Friday, March 16, 2012

Fukashima one year later

Since a lot (maybe most) of the folks who are actually convinced that Climate Change is a serious problem also believe in nuclear power, I want to be careful about alienating potential allies.  On the other hand, I know plenty of people who believe nuclear power is beyond any consideration by good people—the worst possible combination of technological arrogance run amok, environmental carelessness, and a political system clearly not designed to make these sorts of planet-threatening decisions.  For them their political position is very easy to describe, "NO more nukes!"

Like the natural centrist I am, I tend to see plenty of merit on both sides of the nuclear debate.  And while it is pretty hard to argue with the evidence presented by a Fukushima or Chernobyl, there actually IS a pretty good case for nuclear power.
  1. No matter what anyone thinks about the decisions to build large nuclear power plants in the first place, we built a bunch of them.  The sites they occupy are never going to be recovered in any meaningful sense like farmland or housing.  So the solution is to continue to run them using the best methods available.  This intensive-maintenance includes upgrading / replacing the reactors.  We need base-load power generation and for all the problems of nuclear electrical power, it is still a better solution than:
  2. Coal—which is an absolute freaking disaster!  Not only does coal burning create mining problems like mountaintop removal and acid rain, under normal operating conditions, those plants actually spew more radioactive products into the atmosphere than the nukes.  And since coal is mostly carbon, burning it WILL produce carbon dioxide no matter what pollution controls are used.  When the problem is greenhouse gas buildup, there is no such thing as clean coal!
I must also admit that I have some personal nostalgia for the output of Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program.  My childhood was largely spent in a tiny town in Minnesota occupied mainly by Mennonites.  These people were historical pacifists.  But Eisenhower had grown up a Mennonite in Kansas and became a 5-star general. (gasp)  The way my neighbors rationalized it, Ike may have succumbed to the sin of warfare—but it WAS a national emergency and Hitler obviously WAS a bad guy.  More importantly, Ike showed he retained SOME of his Mennonite upbringing by beating some of the swords into plowshares.  And Atoms for Peace was proof.

I vaguely remember a train that came to town with clever displays touting the bright future of nuclear power.  I would link to info about this pro-nuclear-power train but I couldn't find any.  I did find this superb site that has a collection of some of the print ads of the era touting the glories of nuclear power.  Like this. (click on image for full size)

This from a French site.  The French are probably the world's least skeptical about nuclear power.
Fukushima one year on: a quest for viable energy   
In the wake of the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima, Japan has had to take a hard look at its energy production model. For the moment, there are more questions than answers. takes a closer look.
By Charlotte Oberti    11/MAR/2012

“Nuclear energy is now safer than it was a year ago,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on March 5 during a speech at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna. Amano continued, noting that his home country of Japan had travelled “a long road” since the Fukushima catastrophe of March 11, 2011.

His speech was meant to encourage a return to nuclear power in a country that has 54 nuclear reactors, but only two that currently function. Before the earthquake, there were talks about raising the share of nuclear power in Japan’s total electrical generation capacity from 27% to 50% by 2030; but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda put the plan on the back burner last September.

“Japan is such a widely industrialized country that it is difficult to do without nuclear energy,” explained Evelyne Dourille-Feer, an economist at France’s Centre for International Prospective Studies. “Moreover, the balance of trade is unsettled by the price of imports, and eventually there will be an impact on public debt.”

These arguments seem to have swayed Japanese authorities, who have established new measures to reinforce the safety of certain reactors. Walls have been built around some power stations and reactors have been subjected to more intensive resistance tests.

An example in energy efficiency

For now, Japan, which has scarce fossil resources, is largely dependent on other countries for its power. In the wake of the accident, thermal power stations were activated and coal, natural liquefied gas, and fuel were imported – hence the commercial deficit that Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, registered in 2011 (for the first time since 1980).

Along with the increased reliance on thermal power in Japan, additional piecemeal solutions have been implemented over the past year. Faced with electricity shortages, the Japanese have had no other choice but to reduce their consumption. The government has successfully urged people to turn out lights and use environmentally efficient light bulbs, as well as encouraged commuters to avoid travel during rush hour. During the summer of 2011, Tokyo inhabitants reduced their electricity consumption by 18%, while those in the Fukushima region reduced theirs by 15%.

According to Dourille-Feer, Japan’s post-Fukushima handling of the energy situation is encouraging. “What Japan is going through is very serious, but you can also see it as a chance to innovate in terms of new energy sources and energy efficiency,” she said.

‘Fukushima was an electroshock’

According to Charlotte Mijeon, of anti-nuclear association “Sortir du nuclĂ©aire”, nuclear energy remains dangerous -- despite the extra precautions taken. “Fukushima was an electroshock and nuclear power is not as safe today as before,” she said. Mijeon argues that the danger is even greater in Japan, where there are frequent tsunami warnings. The Japanese population shares Mijeon’s wariness. In June 2011, a poll found that 75% of Japanese were in favour of abandoning nuclear power.

