the best and most feasible solution affording almost limitless electricity throughout the world using absolutely safe and proven technology with no CO2 formation (solar furnaces in the desert).

    link to desertec.org

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  2. Professor, Your ideas about energy are well intentioned, and have some validity. As far as I know, Japan can and probably should, expand wind and solar power generation. But overall, your ideas are incredibly naive. There is nothing wrong with wind power in modest amounts. It’s a good idea. In modest amounts. But it almost certainly is not capable of doing what you wish it to do — power advanced societies. (Denmark works because it can draw on non-wind power via the European grid when it needs it). Solar might be able to do better, but not without a number of decades of R&D and vastly improved energy storage.

    In the meantime the problem is how to provide decent amounts of energy to 6 (eventually 9) billion people; and feeding those people; and getting them water; while coping with the economic affects of running out of cheap oil.

    That’s already a probably unsolvable problem. Trying to eliminate nuclear power and carbon emissions on top of that is wildly optimistic

    I urge you to dig out the numbers (e.g. btu per capita per day), where those btu come from, and where they go. It will take you a good deal of time and thought to understand the dimensions of the problem.

    In the meantime, I recommend reading the material at the EIA and similar websites. In particular, you should check in every day or three at http://www.theoildrum.com which has really good articles on energy production and usage. (I’d skip the comments there for now. The end is nigh and we’re all gonna die by next Tuesday gets old quickly).

    Anyway, I find your posts on energy embarrassing. And I suspect that someday you will also. I would strongly urge you to do some homework if you plan to keep on posting on energy related subjects.

    • Please read my book, “Engaging the Muslim World.” I am entirely aware of current limitations on alternative energy. But progress is already faster on that front than I anticipated in 2008 when that book was written. Germany gets 17% of its energy from sustainable sources, and it is going on up. There is no reason Japan cannot do as well. Everything depends on government incentives for green energy, which are the big difference between Germany and the United States.

      There is no reason whatsoever that Fukushima could not be replaced with offshore wind turbines, and, indeed, Germany is forging ahead with a plan to replace 8 nuclear plants in that way. I don’t know what is embarrassing about my pointing that out.

      Moreover, the likelihood is that there will be upward pressure on petroleum prices for some time, given Middle East instability and the difficulties of developing fields in e.g. Iraq or even just keeping up fields in some other strife torn areas. These supply problems are in addition to rapid demand growth in e.g. India. The move to hybrid and electric vehicles will under those come more quickly than I had expected in my book.

      I have been following Middle East energy markets for 30 years, young man, and don’t need to be instructed by some web site.

      • Hell, there are all sorts of alternatives to nukes.

        Scott Brusaw’s “Solar Roadways” concept (www.solarroadways.com) regularly gets mocked by people who have no idea of what glass can do, yet a version of it, independently designed and invented, is being installed on Dutch bike paths right now:

        link to egyptianfish.org

        For the price of a single nuke plant, we could have a few thousand test miles of solar roadways up and running today. Wherever there was pavement, there’d be power — for home use, industrial use, transportation.

      • Professor, when you comment about wind/solar generation replacing nuclear, it would be very helpful to readers if you would take the time in your posting to more fully address the issues that are being raised repeatedly in the comments here. It would go a long way if you addressed how you believe that solar and/or wind can reliably replace nuke and/or hydro for meeting base load demands on a large scale.

        (Also, it would be helpful if you were a little more precise when using terms like “sustainable” or “renewable”. For instance, when you say “Nation X gets Y percent of its power from sustainable (or renewable) sources” it isn’t clear what is or isn’t being included in those terms. Hydro, for instance is certainly “renewable” but it is debatable how “sustainable” it is. While hydro is counted currently as “renewable” electrical generation, it seems very unlikely to me that it will see much expansion in the developed, energy-hungry parts of the world. When quoting other sources, or using the terms yourself, it would be very helpful if you elaborated what specifically is being intended by these sorts of sometimes vague terms.)

        As you know, wind/solar sources would create very difficult issues of storage and/or redundancy to counter intermittency if they were to be used for baseline (or “base load”) generation. If in your postings on alternatives to nuclear power you explained even a little how you believe these issues could be dealt with, that would avoid creating the impression that you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to this field. Currently, as Mr. Kenny’s comment above makes clear, that is exactly the (hopefully incorrect) impression that is being formed in the minds of some readers here.

        When you say that, “There is no reason whatsoever that Fukushima could not be replaced with offshore wind turbines…” it would be helpful to the readers here if you elaborated a bit more on that point. Fukushima I has a total generating capacity of 4.7GW, and the current largest off-shore wind farms have peak capacities in the range of 0.2 to 0.3 GW. Given that nuclear plants generally have a capacity factor 2 to 3 times that of wind generation, you are well aware that you are proposing replacing one large nuclear plant with perhaps 50 or more of the current largest off-shore wind farms in existence. In order to replace the nuclear plant in filling the base load demand, it might be necessary to build even more wind farms and/or storage systems that don’t currently exist at that scale. Perhaps your thinking includes a large amount of new on-shore pump storage? If so, it would be helpful if you explained how you see the financial and environmental impacts of that much new reservoir construction on inland Japan being addressed.

        You clearly have given this issue a great deal of thought, and at least outlining your proposed solutions on these thorny issues would go a long way towards advancing this conversation.

        • yes, you haven’t been reading the material I have been linking to. Germany is planning to replace *8* nuclear plants with offshore wind turbines over the next decade. It isn’t relevant how much power current wind turbine fields generate, it is only relevant how much we can expect them to generate over the next decade. There are constant improvements in the turbines. China plans to have 30 gigawatts from wind turbines by 2020, so your suggestion that Fukushima at 4.7 gigawatts cannot be replaced in that way is simply incorrect.

