Nuclear power after Fukushima?

While the full consequences of the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan cannot yet be known, it is worth speculating about what impact this will have on the co-called ‘nuclear renaissance’ and global efforts to combat climate change.

Certainly, the accident demonstrates some of the special risks associated with nuclear power. Like renewable forms of energy, nuclear is relatively costly and slow to deploy. Using nuclear power also creates the risk of very serious accidents, nuclear waste, and weapon proliferation. That being said, it is possible that climate change is such a severe problem that it is worth running those risks in order to improve our odds of dealing with it.


163 thoughts on “Nuclear power after Fukushima?

  1. Adrian Mohareb

    Thorium can be used as fuel with a different plant design. It’s as abundant as(perhaps more so than) uranium. It cannot be made into plutonium. Most importantly, it’s dangerously radioactive for about 500 years. Not tens of thousands like uranium. This is a much more manageable timeline. It needs a neutron source for the reaction to proceed, so meltdown is nearly impossible.

    We simply have no reason to continue to build new uranium reactors. They don’t fit into a sustainable energy paradigm; the risks are too high. If we are to build new reactors, they should be thorium reactors.

    See here for more:

  2. Matt

    It sounds like the Japanese made a number of unbelievable errors after the earthquake occurred in relation to this particular power station.

    It’s shocking the lack of automation built into the systems. One would think scenarios and risks could be analyzed prior to catastrophe and developed into computer code removing the necessity of humans making life or death game-time decisions during times of crisis.

  3. Milan Post author

    There are many reasons to worry about the safety of nuclear facilities of all types (power plants, fuel production facilities, reprocessing facilities, surface ships, submarines, etc). Back in 1977, workers at a nuclear plant in Czechoslovakia caused an accident that was rated as level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. That is the same level that has provisionally been given to the ongoing situation in Japan. The Czech workers caused the accident by forgetting to remove some drying packets of silica gel:

    “25% of the fuel elements in a heavy water moderated carbon dioxide cooled 100 MW(e) power reactor were damaged due to operator error. The operators failed to remove silica gel packs from a new fuel element. The silica gel was used to keep the unused fuel dry during storage and transport. The silica gel packs blocked the flow of the coolant resulting in overheating of the fuel and the pressure channel holding it. As a result of overheating the heavy water leaked into the part of the reactor where the fuel elements are accommodated, the cladding was subject to corrosion and a considerable amount of radioactivity leaked into the primary cooling circuit. Through leaks in the steam boilers (similar basic design to a MAGNOX or AGR plant) some parts of the secondary circuit became contaminated”

    It doesn’t take a tsunami to produce a nuclear catastrophe. Canada had nuclear accidents in Chalk River in 1952 and 1958. The Sellafield site in England has had many problems. Move a control rod 26.25 inches instead of 23, and a reactor can explode killing everyone around it.

  4. .

    Corium (nuclear reactor)
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Corium, also called fuel containing material (FCM) or lava-like fuel containing material (LFCM), is a lava-like molten mixture of portions of nuclear reactor core, formed during a nuclear meltdown, the most severe class of a nuclear reactor accident. It consists of nuclear fuel, control rods, structural materials from the affected parts of the reactor, products of their chemical reaction with air, water and steam, and, in case the reactor vessel is breached, molten concrete from the floor of the reactor room.

  5. .

    Japan has touted nuclear power as key to reducing carbon emissions to 75 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. The public remains wary about the push, with one poll showing that 54 percent of the population feels anxious or uneasy about nuclear power. Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, told the Monitor then that his nation’s nuclear power plants were built to withstand all but a “once in 10,000 year” earthquake.

    Tragically, that’s exactly what hit Friday when an 8.9-magnitude temblor rocked the nation’s northeast coast and sent a 30-foot high tsunami crashing inland, knocking out electricity at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and causing cooling systems to fail in at least three reactors.

    Nuclear plants also provide an estimated 20 percent of US power, with Obama recently pledging $8 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the US since 1979, the year of the Three Mile Island meltdown. Proposals are currently being heard for 20 new reactors to be built over the next 15 to 20 years.

  6. .

    Walt Patterson, associate fellow at London’s Chatham House think-tank, said the financial damage could also be severe.

    Somebody is going to wind up paying the bill and it will probably be the Japanese public one way or another,” he said. “That is undoubtedly going to filter back to the debate in Europe as a further factor in the very dubious economics of these plants.”

    Japan is likely to loom large in voters’ minds when Italy — one of the few European countries prone to earthquakes — holds a referendum within the next three months on whether to build nuclear power plants.

    The compelling need to reduce dependence on oil, gas and coal, along with the climate-warming carbon they produce, means Japan’s disaster is unlikely to derail Europe’s multi-billion-dollar nuclear building plans, sources said.

  7. Adrian Mohareb

    Ugh – I had a comment, but it disappeared… So I’ll cheat and repeat my comment that I put on Facebook.

    What if we could keep our electrical grids humming along, and have nuclear power, without having to worry about meltdowns, long-lived waste products and the generation of weapons-grade materials?

    Thorium could do this for us. 500 years of radioactive material is still a long time, but a manageable time in human perspectives, compared to uranium. About as abundant as uranium. It’s too light to turn into plutonium, and its by-products cannot be used in weapons.

  8. Adrian

    Ugh – I had a comment, but it disappeared (stupid IE)… So I’ll cheat and repeat my comment that I put on Facebook.

    What if we could keep our electrical grids humming along, and have nuclear power, without having to worry about meltdowns, long-lived waste products and the generation of weapons-grade materials?

    Thorium could do this for us. 500 years of radioactive material is still a long time, but a manageable time in human perspectives, compared to uranium. About as abundant as uranium. It’s too light to turn into plutonium, and its by-products cannot be used in weapons.

  9. Milan Post author

    Things are continuing to get worse:

    While regulations may differ somewhat in Japan, in the United States the usual radiation exposure limit for nuclear power plant workers is 50 millisieverts, or 5 rem, per year (compared with the 0.3 rem that the Environmental Protection Agency says most people get from normal background radiation). When there is an emergency, the limit can be raised to 25 rem, which is still far below the level at which people would show symptoms or get sick.

    The explosion at Fukushima’s Reactor No. 2 on Tuesday morning sent radiation levels spiking, to 8,217 microsieverts an hour from 1,941 about 40 minutes earlier.

    During the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine in 1986, when the reactor caught fire, operators and firefighters received high doses of radiation, sometimes within minutes and without being made aware of the dangers. More than two dozen of them died of acute radiation illness. “People in Chernobyl were just over overexposed,” Dr. Pepper said. “The outcome for those folks was death.”

    Determining allowable exposure is usually based on three principles: distance, time and shielding. In the Japanese plants, extensive contamination would mean that distance and shielding are not really factors, so the controlling variable is time.

    It is about 300km from Fukushima to Tokyo – a metropolitan area with a population of over 35 million.

  10. Milan Post author

    Regarding thorium, my understanding is that the kind of thermal breeder reactor that would theoretically allow thorium to be used as fuel is even more expensive and dangerous than light water reactors of the Fukushima/Three Mile Island variety.

  11. Milan Post author

    Pebble bed reactors are also not risk free:

    May 4, 1986 – INES Level needed – Hamm-Uentrop, Germany (then West Germany) – Fuel damaged

    A spherical fuel pebble became lodged in the pipe used to deliver fuel elements to the reactor at an experimental 300-megawatt THTR-300 HTGR. Attempts by an operator to dislodge the fuel pebble damaged its cladding, releasing radiation detectable up to two kilometers from the reactor.

    Of course, the fact that there was once incident of unknown severity doesn’t necessarily mean that pebble bed reactors would not be a significant improvement over boiling water reactors or pressurized water reactors.

    At the same time, I think we need to be wary about companies, individuals, and organizations that claim they have the technology to make nuclear power completely safe as well as more affordable. Such claims have proven inaccurate in the past.

  12. Antonia

    @ Matt It sounds like the Japanese made a number of unbelievable errors after the earthquake occurred in relation to this particular power station.
    The only errors I’ve read of are the Czech example above.

    Given that in such extreme situations there it would be taking a huge risk to place reliance on electronics remaining stable in an emergency (especially a seawater inundation), having manual fail-safes (as with nuclear launches) makes perfect sense to me. Computers on automatic programmes where sensors or other equipment is faulty can make bad ‘decisions’ on erroneous data just as easily as humans and alternatives are needed – especially as scenarios such as the tsunami inundation are very hard to finely calculate.

    In the case of Fukushima I have not read the details but headlines haven’t been blazoning negligence by those risking their lives (and now permanently damaging their health) by continuing to work during the disaster and I’m not sure how a computer programme would deal better with unuseably damaged cooling systems – the reactors were shut down and cooling initiated but it isn’t surprising that the backup power sources to maintain the cooling failed where all infrastructure was so damaged and the backup-backup wasn’t designed to power such a heavy job on its own. The fact that the decades-old plant which was imminently to be decomissioned initially survived such a huge earthquake and tsunami is impressive and manual cooling by seawater was the only remaining option – reliance on computer programmes in such circumstances would be of limited help.

    The lesson that more attention needs to be paid to the management of spent and offline fuel rods in such situations is however very clear. and How further staff and resources could be thrown into a high-risk site at the critical time (and when emergency vehicles are also undertaking rescue and evacuation work) and what emergency supplementary power and cooling systems could reach such sites and assist remains unclear.

    Japan is one of the most volcanically and tectonically vulnerable nations to exploit nuclear power. Nevertheless, the superstrong double whammy of earthquake with tsunami (creating multiple risk points) is having an immediate impact on Germany’s nuclear planning and the tone of debate there Reuters has provided a good global map of nuclear plants against active earthquake zones

    Meanwhile the knock-on effects mean that we are all likely to face power shortages sooner and fossil fuel demand will rise while along with its prices

    @Tristan Nuclear risks are uninsurable

  13. Antonia

    Apologies to Matt – at least one source considers that the builders/controllers allowed the premium on space to compromise safety and stored the spent fuel rods too close to the reactors. On the other hand that source was Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev speaking twenty-odd years after Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiishi plant was built in the seventies so maybe its an artefact of a defunct design rather than contemporary profit-seeking.

    Japanese reactors age/type info available down this article

  14. .

    Switzerland, Lithuania and Germany have all put a halt to nuclear plans after a massive earthquake rocked Japan into the midst of an atomic crisis and possible meltdown.

    According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are 442 nuclear reactors in operation worldwide, with 65 new facilities being made.

    Construction last year was started on 14 new reactors — in China, Russia, India, Japan and Brazil. In 2005, in comparison, ground was broken for only three reactors.

    Japan had plans to add 14 plants to the 55 it had in operation, while China and India have also been looking at massive increased to their nuclear power systems.

    Ontario has a total of 16 reactors, all located within 300 kilometres of one another.

  15. .

    New Safe Confinement
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter) is the structure intended to contain the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, part of which was destroyed by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The idea is to prevent the reactor wreck from leaking radioactive material into the environment. The confinement is expected to be completed in 2013.[1]

    A part of the Shelter Implementation Plan funded by the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, the NSC is designed to contain the radioactive remains of Chernobyl Unit 4 for the next 100 years. It is intended to replace the present sarcophagus, that was hastily constructed after a “beyond design-basis accident” destroyed reactor 4 on April 26, 1986.

    The word “confinement” is used rather than the traditional “containment” with the intent to emphasize the difference between the “containment” of radioactive gases that is the primary focus of most reactor containment buildings, and the “confinement” of solid radioactive waste that is the primary purpose of the New Safe Confinement.

  16. .

    (Reuters) – Greed in the nuclear industry and corporate influence over the U.N. watchdog for atomic energy may doom Japan to a spreading nuclear disaster, one of the men brought in to clean up Chernobyl said on Tuesday.

    Slamming the Japanese response at Fukushima, Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev accused corporations and the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of willfully ignoring lessons from the world’s worst nuclear accident 25 years ago to protect the industry’s expansion.

    After Chernobyl all the force of the nuclear industry was directed to hide this event, for not creating damage to their reputation. The Chernobyl experience was not studied properly because who has money for studying? Only industry.

    “But industry doesn’t like it,” he said in an interview in Vienna where the former director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency now teaches and advises on nuclear safety. Austria’s environment ministry has used him as an adviser.

    Andreev said a fire which released radiation on Tuesday involving spent fuel rods stored close to reactors at Fukushima looked like an example of putting profit before safety:

    “The Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin,” Andreev said.

  17. Milan Post author

    In some ways, the spent fuel pools are even more worrisome than the reactors:

    If any of the spent fuel rods in the pools do indeed catch fire, nuclear experts say, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity.

    “It’s worse than a meltdown,” said David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists who worked as an instructor on the kinds of General Electric reactors used in Japan. “The reactor is inside thick walls, and the spent fuel of Reactors 1 and 3 is out in the open.”

    A spokesman for the Japanese company that runs the stricken reactors said in an interview on Monday that the spent fuel at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plants had been left uncooled since shortly after the quake.

    The company, Tokyo Electric, has not been able to cool the spent fuel pools because power has been knocked out, said Johei Shiomi, the spokesman. “There may be some heating up,” he said.

    Before Tuesday’s fire, some scientists said that a worst-case outcome was unlikely and that the Japanese would probably have enough time to act before too much water boiled away. Firefighters with hoses can pour in water, they said, or helicopters could drop tons of water.

    Apparently, the spent fuel rods have contents that are more worrisome in some ways, and there is no containment vessel around the pools that hold them.

  18. .

    The unfolding Japanese crisis is too stark a reminder of how horrific nuclear disasters have the potential to be. The equation is simple. The odds of any such accident occurring may be extremely low. The consequences of such an accident are enormous.

    I spent much of Sunday and Monday glued to my television set, my computer and my BlackBerry, monitoring the latest reactor news from Japan. The thought that Japan, of all places, the country haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, might become a nuclear victim once again was simply too terrible to absorb.

    I felt slightly ridiculous. Tens of thousands of people are already dead, either crushed by one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history or swamped by the powerful tsunami that it spawned.

    Although this weekend’s radiation leaks and hydrogen explosions were frightening, they hardly compared to the destruction already wrought by the quake and the flooding. Yet I felt more worried about what might happen, than what had happened.

    Is the media’s ghoulish fixation on the possibility of nuclear disaster simply a sideshow, an overhyped distraction from the larger devastation? True, it’s both easier and more exciting to cover the dramatic tension of a possible catastrophe, than the bleak human aftermath of the catastrophe that’s already happened. Yet our cultural obsession with the consequences of a nuclear accident is wholly understandable.

    The most serious nuclear accidents in Canada occurred at the Pickering nuclear facility east of Toronto, which has two generating stations with four reactors each, in 1974 and in 1983. In each case, pressure tubes — which hold fuel rods — ruptured. The CANDU design uses much smaller pressure vessels than other types of nuclear reactors, so when a pressure tube fails, it can be replaced without taking the entire reactor off-line.

    In the Pickering accidents, some coolant escaped but was recovered before it left the plant. and there was no release of radioactive material from the containment building. The plant staff were able to shut down the reactor without having to rely on the automatic shutdown systems that would kick in during a nuclear accident.

    Japan’s nuclear crisis is equivalent to number six on the INES scale of nuclear accidents from one to seven, Kyodo news agency quoted the French Nuclear Agency as saying.

    The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a seven and Three Mile Island a five.

    Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said March 12 that the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core, Japanese daily Nikkei reported. This statement seemed somewhat at odds with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano’s comments earlier March 12, in which he said “the walls of the building containing the reactor were destroyed, meaning that the metal container encasing the reactor did not explode.”

    NISA’s statement is significant because it is the government agency that reports to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. NISA works in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Commission. Its role is to provide oversight to the industry and is responsible for signing off construction of new plants, among other things. It has been criticized for approving nuclear plants on geological fault lines and for an alleged conflict of interest in regulating the nuclear sector. It was NISA that issued the order for the opening of the valve to release pressure — and thus allegedly some radiation — from the Fukushima power plant.

