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By CER News Desk on Sep 7, 2012 with 8 responses

Utility Head: Japan Can’t Afford Renewable Energy, Needs Nuclear

A new power grid based around renewable energy will cost Japan $622 billion to build, according to government estimates

With Japan in the process of rebuilding the infrastructure damaged during 2011′s devastating tsunami, many in the country are suggesting that the time is right for a transition from nuclear to renewable energy in that country. Fears of nuclear disaster fueled by the damage and subsequent radioactive leak at the Fukushima nuclear reactor after the tsunami have many groups, both private and public, clamoring for an immediate shutdown of Japan’s nuclear program.

Despite public pressure, though, many politicians recognize that the cost for Japan to move away from dependance on nuclear energy would simply be too high.

Naomi Hirose, president of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), also spoke out against the possibility of a move to carbon-based energy sources, citing the high costs and loss of independence that would coincide with a move to dependence on Middle Eastern oil. With Hirose’s company on the financial rocks and still with much of the expensive infrastructure repairs ahead of it, TEPCO is anxious to get the country’s nuclear reactors back online; all but two of Japan’s 50 nuclear plants are currently shut down.

“We understand that local residents might ask whether they are really all right with letting us operate nuclear reactors again after the accident,” said Hirose. “But zero nuclear is a very dangerous option. We need to step back and think of the wider consequences of giving up nuclear power.”

Japan is currently devising long term plans to get a handle on its energy crisis but, while renewable energy will certainly play a role, the country is in no position to drop nuclear energy entirely. The debate over the best option for both the Japanese people and the Japanese economy is expected to continue throughout 2012 as the nation’s politicians work to find a realistic and sustainable energy solution.

“When people think of these new energy sources, they only think of best-case scenarios,” Mr. Hirose said. “But we have a responsibility to provide a cheap and stable source of power. We have to be realistic.”

  1. By George Harvey on September 8, 2012 at 6:16 am

    According to the US Department of Energy in 2011, based on data taken in 2010, hydro, wind, biomass, and geothermal are all less expensive than nuclear, even when costs to the consumer associated with waste and Price/Anderson insurance coverage are not included in the equation. Solar was listed as being about twice the cost of nuclear, but the costs of solar have dropped by more than half, putting it in a position to compete with wind, and well below the cost of nuclear.  

    With transmission line losses limited to 8.9%, as they were in 1980, the maximum distance at which high voltage power could be transmitted cost effectively was about 2500 miles (4000 km), again according to the DOE. The losses had been cut to 6.7% by the mid 1990s, and are now dropping to about half of that. Renewable power produced anywhere in Japan can be delivered anywhere in Japan (consumer voltage differences do not apply to high voltage). This challenges the concept of baseload power; when the wind is not blowing in one part of the country, it will be blowing in another.

    Power storage is the object of a number of serious research projects that is too many to count. A number of these have been shown to be very promising. The bottom line is that the technology to store electrical power has been around since the 19th century, has been  implemented on a large scale during times of shortage as far back as the 1930s, and the questions that remain are matters of fine-tuning. These things combine with the other challenges to the concept of baseload power to show it is actually mythology, a bogeyman created by those who can profit by it. 

    The costs of nuclear that have not been faced yet, such as waste management, are without question apallingly high. This will become progressively more evident as the incentives to maintain nuclear power are diminished in the face of falling renewable prices, price drops that have already occurred.

    Unlike nuclear power, renewable power has the upside of diminishing costs as greater investment is made. Within a few years of investment, the infrastructure is paid off, and remain productive; in the case of photovoltaics, the life-span may go into many decades.

    Per unit of power produced, renewable power employs five or six times as many workers, while reducing costs to the consumer. Production may be locally owned, and profits stay local. Renewable power can be a personal goal, the object of a cooperative or community. On the other hand, it can also be a good investment for big business, and can make more money than nuclear; notice the increased investments in renewables, and the lack of investments in nuclear by big business. Notice that the CEOs of two major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see no future for it.

    As renewable power has achieved grid parity, nuclear power has become obsolete. There is only one reason anyone can claim to be able to afford it, which is that is really handy for making bombs.

     

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  2. By stan on September 8, 2012 at 8:13 am

    This “cost of renewable power” thing is so distorted, it’s starting to sound like there is a conspiracy, and that the general public is mentally retarded.

    Look, I’m a scientist, I worked at nuke plants…….just the millions of pages of paperwork on a monthly basis, costs more than the monthly maintenance on a solar farm some of the time…..and the number of employees? I’m really sorry buddy, but that is baloney, and then straight onto a bold faced lie.

    Once you build a solar or wind facility, YOU BUY NO FUEL……what is this cost crap? The only thing that can cost more, is how much real estate you need per MW….and THAT’S IT……stop the bullsh.t….. new propellers and transmissions for 200 ea. 5mw wind turbines in a yr. is less than the fuel and disposal of it when spent, consumed in a 1000 mw reactor each yr……let alone the excess wages of the level of employees required to run  a reactor…..about $150k, vs $75k when averaged over the HR dept.