          And, Portugal has pioneered ways of dealing with intermittency problems. This field is changing rapidly and old assumptions need to be jettisoned.

          It isn’t just wind. Germany put in 8 gigawatts of new solar power generation in 2010 alone, or two Fukushimas.

          Cost objections are often made, but they are usually narrow. If externalities are included such as the cost of storing nuclear waste and the long-term danger it poses to acquifers and other resources; or in the case of hydrocarbons if the vast displacements attendant on global climate change were factored in, wind and solar would even now be seen as extremely inexpensive.

          My own view is that we should get off nuclear and coal (like they should be hanging offenses) and go to natural gas plus as much wind and solar as we can get through until the cost of solar falls sufficiently and we solve storage and distribution just to do everything with solar. Natural gas prices are falling because of shale gas, and it burns cleaner than coal.

          Moreover, people have to remember that I am a historian and 50 years is nothing to us. If we can get major change by 2060 I’d be perfectly happy. But we don’t get major change by 2060 unless we start now.

        • Mark A. Delucchi of University of Calif, Davis and Mark Z.Jacobson of Stanford University jointly authored two papers that were recently published in the journal Energy Policy. These papers demonstrate that all our future energy needs could be met entirely by wind, solar and hydro sources, eliminating the need not only for catastrophe-prone nuclear power, but also for greenhouse-gas producing fossil fuels.

  3. Juan,

    Although Denmark appears to be a success in the wind energy business and they can access grid supply to supplement their needs, it must be kept in mind theimitations of wind supply. If we assume 30% capacity factor then 70% must come from elsewhere. Without massive storage capability the source of choice will continue to be gas. In fact Denmark’s CO2 emissions have risen. Like the previous post said, it should only be a small contributor to the overall energy mix. The irony is the companies being subsidized to install wind also are building new gas plants to cover the wind deficit. Add in the carbon trading they can access in some jurisdictions and it’s win-win-win. The consumers get hosed and gas remains king.

    Regards, Jim

    • Wind is limited but we haven’t reached the limit, or even approached it. Solar is the only real solution in the medium to long term; for human purposes, it is virtually unlimited and we just need better ways of capturing, storing and distributing it. There is no reason to avoid wind until we have that, since it is increasingly competitive with hydrocarbons. Wind and natural gas are the best ways to get us over the hump to the Great Solar Transition, which will open a new era of inexpensive energy. Our own Dow in Flint is revving up solar roof tiles and expects to do big business in them. And, solar water heating is already practical and would save the US a lot of money if retailers come on board and there were the right homeowner incentives (they have them in Washington State; we don’t have them in Michigan).

  4. Juan,

    Thanks for the great site.

    Gwynn Dyer has great insights as well good people.

    The Club of Rome advised solar investment decades ago in Goals for Mankind. Pick it up on you next yardsaleing trip!


  5. We have to consider that the reason we’re having this debate is that we are no longer competent to balance the complex tradeoffs of all our crappy energy alternatives, but no one has the guts to admit whom he’d sacrifice to get his way. If we were the country we were in 1942, we could build solar furnaces across enough of the Southwest (with its innate heat-storage capability) to at least preserve civilization. But now all we care about is convenience and comfort; the lack of baseload from solar means we might require energy rationing. So we whine and special interests run scare ads and nothing gets done. The same scenario applies to ALL the alternatives: wind, nuclear, coal-bed methane, five-mile deep offshore oil. We are ALL responsible for whomever will get hurt by whatever alternative we choose, so we lie and claim no one will be hurt and that “no one” freaks out and blocks our solution.

    In grad school we learned a term for this disease of middle-aged democracies: pluralist stagnation. Unfortunately, there’s a quack surgeon for this disease, carrying a scalpel called fascism.

  6. Enough people have gone ‘off the grid’ that the formula is well understood. First you work on efficiency of energy usage, then do that again a few more times. Then you work out the energy production and storage issues.

  7. “Solar is the only real solution in the medium to long term; for human purposes, it is virtually unlimited and we just need better ways of capturing, storing and distributing it.”

    Solar panel can only convert 12% of sun’s energy into electricity.
    This is after 40+ years of research. Even the newer solar technology
    (thin film) give you better efficiency but require very rare
    elements which would be exhausted by producing solar panels.

    Obviously it doesn’t work at night so you need battery
    which is even worse in terms of technology. Same for fuel cell
    All the known lithium would be gone if 100 million cars are produced.
    Not to talk about other rare earth elements.

    No wonder you are not scientist. please don’t try like
    you have actually done any research.

    PS. you better stay away from Sun, and better not get cancer
    either because the nuclear tech that you don’t like will
    be used to treat your cancer. For which the radioactive material
    comes from those nuclear plants.

    Furthermore any tech you think that is going to save your ass
    will take 30+ years to come online to replace todays technology
    if ever.

  8. You seem to be referring only to photovoltaic solutions in which essentially only the visible part of the sun’s radiation is used. Indeed, as you point out it is difficult to see how this could ever provide sufficient energy. But what about the Club of Rome Desertec project (vide supra) making use of the much more interesting infra-red part of the spectrum for solar furnaces? Many large firms are supporting Desertec as well as the EU. Another website about the project is :

    link to dii-eumena.com

  9. Hello. I’m in Tokyo, Today I find very nice & Important youtube video by Daniel Karl:
    Stop the hysteria
    link to youtube.com

    Please take a look at this!! Thnk you(Daniel is a very popular commedian in Japan over the years, who speaks the Japanese Northeast Dialect amazingly well)

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