    This story does not demonstrate that nuclear power is right for Japan, or anyone else. But it does show, I believe, that choices about energy always involve trade-offs.

    Which risks are acceptable? How much risk? And what are we prepared to pay to avoid or mitigate threats? There are costs and hazards associated with every choice and so these questions are unavoidable. There are no riskfree, cost-free solutions.

    Some deny this basic reality. Certain environmental groups claim to have plans which would allow us to do away entirely with coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power over the next several decades. Renewable energy would replace them all. The cost would be minimal. Indeed, it would spur innovation and produce millions of new jobs.

    It would be wonderful if it were possible. Unfortunately, it’s not.

    One of the world’s leading energy experts, Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, has called these claims “not just naive (but) profoundly irresponsible.”

    But Smil also criticizes those at the other extreme, who see nothing undesirable about the status quo and believe any significant shift to renewable energy would be prohibitively expensive.

    We can do better. But it requires that we first understand basic realities, including the most basic: There are costs and risks in everything.

    SINGAPORE — Radioactive materials spewed into the air by Japan’s earthquake-crippled nuclear plant may contaminate food and water resources, with children and unborn babies most at risk of possibly developing cancer.

    Experts said exposure to radioactive materials has the potential to cause various kinds of cancers and abnormalities to fetuses, with higher levels of radiation seen as more dangerous.

    But they said they needed more accurate measurements for the level of radioactivity in Japan, and the region, to give a proper risk assessment.

    “The explosions could expose the population to longer-term radiation, which can raise the risk of cancer. These are thyroid cancer, bone cancer and leukaemia. Children and foetuses are especially vulnerable,” said Lam Ching-wan, chemical pathologist at the University of Hong Kong.

    “For some individuals even a small amount of radiation can raise the risk of cancer. The higher the radiation, the higher the risk of cancer,” said Lam, who is also a member on the American Board of Toxicologists. Radioactive material is carried by minute moisture droplets in the air. It can then be directly inhaled into the lungs, get washed down by rain into the sea and onto soil, and eventually contaminate crops, marine life and drinking water.

    Immediately after the earthquake, the Fukushima reactors, and many others, went into an automatic shutdown mode. Special rods of neutron-absorbing material, known as control rods, were inserted between the fuel assemblies, halting the power-producing nuclear reactions. But power-producing reactions are not the only ones happening at the core: as nuclear fuel burns it creates new elements that themselves generate a great deal of heat through their radioactive decay. A small but significant amount of the core’s heat is generated by these elements, and there is no way to turn them off.

    So, without emergency cooling, the temperature at the core of both reactors began to rise. As it did, what water that remained began to boil off, increasing the pressure inside the pellet-shape pod.

    When temperatures reached around a thousand degrees Celsius, the zirconium alloy holding the fuel pellets probably began to melt or split apart. As it did, it reacted with the steam and created hydrogen gas, which is highly volatile.

    Operators may or may not have known what was happening when they decided to release some of the pressure from Unit 1 on Saturday. The hydrogen apparently caused a massive explosion which blew the roof off of the fuel hall, though the reactor’s primary containment vessel appears to have remained intact (see diagram, from NEI).

    If, as it appears, the zirconium came apart, then some of the uranium and plutonium pellets in the fuel rods may have become loose or melted and sunk to the bottom of the pressure vessel. In that case, the cores of units 1 and 3 are now a volatile test tube filled with radioactive fuel, melted zirconium and water.

    The real danger is the fuel. If enough fuel gathers at the bottom of the reactor, it could burn through the concrete containment vessel. In a worse case scenario, the fuel could again gather to form a critical mass outside the fuel assembly. The loose fuel would restart the power-producing reactions, but in a completely uncontrolled way. This, if it happened, would lead to a full-scale nuclear meltdown.

    Operations to relieve pressure in the containment of Fukushima Daiichi 3 have taken place after the failure of a core coolant system. Seawater is being injected to make certain of core cooling. Malfunctions have hampered efforts but there are strong indications of stability.

    The intense focus on unit 3 comes one day after the plant’s first reactor was effectively written off as a result of a hydrogen explosion and the move to inject seawater to make certain of cooling the reactor core. Two days ago were the earthquake and tsunami that have proven Japan’s worst ever natural disaster.

    Tepco reported it had not been able to restart unit 3’s high pressure injection system after an automatic stop. This left the reactor without sufficient coolant and obligated Tepco to notify government of an emergency situation.

    Preparations for potential pressure relief had already been underway for many hours and Tepco manually vented the containment between 8.41am and 9.20am on March 13.

    Noriyuki Shikata, director of global communications in the prime minister’s office, said the venting operation was expected to cool the containment, noting that “minute quantities of radioactive materials are released.” When this occurred at unit 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the emission would be filtered to retain radioactive materials within the containment.

    Experts Had Long Criticized Potential Weakness in Design of Stricken Reactor

    The warnings were stark and issued repeatedly as far back as 1972: If the cooling systems ever failed at a “Mark 1” nuclear reactor, the primary containment vessel surrounding the reactor would probably burst as the fuel rods inside overheated. Dangerous radiation would spew into the environment.

    Now, with one Mark 1 containment vessel damaged at the embattled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and other vessels there under severe strain, the weaknesses of the design — developed in the 1960s by General Electric — could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe.

    When the ability to cool a reactor is compromised, the containment vessel is the last line of defense. Typically made of steel and concrete, it is designed to prevent — for a time — melting fuel rods from spewing radiation into the environment if cooling efforts completely fail.

    In some reactors, known as pressurized water reactors, the system is sealed inside a thick steel-and-cement tomb. Most nuclear reactors around the world are of this type.

    After more than two decades of stagnation, the global nuclear power industry was just coming back to life. Power utilities had launched proposals for more than 300 new reactors, most of them in Asia, and dozens were under construction.

    Then came the Japanese nuclear disaster, shocking the world with images of two explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan, near the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake. The disaster threatens to end the nuclear renaissance. A slowdown has already begun.

    On Monday, two days after thousands of nuclear protesters gathered in Stuttgart, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a suspension of her coalition government’s decision to extend the lifespan of her country’s aging nuclear power stations. Investors hammered the shares of utilities with nuclear-energy exposure, among them French nuclear development giant Areva, and energy consultants and analysts predicted hard times ahead for the industry.

    “The severe nuclear incident in Japan has put a global nuclear renaissance into question,” Bernstein International analyst Alex Barnett said in a research note.

    “This should slow the development of nuclear power,” said Ira Helfand, a member of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility in the United States. “These reactors are inherently dangerous. They contain the equivalent of 1,000 nuclear bombs.”

    Germany on Tuesday became the first European country to shut down nuclear plants in the wake of the crisis in Japan as the European Union made plans to test all 143 nuclear power plants in its 27 member countries.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that seven older plants that began operating before 1980 would be temporarily closed and that the time would be used to study speedier adoption of renewable energy.

    The chief executive of the German power giant E.ON, Johannes Teyssen, declined to rule out blackouts as a result of Mrs. Merkel’s decision, noting that would depend on demand and supply.

    “We will try our best to live up to the situation, but the risk of the system has definitely increased,” Mr. Teyssen told reporters in Brussels.

    While Mrs. Merkel insisted that safety was her primary concern, opposition politicians accused her of pandering to widespread fear about nuclear power and merely appearing to question it ahead of a regional election later this month. She has in effect only suspended a decision last autumn to keep older nuclear plants operating beyond their previously designated life span.

    GE Trio Quit in 1970s Over Damaged Japan Nuclear Reactor Design, ABC Says

    U.S. government experts trying to construct a model of radiation plumes emanating from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant are being hampered by a “paucity of good data,” a senior administration official told CNN.

    “We have done some (computer) modeling,” the official said, noting the government “got a little bit of data” when helicopters from the USS Ronald Reagan encountered low levels of radiation during flights in the area. But information has been scant, the official said, adding, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

    The official spoke on background because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

    Experts use computer models of plumes to both track radioactivity or other harmful releases and predict their paths. U.S. officials as well as industry officials and critics say radiation from Fukushima Daiichi will not pose a significant health threat to the United States. But plumes could be a factor in causing flight and maritime restrictions.

    As Japan nuclear fears spread, so does crowdsourced radiation tracking

  19. .

    According to the International Atomic Energy Ageny, all three reactors have now been flooded with seawater. The pressure in the pressure vessels and containments of reactors one and two is reported to be stable. A release of pressure from the containment vessel of number 2 reactor appears to be planned. The status of the various spent fuel stashes is not clear, which is disturbing. In the end they may contribute more contamination to the environment, especially that beyond the immediate vicinity, than the reactors themselves.

    It is too early to say how Fukushima fared with the calamity, all things considered. Much of the damage seems to have been caused by the tsunami wrecking the diesel generators—a single failure that resulted in a series of others, and was, in turn, compounded by them. Surely, though, planning for such contingencies can reasonably be considered part and parcel of the technology writ large. And this failed on too many fronts. Switching rooms were flooded. Auxiliary power systems failed. And that is before the full extent of the damage suffered by the reactors is known for sure. True, in accordance with safety regulations, these were designed to withstand tremors of magnitude 8.2. That they survived relatively unscathed through a magnitude 9.0 earthquake—ie, one that, given the scale’s logarithmic nature, was approximately 15 times more powerful—seems remarkable. But an expensive installation was ruined, lives were lost and hazardous levels of radiation leaked into the atmosphere. If no further harm is done, an amount of damage comparatively small when set against the many thousands of lives lost across all affected areas might be seen as a victory—but hardly one to celebrate.

  20. Milan Post author

    If this report is correct, it is also very worrisome:

    Japan has now withdrawn all of its workers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant – saying it is too dangerous after a surge in radiation.

    On Tuesday all non-essential staff were evacuated from the complex but 50 other had remained behind to attempt to cool down the reactors by injecting water.

    They have now left the plant.

    This certainly seems like it would increase the risk of further damage to the containment structures in the affected reactors, as well as the spent fuel storage pools.

  21. .

    Tepco has been sharply criticized for its handling of the crisis at the plant, where three of the six reactors have been rocked by explosions caused by overheating in their core containment chambers. The quake and tsunami knocked out power to the cooling systems, triggering a series of breakdowns and missteps that exposed fuel rods to the air at one reactor and released dangerous levels of radiation outside the plant.

    The company said an estimated 70% of the fuel rods had been damaged at the Unit 1 reactor and 33% at the Unit 2 reactor. Nuclear safety agency spokesman Shigekatsu Omukai said the utility reported the figures to the agency Wednesday.

    Spent fuel at the complex is an increasing focus of concern. Tepco had moved all of the rods from the Unit 4 reactor to the spent-fuel pool sometime after Dec. 1 as part of routine maintenance, meaning the pool contained not only all of the rods accumulated from many years of service but also all of those currently in use.

    If the pool was jam-packed with rods, they would generate significant heat and, once the water stopped circulating after the tsunami, its temperature would begin rising, eventually reaching the boiling point. If the water boiled long enough without being replenished, it would expose the rods to the air.

  22. .

    Workers evacuated amid fresh nuke threat
    Updated March 16, 2011 13:13:00

    All workers have been evacuated from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan due to the threat of radiation, with fears the containment vessel around the No. 3 reactor may have been damaged.

    Japan: Workers ordered to leave Fukushima nuclear plant

    Fukushima, Japan: Japan suspended operations to prevent a stricken nuclear plant from melting down on Wednesday after a surge in radiation made it too dangerous for workers to remain at the facility.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said work on dousing reactors with water was disrupted by the need to withdraw.

    The level of radiation at the plant surged to 1,000 millisieverts early Wednesday before coming down to 800-600 millisieverts. Still, that was far more than the average

    “So the workers cannot carry out even minimal work at the plant now,” Edano said. “Because of the radiation risk, we are on standby.”

    Experts say exposure of around 1,000 millisieverts is enough to cause radiation sickness.

  23. .

    The greatest threat appeared to be the spent fuel rods at the No. 4 reactor. The rods must be kept submerged to prevent them from catching fire and spewing radiation.

    Tokyo Electric said the pool had begin to boil, suggesting the water would evaporate and expose the rods – or already had.

    Ominously, water temperature in the spent fuel pools at the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors was also rising, Tokyo Electric said.

    The utility said it had been weighing whether to drop water and boric acid, which slows nuclear reactions, on reactor No. 4 from helicopters and fire trucks.

    The utility also said 70% of the nuclear core inside reactor No. 1 had been damaged, and 33% of the fuel rods in reactor No. 2 had been damaged – signs of a partial meltdown.

    Earlier, the crisis was upgraded to a six on the seven-point international scale for nuclear accidents – worse than Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island and second only to the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in Ukraine.

    European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Tokyo appeared to be losing control of the crisis.

    “There is talk of an apocalypse, and I think the word is particularly well-chosen,” he said after an emergency meeting of nuclear experts in Brussels.

  24. Antonia

    Re workers ordered to evacuate – there were later corrections to this story. There is a lot of guff out there or fragments passed on tweet length and unchecked. So far I’ve found the NYTimes consistently more useful and less hysterical than other sources. Particularly in cases of disasters and further risks of this magnitude less-hysterical and more detailed information is very useful.

    Further apologies to Matt – though I still haven’t seen evidence of flaws in handling the crisis at the plant (though many details will only emerge later in history) it turns out that the error may well have been in commissioning, let alone recommissioning, that particular plant at all, as design flaws were known before it was built ‘In 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, then a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended that the Mark 1 system be discontinued because it presented unacceptable safety risks.

    The potential flaw in handling is that Health and Safety limits on what workers can be exposed to, or even the military, has meant that measures have not been taken and workers and options have been very limited in order to protect those emergency responders e.g. the military cancellation of the helicopter water dumps. While it is laudable to limit the risks to those brave enough to continue working in such circumstances and it is obviously for those in fuller possession of the facts to judge, it would be very perturbing if there is a greater disaster not because it was unavoidable but because the informed few who were prepared to lay down their lives to save a region weren’t allowed to do so.

  25. Antonia

    On that last point. Though the workers and firefighters (including military helicopter pilots etc) at Chernobyl were reprehensibly not all told the level of the risk they were under as radiation rose, their efforts at the site under radiation many times higher than the greatest levels present at Fukushima greatly limited (though could not contain) the disaster.

    The 70 personnel (plant, firemen and police) wikipedia lists as dying or being severely injured in the Chernobyl incident does not include the pilots so may also have missed some other personnel involved in disaster fighting who were fatally exposed – my apologies for not allowing time to check those details further.

    (See also for brief timeline background which indicates significant but not decisive technical differences between events there and at Fukushima to date.)

  26. Antonia

    However limited media reports are, I continue to feel more confident in the ongoing coverage at the NYTimes indicating the break at reactor 3 (and steam rather than fire – possibly both from other reports) update on reactor 2 damage and concerns about increasing heat at reactors 5 and 6.

    While there are now many articles on radiation levels and danger, it would be helpful if there was clarification of statistics such as the period of ’20x normal’ to indicate how close to health risk level that is given the period it persisted for. Somewhere out there will probably tell me what normal radiation for Tokyo is.
    On the workers the company ‘evacuated 750 emergency staff members from the stricken plant on Tuesday, leaving only about 50, when radiation levels soared
    Radiation close to the reactors was reported to reach 400 millisieverts per hour‘ In the buildings it would have been higher.
    Tepco has a history of covering up safety issues. In 2002, seventeen of its reactors were shut down and the firm’s senior management resigned after it admitted hiding problems and obstructing inspections. The dangers of nuclear power being managed by unscrupulous companies tied to profit or shareholder satisfaction are obvious.

