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Nuclear: Game Over

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Nexit – Nuclear Exit

It took the world 48 years to gradually ramp up to a peak of 438 commercial nuclear power plants in 2002. Today, in 2016, we have dropped to 402 reactors with further closures foreshadowed.

There is about 200 years of uranium, if we consume it at the current rate. Scale up to 3000 reactors and we have only about 25 years of power left.

Humans globally consume roughly 15,000 gigawatts (GW) of power, in oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and renewables all added together.1 To put it another way, it means that, on average, we use 15,000 gigajoules (GJ) of energy every second of every day. That is an enormous number, equivalent to switching on 15 billion electric kettles.

 

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On the other hand, 15,000 GW is a relatively small number as it is 5000 times less than the average solar power hitting the planet’s surface. And remarkably, it is six times less than the solar power utilised by all plant life on Earth for photosynthesis.2 By far, the plant kingdom has already beaten the human race to the punch in terms of the sheer magnitude of solar collection achieved.

Yet this means that maintaining our current levels of consumption in a sus-tainable manner requires harnessing only 0.02% of the light at the surface of our planet. So do we really need nuclear power? Is nuclear sustainable? Given the awesome potential of renewable energy, is there an economic place for nuclear power? Why is nuclear power globally in decline at present? What are the limitations?

These are some of the key questions we’ll now examine.

Energy policy

Before we discuss power generation, it is important to first highlight that any robust government energy policy must be grounded by the concept of energy conservation. To understand why energy conservation and energy efficiency form the bedrock of policy, let us consider how power consumption can quickly add up and get out of hand.

Imagine 5 billion people all make one cup of tea per day, and overfill their kettles by as little as a quarter of a cup. Over a day, this excess requires an additional 2 GW of average power, which is equivalent to the output of the whole Hoover Dam.3

Consider the possibility of everyone on the planet driving a medium sized car for only one hour per day. That alone would average to two thirds of our total present global consumption, which is clearly unsustainable.

Suppose there were one billion medium-sized houses on the planet all heating or cooling by as little as 3°C relative to the outside temperature. By not having home wall insulation, the excess power needed would on average equal our total present global consumption. This alone illustrates the critical importance of having insulation standards for new buildings.

On the flip side, take an estimate of about 10 billion tungsten light bulbs in the world. On average each light bulb will be on about 10% of the time. If each was replaced with a modern LED light bulb – with a saving of 50W each – that equals a saving of 50 GW, the equivalent to about 50 nuclear power plants.

As such, there cannot be a future drive towards sustainable power generation without it being married to measures of energy effciency and conservation.

Nexit: Nuclear Exit

Around the world the nuclear industry is in gradual, inexorable decline. Starting from 1954, it took the world 48 years to gradually ramp up to a peak of 438 commercial nuclear power plants in 2002. Today, in 2016, we have dropped to 402 reactors with further closures foreshadowed.4

A report from the Swiss banking investment sector5 states “big, centralised power stations will not fit into the future European electricity system” and that they will share “the fate of the dinosaurs: too large, too inflexible, on their way to extinction.”

Participating countries are closing down nuclear power plants (NPPs) faster than they are being built. Nuclear apologists point to China as a role model that is actively building a number of NPPs. The fact is that China has built $160 billion in overcapacity of coal plants that are unused.6 Will their NPPs, which are presently under construction, become similarly redundant?

There simply aren’t enough Chinese students rushing to enrol into nuclear engineering courses, to produce the workforce for an expanded nuclear program.7 China’s ambitious nuclear expansion plans would require at least 50,000 students to be trained by 2030, but barely a few hundred students raise their hands each year.8 The shortage of trained nuclear technicians and engineers has already led to safety incidents.8

By contrast, in 2015, China invested five times more in renewables than nuclear power.4 Those nuclear projects will take many years to complete, whereas renewables are deployed and put to immediate use. Moreover, China’s nuclear investments may have an uncertain future and may meet the same fate as their renowned ghost cities. Significant Chinese street protests against nuclear, in 2013 and 2015, indicate a growing groundswell of discontent.9,10

Let us now examine some of the limitations of nuclear power generation that contribute to its uncertain future and an impending global energy market nexit.

Nuclear footprint

Nuclear marketeers brand NPPs as taking up a small physical land area with respect to renewables. However, consider all the processes and steps from mining uranium, processing it, burning it, and then dealing with the waste. Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University, has added up the footprint of all the globe’s NPPs, their exclusion zones, and supporting infrastructure.11 Jacobson found that if you divide that area by the total number of NPPs in the world, we obtain an average nuclear footprint12 of about 4.5 km x 4.5 km, which is roughly the same for equivalent solar power.

A hypothetical nuclear utopia powering the entire world’s energy needs would require in the order of 15,000 NPPs. This is a daunting scale-up compared to the dwindling number of 400 NPPs the world has at present. To see how impossibly challenging this would be, take a map of anycountry of the world and mark 100 possible locations for nuclear stations close to water and far from population centres. Even trying to place ten NPPs in acceptable locations is not an easy task. This obstacle alone counts out a nuclear utopia.

Uranium resource limits

But is a more modest vision of, say, 3000 reactors possible? This would at least replace all the world’s coal-fired plants.

