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By Robert Rapier on May 10, 2012 with 21 responses

Nuclear Power in Japan, Methane Hydrates, and Gasoline Prices — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 21

In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I cover:

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Link to Original Article: Nuclear Power in Japan, Methane Hydrates, and Gasoline Prices — R-Squared Energy TV Ep. 21

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Tom G. on May 10, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Is Japan crazy for eliminating nuclear power – I don’t think so.  Could the U.S. do the same thing?  The answer might be in the following paragraph.

     

    “In 2008, Rocky Mountain Institute [RMI] performed energy analysis and worked with the team that made recommendations for the retrofit [of the Empire State Building], which cut energy costs by 38 percent. With savings of $4.4 million in annual energy costs, the project paid for itself in just over three years. The project serves as an inspiring example of energy efficiency for hundreds of other existing commercial buildings.”.

    http://blog.rmi.org/blog_empire_state_building_lights_honor_RMI

    So someone tell me – just how crazy is Japan’s desire to eliminate nuclear power? If Japan can tolerate a 30% reduction in nuclear power production and the technology exists to make buildings 38% more efficient; why can’t they do without nuclear power?  In the near term, the biggest drawback I see is TIME.   It takes time to implement every new strategy they will need to meet consumer demand.  

    The Fukushima event removed a big chunk of Japan’s power production capabilities in one single day. Not only did it remove the power, but the event also eliminated hundreds of megawatts of demand since entire communities were destroyed by a horrific natural event. But life goes on in Japan. Cars are being built, factories are operating and people are going to work everyday. So what is different?   The Japanese people are currently working their way through the “setsuden” campaign.   After Fukushima many neon lights were switched off, trains started running slower and billboards flash energy savings as Japan looks to alternative sources of energy beyond nuclear power. At the moment Japan is using conservation and alternative fossil fuel energy sources to make up some of the power production, but their ability to CONSERVE is what amazes me and I intend to follow this story through the summer.

    As an American, do you think we could find ways to save 15-30% of the energy we use starting tomorrow morning? 

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  2. By Robert Rapier on May 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    As an American, do you think we could find ways to save 15-30% of the energy we use starting tomorrow morning?

     

    That’s why this Japanese experiment is so interesting. If they start to suffer blackouts in the summer and demand a return to nuclear power (when they could — according to the claim from many — build out renewable energy to fill the gap) then I think that shows the difficulty in transitioning. If on the other hand they pull it off, then we have an actual example that it can be done.

    RR

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    • By Tom G. on May 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      I believe that is where the element of TIME comes into play.  While conservation can be instantaneous [turn something off, drive less, etc.] and can achieve specific goals, it takes time to build renewable energy systems or improve the energy efficiency of buildings.  In my example, it took from 2008 to 2011 to achieve the 38% reduction in the energy consumption of the Empire State Building.  

      I hope they are successful but as you stated, I don’t think we have heard the end of the story yet.  Really interesting to me as a retired nuke guy.  I once worked for the company that built the Reactor Coolant Pumps for Fukushima.   

       

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    • By Moiety on May 11, 2012 at 7:27 am

      I believe much of the answer is already there. According to the link below, Japan has dramatically increased its fossil fuel imports and use.

      Much of the capacity that has been lost or suspended has been replaced by power plants burning fossil fuels. Japan is now boosting purchases of gas and oil to make up for the loss of nuclear energy. But aside from the environmental impact, fuel imports are expensive. In 2011, Japan spent over $57 billion on liquified natural gas imports, a third more than the previous year…

      In a report released this week, the government’s national policy unit projected a 5 percent power shortage for Tokyo, while power companies predict a 16 percent power shortfall in western Japan, which includes the major industrial city of Osaka.

      It would be nice to get another source for these numbers other than just a press release but I am ‘hearing’ the same thing from some of my former collegues in the energy world. The renewable machine needs more time than a few months or even a few yeears to get going.

      So like Germany, Japan is relying more and more on fossil fuels and having an unstable grid. Discounting the first 3 months of 2011, Germany wnet from an electricity exporter (net) to an importer.  

      http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2012/05/10/nuclear-power-in-japan-methane-hydrates-and-gasoline-prices-r-squared-energy-tv-ep-21/

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  3. By Benny BND Cole on May 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    An observation:

    Many liberals will say that even a small chance of nuclear accident too much to risk; so we must do without nuclear, even if it means lower living standards.

    Many conservatives say the threat of any sort of terrorist attack, and a minute chance that a terrorist attack will be nuclear, is too much to risk, so we must spend like crazy, and endure lower living standards. 

    But both sides will accuse the other of overspending and an irrational fear of radioactivity. 

     

     

     

     

     

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    • By Tom G. on May 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      Very good points which show just how divided our society and political system is. 

      About energy – we have lots of POTENTIAL energy sources.  We once had large reserves of cheap oil then we had to start buying the stuff.  Now as time passes we seem to be left with the more expensive stuff like heating up rock and mining tar sands. 