  27. Antonia

    I wish the anonymous ‘.’ would come up with a longer name as scanning the page its easy to get confused and miss that some of the text posted between entries isn’t part of my previous post (flawed though those are).

    Thanks to ‘.’ for catching the design flaw issue before I did though – I admit I’ve not had chance to look through all they’ve posted. Thanks also for ‘the difference between the “containment” of radioactive gases that is the primary focus of most reactor containment buildings, and the “confinement” of solid radioactive waste‘ which also applies to some of the factors involved with the radiation risks of a more major leakage to the surroundings and further afield such as Tokyo and the western US – as at Chernobyl the radiation dangers further from the site borne by airborne radioactive particles and gas emissions play out differently to the range affected by solid material onsite.

    On my flaws: ‘The fact that the decades-old plant which was imminently to be decomissioned’ was in an earlier post. Of course it was recommissioned despite the dubious Tepco history.

    Still, despite Tepco flaws running to and probably past December 2010, the only specific criticisms of their handling of the crisis at the plant I’ve seen is of the NISA approved allowing of steam to escape from reactor 1 on 12 March, which on other analyses I’ve seen and given the acute need for cooling rather than pressure cooker conditions seems understandable – it isn’t clear it was definitely poor.

    As stated by others above, the lack of information on the spent rods is of concern, though if the situation with those had worsened rather than stabilizing I would have thought that satellite images would have shown some visible effects and the radiation levels hampering action in other areas should have been more evident from the impact on work and changed evacuation (though perhaps thats what we have seen).

    On the hypnotic call of the unfolding situation. I agree it feels peculiar. With the tsunami and earthquake the full extent of the devastation, human and other cost were (and remain) unclear, but the reports were of something which had happened – the geographic areas affected were fairly identifiable. Also, for those without loved ones in Japan, there was some level of certainty about the immediate effects on those we cared about (the global and local economic repercussions would come later and for now focus could be entirely on the people in the disaster’s path). Though there would be further suffering in the aftermath, the kind of actions necessary to assist the survivors and restore the area is of a familiar, predictable type. With Fukushima we are looking not just at something which is still happening but, if not effectively limited, an impending disaster of a scope we can’t accurately predict. An event we can’t start to deal with because we don’t yet know what it really is.

    As so often these days, because the final event could unfold so swiftly we feel a few minutes inattention might make us miss something critical, however impotent we are to do more than observe and add to the confusion of web chatter. We know we don’t have to wait for reports because if we search enough some more up-to-date information will be out there somewhere – better information always just beyond our current search.

    The usual problems of navigating and sifting the deluge of information on the web and media reporting of a major incident are magnified. Media reports cannot yet provide certainty that the ‘event’ has even loose definition beyond the terrifyingly broad scope indicated by its nuclear nature. Different media have different reporting lags from the ‘latest’ information clashing with clarifications and corrections and rebounding effects of the day before’s soundbites, reports and speculation. The time difference between the Japanese location and principal media businesses in Europe and US means that we can’t initially be sure whether a story is the most current or 24 hours out of date because of the variable dating and content management practices of media websites newspapers and bloggers using similarly dateline-adrift sources without specifying the locality of the times/dates or without giving any time. Yesterday there was a maze of ‘Tuesday’ lasting well over 24hours, so I started to look mostly for items dated the next day to be clear they were more recent happenings in Japan.

    I’m afraid I hold some tweets flows responsible for magnifying the rumour ripples as they limit even the little detail actually available and are often relayed to justify an’!’ mark rather than further understanding, plus much RTing strips the original time context out.

  28. Antonia

    As ‘.’ says There are costs and hazards associated with every choice and so these questions are unavoidable. There are no riskfree, cost-free solutions.

    I agree. Unfortunately there are too many instances (in all sorts of fields) of the exercises of risk assessment and risk balancing are being handled by those with insufficient information, insufficient grasp of the information, or just poorly carried out, perhaps by those applying standard business risk management methodologies (overconfined to the risks and benefits to the particular organisation or just less appropriate for the particular issue or industry in question).

  29. Antonia

    @ Milan A lot of the ‘.’ entries seem to have more than just links – personal comment and unsourced updates not just quotes from the linked content.

  30. Milan Post author

    Do you have an example?

    To clarify the purpose of having two posts (and I admit to muddling them a bit myself): The post on my personal site is about the ongoing development of the crisis in Japan. For instance, updates on the status of the reactors and repair efforts. The post on BuryCoal is about the broader implications of the crisis, particularly as they relate to climate change and nuclear power.

  31. .

    China to Suspend Approval of New Nuclear Projects

    SHANGHAI—China halted approvals of new nuclear power plants pending changes to safety standards, signaling a shift toward caution from a country embarked at high speed on the world’s biggest expansion program but where public nervousness is growing as a disaster unfolds in neighboring Japan.

    The government also ordered integrity checks at existing plants. The country has 13 nuclear reactors in operation, at least 25 more under construction, and a five-year plan adopted by the National People’s Congress just this month contains approvals for dozens more units. In the more distant proposal stage, more than 70 additional reactors are on the drawing boards, including for regions with known seismic activity, according to a World Nuclear Association tally.

    Premier Wen Jiabao’s cabinet, the State Council, “has suspended the approval process for nuclear-power stations so that safety standards can be revised after the explosion at a Japanese plant,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

    “Safety is our top priority in developing nuclear power plants,” the State Council said.

  32. .

    The great tragedy of Chernobyl was an epidemic of thyroid cancer among people exposed to the radiation as children — more than 6,000 cases so far, with more expected for many years to come. There is no reason for it to be repeated in Japan.

    The epidemic in Chernobyl was preventable and would probably not have happened if people had been told to stop drinking locally produced milk, which was by far the most important source of radiation. Cows ate grass contaminated by fallout from the reactors and secreted radioactive iodine in their milk.

  33. .

    The Fukushima crisis should not spell the end of nuclear power.

    By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s website, 16th March 2011

    The nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan is bad enough; the nuclear disaster unfolding in China could be even worse. “What disaster?”, you ask. The decision today by the Chinese government to suspend approval of new atomic power plants. If this suspension were to become permanent, the power those plants would have produced is likely to be replaced by burning coal. While nuclear causes calamities when it goes wrong, coal causes calamities when it goes right, and coal goes right a lot more often than nuclear goes wrong. The only safe coal-fired plant is one which has broken down past the point of repair.

    Before I go any further, and I’m misinterpreted for the thousandth time, let me spell out once again what my position is. I have not gone nuclear. But, as long as the following four conditions are met, I will no longer oppose atomic energy.

    1. Its total emissions – from mine to dump – are taken into account, and demonstrate that it is a genuinely low-carbon option.

    2. We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried.

    3. We know how much this will cost and who will pay.

    4. There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes.

    To these I’ll belatedly add a fifth, which should have been there all along: no plants should be built in fault zones, on tsunami-prone coasts, on eroding seashores or those likely to be inundated before the plant has been decommissioned or any other places which are geologically unsafe. This should have been so obvious that it didn’t need spelling out. But we discover, yet again, that the blindingly obvious is no guarantee that a policy won’t be adopted.

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  35. .

    Even the most ardent defenders of nuclear power are starting to admit the situation in Japan looks bad. The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi complex is now generally held to be significantly bigger than the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

    Some fear it could yet become as grave as the explosion that tore apart the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine in 1986 and spewed a radioactive cloud over Europe.

    While the believers in the promise of nuclear energy haven’t yet become non-believers, they are more questioning than they were and in an increasing number of cases are willing to acknowledge that the disaster reflects poorly on the industry.

    On March 14, The Wall Street Journal carried an opinion piece from author William Tucker condemning those who were expressing concern about nuclear safety when there was the full devastation from the earthquake and tsunami to focus on.

    “With all the death, devastation and disease now threatening tens of thousands in Japan, it is trivializing and almost obscene to spend so much time worrying about damage to a nuclear reactor,” said Mr. Tucker, whose 2008 book Terrestrial Energy is an argument for nuclear power.

    Nuclear power: Why the panic?
    The fact is that coal and global warming pose much greater threats to human health
    Gwynne Dyer

    Suppose that a giant hydro dam had crumbled under the impact of the biggest earthquake in a century and sent a wave of water racing down some valley in northern Japan. Imagine that whole villages and towns had been swept away, and that ten thousand people were killed – an even worse death toll than that caused by the tsunami that hit the coastal towns.

    Would there be a great outcry worldwide, demanding that reservoirs be drained and hydro dams shut down? Of course not. Do you think we are superstitious savages? We are educated, civilized people, and we understand the way that risk works.

    Okay, another thought experiment. Suppose that three big nuclear power reactors were damaged in that same monster earthquake, leading to concerns about a meltdown and a massive release of radiation – a new Chernobyl. Everybody within a 20-kilometre radius of the plant was evacuated, but in the end there were only minor leakages of radiation, and nobody was killed.

    Well, that was a pretty convincing demonstration of the safety of nuclear power, wasn’t it? Well, wasn’t it? You there in the loincloth, with the bone through your nose. Why are you looking so frightened? Is something wrong?

    In Germany, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against nuclear power last Saturday, and Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended her policy of extending the life of the country’s nuclear power stations until 2036. She conceded that, following events in Japan, it was not possible to “go back to business as usual,” meaning that she may return to the original plan to close down all 17 of Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2020.

    Nuclear disaster caps years of faked reports, accidents
    Two-decade old analysis predicted current situation
    Jason Clenfield, Bloomberg News

    The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risk in Japan’s atomic power industry.

    The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, revelations the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president, and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors.

    With almost no oil or gas reserves of its own, nuclear power has been a national priority for Japan since the end of the Second World War, a conflict the country fought partly to secure oil supplies. Japan has 54 operating nuclear reactors -more than any other country except the United States and France -to power its industries, pitting economic demands against safety concerns in the world’s most earthquake-prone country.

    Nuclear engineers and academics who have worked in Japan’s atomic power industry spoke in interviews of a history of accidents, faked reports and inaction by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments that ran Japan for nearly all of the postwar period.

    Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology professor at Kobe University, has said Japan’s history of nuclear accidents stems from an overconfidence in plant engineering. In 2006, he resigned from a government panel on reactor safety, saying the review process was rigged and “unscientific.”

    In an interview in 2007 after Tokyo Electric’s Kashiwazaki nuclear plant was struck by an earthquake, Ishibashi said fundamental improvements were needed in engineering standards for atomic power stations, without which Japan could suffer a catastrophic disaster. “We didn’t learn anything,” Ishibashi said in a phone interview this week.

  36. .

    Nuclear questions
    Bernie Dertinger, Ottawa Citizen

    The unfolding disaster in Japan has severely shaken my belief in the benefits of nuclear power.

    The experience the Japanese have had with earthquakes and other natural and man-made disasters, including the devastation wrought by the A-bomb, is reflected in their building codes and disaster-preparedness measures. Japanese engineering is second to none. And yet, as the events of the past few days have shown, all that preparedness could not save them from the unimaginably horrendous consequences of that monster earthquake.

    If only one could have ready access to all the studies and reviews by the many national and international organizations that examined those affected nuclear plants. Experts presumably concluded they were safe. One can reasonably assume that the politicians who gave the green light to build those plants based their decisions on the recommendations of their experts.

    The assurances given to the public probably sounded quite similar to the assurances our politicians are giving us now that they decided that Ontario must move full-speed ahead with the expansion of its nuclear power-generating capacity.

    What do Ontario politicians know about the safety of nuclear plants that the Japanese politicians didn’t know? Could they please tell us?

    Wouldn’t it be prudent to do what other countries are doing: wait for the lessons to be learned from the current Japanese disaster?

    There are safer alternatives to nuclear energy. Sweden is investing in the giant $6.9-billion Markbygden wind farm. That energy is supposed to be less expensive than nuclear energy. I am not aware of any nuclear energy cost estimates that take into account full life cycle costs; for example construction, operating costs, environmental and health impact and decommissioning the plant, equipment and spent fuel. The public might be interested in seeing a fair comparison between nuclear and alternative energy solutions. Most of all, let us take this opportunity to consider the options in view of recent events.


  37. .

    The world does not wait for the Canadian Parliament to debate contempt, confidence and Bev Oda. Although his own government may not last a week, Stephen Harper felt compelled to fly through the night to help end Muammar Gadhafi’s.

    Will it work? It depends on how ruthless the Western powers are prepared to be. Harper – a hawk who condemned the Chrétien government’s decision to stay out of Iraq – may find that a muscular approach is more popular this time.

    At least, as long as it goes well.

    Harper employed an apocalyptic tone in presenting his decision to play a role in, or at least over, Libya. It may be a junior role. Nothing much turns on the dispatch of 6 CF-18s to help enforce the no-fly zone. But Harper sold it as a case of freedom-or-bust.

    Libya on fire

    Western attacks on Libyan territory are a leap into the unknown. We are urged to hope that everything will “turn out for the best.” Maybe it will.

    But there are a thousand ways that things can go wrong, from derailing what is left of the Arab region’s non-violent democratization movement, to providing cover for harsh crackdowns on the U.S.’s regional allies, to giving Moammar Gadhafi (if he survives) an “anti-imperialist” rallying cry that is bound to strike a chord in regional opinion. Not to mention: What regime (authoritarian or otherwise) will henceforth agree to renounce “weapons of mass destruction”? Regardless of the arguments for and against Canadian and American military involvement, the arguments were not made to Parliament or the U.S. Congress. “Democracies,” it seems, can go to war, just like that.

    Professor, Modern Middle East History, University of Toronto

    Just a week ago, as the tide began to turn against the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, President Obama seemed determined to keep the United States out of Libya’s civil strife. But it turns out the president was willing to commit America to intervention all along. He just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.

    That much his administration has achieved. In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

    This is an intervention straight from Bill Clinton’s 1990s playbook, in other words, and a stark departure from the Bush administration’s more unilateralist methods. There are no “coalitions of the willing” here, no dismissive references to “Old Europe,” no “you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Instead, the Obama White House has shown exquisite deference to the very international institutions and foreign governments that the Bush administration either steamrolled or ignored.

    This way of war has obvious advantages. It spreads the burden of military action, sustains rather than weakens our alliances, and takes the edge off the world’s instinctive anti-Americanism. Best of all, it encourages the European powers to shoulder their share of responsibility for maintaining global order, instead of just carping at the United States from the sidelines.

    But there are major problems with this approach to war as well. Because liberal wars depend on constant consensus-building within the (so-called) international community, they tend to be fought by committee, at a glacial pace, and with a caution that shades into tactical incompetence. And because their connection to the national interest is often tangential at best, they’re often fought with one hand behind our back and an eye on the exits, rather than with the full commitment that victory can require.

  38. .

    Operators of Indian Point Say Changes Are Likely
    Published: March 21, 2011

    WHITE PLAINS — The operators of the Indian Point nuclear power plant said Monday that they did not expect ever to face the combination of earthquake and flooding that devastated Japan this month. But in the aftermath of those disasters, they said, some regulatory changes were to be expected.

    Executives of Entergy, which owns Indian Point, told the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ Environmental and Energy Committee at a meeting here that it was too soon to know what should be done differently at the plant. They said they did not foresee a natural disaster of the same magnitude in the New York area; the plant is on the Hudson River in Buchanan, 35 miles north of Midtown.

    But, they said, they did expect regulators to insist on some changes after the damage done to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan.

    “I have no doubt there will be changes we make in response to this event,” said John McCann, vice president of nuclear safety and licensing for Entergy. But, he said, he was “in no position” to say what they would be.

  39. Milan Post author

    Another risk with nuclear power are the psychological and political ‘lock in’ effects once a plant is built.

    Even if serious risks are identified once the plant is in operation, neither governments nor energy companies are likely to be willing to shut the plant down early or spend billions to make it safe. With a nuclear plant, it seems that you are basically stuck with the major initial design choices, no matter how risky they may start looking in the plant’s third or fourth of fifth decade of life.