Based on the known mining reserves of uranium there is about 200 years of uranium, if we consume it at the current rate.13 Scale up to 3000 reactors and we have only about 25 years of power left. Clearly this is a proposition that isn’t at all sustainable.

Nuclear apologists will then raise the question of yet undiscovered reserves of uranium. However, this makes little difference; if we double or quadruple the figure of 25 years, this is hardly a legacy investment for the future. One can’t pluck imaginary figures that are any larger, as we know the abundance of uranium in the Earth’s crust is about the same level as for rare earth metals.14

Proponents of nuclear power will then point out that there’s over 500 years worth of uranium in seawater. However, this is a fruitless suggestion as the uranium concentration is tiny, at 3.3 parts per billion. The energy it takes to lift a bucket of seawater by 50 metres is equal to the energy you’d get from its uranium.14 The energy return on investment simply doesn’t add up.15

In order to address this issue, the coun-terpunch is the promise of breeder-style Generation IV reactors. These will potentially increase fuel lifetime by a factor of 60. This indeed would be impressive, as we can now lift the bucket of seawater by 3 km. However, these types of reactors are riddled with advanced materials issues that have not yet been solved. The metal parts of these reactors are exposed to higher temperatures, a higher corrosive environment, and a higher neutron flux than in conventional reactors16 – suitable alloys that can withstand these conditions have not yet been found for long-term commercial operation.17

Governments do not form today’s energy policy based on arguments that largely hinge on commercially unproven or non-existent hardware. This would be akin to forming health policy based on promised drugs that are yet, unproven or undiscovered.

Reactor lifetime

A nuclear reactor has a lifetime of roughly 40 years.4 Due to heat, high-energy neutrons, and corrosion, the metal nuclear vessel eventually cracks. Every device runs and gets hot – this sets a limit to the reliability and lifetime of any machine. Everything from a light bulb to a car engine eventually pops, and nuclear reactors are no exception. At the end of its 40-year life, a nuclear station has to be decommissioned.

The nuclear vessel itself becomes radio-active, weighs up to 500 tonnes, and has to be buried. The costs of decommissioning a reactor at today’s prices are commensurate with building them in the first place. Attempts are made by NPPs to factor in decommission cost into their economics. However, who can predict what the costs will be 40 years into the future? Typically costs blow out and the taxpayer ultimately foots the bailout.

Elemental diversity

When an NPP comes to the end of its 40-year life, the metal reactor vessel and core are radioactive, as they have been exposed to high-energy neutrons. If there were a vast nuclear scale-up, where would we put all these ‘glowing’ vessels? Moreover, inside the vessel, hafnium may be used as a neutron absorber, beryllium a neutron reflector, and zirconium is used for fuel rod cladding. The steel that is used to construct the vessel has to be hardened against neutron damage, and so it is typically alloyed with elements such as molybdenum, niobium, and tantalum to name a few.18

Many high performance alloys in other industries use exotic metals too, but the point is that those metals can be recycled. Rare earth metals used in the renewable industry are recyclable too. In the case of NPPs the metals become radioactive and so a scale up to 15,000 reactors in the world would be out of the question, as it would limit our elemental diversity.

Is nuclear fusion the solution?

Nuclear fusion, if it ever becomes commercially useable, would be an even worse offender in terms of reduction in elemental diversity. What is not publicised is that the nuclear fusion process irreversibly consumes lithium.18 Every laptop, mobile phone, and electric car needs this coveted element. Moreover, fusion reactors end up with radioactive vessels and still require decommissioning, so the quandary of that waste remains. For these signicant practical reasons, fusion is unsustainable and not the panacea it is cracked up to be.

 

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Nuclear waste

Nuclear power plants globally produce about 10,000 tonnes of spent fuel waste per annum.19 When a spent fuel rod is removed from a reactor, the radiation level is so high that a one-minute dose at a metre’s distance is lethal to humans. Each spent fuel rod generates heat and has to be stored in a pool of water at least for five to ten years to cool down.

When a spent fuel pool runs out of room, the rods are then transferred into 100 tonne containers called dry casks. Each cask costs about $1 million each, and the spent fuel assemblies are transferred into the casks using costly robotic equipment to avoid human exposure. The casks are then filled with helium and are welded shut, at a cost of $500,000 each.

Dry casks are stored above ground, and the idea is that after about 50 years of further cooling the fuel can then be sent to a deep underground repository. Though, no country has yet succeeded in following through on this final costly step. A dry cask, which is stored above ground, in the meantime may corrode and leak, and transfer into a replacement cask is costly.20

Some isotopes in the spent fuel have decay half-lives over 10,000 years, and so an underground repository is the only viable final resting place for such waste.21

To repackage spent fuel from a dry cask to a special repository canister is incredibly costly. For the manufacture of canisters and provision of the equipment to perform the repackaging operation, one is looking in the vicinity of $50 billion.22

When a canister is placed in a deep repository, bentonite clay is used to delay the penetration of water and moisture. The canister eventually cracks and corrodes with time. This is accelerated due to the radiation, from the inside, and by natural bacteria23 from the outside. Once there is a leak, radioactive iodine-129 isotopes from the fuel can diffuse through rock.19

Radioactive actinides from the spent fuel are released into the biosphere through water.19 Should water ever breach the canisters, numerous chemical reactions can take place including the generation of explosive mixtures of hydrogen and oxygen.19

Why is nuclear so expensive?