    All this crap is nothing but propaganda. 

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  3. By notKit P on September 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Where we live electricity and industry is powered by coal and it has been that way for a hundred years. The reason is very simple, that is what we have. We do get a little from hydroelectric but that has been maxed out for 75 years. As you get farther from the coal mines, natural gas and nukes is used. We could get a few more kwh from biomass.

     

    Where we live we have essentially zero wind, solar, geothermal, and wave. It does not matter what it costs if you do not have.

     

    “Notice that the CEOs of two major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see no future for it.”

     

    No actually! Who said that? Every operator of the 104 nuke plants is the US thinks that keeping the plants running after the the initial 40 year license is a good investment. Every operator of the 104 nuke plants is looking at the cost of investment of uprating power output and most have increased investment.

     

    One of the cost of keeping nuke plants in operation is the evaluation of new information about natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes. This brings us to Japan.

     

    Japan has few natural resources to meet the energy needs of their industry. Fossil power plants do not have to meet the same standards for earthquake as nuke plants. If Japan finds nuclear to expensive, they will turn to coal and LNG not renewable energy.

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    • By George Harvey on September 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      One of the two CEOs were Jeff Immelt, of GE, which does a billion dollars worth of business in nuclear components each year; his statement was that nuclear was “really hard to Justify.” The other was John Rowe, when he was retiring, in March 2012, from Exelon; he said he saw no future for new nuclear plants.

      As for the rest, I really doubt there is much reason for debate, because the market is not going to put much stock into how we disagree. But I am getting my facts from the US DOE, the US Energy Information Administration, and the US National Renewable Energy Lab, and not from my imagination. If they are right, it certainly explains why so little money has been invested in nuclear and coal lately, and why coal generation has dropped by 20%.

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  4. By Jamie3 on September 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Japan needs nuclear like it needs a hole in the head. I think the Japanese people have had quite enough nuclear. 

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  5. By George Harvey on September 9, 2012 at 7:31 am

    It may be worth noting that the subject of this article is a report from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which historically has been very supportive of the nuclear industry. It does not represent the position of the government as a whole.

    As it happens, Economy Minister Motohisa Furukawa said in a speech, last week, that switching entirely to renewable power would be good for the Japanese economy, and could end the economic doldrums Japan has been in for quite a few years.

     

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  6. By notKit P on September 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    @George

     

    I certainly respect the opinion of Jeff Immelt and John Rowe but they did not say ‘they see no future for it.’ With the price of natural gas below it hard to justify anything but natural gas. Renewable energy has the same problem since both are high capital cost projects.

     

    Currently in the US, about 23,000 (5600 coal) MWe of fossil is under construction. For nuclear, 5738 MWe is under construction.

     

    John Rowe is an interesting businessman. Exelon has 20+ large nukes ao they are not planning any new nukes. Rowe also stated that he never met a nuke plant that he did not like

     

    “But I am getting my facts from the US DOE, the US Energy Information Administration, and the US National Renewable Energy Lab, and not from my imagination. If they are right, …”

     

    Again I ma not sure what facts you are talking about but I suspect it is more of a case of how you interpret those facts. The first mistake made is not understanding the scale of the power industry. There is plenty of room for all the players.

     

    Second mistake is that power plants are built to meet a specific need for a specific region. Before a new nuke can be built, an EIS is preformed which considers alternatives. Renewable energy is ruled out because it can not provide a 1000 MWe of base load power in a given location.

     

    While renewable energy can supply of the mix, the choice for industrial societies is fossil or nuke. If you look at the ‘facts’ and come to any other conclusion you are just wrong.

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  7. By Russ Finley on September 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    George Harvey said:

    “According to the US Department of Energy in 2011, based on data taken in 2010, hydro, wind, biomass, and geothermal are all less expensive than nuclear…”

    That makes little sense and I’ll tell you why. A national energy grid, like your home’s energy grid, is made of components acting in concert such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  As with a circuit board, some of the components are more expensive than others. The heat pump in your home heating system may cost a lot more than the electrical resistance backup heaters but it would be a costly mistake to eliminate the heat pump for that reason. Arguing against nuclear in favor of wind and solar is like arguing against that heat pump in favor of the back-up resistance heaters.

    The above claim is also at odds with the 2011 Department of Energy Quadrennial Technology Review that promotes the use of small modular reactors:

    “The United States has traditionally taken a leading position in crafting the international civilian nuclear technology “rules-of-the-road” and has helped develop a sound technology base to implement and enforce those rules. With a current global deployment of 442 civilian nuclear power reactors and an additional 65 reactors currently in some stage of construction, civilian nuclear energy sits at the nexus of energy, climate, and security.”