  40. Tristan

    “neither governments nor energy companies are likely to be willing to shut the plant down early or spend billions to make it safe.”

    What is it that Harper did when Canada’s nuclear safety commissioner said it was unsafe? Oh ya, he fired her.

  41. .

    What is happening now in Japan simply lets the public in on a secret that has been well known in both the energy and insurance industries for decades: No nuclear power plant would exist without a government-backed insurance liability subsidy.

    Nuclear energy is simply not insurable in the free market. Period.

    Thus, the nuclear industry is completely dependent on an artificial cap on insurance liability, which reduces the costs of nuclear energy to something affordable rather than its real cost. In the U.S. this cap is about $10 billion.

    If the nuclear disaster amounts to something like $310 billion, as the U.S. Sandia National Lab. estimated in the 1980s for a major screw-up, then the public ends up picking up the tab on $300 billion. In Canada this cap is orders of magnitude lower, exposing the public to an even greater potential financial risk.

    These liability caps represent an indirect subsidy because no money actually flows from government coffers unless a disaster occurs. In general these indirect subsidies have been ignored because they are hard to calculate. Understandably it can be difficult to estimate the full effects of a nuclear accident given the difficulty of placing value on human lives, health, a contaminated environment and loss of productivity.

    For example, what happens to the property values within 20 km of Fukushima? Or what is the cost if there is a meltdown like Chernobyl where the national “sacrificial zone” amounted to the area of Kentucky?

    Even before Three Mile Island, a group of nuclear engineers had proposed that filtered vents be attached to buildings around reactors, which are intended to contain the gases released from overheated fuel. If the pressure inside these containment buildings increased dangerously — as has happened repeatedly at Fukushima — the vents would release these gases after the filters greatly reduced their radioactivity.

    France and Germany installed such filters in their plants, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission declined to require them. Given the influence of America’s example, had the commission demanded the addition of filtered vents, they would likely have been required worldwide, including in Japan.

    More recently, independent analysts have argued, based on risk analyses done for the commission, it is dangerous for the United States to pack five times more spent fuel into reactor cooling pools than they were designed to hold, and that 80 percent of that spent fuel is cool enough to be stored safely elsewhere. It would also be more expensive, however, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission followed the nuclear utilities’ lead and rejected the proposal. The commission has even fought relentlessly for decades against proposals — and more recently a Congressional requirement — to distribute potassium iodide pills beyond the 10-mile emergency zones around American reactors, arguing that the probability of a large release of radioactivity was too low to justify the expense. And yet the American Embassy in Tokyo is handing out potassium iodide pills to Americans 140 miles from the Fukushima plant.

    The commission’s defenders often argue that it must be cautious because increased costs from safety requirements could kill the nuclear power industry. But the cost of generating electricity from existing plants is actually low: the construction expenses have been paid off and running them is relatively cheap. Requiring the operators of plants to install new safety systems would not result in them being shut down.

    Therefore, perhaps the most important thing to do in light of the Fukushima disaster is to change the industry-regulator relationship. It has become customary for administrations not to nominate, and the Senate not to confirm, commissioners whom the industry regards as “anti-nuclear” — which includes anyone who has expressed any criticism whatsoever of industry practices. The commission has an excellent staff; what it needs is more aggressive political leadership.

    Germany weaning itself from nuclear power for good in the wake of Japan’s disaster

    BERLIN _ Germany is determined to take the lead in showing the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done, betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

    It is a transition that was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a ”catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.”

    Berlin’s decision to take seven of its 17 reactors offline for three months for new safety checks has provided a glimpse into how the world’s fourth-largest economy might wean itself from getting nearly a quarter of its power from atomic energy to none.

    And experts say Germany’s phase-out provides a good map that countries such as the United States, which use a similar amount of nuclear power, could follow. The German model would not work, however, in countries like France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than 70 per cent of its power and has no intention of shifting.

    ”If we had the winds of Texas or the sun of California, the task here would be even easier,” said Felix Matthes of Germany’s renowned Institute for Applied Ecology. ”Given the great potential in the U.S., it would be feasible there in the long run too, even though it would necessitate huge infrastructure investments.”

  42. Antonia

    Regarding thorium
    There are a number of problems with as Indian investigations have focused on solid thorium fuels have apparently shown – it seems China (among others) is hard at work trying to address the issues by looking at molten salt reactors with thorium.

    A pro-thorium forum claims that most of the problems of the use of thorium in solid-oxide form ‘are transcended through the use of thorium in liquid fluoride form’. via wikipedia Liquid-fluoride reactors have many attractive features, such as deep inherent safety (due to their strong negative temperature coefficient of reactivity and their ability to drain their liquid fuel into a passively-cooled and non-critical configuration) See also
    I haven’t had any chance to read the above thoroughly but understand that (though essentially a breeder type of reactor operating at high temperatures), the stability of molten fluoride salts combined with the fact that energy production is based on low-energy thermal neutrons is thought to make a liquid thorium reactor more similar to a light water reactor (but more stable) than it is to a fast-neutron breeder reactor.
    The wikipedia article also lists many disadvantages (including slow production of fluorine gas when cold) and challenges of such slow-breeding but high-temperature single-fluid liquid salts thorium-fluoride reactors, which currently use graphite rods.

  43. .

    U.S. nuclear plant costs may soar after Japan quake
    Fri Mar 25, 2011 1:03pm EDT

    By Scott Malone and Eileen O’Grady

    BOSTON/HOUSTON (Reuters) – The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant could hit the U.S. nuclear-power industry in its weakest spot — by raising costs.

    Plant developers have spent years seeking approvals to build the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in three decades, arguing that nuclear power offered the United States an opportunity to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions and become less dependent on imported oil.

    They have been less vocal about the cost of building a nuclear plant — two to four times as much as for a coal or natural gas-burning power station. And with regulators seen mandating new safety measures in the wake of Japan’s crisis, the gap will only widen.

    The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already launched a review of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants.

  44. .

    Op-Ed Contributor
    It Could Happen Here
    Published: March 23, 2011

    IT will be years before we know the full consequences of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. But the public attention raised by the problems there provides an opportunity to rethink nuclear-power policy in the United States and the rest of the world — and reduce the dangers of a similar disaster happening elsewhere.

    From one perspective, nuclear power has been remarkably safe. The 1986 Chernobyl accident will ultimately kill about 10,000 people, mostly from cancer. Coal plants are much deadlier: the fine-particulate air pollution they produce kills about 10,000 people each year in the United States alone.

    Of course, for most people this kind of accounting is beside the point. Their horror over even the possibility of a meltdown means that the nuclear-power industry needs constant and aggressive regulation for the public to allow it to stay in business.

  45. .

    Fukushima crisis: radiation fears grow for low-paid heroes battling disaster

    Safeguards at nuclear plant have failed emergency crews, and trust in the Japanese authorities is fading

    The last time Tomotake Watanabe turned up for his shift at the No 1 reactor of the Fukushima nuclear plant, he was thrown to the ground by Japan’s powerful earthquake and showered with broken glass and ceiling plaster.

    Now he awaits a call to join a mission to regain control of the plant whose danger is terrifyingly evident. “I feel under pressure that I might be called back,” he said. “I don’t feel I need to volunteer, but I worry about what I will do when I get called.”

    Seventeen workers have been exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation, including three last week who stood for 40 minutes in pools of water with radiation 10,000 times above safety limits.

    The accident raised fears of a leak in one of the six reactor cores and deepened criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s safeguards for workers. It also reinforced Watanabe’s conviction that he will not go back to work, if called. “I wouldn’t go back because I have a family and it is a very dangerous time. I would refuse,” he said. “At the moment there is a very high level of radiation, so even if they are calling people to return now, I don’t think that it is possible to go in safely.”

    The best Japan’s top government spokesman, Yukio Edano, could offer reporters was: “We are preventing it from worsening.”

  46. .

    24 March: Seawater injection to units 1, 2 and 3 continued,[64] and radiation levels near the plant declined to 200 μSv/hour. Power was restored, including room lights, to the unit 1 control room. Three workers were exposed to high levels of radiation which caused two of them to require hospital treatment after radioactive water seeped through their protective clothes. The workers were exposed to an estimated equivalent dose of 2–6 Sv to the skin below their ankles. They were not wearing protective boots, as their employing firm’s safety manuals “did not assume a scenario in which its employees would carry out work standing in water at a nuclear power plant”. The amount of the radioactivity of the water was about 3.9 MBq/ml. The water might be contaminated by radionuclides from damaged fuel rods, which would indicate a core breach. The external surface temperatures of reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 continued to decrease, to below 20 degrees Celsius.

  47. .

    To the Editor:

    The detection of radioactive iodine 131 in Tokyo’s drinking water (“Anxiety Up as Tokyo Issues Warning on Its Tap Water,” front page, March 24), in amounts considered unhealthy for children, makes clear that potassium iodide must be administered if children are to be adequately protected against thyroid cancer caused by ingested and inhaled iodine 131. Interdiction of milk supplies, though important, is plainly insufficient.

    Japan’s apparent preparedness with potassium iodide contrasts with the situation in the United States. In response to 9/11, Congress passed a law to create stockpiles of potassium iodide for populations within a 20-mile radius of nuclear reactors, rather than the 10-mile radius within which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers it to states that request it.

    But the N.R.C., which had opposed the law, fought successfully to keep it from taking effect. In 2008 President George W. Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger III, declared that potassium iodide was not needed beyond the 10-mile radius, and that the law therefore would not be implemented.

    The events in Japan demand that the Obama administration act quickly to reverse this unjustified rejection of a sensible law.

    Peter Crane
    Seattle, March 24, 2011

    The writer is a retired lawyer with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

  48. Antonia

    I also occasionally read The Oil Drum for other viewpoints. This article on governments’ leap for gas post-Fukushima (by French Energy Banker who also writes for the European Tribune on post-Peak Oil costs among other things) disposes neatly of most of the pro-gas arguments As he finishes ‘inertia is not a policy.’

  49. Milan Post author

    The desirability of gas is something I disagree with a few friends about. While it is indeed better than coal, from an emissions-per-kilowatt perspective, I worry about how much unconventional gas is on Earth, as well as the way in which continuing to use gas could perpetuate our overall fossil fuel dependence.

    We should be investing in other ways, I think.

    Nuclear, I am even less sure how to feel about now.

  50. .

    If other forms of energy production caused no damage, these impacts would weigh more heavily. But energy is like medicine: if there are no side-effects, the chances are that it doesn’t work.

    Like most greens, I favour a major expansion of renewables. I can also sympathise with the complaints of their opponents. It’s not just the onshore windfarms that bother people, but also the new grid connections (pylons and power lines). As the proportion of renewable electricity on the grid rises, more pumped storage will be needed to keep the lights on. That means reservoirs on mountains: they aren’t popular either.

    The impacts and costs of renewables rise with the proportion of power they supply, as the need for both storage and redundancy increases. It may well be the case (I have yet to see a comparative study) that up to a certain grid penetration – 50 or 70% perhaps? – renewables have smaller carbon impacts than nukes, while beyond that point, nukes have smaller impacts than renewables.

    Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

  51. Milan Post author

    Monbiot is right to mention those liars, not just in industry but in governments that downplay the severity of accidents. They may think they averting panic, but they are really depriving people of the ability to make appropriate choices.

    They may not be reason enough to reject nuclear, but they certainly don’t reflect well on the industry.

  52. .

    Thus the great nuclear dilemma. For the best nuclear safety you need not just good planning and good engineering. You need the sort of society that can produce accountability and transparency, one that can build institutions that receive and deserve trust. No nuclear nation has done this as well as one might wish, and Japan’s failings may well become more evident. But democracies are better at building such institutions. At the same time, however, democracy makes it much easier for a substantial and implacable minority to make sure things don’t happen, and that seems likely to be the case with plans for more nuclear power. Thus nuclear power looks much more likely to spread in societies that are unlikely to ground it in the enduring culture of safety that it needs. China’s nearest competitor in the new-build stakes is Russia.

    Yet democracies would be wrong to turn their back on nuclear power. It still has the advantages of offering reliable power, a degree of energy security, and no carbon dioxide emissions beyond those incurred in building and supplying the plants. In terms of lives lost it has also boasted, to date, a reasonably good record. Chernobyl’s death toll is highly uncertain, but may have reached a few thousand people. China’s coal mines certainly kill 2,000-3,000 workers a year, and coal-smogged air there and elsewhere kills many more. It remains a reasonable idea for most rich countries to keep some nuclear power in their portfolio, not least because by maintaining economic and technological stakes in nuclear they will have more standing to insist on high standards for safety and non-proliferation being applied throughout the world. But in the face of panic, of sinister towers of smoke, of invisible and implacable threats, the reasonable course is not an easy one.

  53. . George Monbiot in the Guardian on ‘The double standards of green anti-nuclear opponents’ ‘most of the countries that might abandon nuclear power are likely to replace it not with renewables but with fossil fuel, and… this is a major change for the worse.’
    ‘ it’s impossible to see, even with maximum possible energy savings, how the electricity supply’
    [I think he means demand here]can do anything other than grow. All the quantified studies I have seen, including those produced by environmental organisations, support this expectation. Ducking the challenge of how it should be produced is not an option.’

  54. .

    There is a study on the fission products reaching North America on arXiv:

    Arrival time and magnitude of airborne fission products from the Fukushima, Japan, reactor incident as measured in Seattle, WA, USA
    Authors: J. Diaz Leon, J. Kaspar, A. Knecht, M. L. Miller, R. G. H. Robertson, A. G. Schubert
    (Submitted on 24 Mar 2011 (v1), last revised 25 Mar 2011 (this version, v2))

    Abstract: We report results of air monitoring started due to the recent natural catastrophe on March 11, 2011 in Japan and the severe ensuing damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex. On March 17-18, 2011 we detected the first arrival of the airborne fission products 131-I, 132-I, 132-Te, 134-Cs, and 137-Cs in Seattle, WA, USA, by identifying their characteristic gamma rays using a germanium detector. The highest detected activity to date is <~32 mBq/m^3 of 131-I.

    Comments: 4 pages, 3 figures, corrected typo
    Subjects: Nuclear Experiment (nucl-ex); Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics (; Geophysics (physics.geo-ph)
    Cite as: arXiv:1103.4853v2 [nucl-ex]
    Submission history
    From: Andreas Knecht

  55. .

    To put that in perspective, in 2010 the UN Environment Programme estimated that for the world to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C, carbon-dioxide emissions should be reduced to 44 billion tonnes by 2020. With business as usual, emissions would be between 54 billion and 60 billion tonnes. If countries took the most ambitious of the courses of action that they have outlined to the UN, the figure comes down to about 49 billion tonnes, leaving an “emissions gap” of 5 billion tonnes that seems highly unlikely to be bridged. So the 2 billion tonnes saved by nuclear power is not vast, but it is significant.

  56. .

    “Distressing though it is, the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi is not in itself a reason for the world to change energy policy. The public-health effects seem likely, in the long run, to be small. Coal, with its emissions of sulphur, mercury and soot, will continue to kill far more people per kilowatt hour than nuclear does. But as an opportunity to reflect it may be welcome.

    An energy portfolio, like any other, is a basket of risks: of security of supply, cost and environmental damage. Fear and uncertainty, which nuclear fission produces as unavoidably as it does iodine-131, distort people’s perceptions of those risks. The long-term outlook which nuclear power also brings with it should clarify them.

    Over the next 40 years, four things look clear. The world’s people would be healthier and its climate less prone to change if it used a lot less coal; that requires greater energy efficiency, more renewable power and better grids, all of which also allow greater energy security; significantly more research would help; and the supply of gas is much larger and more reliable than was thought just ten years ago, which will lower the costs of change. Because nuclear power saves carbon, doing without it would make action on climate harder. But because it increases capital costs and systemic risks, it would rarely have grown that much anyway outside a few countries. It won’t go away, but it must to some extent remain a sideshow, however spectacular it looks when it goes wrong.”