The principal costs of NPPs are the capital cost of the power station and decommissioning. Then consider the enormous number of steps involved in preparing the fuel, its deployment in a highly complex nuclear station, and then the repackaging and disposal steps needed at the end of the fuel cycle. At each step there are safety risks to nuclear workers and so the complexity of the management flow snowballs due to the necessary governance structures that are put into place. As there are so many steps with attendant risks, the full end-to-end cost appears to climb.

Nuclear decommission costs are high, and it is estimated that the decommissioning contracts over the next 15 years will amount to $220 billion.24 This sum is equivalent to the creation of solar power that would replace 44 nuclear stations.25

 

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Renewables vs. nuclear

While nuclear power plants experience economic decline, renewables are rapidly growing and penetrating the market on an exponential curve. The global annual increase in renewable generation for 2015 alone was 50 GW for solar panels, 63 GW for wind power, and 28 GW for hydropower.26

Nuclear power is large and centralised, with enormous entry and exit costs. By contrast, renewables are made up of small modular units that yield a faster return on investment. The revolution we are witnessing is akin to the extinction of big powerful dinosaurs versus resilient swarms of small ants working in cooperation. Nuclear power is sinking under the weight of its complexity, costs, and the headache of its waste issue. On the other hand solar power is brought to us via free sunshine exposing the promises of nuclear as mere moonshine.

Electricity prices

Nuclear advocates point out high electricity spot prices in regions with high renewable penetration.27 However, it is a misdirection to conclude that renewables are therefore costly – after all, renewables have zero fuel costs. The plants with flexible controllable power (eg. gas turbines) naturally take advantage of the situation and bid higher prices during times when renewable generation is low.28 Thus the solution is not to reduce the proportion of renewables, but instead to revise pricing policy to reflect the change in market dynamics and structure. The current policies are out-dated and based around the outmoded paradigm of all-controllable power generation.

A possible solution is that flexible controllable power sources (eg. gas, waste biomass fuelled power plants, solar thermal plants, pumped hydro, batteries etc) ought to be also rewarded for the ‘insurance’ they provide in backing up intermittent uncontrollable sources (eg. wind and rooftop solar), rather than solely for the energy they deliver so that they are not drawn into a price bidding game. Rewarding controllable sources for their back-up ability may provide investment incentives for such generators.

Intermittency

A common argument nuclear proponents raise is that renewables are intermittent; therefore nuclear power is essential to keep the lights on 24/7. This is wrong on a number of levels.

First, intermittency does not automatically imply unreliability. Take the analogy of rainfall. Rain is very intermittent and yet we have a continuous supply of water when we turn on the taps. Why? Because there is reservoir storage, river flow, and many pipe-interconnected collection areas and aquifers. Our water supply would be unreliable if we didn’t adequately design an appropriate grid of pipework, dams, and reservoirs. There’s no equivalent of a ‘nuclear station’ providing a constant baseload supply of water. The intermittency in rainfall becomes reliable due to planned storage and spatial diversity. The same principles apply to electricity.

Second, nuclear plants are intermittent too as they need planned shutdowns for maintenance and fuel rod changes. Then there are unplanned shutdowns, for example, if a pump breaks down or a critical pipe leaks. These ‘minor’ shutdowns often mean that 1 GW of nuclear power goes offine for 2–4 weeks. The ultimate in intermittency is when a nuclear station is closed down to due an accident or if a licence renewal has been refused due to old age. Then there’s over a 10-year lead-time before a replacement nuclear plant comes online. So nuclear power is intermittent too, but simply on a different timescale.29

By contrast, it makes no difference to a grid when a solar panel is damaged. Moreover, it can be replaced within a day. The modularity and diversity of a network of renewable sources can be designed to be much more robust than any large centralised power station.

Grid stability

Nuclear lobbyists create a further false dilemma by suggesting renewables make the electricity grid unstable and therefore nuclear power is required to ensure stability. First, nuclear power is not required because controllable renewable sources (with synchronous generation, such as solar thermal, hydroelectric power, and pumped hydro) already stabilise the grid. It is true that other renewable sources do give rise to grid management issues, but this is bread and butter for grid engineers.30 There are numerous research papers by grid engineers developing solutions for increased renewable penetration and none are suggesting the need for nuclear power.

In an Australian context, how does one adopt proven storage techniques for grid stability such as pumped hydro, when the country is mostly devoid of mountains? It is a fallacy to assume mountains are needed; as plateau regions provide perfect locations for pumping up water for later release and energy generation. For example, there is an ideal plateau of about 270 m high, between Port Augusta and Whyalla where seawater can be pumped for energy storage.

Nuclear in bed with renewables?

In desperation, nuclear advocates are putting a new spin on their marketing. The slogan now is that nuclear and renewables make perfect marriage partners, as nuclear provides the grid with ‘baseload’ power.

Unfortunately this pick up line cannot woo renewables into bed. The fact is that generators designed for constant baseload operation are exactly what uncontrollable renewable generators don’t need. Uncontrollable renewables need flexible controllable sources of power such as hydroelectric power, pumped hydro, waste biofuels, solar thermal, and solar generated hydrogen or syngas to provide power when generation from intermittent renewable sources is insufficient to meet demand. Nuclear power plants work best when they provide a constant power output and they lack the agility to follow the variability of renewable generators.

