After Fukushima Meltdown shuts down Nuclear Power Industry Japan turns to Solar Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 10th, 2013

Week in Review

Japan shows how easy it is to go green after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meltdown.  Nuclear power is unsafe.  Coal-fired power plants are too dirty.  So what to do?  Why, go solar, of course (see Kyocera launches 70-megawatt solar plant, largest in Japan by Tim Hornyak posted 11/8/2013 on CNET).

Smartphone maker Kyocera recently launched the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, a 70-megawatt facility that can generate enough electricity to power about 22,000 homes.

The move comes as Japan struggles with energy sources as nuclear power plants were shut down after meltdowns hit Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima plant in 2011.

Set on Kagoshima Bay, the sprawling Nanatsujima plant commands sweeping views of Sakurajima, an active stratovolcano that soars to 3,665 feet.

It has 290,000 solar panels and takes up about 314 acres, roughly three times the total area of Vatican City.

Wow, 70 megawatts.  Sounds big, doesn’t it?  With 290,000 solar panels on 314 acres.  An installed capacity of 0.22 megawatts per acre.  It must have cost a fortune to build.  And they built it on a bay.  At sea level.  In the shadow of an active volcano.  It would be a shame if that volcano erupts and covers those solar panels in a layer of ash.  Or if another typhoon hits Japan.  An earthquake.  Or a storm surge.  For if any of these things happen those 22,000 homes will lose their electric power.

So how does this compare to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant?  Well, that plant sits on 860 acres.  And has an installed capacity of 4700 megawatts.  Or the installed capacity of 67 Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plants.  And an installed capacity of 5.47 megawatts per acre.  Which is perhaps why they built this on the bay.  Because it is such an inefficient use of real estate in a nation that has one of the highest population densities that they put it on the water.  To save the land for something that has value. 

We used the term ‘installed capacity’ for a reason.  That reason being the capacity factor.  Which is the actual amount of power produced over a given amount of time divided by the maximum amount of power that could have been produced (i.e., the installed capacity).  Nuclear plants can produce power day or night.  Covered in volcanic ash or not.  On a sunny day or when it’s pouring rain.  Which is why a nuclear power plant has a much higher capacity factor (about 90%) than a solar plant (about 15%).  So the actual power people consume from the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant will be far less than its 70 megawatts of installed capacity.

So in other words, solar power is not a replacement for nuclear power.  Or any other baseload power such as coal-fired power plants.  Power demand will far exceed power supply.  Leading to higher costs as they try to ration electric power.  And a lot of power outages.  Some longer than others.  Especially when powerful typhoons and/or storm surges blow in.  As they often do in the Pacific Ocean.

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Anti-Nuclear Crowd yearns for Chernobyl in Japan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 13th, 2011

Enough of Exploiting Japan’s Disaster for Political Gain

First it was an environmentalist saying global warming caused the 8.9 magnitude earthquake.  A sure grasping of straws in their quest to move man back into the cave.  Then it was anti-nuclear power Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, who said we should learn from Japan’s near Chernobyl-like disaster.  And move back into the cave.  And now it’s Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chiming in (see “Put the brakes” on nuclear power plants: Lieberman by Will Dunham posted 3/13/2011 on Reuters).

“I don’t want to stop the building of nuclear power plants,” independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

“But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman added.

Put the brakes on?  What, he wants to slow down from the breakneck speed we’re building new nuclear power plants and bringing them on line?  That’s going to be pretty hard to do considering the speed we’re going at.  I mean, when was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?

It’s not about what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant, it’s about what hasn’t Happened

We’re missing the big picture here.  The nuke plants didn’t kill or wipe out cities yet.  Like the earthquake-tsunami one-two punch has.  Let’s not lose sight of that little fact (see Nuclear Overreactions posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Part of the problem is the lack of media proportion about the disaster itself. The quake and tsunami have killed hundreds, and probably thousands, with tens of billions of dollars in damage. The energy released by the quake off Sendei is equivalent to about 336 megatons of TNT, or 100 more megatons than last year’s quake in Chile and thousands of times the yield of the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima. The scale of the tragedy is epic.

Yet the bulk of U.S. media coverage has focused on a nuclear accident whose damage has so far been limited and contained to the plant sites. In simple human terms, the natural destruction of Earth and sea have far surpassed any errors committed by man.