  57. .

    Japan bowed to the inevitable and said it would decommission four of the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. Raised levels of radiation were found at a village 40km from the plant and in nearby seawater. The UN’s nuclear watchdog suggested widening the 20km exclusion zone. See article

    In Germany Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU party lost an important election in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which it had governed continuously for almost 60 years. Boosted by renewed concerns over nuclear power following the disaster in Japan, the Greens did well and will now head a coalition, the first time the party has led a state government. See article

  58. .

    Lessons from Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima
    In place of safety nets
    Don’t assume disasters won’t happen at the frontiers of technology—presume they will

    TECHNOLOGY does not inflate like a balloon, expanding human power over nature evenly in all directions and at all scales. It grows like a sea urchin: long spines of ability radiate out towards specific needs and desires. Some of those spines now reach dizzying distances, allowing what would once have been impossible tasks; coaxing kilowatt hours by the million from the inner workings of atoms, or driving tiny oil pipes miles through the crust of the Earth. But the spines are brittle, and they stand alone. When one breaks—as happened on board the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago (see article), or at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan last month—there is no ameliorative technology on a par with that which has failed. Instead there is floundering; there is improvisation; and there is vast damage. What was a continuous, miraculous conduit from the depths of the Earth or the heart of the atom becomes a noxious, tangled and inaccessible mess about which, for months, nothing can be done.

    There is no way to fill in the space between the spines so that they are proof against catastrophe, or easily fixable at any point of failure. But there are rules that can make it easier to cope with the failures of such brittle technologies.

    The first is that the firms involved have to accept that even if things seem safe and sure in day-to-day operations, disasters still happen. For years before Deepwater Horizon the oil industry planned on the basis that the blowout preventers on top of wells would live up to their name. The nuclear industry routinely tells itself that partial meltdowns such as that at Fukushima are less likely than the record shows them to be.

  59. .

    UN chief
    More nuclear accidents are likely, world must work together to handle them

    KIEV, Ukraine _ The world must prepare for more nuclear accidents on the scale of Chornobyl and Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the U.N. chief warns, saying that grim reality will demand sharp improvements in international co-operation.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others portrayed the growth of nuclear power plants as inevitable in an energy-hungry world as they spoke at a Kyiv conference Wednesday commemorating the explosion of a reactor at Ukraine’s Chornobyl nuclear reactor 25 years ago.

    ”To many, nuclear energy looks to be a relatively clean and logical choice in an era of increasing resource scarcity. Yet the record requires us to ask painful questions: have we correctly calculated its risks and costs? Are we doing all we can to keep the world’s people safe?” Ban said. ”The unfortunate truth is that we are likely to see more such disasters.”

  60. .

    Despite Bipartisan Support, Nuclear Reactor Projects Falter

    Published: April 28, 2011

    WASHINGTON — In an effort to encourage nuclear power, Congress voted in 2005 to authorize $17.5 billion in loan guarantees for new reactors. Now, six years later, with the industry stalled by poor market conditions and the Fukushima disaster, nearly half of the fund remains unclaimed. And yet Congress, at the request of the Obama administration, is preparing to add $36 billion in nuclear loan guarantees to next year’s budget.

    Even supporters of the technology doubt that new projects will surface any time soon to replace those that have been all but abandoned.

    “My gut feeling is that there is going to be a delay,” said Neil Wilmshurst, a vice president of the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit utility consortium based in Palo Alto, Calif. News on Thursday that Exelon Corporation, the nation’s largest reactor operator, planned to buy a rival, the Constellation Energy Group, only reinforces the trend; until late last year, Constellation wanted to build, while Exelon was firmly against it.

    Mr. Wilmshurst said the continued depressed price of natural gas had clouded the economics of new reactors, and he predicted that construction activity would “go quiet” for two to five years. His group has shifted its efforts to helping figure out how existing plants can extend their licenses to 80 years from the current limit of 60.

  61. .

    Renewable Energy Review

    This report sets the Committee’s advice on the potential for renewable energy development in the UK, and advice on whether existing targets should be reviewed.

    The Committee was asked to provide this advice as part of the Coalition Agreement in May 2010.

    The report contains new analysis of technical feasibility and economic viability of renewable and other low-carbon energy technologies and scenarios for renewable energy deployment to 2030.

  62. .

    Nuclear Problems in the Rearview Mirror

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this week that in hindsight, a problem at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama last fall was quite serious. And its records indicate that there have been reports in recent days of engineers’ flubbing a basic calculation of reactor operation at two other plants.

    The math errors and the Browns Ferry problem are not related to each other but come at a moment of heightened concern about reactor safety after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan.

    On Tuesday, the commission staff announced that a valve that got stuck last October at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant near Athens, Ala., posed a safety threat that fell into the “red” category, the most serious on its four-color scale.

    It is only the fifth time since the scale was established in 2001 that the commission has put a problem into that category.

    “It took us a while to work through the inspection findings,’’ said Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the agency’s Atlanta regional office, explaining the delay. That process involved conferring with the plant’s operator, the Tennessee Valley Authority.

  63. .

    EVER since Abu Dhabi chose a South Korean group to build a series of nuclear reactors instead of Areva’s EPR, which was 50% more expensive, in December 2009, France’s nuclear industry has been in a funk. The country’s flagship reactor, many concluded, was too costly, mainly due to its wealth of safety features. Areva came under pressure to put older, cheaper designs back in its catalogue. The radiation leak at Fukushima has changed all that. “The idea of low-cost nuclear is dead,” says Alain Minc, a consultant in Paris.

    So, in one way, Areva, majority-owned by the French state, could gain from Japan’s nuclear disaster. China, by far the biggest builder of nuclear capacity, is likely to buy more EPRs than it would have done. An official at China Guangdong Nuclear Power said this month that the government will probably stop approving older, “generation 2” reactors, like those at Fukushima, which dominate the nuclear-power industry today. Third-generation reactors, which incorporate extra safety features, such as the EPR and Westinghouse Electric’s AP1000, would benefit.

    Safety concerns will also boost two of Areva’s most profitable divisions. The firm has contracts to maintain existing reactor fleets around the world, and is involved in processing radioactive waste and decommissioning old nuclear facilities. Following reviews post-Fukushima, nuclear utilities will have to revamp their equipment, apply tighter safety standards and in some cases shut down reactors.

  64. .

    Risk From Spent Nuclear Reactor Fuel Is Greater in U.S. Than in Japan, Study Says
    Published: May 24, 2011

    WASHINGTON — The threat of a catastrophic release of radioactive materials from a spent fuel pool at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is dwarfed by the risk posed by such pools in the United States, which are typically filled with far more radioactive material, according to a study released on Tuesday by a nonprofit institute.

    The report, from the Institute for Policy Studies, recommends that the United States transfer most of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from pools filled with cooling water to dry sealed steel casks to limit the risk of an accident resulting from an earthquake, terrorism or other event.

    “The largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S. reactor sites for the indefinite future,” the report’s author, Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the institute, wrote. “In protecting America from nuclear catastrophe, safely securing the spent fuel by eliminating highly radioactive, crowded pools should be a public safety priority of the highest degree.”

  65. .

    NRC Finds Many U.S. Nuclear Plants Ill-Prepared to Handle Simultaneous Threats

    On April 26, Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff did a safety “walkdown” of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on southern California’s coast, part of NRC inspections of all U.S. reactors that were triggered by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

    The NRC’s inspection report, released Friday, did not flag the plant’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) for a serious violation of the rules the commission has imposed to assure the plant’s safe shutdown in an anticipated emergency.

    But it did list more than a half-dozen issues that could jeopardize the plant if it were confronted with the kind of chain reaction of unexpected and unplanned-for calamities that struck the Fukushima nuclear complex.

    The NRC investigators reported:

    The plant had a single diesel-driven pump to provide emergency cooling water to a single reactor in case an earthquake cut off normal water flow. The pump could not have serviced both of the plant’s reactors if they lost normal water supply simultaneously, the NRC staff said.

    Some doors at the plant required to protect against flooding of major safety equipment would not self-latch as required. One latch was “degraded,” they said.

    The plant’s six emergency diesel generators were located in the same plant area, and thus vulnerable to a “common mode” failure.

    An earthquake could cause a structural failure in the building where the fire truck is stored, and debris could block crews from using the truck.

    PG&E planned for a contractor to provide seawater for emergency cooling, but had no backup plan if an earthquake and tsunami blocked highways to the plant. PG&E intended to rely on the California National Guard to deliver diesel fuel for emergency generators if roads were impassable, but had no memorandum of understanding in place for the deliveries.

  66. .

    The combined power of a quake, tsunami and full-scale nuclear accident has jolted whatever sense of complacency the Japanese had about the resilience of their country. The ham-fisted efforts of Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) to stem the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant have exposed the company for what it is: an inept monopoly so big it could co-opt or run rings around its regulators. It should be broken up. Meanwhile, the smashed-up fishing fleets and sea-swamped rice paddies in the north-east have prompted discussion on bringing private investment into these heavily protected areas which no longer provide a future for the young. Many are championing the idea of special economic zones in the north-east, which would free the area from the cat’s cradle of rules imposed from Tokyo that hamper free enterprise. All of these are good ideas. But they will wither unless the central government throws its weight squarely behind them.

  67. .

    “In the 1970s, there was an atmosphere within business, bureaucratic and academic circles that said, ‘Don’t say anything that will stimulate concerns among the general public,'” Sato said.

    Sato is now affiliated with the Nuclear Safety Research Association.

    A core meltdown became a reality after the March 1979 accident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States.

    In an effort to understand the science behind the accident, experiments were conducted in various nations to melt nuclear fuel rods.

    One researcher from that time said, “When we were planning an experiment in Japan to melt fuel rods, we were scolded and told, ‘Fuel rods are never damaged.’ We were only able to do the experiment after we referred to the rods as ‘test units.’ “

    A more serious accident occurred in April 1986 at Chernobyl. From the 1980s, the United States, France and Germany began installing venting equipment as a means of dealing with serious accidents.

    In Japan, the NSC recommended in 1992 the voluntary introduction of accident management measures.

    Electric power companies grudgingly began installing such measures from 1994 while continuing to argue that safety measures already implemented were more than sufficient.

  68. .

    Nuclear retreat to add 30 percent to CO2 growth: IEA

    (Reuters) – A halving of a global nuclear power expansion after Japan’s Fukushima disaster would increase global growth in carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent through 2035, the IEA said on Wednesday.

    The International Energy Agency warned last month that a political goal to limit climate change to safer levels was barely achievable after global emissions rose by near 6 percent in 2010.

    Governments agreed last year to limit warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, but the world was poised to surpass that level of carbon emissions, said the energy adviser to 28 industrialized economies.

    A halving of nuclear power growth would make the task even more difficult, said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.

    “We believe this huge emissions increase plus the rather bleaker perspective for nuclear power put together make the 2 degrees target very, very difficult to achieve.”

    “(Growth in) CO2 emissions from electricity generation between now and 2035 would be about 30 percent higher than it would otherwise be.” That was equivalent to almost an extra 500 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually by 2035, he added.

  69. .

    Industry is less thrilled about losing nuclear, which provides 23% of Germany’s electricity reliably and cheaply. It “fills me with worry,” said Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the Federation of German Industries.

    The “energy transformation” is neither as revolutionary as Mrs Merkel suggests nor as hazardous as industry fears. Germany is returning to its policy of seven months ago. It has surplus generating capacity and low prices that are unlikely to rise much in the next few years, notes Mark Lewis of Deutsche Bank. Mrs Merkel’s shift was already under way. In 2000 30% of electricity came from nuclear. Since then, renewables like solar and wind have expanded their share from 6.6% to 16.5%.

  70. .

    NRC and Industry Rewrite Nuke History
    ABC News, June 28, 2011

    When commercial nuclear power was getting its start in the 1960s and 1970s, industry and regulators stated unequivocally that reactors were designed only to operate for 40 years. Now they tell another story insisting that the units were built with no inherent life span, and can run for up to a century, an Associated Press investigation shows.

    By rewriting history, plant owners are making it easier to extend the lives of dozens of reactors in a relicensing process that resembles nothing more than an elaborate rubber stamp.

    As part of a yearlong investigation of aging issues at the nation’s nuclear power plants, the AP found that the relicensing process often lacks fully independent safety reviews. Records show that paperwork of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sometimes matches word-for-word the language used in a plant operator’s application.

    Also, the relicensing process relies heavily on such paperwork, with very little onsite inspection and verification.

    And under relicensing rules, tighter standards are not required to compensate for decades of wear and tear.

    So far, 66 of 104 reactors have been granted license renewals. Most of the 20-year extensions have been granted with scant public attention. And the NRC has yet to reject a single application to extend an original license. The process has been so routine that many in the industry are already planning for additional license extensions, which could push the plants to operate for 80 years, and then 100.

    Regulators and industry now contend that the 40-year limit was chosen for economic reasons and to satisfy antitrust concerns, not for safety issues. They contend that a nuclear plant has no technical limit on its life.

    But an AP review of historical records, along with interviews with engineers who helped develop nuclear power, shows just the opposite: Reactors were made to last only 40 years. Period.

    The record also shows that a design limitation on operating life was an accepted truism.

    In 1982, D. Clark Gibbs, chairman of the licensing and safety committee of an early industry group, wrote to the NRC that “most nuclear power plants, including those operating, under construction or planned for the future, are designed for a duty cycle which corresponds to a 40-year life.”

    And three years later, when Illinois Power Co. sought a license for its Clinton station, utility official D.W. Wilson told the NRC on behalf of his company’s nuclear licensing department that “all safety margins were established with the understanding of the limitations that are imposed by a 40-year design life.”

  71. .

    AECL sold for $15M to SNC-Lavalin
    Government could still earn future royalties from intellectual property rights
    CBC News Posted: Jun 29, 2011 4:29 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 29, 2011 10:31 PM ET

    The federal government finally announced Wednesday a deal to divest itself of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and get out of the business of subsidizing nuclear reactor sales and servicing.

    Joe Oliver, the minister of natural resources, said at a news conference in Toronto that the Crown corporation’s Candu reactor business has been sold to engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Group of Montreal, ending a process that has been in the works since 2009.

    The sale price was $15 million, but the government will have opportunity to get royalties down the road because it’s keeping intellectual property rights, Oliver said. However, the government will also provide SNC up to $75 million to complete development of a new reactor called Enhanced Candu 6.

    The union for AECL workers condemned the sale, saying the deal will result in a “hollowed out company” and might cost thousands more jobs among the corporation’s suppliers.

    Weston: Ottawa basically paying SNC to take AECL
    By Greg Weston, CBC News Posted: Jun 29, 2011 10:14 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 29, 2011 10:14 PM ET

    The federal government’s long-awaited deal to sell off its money-losing nuclear reactor business is more like a perpetual partnership than a sale, leaving Canadian taxpayers stuck with the fiscal fall-out for years to come.

    The government-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has announced it has finally reached a tentative deal to sell its commercial reactor development and repair division to Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

    The Montreal-based company was the only suitor in the world left at the negotiating table, a fact that helps to explain why the government is effectively paying SNC-Lavalin to take over the Crown corporation.

    Under the deal, SNC will pay a paltry $15 million for AECL’s nuclear reactor division, plus some as yet undisclosed “royalties” on future reactor sales.

    In return, the government will give SNC up to $75 million toward the development of the next generation of AECL’s once internationally successful Candu reactors.

  72. .

    The machinations of the industry shouldn’t be allowed to spoil the case for nuclear power.

    By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 5th July 2011

    Power corrupts; nuclear power corrupts absolutely. The industry developed as a by-product of nuclear weapons research. Its deployment was used to shield the production of weapons from public view. Though the two industries have now been forced apart, in most parts of the world the nuclear operators remain secretive, unaccountable and far too close to government.