One can manage different uncontrollable and controllable renewable sources to work together, making baseload gen-eration redundant.31,32 The concept of operating a power system with a traditional baseload plant is becoming outmoded5 and signifficant future cost penalties are likely to be attached to generators designed for baseload operation33.

Nuclear promotion goes to some lengths to greenwash its image, in an attempt to make it appear on a par with renewables. But as we have demonstrated in this article, non-recyclable nuclear is highly resource-limited and therefore it isn’t a renewable source.

Another form of greenwashing is the catchphrase ‘nuclear saves lives’ reminding us that radiotherapy is used in hospitals. Amputating gangrenous limbs also saves lives too, but it would be a logical fallacy to use that fact to improve the image of chainsaws.34

What really matters is rate of carbon footprint reduction

The spin put on nuclear power as having a ‘low carbon’ footprint is a further case of greenwashing. For example, if there were a threefold ramp up of nuclear power this century, it would result in a modest 6% carbon reduction.35 On the other hand, the exponential uptake of renewables this century will far outstrip 6%.

What really matters is not the present carbon footprint today of each power source, but the rate of footprint reduction that they introduce. Presently nuclear is in decline, and solar uptake is exponentially growing. Thus the reduction in carbon footprint from solar will experience a ‘compound interest’ type of effect. Because the solar market is fast and flexible, whereas nuclear is economically slow and stunted, solar will vastly exceed nuclear in terms of rate of carbon mitigation.

In summary, the branding of nuclear as ‘green’ is fallacious and the opportunism of nuclear advocates proclaiming environ-mental concern is about as comforting as Donald Trump in a Mexican hat.

Should Australia adopt nuclear power?

The size of the Australian electricity market is of the order of $10 billion per annum,36 which is relatively small. Therefore there isn’t a business case to foot the bill for even one nuclear power station with its construction cost, decommission cost, and cost of spent fuel handling and repackaging.

Moreover, Australia simply doesn’t have the existing infrastructure, training, and governance structures to support a nuclear industry. It would be risky for Australia to enter an area fraught with high uncertainty, given the present global decline.

Should Australia store nuclear waste?

Possible motivations to build a deep underground repository for international high-level nuclear waste, in Australia, are the promises of income, increased employment, and support of a waning Australian uranium export industry.37

However, it is important to note that no pro-nuclear power country has yet opened such a repository. To enter a new business space, where even the highly experienced players have not delivered, is to take on considerable economic risk and uncertainty.

To invest in an industry that is in global decline, does not appear to be as rational as investing in a growth area such as renewable energy. Renewable energy is a business space where Australia has a multitude of trained engineers, existing infrastructure, and an abundance of sunshine. Building intentional renewable overcapacity in Australia will potentially be a wise investment, as that surplus can then be used to generate hydrogen or other fuels that can be liquefied and traded on overseas markets.

 

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Lack of public acceptance

Obtaining public acceptance in a country that has traditionally been free of nuclear power would likely be insurmountable, given the decreasing world-wide levels of public support.40

Lack of public acceptance cannot be underestimated. Even in pro-nuclear France, riots took place in the 1990s that overturned the government’s move to build a nuclear repository.41 Renewed protests have taken to the streets in China only this year.42

The citizens in the countries, with the most nuclear experience, show increasing opposition40 to expanding the nuclear industry,

1. Germany (90% opposed)

2. Mexico (82% opposed)

3. Japan (84% opposed)

4. UK (63% opposed)

5. USA (61% opposed)

6. China (58% opposed)

7. France (83% opposed

8. Russia (80% opposed).

With the current debacle of escalating costs of the Hinkley nuclear plant, in the UK, it is likely a fresh poll would show even stronger UK opposition against nuclear and further support for renewable energy.

 

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Conclusion

Nuclear power is a clunky technology borne out of a bygone Cold War era. Its best days are over and it cannot form a key part of sustainable energy policy.

The world doesn’t have the capacity to rapidly scale up nuclear power generation. As well as resource and geographic limitations, there simply isn’t the nuclear-trained workforce base. To install renewables, on the other hand, takes regular engineers of which there are millions in the world. Renewables therefore have a strong workforce base to draw upon.

Nuclear simply does not scale up in the time we need it. Renewables are flexible and uptake is fast with relatively low entry costs. Nuclear is burdensome and does not have the economic agility to survive a dynamically changing electricity market – it cannot adapt fast enough tocompeting game changers.

An economically declining nuclear industry is a dangerous one, as there is always the temptation to cut costs and fall short on safety standards.

The Economist43 aptly points out: “As renewable sources of energy become more attractive, the days of big, ‘baseload’ projects…. are numbered.”

There’s been a game change, and it is game over for nuclear.

AUTHOR:

Professor Derek Abbott is a physicist and electrical engineer based at the University of Adelaide. He won a 2004 Tall Poppy Award and the 2015 David Dewhurst Medal, Engineers Australia. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (USA), a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (UK), a Fellow of Engineers Australia, and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.

References

A Brave New World: Understanding the Ethics of Human Enhancement

1 For further discussion of the charge of ‘Playing God’ see C. A. J. Coady (2009) ‘Playing God’, in J. Savulescu and N. Bostrom (eds.) Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 155-180.