      The same goes for wind, solar, hydro, wave, bio-fuels, natural gas, nuclear and geothermal.  There is no SHORTAGE of  any of these energy sources in America.  What we have is an unwillingness or inability to PAY for the energy those sources can produce.

      I can build you a solar system that would make you completely energy independent and you can have every energy consuming device your heart desires.  However, you might not want to spend that much of your disposable income on that type of energy system.  However, some people HAVE spent that much while still others would NOT or CAN not.  I can also erect a couple of hundred wind turbines with pumped storage in some location and make a small city energy independent if the residents want to pay for it?  I can drill some holes in the earth and create enough electrical energy to make Las Vegas energy independent and on and on.  There is a lot of potential energy available – but not a lot of cheap energy.  

      I like the concept of renewable energy systems since in the end I see it as the ultimate energy source.  But, I am also a realist and believe that the transition to an electric society will continue long after I am gone.  Just the legacy effect of replacing our Internal Combustion Engines [ICE] will take at least 30-40 years and we will still need gas and oil for our classic cars and many of the products we make from oil.  

      What troubles me more than anything is our complete lack of vision and leadership in America.  We are  like a ship without a rudder.  As T. Boon Pickens so correctly stated – “we don’t have an energy plan”.  We throw some money here and there by one administration and then the next does something entirely different.  In my not so humble opinion; America is no longer acting like the sharpest cheddar in the deli case and that is truly sad.

       

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  4. By Russ Finley on May 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Typically, Japan, a first world industrial nation, has always used almost half the energy of the United States per capita. They are already twice as energy efficient as us. The nuclear shutdown is causing hardship. It most certainly has increased fossil fuel consumption and imports. Nobody needs nuclear. It can be replaced with imported coal, oil, and natural gas and all of their associated negative ramifications.

    Renewables can’t do the job alone.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_consumption_per_capita

     

     

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  5. By Russ Finley on May 12, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Tom G,

    Is Japan crazy for eliminating nuclear power – I don’t think so. 

    Crazy is a relative term. Foolish is the word I’d pick. Their hardship is being caused by an irrational fear. They could go on a conservation jag and reduce the need for fossil fuel.imports without shutting down nuclear.

    Conservation is driven by a desire to spend less on energy. Americans would use less electricity and oil if you double their costs. We all seek lower costs, for everything. That is what makes a free market tick. We all want the cheapest energy we can get so we can spend more on things like children’s education and on and on.

     


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  6. By Dave Runyon on May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    And of course, energy costs affect how competitive our goods and services are.  This affects employment.  In my business, power costs to run computer servers is a large chunk of expense.  This is even with the most power efficient data centers and servers.  Increasing electricity costs is a much bigger deal than whether someone watches television…

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  7. By Tom G. on May 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Russ:

    Crazy = impractical, unsound, i.e. as in scheme of things.  Foolish = lack of sense, ill-considered, i.e. as in a foolish action.  Not a big difference to me but if you prefer foolish that’s fine with me, LOL. 

    What I think is more interesting is how Japan has responded.  The Japanese people did not just wake up one day and decide to start conserving.   They woke up one morning and found themselves without 4200 MW of power and radioactive particles raining down on their towns or at least the towns that remained after the tsunami.  I am also quite sure that the Japanese people don’t appreciate leaving their homes in the exclusion zone around the plants but they have.   

    The bigger problem for the power plants as I see it, are the hundreds of tons of spend fuel in the fuel pools.  Let’s both hope those cooling systems continue to operate.

     

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    • By Russ Finley on May 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      TOM G said:

      They woke up one morning and found themselves without 4200 MW of power and radioactive particles raining down on their towns or at least the towns that remained after the tsunami.

      Your perspective may have been skewed by our sensationalist driven media. I’d phrase it differently. The exclusion zone was just around one power plant, not along the entire coast hit by the tsunami. You can drive around the exclusion zone in a matter of minutes, literally. To put the size of that zone into perspective, it would take you one hour and fifteen minutes to drive an arc length with a 12 mile radius at highway speeds (60 miles an hour = a mile a minute).

       

      The number of people “temporarily” displaced is equivalent to the populations of two big ten universities. The vast majority will be able to safely return home with compensation, which is happening as I write.

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      The cost of cleaning up the damaged nuclear reactors is estimated to be roughly five percent of the total cost of the quake.

      The bigger problem for the power plants as I see it, are the hundreds of tons of spend fuel in the fuel pools.  Let’s both hope those cooling systems continue to operate.

      You would hope that they have back up pumps and generators standing ready high on hills, and as it turns out, that is exactly what they have done, at the cost of a few tens of thousands of dollars in rental fees …LOL

      Blame the storage of spent fuel rods on site at nuclear power plants on the anti-nuclear activists who have foiled all attempts to provide better storage facilities.