    Last week the Guardian revealed that the British government connived with corporations to play down the impact of the disaster at Fukushima(1). Comments from the nuclear companies, a business department official suggested, should be incorporated into ministers’ briefings and government statements.

    It is through such collusion that accidents happen. The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency shows that Tepco, the firm that ran the stricken plant at Fukushima, had under-estimated the danger of tsunamis, had not planned properly for multiple plant failures and had been allowed to get away with it by a regulator that failed to review its protective measures. Nuclear operators worldwide have been repeatedly exposed as a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags.

  73. .

    It’s been one of the mysteries of Japan’s ongoing nuclear disaster: How much of the damage did the March 11 earthquake inflict on Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors in the 40 minutes before the devastating tsunami arrived? The stakes are high: If the quake alone structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every other similar reactor in Japan is at risk.

    Throughout the months of lies and misinformation, one story has stuck: “The earthquake knocked out the plant’s electric power, halting cooling to its reactors,” as the government spokesman Yukio Edano said at a March 15 press conference in Tokyo. The story, which has been repeated again and again, boils down to this: “after the earthquake, the tsunami – a unique, unforeseeable [the Japanese word is soteigai] event – then washed out the plant’s back-up generators, shutting down all cooling and starting the chain of events that would cause the world’s first triple meltdown to occur.”

    But what if recirculation pipes and cooling pipes, burst, snapped, leaked, and broke completely after the earthquake — long before the tidal wave reached the facilities, long before the electricity went out? This would surprise few people familiar with the 40-year-old Unit 1, the grandfather of the nuclear reactors still operating in Japan.

  74. .

    AP: US nuclear power plant safety isn’t being tightly regulated

    Maggie Koerth-Baker at 10:37 AM Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011

    As you may have noticed, I’m not against nuclear power. I’m not aggressively pro-nuclear power, either. It’s just that I recognize that energy is complicated and I think that the very real risks of nuclear power have to be considered in tandem with the risks of other energy sources, and the risks of not having enough energy. From that perspective, we can’t just immediately shut down all the nuclear power we currently have, and nuclear power still does some things that no other energy source can currently do—namely, provide a reliable, low-carbon, high-capacity factor source of electricity that can be located anywhere and doesn’t vary its output with the seasons, the time of day, or the weather. That doesn’t mean we must use nuclear. And it definitely doesn’t mean we should go all nuclear. But it does mean that we have to make our choices about nuclear as part of a bigger picture.

    Of course, all of this comes with a big caveat. From my perspective, the benefits of nuclear power can outweigh the risks, as long as there’s competent safety regulation in place that’s being monitored by somebody independent of the people who are being regulated. There’s two things you should have learned from the ongoing flood watch at Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. First, regulation protects us. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hadn’t done its job here, the Fort Calhoun plant would not have been prepared for floods of the level that it has experienced this summer. Second, the nuclear industry can’t be relied upon to make the necessary safety upgrades on its own, without outside prodding. It’s not that they’re evil. Nobody sits around cackling about the prospect of a radiation leak. It’s just that businesses, like people, don’t always behave in a logical way. Sure, logic says that it’s worth it to upgrade your flood protection system because, if it fails, the outcome would be a lot worse for you and cost you a lot more money. But there are other pressures the owners of Fort Calhoun were dealing with, and they chose not to make those upgrades until the NRC essentially forced them to do it.

  75. .

    MORE than 100 days after the earthquake that hit Japan in March, 30,000 survivors still huddle in shelters, politicians have returned to their bickering and Japan Inc to business as usual. Two of Japan’s most prominent entrepreneurs think this is not good enough.

    The quake caused a nuclear disaster. So Masayoshi Son, the boss of Softbank, a big mobile operator, believes it is time to rethink Japan’s dependence on nuclear power. He is talking to around 20 prefectures about building ten solar-power plants. Converting one-fifth of Japan’s unused farmland to solar would generate 50 gigawatts, he says, which is equivalent to the peak output of TEPCO, Japan’s largest electricity firm (and a quasi-monopoly).

  76. .

    “THROW yourself into a nuclear reactor and die!” one investor shouted. Japanese shareholders are usually more polite, but this was the annual meeting of TEPCO, the Japanese power company that owns the Fukushima nuclear plant. Since an earthquake in March caused a meltdown, TEPCO faces unlimited demands for compensation. Its shares have fallen by nearly 90% (see chart). A man at the meeting on June 28th suggested that the board take responsibility by committing seppuku, or ritual suicide.

    Not everything went wrong for TEPCO. A shareholder motion to close all its nuclear plants was defeated. But apart from that, things look grim. TEPCO faces claims for compensation that, in a worst-case scenario, could exceed its assets of ¥15 trillion ($186 billion). No one knows how much it will have to pay. (Oddly, it is the education ministry’s job to issue guidelines for nuclear compensation.) Estimates of TEPCO’s liabilities range between ¥4 trillion and ¥25 trillion. The firm also owes ¥7.8 trillion to bondholders and bank creditors. If TEPCO goes bust, these people take precedence over those affected by the disaster, a fact that is politically radioactive.

    Four months ago, TEPCO was the cornerstone of corporate Japan. Some 750,000 people, many of them elderly, still own its shares. The company, which accounts for a hefty 8% of Japan’s total domestic debt market, had its bond rating cut to junk by Moody’s on June 20th, following a similar downgrade by Standard & Poor’s in May.

    Only the government can save TEPCO from bankruptcy. A bill submitted on June 14th to the Diet, Japan’s parliament, aims to enable the firm to pay compensation without going under. It would establish a mechanism for the government to channel truckloads of money to TEPCO, which the firm would then pass on to the victims. This would be repaid from TEPCO’s earnings, with help from other nuclear operators. The new entity could purchase TEPCO assets. One insider thinks this will lead to partial nationalisation. Another reckons that the new entity might buy fresh bonds that TEPCO could issue to meet its obligations.

  77. .

    German energy

    Shock to the system

    An industry struggles to cope with a change in government policy

    ELECTRICITY producers in Germany are in disarray. The cause of the chaos is the government: in June it decided to shut all the country’s nuclear power stations by 2022, after Japan’s struggles to contain radiation leaks from its reactors following an earthquake and tsunami in March.

    A study commissioned by the economics ministry has estimated the cost of that decision, in lost jobs and higher energy and carbon prices, at around €32 billion ($46 billion). The government had planned to extend the life of nuclear plants by an average of 12 years.

    Other things make matters worse. Germany’s four big electricity generators have too much debt. They are also being forced by the European Commission to spin off their distribution arms to improve competition. The firms are trying to adjust, shrink and extricate themselves from unprofitable foreign ventures and to co-operate more with municipal power-producers. E.ON, Germany’s biggest power company, is threatening to lay off up to 11,000 people.

  78. .

    THERE are many heroes in post 3/11 Japan. The mayor of Rikuzentakata, who ensured the safety of city residents only for his wife to perish, is one, as are the Tokyo firefighters who streamed up to Fukushima to spray water on the out-of-control reactors. But among those who deserve honour is also a humble bureaucrat at the trade ministry. In a system that prizes remaining nameless, faceless and not rocking the boat, Shigeaki Koga chose to step forward and reveal some of Japan’s ugliest secrets.

    After 3/11, Mr Koga decided speak out about the awful practices he had experienced while working on Japan’s energy policy. The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, run by TEPCO, is symptomatic of a wider malaise. The utility companies buy the academy by sponsoring research, buy the media through mountains of public-service advertisements and junkets, buy big business by paying top-dollar for everything, buy the bureaucrats and regulators by handing them cushy post-retirement jobs.

    Talking to him one gets a chill down the spine. Often, bureaucrats are regarded as lemming-like self-interested do-nothings or devious micro-managers. But Mr Koga’s brave words and deep understanding of how energy companies pad their costs, block competition, keep energy prices high and ultimately strangle Japan is an antidote to that image. Instead, the figure that emerges is a deeply intelligent, hard-working civil servant who wants the best for his country.

  79. .

    That is why, says Yasunari Fujimoto of Gensuikin, an anti-nuclear group that planned the event, the demonstrators’ demand is not to do away with nuclear power immediately, even though his organisation favours that. An overhasty shutdown, he acknowledges, would cause electricity shortages and disrupt people’s lives. Rather, the rally demanded the end of new construction and an agreed schedule for phasing out nuclear power. According to Mr Fujimoto’s models, the last existing nuclear plant could close down in 2049.

    What is more, although the rally was against what Mr Fujimoto calls a political cover-up of the perils of nuclear power, it was not, he stresses, anti-government. He has no issue with Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, even though Mr Noda told the Wall Street Journal this week that it was “absolutely impossible” that Japan could get by without nuclear power next summer, and that there could be no quick phase-out of nuclear energy.

  80. .

    Belgium’s political parties have reached a conditional agreement to shut down the country’s two remaining nuclear power stations. Older reactors will be decommissioned by 2015, with the final closures happening before 2025. The exit is conditional on alternatives being available. ‘If it turns out we won’t face shortages and prices would not skyrocket, we intend to stick to the nuclear exit law of 2003,’ a spokeswoman for Belgium’s energy and climate ministry said.

  81. .

    A new study by a French government agency, commissioned in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, found that all French nuclear power plants do not offer adequate safety when it comes to flooding, earthquakes, power outages, failure of the cooling systems and operational management of accidents. While there is no need for immediate shutdown, the agency presses for the problems to be fixed quickly. France gets about 80% of its power from nuclear energy and is a major exporter of nuclear technology.

  82. .

    The other difficulty, which extends far beyond business, is a general suspicion in Japan of outsiders’ points of view. Take Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant, wrecked by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. A recent report by Bloomberg, citing minutes of a 2009 meeting, revealed that TEPCO and its regulator, the Economy and Trade Ministry, dismissed scientific findings about the risks of such natural disasters that could have helped prevent the meltdowns of three of the plant’s reactors. The nuclear industry is deeply incestuous. Not only do bureaucrats parachute from their ministries into the utilities, but their sons and daughters occasionally marry each other too. Nicholas Benes, who founded the Board Director Training Institute of Japan, a non-profit organisation, says that having more outsiders on TEPCO’s board, whether independent nuclear specialists, foreigners or women, might have helped ring alarm bells. As it was, 18 of the 20 voting members on TEPCO’s board came from the company itself.

  83. .

    The Fukushima black box

    A dangerous lack of urgency in drawing lessons from Japan’s nuclear disaster

    THERE is a breathtaking serenity to the valley that winds from the town of Namie, on the coast of Fukushima prefecture, into the hills above. A narrow road runs by a river that passes through steep ravines, studded with maples. Lovely it may be, but it is the last place where you would want to see an exodus of 8,000 people fleeing meltdowns at a nearby nuclear-power plant.

    Along that switchback road the day after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th 2011, it took Namie’s residents more than three hours to drive 30km (19 miles) to what they thought was the relative safety of Tsushima, a secluded hamlet. What they did not know was that they were heading into an invisible fog of radioactive matter that has made this one of the worst radiation hotspots in Japan—far worse than the town they abandoned, just ten minutes’ drive from the gates of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. It was not until a New York Times report in August that many of the evacuees realised they had been exposed to such a danger, thanks to government neglect.

    Negligence forms the backdrop for the first government-commissioned report into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, released in late December. Although only an interim assessment (the complete report is due in the summer), it is already 500 pages long and the product of hundreds of interviews. A casual reader might be put off by the technical detail and the dearth of personal narrative. Yet by Japanese standards it is gripping. It spares neither the government nor Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant. It reveals at times an almost cartoon-like level of incompetence. Whether it is enough to reassure an insecure public that lessons will be learnt is another matter.

    Since the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, it has become axiomatic to assume that complex systems fail in complex ways. That was broadly true of Fukushima, though often the failures appear absurdly elementary. In the most quake-prone archipelago on earth, TEPCO and its regulators had no accident-management plan in the event of earthquakes and tsunamis—assuming, apparently, that the plant was proofed against them and that any hypothetical accidents would be generated only from within. TEPCO had, in the event of nuclear disaster, an off-site emergency headquarters just 5km from the plant that was not radiation-proof, and so was effectively useless. On site, the workers in its number one reactor appear not to have been familiar with an emergency-cooling system called an isolation condenser, which they wrongly thought was still working after the tsunami. Their supervisors made the same mistake, so a vital six hours were lost before other methods for cooling the overheating atomic fuel rods were deployed. Partly as a result, this was the first reactor to explode on March 12th.

  84. .

    French nuclear energy
    Under pressure
    France wants to export nuclear reactors. Who will buy them?

    Dec 17th 2011 | PARIS | from the print edition

    FOR France, nuclear power has long been a source of national pride. Its European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) is the world’s most advanced nuclear reactor and some consider it the safest. But since the nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan, potential buyers have been having second thoughts (although the plant in question was not French.)

    On December 12th Areva, France’s state-owned nuclear champion, said it would take a €2.4 billion ($3.1 billion) charge against profits. This will give the firm its first ever operating loss, of perhaps €1.6 billion for 2011. That hurts.

    Areva is the world’s only one-stop nuclear shop, selling everything from uranium to fuel recycling. Much of the charge came from a slump in the value of UraMin, a uranium-mining firm bought for a giddy price in 2007, when nuclear power was surging. The price of uranium, which fuels reactors, tumbled afterwards (see chart).

  85. .

    IN MORE ways than one, things are hotting up at Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), which runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crippled by an earthquake and tsunami last March 11th. In recent days temperatures in one of the plant’s reactors may have hovered too close for comfort to the level where a chain-reaction might reoccur from melted fuel. Since February 7th TEPCO has been pouring in 14 tonnes of water an hour in the hopes of keeping things cool. It is an uneasy reminder for ordinary Japanese that nearly a year after the disaster the reactors are not yet stable.

    Back in Tokyo, TEPCO faces more hot water. The government is laying plans to nationalise the troubled utility, overhaul its management, and bring much-needed competition to the energy market.
    In this section

    The Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund (NDF), which the government created in September to oversee vast compensation payments related to the Fukushima disaster, is preparing to inject ¥1 trillion ($13 billion) of public money into TEPCO later this year, in return for perhaps two-thirds of the company. A stream of lawyers and accountants has joined the NDF to serve as a sort of shadow management team for the utility. The model being contemplated is close to Japan’s successful bank nationalisations a decade ago, when the state-backed bail-out agency replaced bank boards, but let many managers continue in their jobs under new supervision.

  86. .

    Japan’s Energy Vulnerability After the Nuclear Disaster

    Energy demand in Japan is nearing that of before the country’s March 2011 nuclear disaster, but its power generation, largely dependent on nuclear energy, is still low. Liquefied natural gas may be Japan’s second-best option, but its adoption will be subject to severe limitations and will increase Tokyo’s energy security vulnerability.

  87. .

    For now, the risk is that the interim report does not get the attention it deserves. So far it seems to have aroused more interest on a techie website called Physics Forums, beloved of nuclear engineers, than in the Japanese press. The government, led by Yoshihiko Noda, has not yet used it as a rallying call for reform. One of its recommendations, an independent new regulatory body, will soon be set up. Others, such as new safety standards and broader evacuation plans, would take months to implement.

    Such reports are, after all, confidence-building exercises. They are meant to reassure the public that, by exposing failures, they will help to prevent them from being repeated. In the case of Fukushima Dai-ichi there is still plenty to be nervous about. Although the government declared on December 16th that the plant had reached a state of “cold shutdown”, much of the cooling system is jerry-rigged and probably still not earthquake-proof. On January 1st a quake temporarily caused water levels to plunge in a pool containing highly radioactive spent-fuel rods.

    Meanwhile, across Japan, 48 out of 54 nuclear reactors remain out of service, almost all because of safety fears. Until somebody in power seizes on the report as a call to action, its findings, especially those that reveal sheer ineptitude, suggest that the public has every reason to remain as scared as hell.