2 Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our Posthuman Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

3 Kass, L. (2003). ‘Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Perfection’, The New Atlantis, Spring, 9-28.

4 Kekes, J. (1998). A Case for Conservatism. Ithica: Cornell University Press; Scruton, R. (2001). The Meaning of Conservatism, Third Edition. Houndsmills: Palgrave.

5 Kekes, J. (1998). A Case for Conservatism. Ithica: Cornell University Press; Scruton, R. (2001). The Meaning of Conservatism, Third Edition. Houndsmills: Palgrave.

6 Saletan, W. (2005). ‘The Beam in your Eye: If Steroids are Cheating why isn’t LASIK?’, Slate, April 18th. http://www.slate.com/id/2116858/

7 Buchanan, A. (2011). Beyond Humanity?: The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

8 Vedder, A. and Klaming, L. (2010). ‘Human Enhancement for the Common Good: Using Neurotechnologies to Improve Eyewitness Memory’, American Journal of Bioethics –Neuroscience,1, 3, 22-33.

9 Woollaston, V. (2013). ‘We’ll be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims’ Daily Mail, 20 June: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2344398/Google-futurist-claims-uploading-entire-MINDS-computers-2045-bodies-replaced-machines-90-years.html

Nuclear Power: Game Over

1 International Energy Outlook 2016, US Energy Information Agency (EIA) http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/data/browser/#/?id=2-IEO2016 This shows it is about 17,000 GW, but for convenience we have rounded this o to 15,000 GW. At this scale the exact numbers do not matter.

2 D. Abbott, “Keeping the energy debate clean: How do we supply the world’s energy needs?” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 98, No. 1, pp. 42–66, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/JPROC.2009.2035162

3 D. Abbott, “Hydrogen without tears: addressing the global energy crisis via a solar to hydrogen pathway,” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 97, No. 12, pp. 1931–1934, 2009. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=5306145

4 M. Schneider and A. Froggatt, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016. http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20160713MSC-WNISR2016V2-HR.pdf

5 Global Utilities, Autos & Chemicals, UBS, 2014. http://www.qualenergia.it/sites/default/les/articolodoc/ues45625.pdf

6 F. Green, “China’s coal cuts continue amid boom in redundant coal-fired power stations,” The Interpreter, 2016. http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/07/22/Chinas-coal-cuts-continue-amid-boom-in-redundant-coal-red-power-stations.aspx

7 X. Yi-chong, The Politics of Nuclear Energy in China, Macmillan, 2010.

8 S. Chen, “Technician shortage in China threatens nuclear plant safety,” South China Morning Post, 2016. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2000147/technician-shortage-china-threatens-nuclear-plant

9 L. Hornby, “China protests force rethink on nuclear waste site,” Financial Times, 2016 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/003ecb60-5ec7-11e6-bb77-a121aa8abd95.html#axzz4HPHIkidz

10 M. Chan and H. Huifeng, “Jiangmen uranium plant is scrapped after thousands take part in protests,” South China Morning Post, 2016. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1281748/jiangmen-uranium-plant-scrapped-after-protest

11 M. Z. Jacobson, “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security,’’ Energy Environ. Sci., vol. 2, pp. 148–173, 2009.

12 This is a little smaller than the area required by solar, with storage, to achieve an equivalent power. Solar thermal power typically uses up unused desert, whereas NPPs need to be located near large bodies of coolant water. Note that for wind farms on rural properties, land use continues in the normal way excepting for the relatively small area of the turbine tower footings and so the actual footprint is negligible.

13 Supply of Uranium, WNO, 2016. http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/supply-of-uranium.aspx

14 D. Abbott, “Is nuclear power globally scalable?” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1611–1617, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/JPROC.2011.2161806

15 Moreover, the quantities of seawater needed for processing and the quantity of uranium absorbent needed is simply unsustainable for large-scale deployment.

16. K. L. Murty and I. Charit, “Structural materials for Gen-IV nuclear reactors: Challenges and opportunities,” Nuclear Mater., vol. 383, pp. 189–195, 2008. http://www.cmt.ua.ac.be/golib/Rajabboy_aka/1-s2.0-S0022311508004960-main.pdf

17 Moreover the ‘better’ designs use liquid sodium as a coolant and it is notoriously dicult to mitigate against sodium leaks. Optimistic estimates are predicting these types of reactors will be online after 2040, but this is uncertain and relies on solutions to the materials issues. And then who knows how many years it will take thereafter to become commercially proven at economically feasible prices? One may be waiting around for a century for that. Or perhaps it may never come to pass.

18 D. Abbott, “Limits to growth: Can nuclear power supply the world’s needs?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 68, No. 5, pp. 23–32, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0096340212459124

19 R. C. Ewing, “Long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel” Nature Materials, Vol. 14, No. 3 pp. 252–257, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmat4226

20 There are many mechanisms for breach of the dry cask, when one considers corrosion in combination with the radiation. One example is that alpha particles from the fuel create pockets of helium in the metal lattice of the cask. Those helium bubbles then crack the metal and then the contents can come into contact with the environment.

21 At signifficant further cost, the fuel could in theory be further ‘burned,’ but isotopes with 500-year decay times remain and a repository is still required.