So in the grand scheme of things, the Japanese nuclear plants are minor players in this great tragedy.  Even that embellishes their role.  Much of Japan lies in waste.  Because of the earthquake and the tsunami.  The nukes so far have been innocent bystanders in the death and destruction.  But it’s all we focus on.  Even though they haven’t really done anything yet.  But under the right set of circumstances that don’t currently exist…they could.   So we use the big ‘what if’ to further shut down the already shutdown American nuclear power industry.  Why?  Simple.  Because congress can’t place a moratorium on earthquakes or tsunamis.

So back to that question.  When was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?

But more than other energy sources, nuclear plants have had their costs increased by artificial political obstacles and delay. The U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear plant since 1979, after the Three Mile Island meltdown, even as older nuclear plants continue to provide 20% of the nation’s electricity.

So Senator Joe Lieberman wants to tap the breaks on a car that’s been parked and in the garage since 1979.  How does he do it?  Where does the genius come from?

No coal.  No oil.  And now no nukes.  Translation?  No power.  I guess we should practice our hunting and gathering skills.  Because we’re going to need them when we move back into the cave.  Of course, we’ll have to eat our food cold.  You know.  Carbon footprint.  From those foul, nasty, polluting campfires.

In America, Coal, Oil and Nuclear Power all Wear Black Hats

Some in Congress just love the planet so much.  They want to get rid of coal and oil and replace them with clean energy.  Which means nuclear power.  Because windmills and solar panels just won’t produce enough power.  Especially when they want us all driving tiny little electric cars that are going to suck more juice off our strained electrical grid.  And just how strained is our electric grid?  Remember the Northeast Blackout of 2003

High summer currents caused power lines to sag into untrimmed trees.  As lines failed some power plants dropped off the grid.  This strained other power plants.  And other power lines.  More lines failed.  More plants dropped off the grid.  This cascade of failures didn’t end until most of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario lost power.  It was huge.  And if you experienced that hot, stifling, August blackout, you know that windmills wouldn’t have helped.  There was no breeze blowing.  And solar panels wouldn’t have helped you sleep at night.  Because there’s no sun at night.  No.  What would have helped was some big-capacity power generation.  Like a coal plant.  An oil plant.  Or a nuke plant.

Energy demands increase with population.  And with electric cars.  We need more generation capacity.  And the only viable green solution is nuclear power.  And now we’re dilly dallying about the dangers of clean nuclear power because of what didn’t happen in Japan (see Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl by William Tucker posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has warned of “another Chernobyl” and predicted “the same thing could happen here.” In response, he has called for an immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Westinghouse AP1000, a “Generation III” reactor that has been laboring through design review at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for seven years.

Talk about the irony of ironies.  The Soviet-era nuclear reactor at Chernobyl was the most dangerous ever used.  That reactor went ‘Chernobyl’ because of its design.  A graphite core that caught fire.  And no containment vessel that let plumes from that fire spread radioactive fallout throughout western Russia and Europe.  If the Soviets had used the type of reactor that’s getting all the media attention in Japan, there would have been no Chernobyl disaster.  And now the irony.  Rep. Markey wants to suspend licensing of the world’s safest nuclear reactor (the Generation III) by citing the world’s most dangerous reactor that Japan doesn’t even use. 

But facts don’t matter when you’re just against nuclear power.  No matter how safe the Generation III design is.  Or the fact that it doesn’t even need cooling pumps. 

On all Generation II reactors—the ones currently in operation—the cooling water is circulated by electric pumps. The new Generation III reactors such as the AP1000 have a simplified “passive” cooling system where the water circulates by natural convection with no pumping required.

Despite this failsafe cooling system, there are calls to stop the licensing.  To put the brakes on.  To move back into caves.  All because of what didn’t happen at Fukushima.  What didn’t happen at Three Mile Island.  But what did happen in a Hollywood movieThe China Syndrome.  (But that’s a whole other story.)

If a meltdown does occur in Japan, it will be a disaster for the Tokyo Electric Power Company but not for the general public. Whatever steam releases occur will have a negligible impact. Researchers have spent 30 years trying to find health effects from the steam releases at Three Mile Island and have come up with nothing. 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.

What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw.