  88. .

    The Fukushima Question
    How close did Japan really get to a widespread nuclear disaster?
    By Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger

    With an eye to the first anniversary of the tsunami that killed 20,000 people and caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, a recently formed nongovernmental organization called Rebuild Japan released a report earlier this week on the nuclear incident to alarming media coverage.

    “Japan Weighed Evacuating Tokyo in Nuclear Crisis,” screamed the New York Times headline, above an article by Martin Fackler that claimed, “Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.”

    The larger crisis was a worst-case scenario imagined by Japanese government officials dealing with the situation. If workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were evacuated, Fackler writes, some worried “[t]his would have allowed the plant to spiral out of control, releasing even larger amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere that would in turn force the evacuation of other nearby nuclear plants, causing further meltdowns.”

  89. .

    Nuclear Disaster In Japan Could Have Been Mitigated, Say Industry Insiders

    “Some insiders from Japan’s tightly knit nuclear industry have stepped forward to say that Tepco and regulators had for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan, and thus failed to take adequate countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground. ‘March 11 exposed the true nature of Japan’s postwar system, that it is led by bureaucrats who stand on the side of industry, not the people,’ says Shigeaki Koga, a former director of industrial policy at the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry. Eight years ago, as a member of an influential cabinet office committee on offshore earthquakes in northeastern Japan, Kunihiko Shimazaki, professor emeritus of seismology at the University of Tokyo, warned that Fukushima’s coast was vulnerable to tsunamis more than twice as tall as the forecasts of up to 17 feet put forth by regulators and Tepco, but government bureaucrats running the committee moved quickly to exclude his views from debate as too speculative and ‘pending further research.’ Then in 2008, Tepco’s own engineers made three separate sets of calculations that showed Fukushima Daiichi could be hit by tsunamis as high as 50 feet. ‘They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,’ says Shimazaki.”

  90. .

    Nuclear power
    The dream that failed
    A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety

    Not all democracies do things so poorly. But nuclear power is about to become less and less a creature of democracies. The biggest investment in it on the horizon is in China—not because China is taking a great bet on nuclear, but because even a modest level of interest in such a huge economy is big by the standards of almost everyone else. China’s regulatory system is likely to be overhauled in response to Fukushima. Some of its new plants are of the most modern, and purportedly safest, design. But safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed. These are not things that China (or Russia, which also plans to build a fair few plants) has yet shown it can provide.

  91. .

    One of those advisers, Hiroshi Tasaka, a former nuclear scientist who served Mr Kan from a few weeks after the disaster, says it was a matter of “luck” that things did not get far worse. A worst-case scenario suggested that parts of Tokyo itself might have had to be evacuated. At the darkest moment, after a third meltdown and a third hydrogen explosion, Tepco prepared to pull out its employees. Only a life-risking effort by 70 brave workers brought things back from the brink.

    Mr Tasaka fears lessons have not been learned. If there were another disaster tomorrow, the prime minister still could not call on specially trained experts or employ the full legal powers to cope with it, for example by ordering evacuations. A full review of how to reform regulatory structures is awaiting the conclusion of a string of investigative committees. Given the uncertainties, it is little wonder that 52 of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors are now off-line—their power replaced by old thermal plants working at full capacity.

  92. .

    The reactors at Fukushima were of an old design. The risks they faced had not been well analysed. The operating company was poorly regulated and did not know what was going on. The operators made mistakes. The representatives of the safety inspectorate fled. Some of the equipment failed. The establishment repeatedly played down the risks and suppressed information about the movement of the radioactive plume, so some people were evacuated from more lightly to more heavily contaminated places.

  93. .

    But Japan never even tried to prepare for station blackouts. Even as the rest of the world moved on, says Sato, the feeling in Tokyo was, “SBOs are not conceivable; don’t even think about it.”

    Critics of the industry in Japan say there is a basic reason for that. Historically, the government and the power companies spent more time and energy trying to convince the public that nuclear energy was safe than it did actually trying to make nuclear energy safe. Says Sato: “we spent ten times more money for PR campaigns than we did for real safety measures. It’s a terrible thing.”

  94. .

    Japan’s Last Nuclear Reactor Shuts Down

    “Japan’s last active reactor is shutting down today, leaving the country without nuclear energy for the first time since 1970. All 50 commercial reactors in the country are now offline. 19 have been completed stress tests but there is little prospect of them being restarted due to heavy opposition from local governments. Meanwhile activists in Tokyo celebrated the shutdown and asked the government to admit that nuclear power was no longer needed in Japan and to concentrate on safety. If this summer turns out to be as hot as 2010 some areas could be asked to make 15% power savings to avoid shortages, while other areas will be unaffected due to savings already made.”

  95. .

    “Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restart of two idle nuclear reactors Saturday, amid split public response. The Japanese government is trying to fill a summer power shortfall. According to the article, the two reactors supply power to the Kansai region near Osaka, where local officials were predicting a 15% shortfall in power capacity during July and August.”

  96. .

    Oi reactors will be idled if fault under them is active, new nuclear safety chief warns

    The man nominated to head the new atomic regulatory authority said Wednesday he expects the two reactors at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture to halt operations should there be any active fault found underneath them.

    Shunichi Tanaka, former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, made the remark about reactors 3 and 4 of the Kansai Electric Power Co. plant after they were restarted last month despite public safety concerns nationwide.

    Before the two Oi reactor restarts, all 50 remaining workable commercial reactors nationwide had eventually shut down because of a stricter inspection regimen initiated amid the triple-meltdown disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and the strong public attitude against atomic power.

  97. .

    Japan’s nuclear disaster
    Meet the Fukushima 50? No, you can’t

    IT HAS taken the Japanese government more than 18 months to pay tribute to a group of brave men, once known as the “Fukushima 50”, who risked their lives to prevent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from spiralling out of control. But when the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, belatedly offered official thanks to them on October 7th something strange was afoot: six of the eight men he addressed had their backs to the television cameras, refused to be photographed and did not introduce themselves by name, not even to Mr Noda (see the image below).

    The reason: officials from the government and from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) quietly admitted that the men wanted to keep their identities secret because they were scared of stigmatisation for being involved in the disaster, such as might lead to the bullying of their children and grandchildren. But Tepco is also muzzling them, presumably for fear that what they say will further discredit the now nationalised company. When I asked if I could at least hand my business card to them to see if they wanted to tell their side of the story, an irate Tepco spokesman answered bluntly: “Impossible.”

    There are numerous ways that this incident reflects badly on both Tepco’s and the government’s handling of the situation. Firstly, there is the contrast between the frontline worker’s behaviour and the brazen hypocrisy of Tepco’s management after the accident. I remember Tepco’s then-chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata (now thankfully retired), nonchalantly blaming everyone but himself when giving testimony to a Diet commission earlier this year.

  98. .

    Nuclear workers in Japan
    Heroism and humility
    Meet the “Fukushima 50”, the men on the front line of the nuclear disaster

    Oct 27th 2012 | TOKYO | from the print edition

    ACCORDING to his friends, the man in charge of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant during the 2011 disaster, Masao Yoshida, says it felt like being on Iwo Jima. That is the North Pacific island heroically defended by the Japanese in 1945 but doomed to fall to the Americans.

    His two underlings, Atsufumi Yoshizawa and Masatoshi Fukura, do not portray the struggle quite so graphically. In their first interviews with foreign media since the disaster, they spoke of the sense of responsibility of the so-called Fukushima 50, those who risked their lives to fight the soaring levels of radiation coming out of the plant in the hours and days after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th last year. They were driven, especially, by a desire to protect the local communities in which many of their families lived.

    Yet the Fukushima 50, despite heroic efforts, still suffer from the complex of emotions that soldiers might experience when returning from a losing battle. A sense of shame and stigmatisation lingers. That much was evident earlier in October when Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s prime minister, called them in to thank them. It was fully 18 months after the disaster, a long time to wait to honour those who, as Mr Noda put it, saved Japan.

  99. .

    Abe looking to renege on emissions pledge

    25% cut by 2020 not possible as fossil fuels replace energy from idled nuclear reactors

    Japan will drop its pledge to the global community to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 because of the country’s reduced future reliance on nuclear power, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a government panel Friday.

    During a meeting of the panel, which is discussing economic revival measures, Abe stated that he will revise the energy strategy compiled by the previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, which aimed to completely phase out atomic energy by the 2030s.

    He instructed Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and other members of his Liberal Democratic Party-led Cabinet to alter the DPJ’s target of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses blamed for greenhouse warming by 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

  100. .

    Ten days ago, the Japanese government announced that it is abandoning its promise to cut the greenhouse gases the country produces by 25% by 2020. The reason it gave was the shutdown of many of its nuclear plants as a result of the Fukushima disaster. Nuclear power saved around a quarter of a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in Japan: equivalent to just under half the UK’s emissions. Much of it will now be replaced by coal and liquified gas.

    Germany also decided to shut down its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima crisis, due to the imminent risk of tsunamis in Bavaria. Last year, as a result, its burning of “clean coal” – otherwise known as coal – rose by 5%. That was despite a massive cut in its exports of electricity to other European countries*. One estimate suggests that by 2020 Germany will have produced an extra 300 million tonnes of CO2 as a result of its nuclear closure: equivalent to almost all the savings that will be made in the 27 member states as a result of the EU’s energy efficiency directive.

  101. .

    Meltdown: Despite the Fear, the Health Risks from the Fukushima Accident Are Minimal

    The World Health Organization’s (WHO) report (PDF) on the estimated health effects from the Fukushima nuclear accident is out, and the results are… reassuring. The WHO modeled the impacts of excess radiation doses on those living around the Fukushima plant, which partially melted down after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The agency concluded that any additional cancer risk from radiation was small—extremely small, for the most part—and chiefly limited to those living closest to the plant. The WHO found:

    * For leukemia, a lifetime risk increase of around 7% over baseline cancer rates for males exposed to the radiation as infants, and about 6% for females exposed as babies.
    * For all solid cancers (meaning everything with a discrete tumor mass, including brain and breast cancer), a lifetime risk increase of about 4% over baseline rates for females exposed as infants.
    * For thyroid cancer (which chiefly occurs in women) a lifetime risk increase of around 70% over baseline rates for women exposed as infants.

    These percentages represent estimated relative increases over the baseline rates and are not absolute risks for developing such cancers. Due to the low baseline rates of thyroid cancer, even a large relative increase represents a small absolute increase in risks. For example, the baseline lifetime risk of thyroid cancer for females is just three-quarters of one percent and the additional lifetime risk estimated in this assessment for a female infant exposed in the most affected location is one-half of one percent.

  102. .

    Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power

    Pushker A. Kharecha and James E Hansen
    Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript
    DOI: 10.1021/es3051197
    Publication Date (Web): March 15, 2013
    Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

    In the aftermath of the March 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the future contribution of nuclear power to the global energy supply has become somewhat uncertain. Because nuclear power is an abundant, low-carbon source of base-load power, on balance it could make a large contribution to mitigation of global climate change and air pollution. Using historical production data, we calculate that global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning. Based on global projection data that take into account the effects of Fukushima, we find that by mid-century, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7.04 million deaths and 80 to 240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels, depending on which fuel it replaces. By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.

  103. Pingback: Two James Hansen updates

  104. .

    Climate targets blown in Japan

    Carbon dioxide intensity from Japan’s electricity industry climbed again in FY2012, reaching levels 39% greater than when the country’s nuclear reactors were operating normally, and taking the sector far beyond climate targets.

  105. .

    The shadow of Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl, hangs over Japan’s energy future

    THIS week Japan’s last working nuclear reactor was switched off. At Oi, on the west coast of the country’s main island, the closure was supposedly for routine maintenance and safety checks. Yet no firm date is in sight for reopening Oi or any other of Japan’s 50 reactors, shut in the wake of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Before the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 turned so much of Japan’s world upside down, the country counted on nuclear power for 30% of its electricity—one of the highest proportions in the world. Now it is entirely without nuclear power for only the second time since 1970.

    Local towns that play host to nuclear plants are not the problem: in the past, the government and the power utilities conspired to site power stations in isolated, economically deprived places that could be bought off with largesse. Several of these towns are clamouring for the reactors to restart. But in places a little farther afield, opposition mounts.

    The cranking-up of fossil-fuel power stations, many working at well under capacity before March 2011, is one reason why the predictions of widespread black-outs never came about after the Fukushima scare. But another reason was the room for conserving energy. Tokyo alone has slashed electricity consumption by a tenth since 2011, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation. The demand for power-saving devices has leapt. Sales of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have shot up from 3% of all Japanese bulbs sold in 2009 to over 30% today. By 2015, says the head of Philips Electronics Japan, Danny Risberg, incandescent and fluorescent lights will be nearly a thing of the past.

  106. .

    At the moment Japan is entirely without nuclear energy, but that is unlikely to last for long. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, is pushing for as many of the country’s 50 usable reactors to restart as soon as possible after passing safety checks by the NRA. The need to import energy has pushed up the price of electricity and added to a series of trade deficits since 2011. In September TEPCO won approval from the governor of Niigata prefecture to apply for a safety check in order to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest. If it is allowed to restart, others would probably follow.

  107. .

    Nuclear power in Japan
    Start ’em up
    The government and voters are putting economics before atoms, opening the way for Japan to restart its nuclear power plants

    On February 25th the government published a draft energy plan which put nuclear power at the core. It is a sharp reversal of the previous energy strategy, devised by a former government in 2012, eventually to eliminate nuclear power altogether.

    Second, the establishment fears that time is running out. A fourth summer without nuclear power—but also without any sudden blackout to alarm the public—might permanently shift opinion against switching the plants back on. Shigeru Ishiba, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), says that people have noticed the lights are still blazing and the trains running. So some 15 months after returning to power, the government is ready to take the political risk of restarts. But it is wary of being thought ahead of the agency charged with nuclear safety.

    The long-run future of nuclear power is more uncertain. The age of today’s reactors means that new ones must soon be built—a detail the government’s new energy plan skated over. Along with the Tokyo election, a governor’s race last month in Yamaguchi, the southern prefecture from which Mr Abe hails, was closely watched for signs of the mood about new plants. A battle has raged for decades over one to be built in Kaminoseki, a small fishing town in the prefecture. The result, again, was defeat for anti-nuclear candidates. The government has said it may allow three other reactors already under construction before March 2011 to be completed. Just a short time ago, that would have been unthinkable.

  108. .

    FOR a week last month, a man refused to leave a church built on the site of his former home in Taipei. Neither receiving visitors nor taking food, Lin I-hsiung stayed fixed to the spot where his mother and twin daughters were murdered 34 years ago—by government goons, it is assumed. The Kuomintang (KMT) ran Taiwan as an ugly dictatorship in those days, and Mr Lin had a reputation as a fighter for democracy. At 72, he is still at it. When he began his vigil, he said he would fast to death if necessary, until the government (a reformed and elected KMT) reversed a national energy policy that sees nuclear power as vital for the island. Not wanting to have a martyr on its hands, the government caved in. On April 30th Mr Lin ended his fast. The country’s nuclear policy lies in tatters.

    Abandoning nuclear power has long been a plank of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which Mr Lin was once chairman. But popular support for the idea swelled after the disaster at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, and has been boosted again by Mr Lin’s hunger strike. Taiwan has three ageing nuclear plants. The strike came in response to the construction of a fourth, Longmen, not far from Taipei. It was due to supply about 9% of Taiwan’s electricity. To defend his plans, the president, Ma Ying-jeou, held a rare televised debate with the opposition leader, Su Tseng-chang. He argued that Taiwan’s economic future needed nuclear power. Yet street protests culminated with a rally of nearly 30,000 on April 27th.