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  8. By Raindog on May 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Germany is doing the same thing over the next ten years:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13592208

    This despite the fact that they still burn coal for about a quarter of their electricity.  I’d phase out coal before I phased out nuclear

     

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    • By Russ Finley on May 13, 2012 at 11:47 am

      RAINDOG said:

      I’d phase out coal before I phased out nuclear.

      An epiphany …renewables are being used as an excuse by anti-nuclear activists. If renewable energy really is the goal, and global warming really is the overarching concern …you would first replace coal and gas with renewable energy.

       

       

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  9. By Raindog on May 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    But the beauty of the Conoco-Phillips – DOE result from an environmental perspective was that they were producing the methane hydrates by injecting CO2 – the hope is that it could be carbon neutral.

    http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/FutureSupply/MethaneHydrates/projects/DOEProjects/MH_06553HydrateProdTrial.html

    Environmentalists will still have a problem with it because it is not wind or solar but this really could be very good news for the environment

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  10. By OD on May 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    … the hope is that it could be carbon neutral.

    That is great if they are able to achieve that. Honestly though, I worry about mistakes/accidents and releasing a massive amount of methane. What happens then?  

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    • By Raindog on May 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      Well that would be the worry – the hydrates need high pressure and low temperature.  If the pressure gets too low or the temperature too high they melt and release the methane.   It would depend how much methane got released.  A little is not a problem, a lot is a problem

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  11. By Tom G. on May 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    This small snip about Methane from Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane

    “Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere is an important greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 25 over a 100-year period. This means that a methane emission will have 25 times the impact on temperature of a carbon dioxide emission of the same mass over the following 100 years. Methane has a large effect for a brief period (a net lifetime of 8.4 years in the atmosphere), whereas carbon dioxide has a small effect for a long period (over 100 years). Because of this difference in effect and time period, the global warming potential of methane over a 20 year time period is 72. The Earth’s methane concentration has increased by about 150% since 1750 …”.

    Any chemistry majors around to explain if this is a problem or not.

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    • By Raindog on May 12, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      A massive release of methane would definitely be a problem.   This is still in its infancy and the people working on it understand the risks.  The stability of the hydrates has always been the problem.

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  12. By notKit P on May 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Let me clear up a couple of things.

     

    Japan has not abandoned nuclear power. Not yet! It may be too costly to retrofit nuke plants based on what they learned from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake.

     

    Electricity is a cheap commodity when made with coal, cheap NG, or nuclear.

     

    “Typically, Japan, a first world industrial nation, has always used almost half the energy of the United States per capita. They are already twice as energy efficient as us. ”

     

    I am not sure how Russ got an engineering degree from Purdue. I have no reason the think that power plants and industrial facilities in Japan are any more or less efficient than the US.

     

    Efficiency is not measured by ‘per capita’. Efficiency is very important to industrial countries competing with other industrial countries. When you use a lot of power, small differences in a cheap commodity makes a big difference.

     

    “Americans would use less electricity and oil if you double their costs. ”

     

    Not actually, the industrial jobs go to other countries when we lose that economic advantage. And what do the new industrial workers want after a hard day in the factory. That right an all electric-house.

     

    Got some more bad news for you Russ. If they cut my electric bill in half, that $50/month is not going to go very far to pay $20k/yr tuition and housing. You may want to consider that the next time you spend $40k on an around town beater.

     

    “The bigger problem for the power plants as I see it, are the hundreds of tons of spend fuel in the fuel pools.  Let’s both hope those cooling systems continue to operate. ”

     

    Really Tom! Where does your drinking water come from? It takes the same things to pump drinking water and to cool a spent fuel pool, that is pumps, motors, and electricity. Just this week I was looking at curves for heat loads in the spent fuel pool with five years of spent fuel when the most recent core is off loaded. The heat load goes away very fast.

     

    You have a least a month to restore the pumps. How long can you go go without drinking water?

     

    What is the first priories during a natural disaster. People need shelter, drinking water, and food in that order. As it turns out, one of the things to consider with evacuation around a nuke is that it make cause more harm. Animals that were not evacuated, were not harmed by radiation. Some died because the depended on humans for food and water.

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  13. By Tom G. on May 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    NOTKITP said: ”It takes the same things to pump drinking water and to cool a spent fuel pool, that is pumps, motors, and electricity.”.

    Tom G. responds.  You left out interconnecting piping, salt water cooling pumps and heat exchangers.  

    My last posting on this article.  Wonder what our host will pick for Monday’s video chat.  

    Tom G. 

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    • By Robert Rapier on May 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      My last posting on this article.  Wonder what our host will pick for Monday’s video chat.  

      Monday is going to be a book review of A Thousand Barrels a Second. I have a question right now to answer on the video blog about Daniel Nocera’s artificial leaf, and I have to check to see if Sam is holding any more questions for me.

      RR

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