Looking at Japan with Awe and Reverence

Japan has been nuclear since 1966.  They now have some 53 nuclear reactors providing up to a third of their electricity.  Yes, Japan lies on the Ring of Fire.  Yes, Japan gets hit by a lot of tsunamis.  And, yes, they now have a problem at a couple of their reactors.  But the other 50 or so reactors are doing just fine.  Let’s stop attacking their nuclear program.  So far they’ve done a helluva job.  And the Japanese know a thing or two about nuclear disasters.  They lived through two.  Hiroshima.  And Nagasaki.  Which make Chernobyl look like a walk in a park.  If anyone knows the stakes of the nuclear game, they do.  And it shows.

We should be looking at Japan with awe and reverence.  If they can safely operate nuke plants on fault lines and in tsunami alley, then, by God, we should be able to do it where things aren’t quite as demanding.  And should.  It is time we put on our big-boy pants and start acting like men.  Before we give up on all energy and move back into the cave.  And down a notch or two on the food chain.

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Japan’s Nuke Plants/Coastal Communities withstood the Earthquake but not the Tsunami

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 12th, 2011

The Awesome Power of Water

Japan’s most powerful earthquake caused a lot of damage.  But the tsunami’s damage may be even greater.

In 1923 the 8.3 magnitude Kanto quake killed 140,000 people.  In 1995 the 7.2 magnitude Kobe quake killed 6,400 people.  The 8.9 magnitude that just hit may have even killed fewer people.  The official count just recently exceeded 1,000.  But we’ll never know.  Japan’s buildings may have withstood this quake.  But the tsunami that followed made coastal communities just disappear. 

In Minamisanriku some 10,000 are missing.  That’s more than half of its population.  And that’s just one coastal community.  Others no doubt suffered the same fate.  The water just came in so fast (see The town that drowned: Fresh pictures from the port where 10,000 people are missing after it was swept away by the megaquake by Jo MacFarlane posted 3/12/2011 on the UK’s Daily Mail).

It only took a few minutes for the 30ft wave to wash the town away with terrifying force. The locals desperately tried to escape to higher ground. But most did not stand a chance.

During an earthquake you can stand in a doorway.  If the building survives you’ll probably be okay.  But there’s not much you can do when a 30 foot wave races toward you.  Other than run away.  To high ground.  Because a 30 foot wave is about as tall as a 3 story building. That’s a lot of water.  And nothing will stop it.

Never let a Good Crisis go to Waste

First it was an environmentalist looking to exploit the Japanese earthquake in the name of global warming.  Now an American congressman wants to exploit the earthquake to hinder the growth of nuclear power (see Japan quake disaster shows U.S. at risk of Chernobyl-type event by Alexander Bolton posted 3/12/2011 on The Hill).

Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, warned Saturday that the U.S. is vulnerable to the type of nuclear accident that has sent waves of fear through northeast Japan…

Markey said he hoped the Japanese would act swiftly to bring the situation under control and avoid a Chernobyl-style disaster.

I’m glad he made this statement.  Because I don’t know if the Japanese knew the full extent of what they were facing.  I mean, they’re only up to their elbows in it.  How could they see things as clearly as a politician in Washington?  I’m sure the Japanese ambassador will bestow him with gifts, grateful for this erudite observation.

Chernobyl-style disaster?  I doubt it.  He’s comparing apples to oranges.  Different reactor design (the Chernobyl reactor was a unique Soviet-era design considered to be the most dangerous reactor type in the world).  Different technology.  Different safety precautions.  And, due to its physical size, no containment vessel.  Nothing at all like the Japanese reactors.  Or the American ones.

Japan’s reactors did okay during the earthquake.  Their problems didn’t really start until coastal areas disappeared in the wake of the tsunami.  Yeah, it’s possible that the US Pacific coast could suffer a similar seismic event.  It does sit on the Ring of Fire.  But earthquake-tsunami one-two punches are more probable in Japan than they are on the US Pacific coast.  What happen in Japan could happen in the US.  Just as a meteorite could crash into a nuclear reactor.  Anything is possible.  But the odds favor certain events in certain places. 

Here’s a newsflash.  Life is dangerous.  Driving in a small, fuel-efficient car is dangerous.  Your odds are greater dying in one of those cars than in a nuclear accident.  But we’re not going to stop building small cars, are we?  And neither should we use what’s happening in Japan to further hinder an already hindered industry.

Is it Chernobyl bad or Three Mile Island Bad?