    As the crowds swelled, Mr Ma huddled with his advisers. One told the president that every argument he had used was “100% right”. The trouble is, he said, “nobody is listening”. He urged Mr Ma to back down rather than risk the consequences of Mr Lin’s death for the party’s standing and for peace on the streets. And so, with Taipei full of protesters, the prime minister, Jiang Yi-huah, announced the climbdown. The first of Longmen’s two reactors would undergo safety inspections and would then be mothballed. Construction of the second reactor would halt altogether. A popular referendum would take place before the plant ever started operating. It was an astonishing turnaround.

  109. .

    Return to Fukushima with Miles O’Brien

    Three years after the disaster at Fukushima, science correspondent Miles O’Brien returned to the Daiichi nuclear plant for an exclusive look at the site. Follow Miles on a never-before-seen tour of Daiichi’s sister site, Fukushima Daini, which narrowly avoided a meltdown during the Tohoku earthquake. As the country debates turning its reactors back on, Miles asks: will Japan have a nuclear future?

  110. .

    A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable. This assumption was accepted by nuclear power plant operators and was not challenged by regulators or by the Government. As a result, Japan was not sufficiently prepared for a severe nuclear accident in March 2011.

    There were also certain weaknesses in plant design, in emergency preparedness and response arrangements and in planning for the management of a severe accident. There was an assumption that there would never be a loss of all electrical power at a nuclear power plant for more than a short period. The possibility of several reactors at the same facility suffering a crisis at the same time was not considered. And insufficient provision was made for the possibility of a nuclear accident occurring at the same time as a major natural disaster.

  111. .

    Complacency contributed to Fukushima accident, says Amano

    Japan considered its nuclear power plants safe and was therefore not prepared for the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Yukiya Amano has said in a comprehensive report on the accident.

    At the IAEA General Conference in September 2012, Amano announced that the agency would prepare a report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident. He stated that this report would be “an authoritative, factual and balanced assessment, addressing the causes and consequences of the accident as well as the lessons learned.”

    The IAEA has now published that report, which it said is “the result of an extensive international collaborative effort involving five working groups with about 180 experts from 42 Member States with or without nuclear power programs and several international bodies.”

  112. .

    Study: Fukushima disaster was preventable

    “While most studies have focused on the response to the accident, we’ve found that there were design problems that led to the disaster that should have been dealt with long before the earthquake hit,” said Synolakis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC Viterbi. “Earlier government and industry studies focused on the mechanical failures and ‘buried the lead.’ The pre-event tsunami hazards study if done properly, would have identified the diesel generators as the lynch pin of a future disaster. Fukushima Dai-ichi was a siting duck waiting to be flooded.”

    The authors describe the disaster as a “cascade of industrial, regulatory and engineering failures,” leading to a situation where critical infrastructure – in this case, backup generators to keep the cooling the plant in the event of main power loss – was built in harm’s way.

  113. .

    THE list of candidates for the most beleaguered part of Europe’s nuclear-power industry is long. But since last year Sweden, which generates about 40% of its electricity through nuclear energy, has been a strong contender. A tax increased to punitive levels in 2015 by the anti-nuclear Green Party hit its operators so hard that they threatened to close all ten of the country’s plants unless it was scrapped. On June 10th the government, including the Greens, caved in and threw them a lifeline. It has promised to phase out the tax from next year and will allowed operators to replace ageing reactors with new ones.

    This was a rare piece of good news for an industry that looks like it is on its last legs in much of western Europe. Germany is decommissioning all of its reactors and France is cutting the share of nuclear in the energy mix to half, from 75%, by 2025. The country’s main power provider, Electricité de France (EDF), is under fire for the shortcomings of the as-yet-unfinished European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) under construction in Finland and France. Its proposed EPR scheme at Hinkley Point in Britain has become a political embarrassment on both sides of the Channel. Unsurprisingly no one trumpeted the news from Sweden more loudly than Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF’s chairman. It will not pull the nuclear industry out the mire, however.

    Whether it actually leads to the construction of new power plants is another matter. The agreement to support the nuclear operators included a pledge to generate all electricity from renewable sources (which excludes nuclear) by 2040. That may have helped win over the Greens, but it is unlikely to generate enthusiasm for building new plants, not least because renewables will continue to be subsidised and the bigger their role in the energy mix, the more they suppress wholesale prices.

    It may be different in the developing world. This month India reaffirmed a decision, taken in 2013, to buy six nuclear-power plants from Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba, after talks between India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and Barack Obama. But in reality the deal remains stuck, as long as it remains unclear whether Westinghouse (or any other supplier) would have to accept liability in case of a nuclear accident. Nowhere is nuclear a particularly cheap and easy option.

  114. .

    After disaster struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station in 2011, the Chinese authorities briefly halted this pell-mell rush toward the nuclear future, announcing a moratorium on the construction of new plants, urgent safety checks on existing ones and a prolonged policy review to decide whether nuclear power would remain a part of China’s energy strategy. The following year, however, the government resolved to carry on with its nuclear-energy programme.

  115. .

    2017 an important year for Japanese reactor restarts

    Japan’s future use of nuclear energy could be significantly impacted by decisions made this year on restarting reactors and extending the operating periods of its older units, according to the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (IEEJ). However, it sees nuclear playing an important role in achieving energy security, economy and environmental protection.

  116. .

    Swiss voters approve gradual nuclear phase out

    Switzerland voted in a referendum yesterday to approve a revision to the country’s energy policy that promotes the use of renewable energy sources and energy conservation. The revised Federal Energy Act also prohibits the construction of new nuclear power plants.

    A new Swiss energy policy was sought in response to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Two months later, both the Swiss parliament and government decided to exit nuclear power production. The Energy Strategy 2050 initiative drawn up by the Federal Council calls for a gradual withdrawal from nuclear energy. It also foresees expanded use of renewables and hydro power but anticipates increased reliance on fossil fuels and electricity imports as an interim measure.

  117. .

    Three Mile Island faces premature retirement

    The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania will be permanently shut down around the end of September 2019 if there are no policy reforms, US utility Exelon announced today. The company had warned last week the plant was at risk of early retirement.

    Exelon announced on 24 May that its Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant and its Quad Cities plant in Illinois had failed to clear the latest PJM regional capacity auction. The TMI plant has not cleared the past three PJM auctions and has not been profitable in five years, it noted. While the continued operation of Quad Cities is ensured by newly-introduced legislation in Illinois, the TMI plant is “at risk of early retirement”, Exelon said.

    The utility announced today that it had decided to retire the plant, “absent needed policy reforms” in Pennsylvania.’

    Exelon said it is taking the first steps to shut down the plant, including informing key stakeholders. This, it said, includes sending regional transmission organisation PJM a deactivation notice and making permanent shutdown notifications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) within 30 days. It will also immediately take one-time charges of $65-$110 million for 2017 and accelerate some $1.0-$1.1 billion in depreciation and amortisation between now and the announced shutdown date. Exelon is also terminating capital investment programs required for the long-term operation of TMI and cancelling 2019 fuel purchases and outage planning.

  118. .

    Nuclear fugitives return
    The struggle to repopulate Fukushima

    Six years after the nuclear disaster, Japan is pushing villagers back to the homes they left

    The only part of the village that looks busy, however, is the home for the elderly. Locals say a few hundred people, at most, have returned, predominantly the retired. Mr Kanno will not reveal how many “because it gives the impression that we are forcing people to live here, which we don’t intend to do.” Yet many evacuees now face a stark choice: return to Iitate, or lose part of the compensation that has helped sustain them elsewhere.

    Last month this dilemma was expressed with unusual clarity by Masahiro Imamura, the minister in charge of reconstruction from the disaster. Pressed by a reporter, Mr Imamura said it was the evacuees’ “own responsibility, their own choice” whether or not to return. The comment touched a nerve. “It’s economic blackmail,” says Nobuyoshi Ito, a local farmer. Mr Imamura has since resigned.

    Nobody wants Fukushima mentioned in the same breath as Chernobyl. Almost three decades after the world’s worst nuclear accident, life there is still frozen in time, a snapshot of the mid-1980s Soviet Union, complete with posters of Lenin on school walls. By contrast, about ¥200m ($1.8m) per household has been spent decontaminating Iitate, helping to reduce radiation in many areas to well under 20 millisievert per year (the typical limit for nuclear-industry workers). But the clean-up extends to only 20 metres around each house, and most of the village is forested mountains. In windy weather, radioactive caesium is blown back onto the fields and homes.

  119. .

    South Korea to scrap all plans to build new nuclear reactors

    SEOUL: South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-In vowed on Monday to scrap all plans to build new nuclear reactors as he seeks to steer Asia’s fourth-largest economy clear of atomic power.

    Moon, who swept to power with a landslide election win last month, campaigned on promises to phase out atomic energy and embrace what he says are safer and more environmentally friendly power sources including solar and wind power.

    The Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan sparked by a powerful earthquake in March 2011 sparked widespread public concern in neighbouring South Korea over its own aged atomic plants.

    “We will dump our atomic-centric power supply and open the door to the post-nuclear era,” Moon said in a speech marking the decommissioning of the country’s first nuclear reactor, the Kori-1.

  120. .

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said he will respect the decision of a Citizens’ Jury that construction of units 5 and 6 of the Shin Kori nuclear power plant should continue. In a statement yesterday, he said construction of the project will resume soon, but that no more new plants will be built.

    President Moon made an election pledge to phase out South Korea’s use of nuclear energy. Following his election, he said plans for new power reactors will be cancelled and the operating periods of existing units will not be extended beyond their design life. Moon said he would reach a “social consensus” as soon as possible on whether the construction of Shin Kori 5 and 6 will proceed. In July, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) decided to suspend construction work on the two APR1400 units while a government-appointed committee debated the country’s nuclear energy policy.

    Following months of debate, the Citizens’ Jury announced on 20 October that it recommended construction of the two units should be resumed. The panel – comprising 471 randomly-selected citizens – voted 59.5% in favour of construction proceeding.

    In a statement released by the presidential office, the Cheong Wa Dae, Moon said the government will “quickly resume” the construction of the Shin Kori 5 and 6 “in accordance with the outcome of the debate”.

  121. .

    Mr Ahn’s faith paid off on October 20th, after the jury endorsed the construction of the two reactors, Shin Kori 5 and 6. “It was a very smart decision,” he says. Mr Moon, who has promised to phase out nuclear power, accepted the verdict. It is an unexpected reprieve for a project that Mr Moon had pledged to scrap before he was elected in May. In June, however, he said he wanted to “generate a social consensus” by delegating the final decision to a 471-strong jury picked by a polling company. Its members were given a month to study materials prepared by scientists and activists before debating the project for three days. In the final vote, 60% backed the new reactors, although more than half of them said South Korea should reduce its overall reliance on nuclear energy. Only 10% said the nuclear industry should grow.

    Nuclear energy is a divisive issue in South Korea, with voters largely split along party lines. A poll by Gallup Korea in September found that 41% of Koreans favoured scrapping Shin Kori 5 and 6, while 40% backed their construction. Anti-nuclear campaigners have voiced louder concerns since the Fukushima disaster in neighbouring Japan in 2011 and a 5.8 magnitude earthquake last year in the southern city of Gyeongju, close to some of South Korea’s 24 reactors. A corruption scandal in the industry and the revelation in 2012 that some safety certificates for reactor parts were forged amplified their doubts.

    Mr Moon’s U-turn will frustrate his supporters in cities close to the site. But Hahn Kyu-sup of Seoul National University reckons the jury gave Mr Moon an “excuse” to ditch a thorny pledge that could have triggered lawsuits, while enabling him to stick to his overall plan to phase out nuclear energy. The government has already dropped plans to build six more reactors. Mr Ahn’s celebrations could be premature.

  122. .

    Investment in new nuclear declines to five-year low

    Global energy investment fell for the third consecutive year in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Investment in nuclear power declined by nearly 45% last year to USD17 billion. Although spending on new reactors reached the lowest level in five years, investment on upgrades of existing units increased.

  123. .

    Cameco, a Canadian rival, then said it would mothball the world’s largest uranium mine, in Saskatchewan, reducing global supply by 11%. It is buying on the spot market to fulfil existing contracts. Paladin Energy, an Australian firm, has gone bust. Meanwhile, consumption is creeping up: this year, global nuclear generation finally recovered to pre-Fukushima levels. Supply and demand are once more near to balance.

    But the long-term trend seems clear. Global demand is expected to rise by 44% by 2035. China has 19 nuclear reactors under construction and 41 more planned. India is building six and considering another 15. Saudi Arabia is seeking to award its first two projects; Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have announced programmes. All this will require new mines. If they are to be viable, the spot price will eventually have to rise to $50-60, reckons Andre Liebenberg, Yellow Cake’s boss.

  124. .

    Japan nuclear shutdown did ‘more harm than good’, study finds

    Increased electricity prices and greater use of fossil fuels have led to more deaths following the Fukushima accident in March 2011 than the subsequent evacuation from the area surrounding the nuclear power plant, a new study shows. No deaths have been recorded as a direct result of the accident itself, but the decision to suspend nuclear power generation in response to it has contributed to loss of life, it says.

  125. .

    Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Japanese government launched decontamination work in the surrounding area. With most of this work now completed, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) has today published an assessment of the effectiveness of the strategies used, with a focus on radiocaesium.

    The study focuses mainly on the fate of radioactive caesium in the environment because this isotope was emitted in large quantities during the accident, contaminating an area covering more than 9000 square kilometres. Its findings indicate that removing the surface layer of the soil to a thickness of 5cm – the main method used by the Japanese authorities to clean up cultivated land – has reduced caesium concentrations by around 80% in treated areas. The removal of this soil has cost the government some EUR24 billion (USD27 billion) and has generated a significant volume of waste. By early 2019, about 20 million cubic metres of waste had been generated.

  126. .

    Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants, Despite the Climate Risks

    It is one unintended consequence of the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost a decade ago, which forced Japan to all but close its nuclear power program. Japan now plans to build as many as 22 new coal-burning power plants — one of the dirtiest sources of electricity — at 17 different sites in the next five years, just at a time when the world needs to slash carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

    “Why coal, why now?” said Ms. Kanno, a homemaker in Yokosuka, the site for two of the coal-burning units that will be built just several hundred feet from her home. “It’s the worst possible thing they could build.”

    Together the 22 power plants would emit almost as much carbon dioxide annually as all the passenger cars sold each year in the United States. The construction stands in contrast with Japan’s effort to portray this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as one of the greenest ever.

    The Yokosuka project has prompted unusual pushback in Japan, where environmental groups more typically focus their objections on nuclear power. But some local residents are suing the government over its approval of the new coal-burning plant in what supporters hope will jump-start opposition to coal in Japan.

  127. .

    After 2011 Disaster, Fukushima Embraced Solar Power. The Rest Of Japan Has Not

    The Endos were part of a wave of enthusiasm for renewable energy that followed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, in which a massive earthquake and tsunami damaged the Daiichi plant. Nuclear power, which once produced nearly a third of Japan’s energy, ground to a halt when all 54 of the country’s nuclear reactors were taken offline as new safety regulations were imposed. The Japanese government offered huge incentives for renewable energy production, looking to fill the gap.

    But in the years since, those incentives have dwindled and the commitment to energy transformation has slowed. With most of the country’s nuclear reactors still unproductive, Japan has instead pivoted to a different kind of transformation — increasing its dependence on fossil fuels.

  128. Milan Post author

    There, media coverage of weather events makes the link to climate change. Yet Japan’s own hefty carbon emissions rarely come up, says Watanabe Eri of, a green pressure group. Coal’s share in power generation has risen in the past decade, especially after Japan shut its nuclear plants. Targets adopted under the outgoing prime minister, Abe Shinzo, are feeble: coal will still be more than a quarter of the mix by 2030. Japan also promotes coal plants abroad.

  129. Pingback: Nuclear energy policy

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