Meanwhile, the domain of renewable energy - considered a credible alternative – is developing rapidly. In September 2011, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suggested “starting from scratch and presenting a new energy plan by next summer,” and emphasised renewable energy, as had his predecessor Naoto Kan. While in office, Kan signed a law that as of July 2012 would set attractive prices for wind, solar, hydraulic, and geothermal energy for the next 20 years. more
Then there is this little gem.  The link was sent to me by a guy named Peter Kim.  It is an excellent look at the magnitude of the disaster that was Fukushima. presents Japan One Year Later Japan One Year Later
The Germans have decided to abandon nuclear power completely.  Not surprisingly, they are not exactly thrilled that the Poles have decided to add some more nuke power plants.
Unwelcome Interference
Polish Nuclear Dreams Threaten Ties with Germany
By Jan Puhl   03/13/2012

Determined to develop its nuclear industry to meet its booming energy needs, Poland is tired of lectures from its environmentally conscious neighbor Germany. After all, Poles argue, the Germans have benefitted from nuclear power for decades. The differing energy philosophies threaten to strain ties between the two countries.

The street that will lead into Poland's radiant future is dilapidated. Rusty steel mesh protrudes from the concrete, and deep puddles have formed where some of the concrete slabs have sagged into the ground. But such adverse conditions can hardly shake Krzysztof Krzemiski's enthusiasm.

Krzemiski is the mayor of Reda, a small city in northwestern Poland. He maneuvers his gray Volkswagen Passat around the potholes and stops in front of a rickety chain-link fence. Behind it are massive walls from an earlier era, now overgrown with grayish-green vegetation.

It was here, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Gdansk, on Lake Zarnowiec, that Poland's communist regime once poured the foundations for a nuclear power plant. Krzemiski was the head of a work brigade at the time. "It was my first job as an engineer," he says. It was "a nice time, very demanding and challenging."

But it all ended with the fall of communism, when the country's new, democratic leaders halted construction on the plant. "We shut down the site in 1989," says Krzemiski. "A few concrete and steel parts were sold for next to nothing, and the reactor went to Finland."

Now, more than 20 years later, the situation has fundamentally changed. Poland, no longer the dirt-poor supplicant of the post-communist era, has transformed itself into an increasingly influential member of the European Union. The economy is booming, and Poland needs electricity -- a lot of electricity. For that reason, Krzemiski believes that the dream of his youth will become a reality after all, and that a reactor will finally be built on Lake Zarnowiec. "Coal is running out, the wind isn't very strong in Poland and the sun rarely shines," he says. "We need nuclear energy."

Poland's nuclear dream is practically destined to cause friction with its neighbor to the west. Rarely in the last 1,000 years have Poland and Germany been on such good terms as they are today. But in response to Poland's decision to build nuclear power plants, lawmakers of all political stripes in the state parliaments of the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (both of which border Poland), as well as in the city-state of Berlin, have passed motions appealing to the Poles to follow Germany's lead and do without nuclear energy.

But even in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which turned public opinion in Germany massively against atomic power, Warsaw remains undeterred in its determination to develop nuclear energy. "If someone doesn't want to build nuclear power plants, that's their problem," says Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Last week, Economics Minister Waldemar Pawlak told the German newspaperFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the decision had already been made. The state-owned energy company PGE is expected to build two reactors, and one of them will most likely be in Mayor Krzemiski's jurisdiction, on Lake Zarnowiec. more
Make of this what you will.  The Green Party of Germany is a serious political organization that has seats in the parliament.  On the other hand, a Green Party in USA does exist but since is has no chance to win political power in a two-party-oligopoly, it tends not to be very serious—even about serious problems.  I mean, I actually believe that we can get to a renewable energy economy some day.  Where I differ with Ms. Stein is that I have some idea of how big a problem this conversion will be.
After Fukushima, Stein calls for 100% renewable energy economy

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein marked the first anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown, and the resultant deaths and estimated $250 billion in cleanup costs, by calling for a Green New Deal to begin an immediate move to a 100% renewable energy economy. Dr. Stein said the Obama White House “has shown it has learned nothing” by promoting nuclear power plants at a time when much of the world is shifting away from them after the Japanese nuclear disaster.

"A Green president would invest in wind, solar and geothermal, emphasize efficiency and conservation, phase out nuclear power plants, and move to a carbon-free economy to deal with climate change. We would immediately end Obama’s expensive subsidies for nuclear power as well as fossil fuels, and use those funds instead to kick off a job-producing energy program based on clean, safe and renewable energy," said Stein.

Stein said she would push for the immediate shutdown of the 23 Fukushima-style GE Mark I reactors as the first step in moving to a nuclear-free America.

"An energy system based on renewables is inevitable. Between the dangers of nuclear mining, transport, meltdown, and storage on the one hand, and catastrophic climate change on the other, we must make the transition happen now rather than wait for a calamity to force our hand. I’m campaigning for a Green New Deal that will transition the U.S. economy to become the world leader in building a green economy that puts people back to work while we create a sustainable future," added Stein. more

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