So what is the danger with those nuclear reactors in Japan?  A lot of people are opining.  And they’re not saying the same thing.  So who do we believe?  Depends on which experts you trust more (see Health risk from Japan reactor seems quite low: WHO posted 3/12/2011 on CNBC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Saturday that the public health risk from Japan’s radiation leak appeared to be “quite low” but the WHO network of medical experts was ready to assist if requested.

So CNBC has a source that says it may not be that bad.  While The New York Times has a source that says things are bad and can get worse (see Danger Posed by Radioactivity in Japan Hard to Assess by William Broad posted 3/12/2011 on The New York Times).

“The situation is pretty bad,” said Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist who advised the Clinton White House and now teaches international affairs at Princeton. “But it could get a lot worse.”

Even Japanese officials appear to be contradicting each other (see Japanese Government Confirms Meltdown posted 3/12/2011 on Stratfor).

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.”

How about hearing from a guy that isn’t there but went through his own nuclear reactor crisis.  In Pennsylvania (see Three Mile Island Meltdown: Richard Thornburgh’s Advice for Japan by Eleanor Clift posted 3/12/2011 on The Daily Beast).

Richard Thornburgh is watching the developments in Japan with a keen sense of déjà vu. He had been in office as Pennsylvania governor only 72 days when he was confronted with a potentially catastrophic event at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor near Harrisburg. It was resolved without cost to human life, or the environment, which by no means is certain in Japan.

Though what occurred in Japan is the result of a natural disaster, the Republican says, the challenge officials face is identical: “To get a grip on what the facts are.”  That’s difficult when you’re dealing with complicated technology and an abundance of experts, often with their own agendas…

Thornburgh’s advice to his counterparts in Japan is to “just keep plowing ahead on getting a grip on the facts. Make sure the right experts are in place. The quality of the facts is going to determine the quality of the outcome…”

Watching the television coverage of Japan disaster and the ominous news of an explosion at one of its nuclear power plants, he cautions that “there’s nothing inherently unsafe about an explosion—it depends what exploded.” The Japanese have paid careful attention to safety and standards, unlike the Russians, who confronted a similar catastrophe with their reactor at Chernobyl in 1986. When he visited Chernobyl years earlier, Thornburgh recalls, it didn’t even have a containment facility.

So what exactly did explode (see Nuclear power industry watches warily as Japan’s aging reactor is hit hard by Joel Achenbach posted 3/12/2011 on The Washington Post)?

The explosion was not nuclear. Industry officials said it was created by the release of hydrogen gas that mixed with oxygen and exploded.

The building around the reactor vessel is partially destroyed, but Japanese officials say the primary vessel and the reactor core within are intact.

“If the reactor vessel is breached . . . then this radioactive stuff starts coming out in copious amounts,” said Robert Alvarez, a former senior adviser to the Department of Energy who studies nuclear power at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

Well, perhaps we know this much.  A non-nuclear explosion occurred.  There is no real radioactive fallout.  And we can compare and contrast what we know now about what we knew then. 

As at Fukushima, the Three Mile Island accident was triggered by a disruption of water flow to the reactor. Several instruments failed and operators did not realize that pressure was building inside the reactor. A heavy secondary containment shield ultimately prevented all but a tiny amount of radiation from escaping into the environment.

The Chernobyl disaster, in contrast, was caused by a crude reactor design and at least six fatally flawed decisions by operators during a risky test. A huge power spike and the bad decisions drove the reactor out of control. An explosion then blew the reactor apart and spewed radioactive debris for a week.

Unlike U.S. and Japanese nuclear plants, Chernobyl lacked the heavy shielding that eventually halted the Three Mile Island disaster – and that all of Japan desperately hopes will prevent Fukushima Daiichi’s unit one from melting down.

Yes, there’s uncertainty.  But it appears that what’s happening in Japan is less Chernobyl.  And more Three Mile Island.  If it turns out this way this won’t be so bad after all.  And it will say a lot about Japan’s nuclear power industry.  For Three Mile Island didn’t get hit with an earthquake AND a tsunami.

Right now all eyes are on the nukes.  People are holding their breath.  Once they secure the power plants, though, it will be anticlimactic.  For the real work will then only begin.  The cleanup.  The rebuilding.  And the wakes. 

God give the Japanese strength.

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