22 S. Cooke, “The hidden costs of US nuclear waste,” 2016.http://www.energy-intel.com/pages/worldopinionarticle.aspx?DocID=929464

23 K. Pedersen, “Subterranean microorganisms and radioactive waste disposal in Sweden,” Engineering Geology, Vol. 52, pp. 163–176, 1999.

24 B. Felix and B. Mallet, “France’s EDF sets sights on $200 bln nuclear decommissioning market,” 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3674101/Frances-EDF-sets-sights-200-bln-nuclear-decommissioning-market.html

25 In my early days, as a physics student, we would jokingly call our nuclear physics lectures, ‘unclear’ physics. The anagram is apt, because nuclear is unclear power riddled with economic uncertainties.

26 Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/ uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings.pdf

27 I. Hore-Lacy, “South Australia’s green dream, or its nightmare?” World Nuclear News, 2016. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/V-South-Australian-green-dream-or-its-nightmare-2607161.html

28 B. Mountain, South Australia’s Wholesale Electricity Market What Really Happened in July 2016?http://cmeaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/160815-FINAL-south-australia-7-july-getup-report-.pdf

29 Moreover, the gaps in nuclear intermittency create a much larger power shortfall than renewables and in this sense is much a greater challenge.

30 M. Milligan, et al., “Alternatives no more: Wind and solar power are mainstays of a clean, reliable, aordable grid,” IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 6, pp. 78–87, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/MPE.2015.2462311

31 B. Elliston, I. Macgill, and M. Diesendorf, “Least cost 100% renewable electricity scenarios in the Australian national electricity market,” Energy Policy, Vol. 59, pp. 270–282, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.03.038

32 M. Z. Jacobson, et al., “100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States,” Energy & Environmental Science, Vol. 8, No. 7, pp. 2093–2117, 2015. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf

33 Indeed, generators designed for baseload operation are in a sense a more expensive form of uncontrollable generation than intermittent generation.

34 Nearly all radiotherapy cancer treatments are carried out with X-ray units that do not use isotopes. In fact, most radiotherapy units with isotopes are obsolete technology. In any case, radiotherapy may well become a thing of the past given the promising emergence of new immunotherapy techniques. Immunotherapy may well become the ‘renewables’ of medicine and oust radiotherapy.

35 M. Englert, L. Krall, and R. C. Ewing. “Is nuclear ssion a sustainable source of energy?” MRS Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 417–424, 2012.http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/mrs.2012.6

36 National Electricity Market Fact Sheet, AEMO. http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/-/media/CFE8057F1A304D7DBFDD8882D8089357.ashx

37 Australia’s uranium exports dropped from a peak of about A$1.2 billion around 2009 to about half that amount last year. http://www.minerals.org.au/resources/uranium/uranium_nuclear_forecasts

38 Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report, 2016. http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf

39 The Royal Commission makes an implicit economic assumption that overseas countries will be willing to pay the considerable cost of sending waste to South Australia and will not break any signed commitments to do so. However, the Commission’s report is silent on the issue of fuel repackaging.

40. R. Black, “Nuclear power gets little public support worldwide,” BBC News, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-15864806

41 J. Palfreman, “Why do the French like nuclear power?” PBS online.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

42 D. Stanway, “China halts work on $15 billion nuclear waste project after protests,” Reuters, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-nuclearpower idUSKCN10L0CX

43 “Hinkley pointless,” The Economist, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21703367-britain-should-cancel-its-nuclear-white-elephant-and-spend-billions-making-renewables

Rejuvenating the Brain: Ageing with Cognitive Sparkle

1 Oce for National Statistics, United Kingdom.

2 den Dunnen WF, Brouwer WH, Bijlard E, Kamphuis J, van Linschoten K, Eggens-Meijer E, Holstege (2008) No disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Neurobiol Aging. Aug; 29(8):1127-32.

3 Claudia L. Satizabal, Ph.D., Alexa S. Beiser, Ph.D., Vincent Chouraki, M.D., Ph.D., Geneviève Chêne, M.D., Ph.D., Carole Dufouil, Ph.D., and Sudha Seshadri, M.D. (2016) Incidence of Dementia over Three Decades in the Framingham Heart Study. N Engl J Med 374:523-532

4 Qizilbash N, Gregson J, Johnson ME, Pearce N, Douglas I, Wing K, Evans SJ, Pocock SJ. (2015) BMI and risk of dementia in two million people over two decades: a retrospective cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. June 3(6):431-6. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00033-9. Epub 2015 Apr 9.

5 Hsu DC, Mormino EC, Schultz AP, Amariglio RE, Donovan NJ, Rentz DM, Johnson KA, Sperling RA, Marshall GA. (2016) Lower Late-Life Body-Mass Index is Associated with Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden in Clinically Normal Elderly. Harvard Aging Brain Study. J Alzheimers Dis. June 18;53(3):1097-105. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150987.

6 Vukovic J, Borlikova GG, Ruitenberg MJ, Robinson GJ, Sullivan RK, Walker TL, Bartlett PF. (2013) Immature doublecortin-positive hippocampal neurons are important for learning but not for remembering. J Neurosci. April 10;33(15):6603-13. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3064-12.2013.