    George continues:

    “…even when costs to the consumer associated with waste and Price/Anderson insurance coverage are not included in the equation.”

    Those costs are already reflected in your very reasonable and competitively priced nuclear energy utility bill as an almost imperceptible surcharge.

    “This challenges the concept of baseload power; when the wind is not blowing in one part of the country, it will be blowing in another.”

    If that were true they would have replaced their idled nuclear with wind instead of fossil fuels.

    “…the questions that remain [about energy storage} are matters of fine-tuning… These things combine with the other challenges to the concept of baseload power to show it is actually mythology, a bogeyman created by those who can profit by it.”

    That is absurd. Baseload power isn’t the result of backroom conspiracy theories. It’s the inevitable result of a market seeking lowest cost solutions. Most renewable energy today is baseload. Read Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy and A Baseload Free Power System.

    Storage is rarely used quite simply because it is prohibitively expensive. For example, building a reservoir and pumping water into it can easily cost more than the stored energy is worth. Ditto for any number of other power storage schemes, like making hydrogen, or methane. And in cases where it can be economical, it can be used to improve the fficiency of any number of power sources, like nuclear for example, which could then provide peak power as well as baseload.

    “The costs of nuclear that have not been faced yet, such as waste management, are without question apallingly high.”

    I find that claim to be very questionable. The nuclear industry has for many decades been required  to pay into a fund to deal with waste storage, which like their insurance, is already reflected in your very reasonable and competitively priced nuclear energy utility bill as an almost imperceptible surcharge. Never mind the fact that nuclear energy generates so little waste that to date is is all be stored on site in their own parking lots after half a century of power generation. From Wikipedia:

    “With $32 billion received from power companies to fund the project, and $12 billion spent to study and build it, the federal government had $27 billion left, including interest.”

    George continues:

    “Unlike nuclear power, renewable power has the upside of diminishing costs as greater investment is made…”

    Nuclear has the same potential–as the aforementioned DOE report promoting the small modular reactor attests. Nuclear power plants often operate for more than half of a century. Obviously (conspiracy theories aside) they are cost effective or you would see higher electric bills when power is nuclear generated. Wind turbines as well as solar have much shorter lifespans. Read Nuclear Energy is Not a Mature Industry.

    “Per unit of power produced, renewable power employs five or six times as many workers, while reducing costs to the consumer.”

    Stan, another renewable energy advocate nuclear energy denier, says to George Harvey:

    “I’m really sorry buddy, but that is baloney, and then straight onto a bold faced lie.”

    True or not, the number of jobs created is irrelevant. What matters is economic efficiency. For example, a hypothetical power source that reduced energy costs by half, yet provided no jobs, is vastly superior to a hypothetical energy source that produced lots of jobs that had to be funded by increased energy costs.

    George continues:

    “Production may be locally owned, and profits stay local.”

    This is a moot argument. “Local” is relative. Universe, galaxy, solar system, planet, country, state, city, neighborhood, home. Most utilities are at the state level. They send power across state lines in the name of economic efficiency. Many are at the city level or even lower. The University of Washington has a natural gas power plant adjacent to our local bike trail right here in Seattle. You don’t get much local than that, assuming that local ownership is always a good thing, which it isn’t.

     ”Renewable power can be a personal goal, the object of a cooperative or community.”

    A well for your water can be seen as a personal goal, but it is usually better to use your “community” water system. Ditto for a septic system verses your “community” waste treatment system. For economic reasons, most people prefer to have a simple water line and sewer line, as well as a power line coming to their home, rather than deal with the time and costs of maintenance issues that come with owning a well, septic system, or a power plant on their roof.

    “On the other hand, it can also be a good investment for big business, and can make more money than nuclear; notice the increased investments in renewables, and the lack of investments in nuclear by big business.”

    Certainly there are instances where renewables are cost effective, like Hoover dam. Investments in renewables like wind and solar are in large part thanks to the huge subsidy per unit energy they have been receiving. I’m eligible for $30,000 in subsidies if I put solar on my house. Read
    Do Government Subsidies Ever Pay Off?

    “Notice that the CEOs of two major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see no future for it”

    Notice that many more CEOs of  major businesses in the nuclear power business have said they see a big future for it.

    “As renewable power has achieved grid parity, nuclear power has become obsolete.”

    If solar and wind were really at grid parity there would be no debate about letting their subsidies lapse. Nuclear is anything but obsolete, and is undergoing major technological growth.

    “There is only one reason anyone can claim to be able to afford it, which is that is really handy for making bombs.”

    One might think, that because nuclear weapons came first, that it would not take a quantum intellectual leap to at least suspect that you don’t need a nuclear power plant to make bombs. And sure enough, some nuclear powers didn’t go to the trouble. They built small reactors instead, which produce no electricity, to make weapons grade material. Read Helen Caldicott–Nuclear Power Plants are Bomb Factories?

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