7 Walker TL, White A, Black DM, Wallace RH, Sah P, Bartlett PF. (2008) Latent stem and progenitor cells in the hippocampus are activated by neural excitation. J Neurosci. May 14;28(20):5240-7. D

8 Leinenga G, Götz J. (2015) Scanning ultrasound removes amyloid-β and restores memory in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Sci Transl Med. March 11;7(278):278ra33

Cell Therapies – Australia playing catch up?

1 World Health Organisation, [website], 2016, http://www.who.int/media-centre/factsheets/fs210/en/index2.html, (accessed 19 August 2016).

2 Giangrande, P.L., 2000. The history of blood transfusion. British Journal of Haematology, 110(4), p.760.

3 World Health Organisation, [website], 2016, http://www.who.int/media-centre/factsheets/fs210/en/index2.html, (accessed 19 August 2016).

4 Seattle Children’s Hospital, ‘Seattle Chlidren’s T-Cell Immunotherapy Clinical Trial for Children With Relapsed Leukemia Shows 93% Complete Remission Rate, Strong Against Cancer, [web blog], 2 June 2016, https://strongagainstcancer.org/news/seattle-childrens-t-cell-immunotherapy-clinical-trial-children-relapsed-leukemia-shows-93-complete-remission-rate/, (accessed 19 August 2016).

5 Kelly Scientic 2016. Global & USA Cancer Immunotherapy Market Analysis to 2020 – Updated Edition [abstract]6 2016 Regenerative Medicine & Advanced Therapies State of the Industry Briefing, 2016, available at le:///C:/Users/Natalie/Downloads/ARM_SOTI_2016_FINAL_web_version.pdf

7 Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, [website], 2016, https://ct.catapult.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are/, (accessed 19 August 2016).

8 Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, [website], 2016, http://www.wehi.edu.au/about-history/notable-scientists/professor-don-metcalf, (accessed 19 August 2016).

9 Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, ‘Q2 Quarterly Data Report’, 2016, p.2.

10 Australian Bureau of Statistics, [website], 2016, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad4451425ca25682000192af2/1647509ef7e25faaca2568a900154b63?OpenDocument, (accessed 19 August 2016).

11 Roos, G. (2015). ATSE Focus Advanced Manufacturing. 192nd ed. [pdf ] Australia: Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). Available at https://www.atse.org.au/Documents/focus/192-advanced-manufacturing.pdf

12 CSIROpedia, [website], 2009, https://csiropedia.csiro.au/extended-wear-contact-lenses, (accessed 19 August)

13 Stem Cells Australia, [website], 2016, http://www.stemcellsaustralia.edu.au/AboutUs/OurInvestigators/Dr-Robert-Nordon.aspx, accessed 19 August 2016).

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308432059_Nuclear_power_Game_over

January 16, 2017 Posted by | Nuclear | | Leave a comment

In Fukushima, a Determination to Move Past Nuclear Power

Local governments are making progress on their goal of generating all of the prefecture’s power from renewable sources by 2040

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Cattle farmer Minoru Kobayashi has built solar arrays on land that can’t be used for farming

IITATE, Japan—Many residents of Fukushima prefecture are still angry about the nuclear disaster five years ago that contaminated towns, farm fields and forests. But as the cleanup continues, local governments and some business owners here are channeling their frustration into something positive: clean-energy development.

Fukushima prefecture, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo and roughly the size of Connecticut, was the site of the devastating meltdown of the Daiichi nuclear-power plant following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Since then, most of Japan’s 50-plus nuclear plants, which were shut down after the accident for a safety review, have remained off line.

Determined to move away from nuclear energy permanently, local governments in Fukushima, as well as some local entrepreneurs, have taken advantage of national subsidies and embraced solar and wind power. Even as Japan’s overall move toward renewables appears to be stalling amid resistance from utilities and cheap fossil-fuel imports, the prefecture has made progress on its goal of generating 100% of the power its residents use from green sources by 2040.

New solar, wind and geothermal power generators, combined with Fukushima’s already abundant supply of hydropower, have boosted the share of renewable energy in the prefecture’s total power supply to more than one-quarter from one-fifth in 2009. By comparison, renewables made up just 14% of Japan’s overall energy production in the year ended in March.

Fukushima wants a “zero nuclear” power supply, says government spokesman Norihiro Nagao.

Among the business owners who have jumped into the fray is Minoru Kobayashi, 64, who ran a cattle farm about 25 miles inland from the Daiichi plant before the accident. Radioactive contamination forced him and his family to evacuate, along with their cattle, and the government tore down the family’s home and everything else within a 20-meter radius of the house.

Left with fields that couldn’t be used for farming, Mr. Kobayashi, along with a group of local farmers and investors, built four 50-kilowatt solar arrays on their land and plan to build 12 more by the end of next year. The group is selling power to the local utility at prices set by the government and expects to turn a profit by the end of this year. (The company signed power contracts with the local utility when prices were between 27 and 32 yen (26 to 31 cents) a kilowatt-hour. The current rate is 24 yen a kilowatt-hour.)

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Mr. Kobayashi says solar power represents more than just a business opportunity to him and his partners. “We welcome renewable energy as a protest to the nuclear power plant,” says Mr. Kobayashi.

Elsewhere, Yauemon Sato, who ran his family’s 226-year-old sake brewery for more than two decades, started the solar-power developer Aizu Electric Power Co. in Fukushima in 2013 with a group of friends and local business associates. The company has built 21 small and medium-size solar arrays and a one-megawatt solar farm in northern Fukushima. He says the new clean-energy businesses will create jobs and boost the economy.

We started this company as part of a social-justice movement,” Mr. Sato says.

Some business owners are even hoping renewable energy will become a tourist attraction.

In Tsuchiyu Onsen, a resort area known for its natural hot springs and proximity to national parks, local hotel owners joined forces to build a 400-kilowatt geothermal power generator and a small hydroelectric generator.

It has become a new selling point for the resort area, says Katsuichi Kato, 68, president of Genki Up Tsuchiyu Co. “There are many other hot springs towns,” he says. “We had to create a new industry: renewable energy tourism.”

http://www.wsj.com/articles/in-fukushima-a-determination-to-move-past-nuclear-power-1473818580

September 14, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | 1 Comment

Japan’s big ‘nuclear restart’ overtaken by conservation and renewables

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The three-unit Ikata nuclear power plant in the south of Japan.Its 890MW unit 3 is the only reactor in Japan that has a chance of restarting in 2016.

For all Japan’s talk of 43 ‘operable’ nuclear reactors, only two are actually running, writes Jim Green, as renewables and a 12% fall in demand eat into the power market. And while Japan’s ‘nuclear village’ defends safety standards, the IAEA, tasked with promoting nuclear power worldwide, has expressed deep concerns over the country’s weak and ‘fragmented’ safety regulation.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Japan has 43 ‘operable’ power reactors (they are ‘operational’ according to the IAEA), three under construction, nine ‘on order or planned’, and three ‘proposed’.

The numbers suggest that Japan’s nuclear industry is finally getting back on its feet after the Fukushima disaster – but nothing could be further from the truth.

Before considering the industry’s current problems, a little historical context from the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016:

“[I]t has been 17 years since Japan’s nuclear output peaked at 313 TWh in 1998. The noticeably sharp decline during 2002-2003, amounting to a reduction of almost 30%, was due to the temporary shutdown of all 17 of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) reactors – seven at Kashiwazaki Kariwa and six at Fukushima Daiichi and four at Fukushima Daini.

“The shutdown was following an admission from TEPCO that its staff had deliberately falsified data for inclusion in regulatory safety inspections reports. During 2003, TEPCO managed to resume operations of five of its reactors.

“The further noticeable decline in electrical output in 2007 was the result of the extended shutdown of the seven Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors, with a total installed capacity of 8 GWe, following the Niigata Chuetsu-oki earthquake in 2007. TEPCO was struggling to restart the Kashiwazaki Kariwa units, when the Fukushima earthquake occurred.”

How many of Japan’s reactors are really ‘operable’?

Nuclear power accounted for 29% of electricity generation in Japan in 2010, down from the historic peak of 36% in 1998, and plans were being developed to increase nuclear’s share to 50%. But all of Japan’s reactors were shut down in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Reactors didn’t power a single light-bulb from September 2013 to August 2015.

Japan had 55 operable reactors before Fukushima (including the ill-fated Monju fast reactor). In addition to the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, the permanent shutdown of another six reactors has been confirmed – all of them smallish (<559 MWe) and all of them ageing (grid connections between 1969 and 1977): Kansai Electric’s Mihama 1 and 2, Kyushu Electric’s Genkai 1, Shikoku’s Ikata 1, JAPC’s Tsuruga 1, and Chugoku Electric’s Shimane 1.

So Japan now has 43 ‘operable’ or ‘operational’ reactors, and it isn’t hard to identify some with little or no prospect of ever restarting, such as the four Fukushima Daini reactors (or Monju for that matter).

Two reactors at Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture were restarted in August and October 2015. And that’s it – only two of Japan’s 43 ‘operable’ or ‘operational’ reactors are actually operating. Moreover an anti-nuclear candidate, Satoshi Mitazono, was elected governor of Kagoshima Prefecture in early July 2016 and he announced that he will seek the shut-down of the two Sendai reactors – he can prevent their restart after they shut down for inspection later this year.

As of 1 July 2016, 11 utilities had applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) for safety assessments of a total of 26 reactors, including seven reactors that have completed the assessment process. Apart from whatever hurdles the NRA might put in their way, there are other obstacles: citizen-led lawsuits; local political and public opposition; economic factors, in particular the questionable economics of large investments to upgrade and restart aging reactors; and the impact of electricity deregulation and intensified market competition.

It’s anyone’s guess how many reactors might restart, but the process will continue to be drawn out – the only strong candidate for restart this year is the Ikata 3 reactor in Ehime Prefecture.

The government’s current energy policy calls for a 22-24% nuclear share of electricity generation by 2030. That is less than half of the pre-Fukushima plans for future nuclear growth (the 50% target), and considerably lower than the 29% nuclear share in 2010. Currently, nuclear power – the two Sendai reactors – account for less than 1%.

To reach the 20-22% target would require the operation of around 35 reactors by 2030, which seems highly improbable.

Cheap renewables picking up high-level support

The use of both fossil fuels and renewables has increased since the Fukushima disaster, while energy efficiency has made the task considerably easier – national power consumption in 2015 was 12% below the 2010 level.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report comments on energy politics in Japan:

“Japanese utilities are insisting on, and the government has granted and reinforced, the right to refuse cheaper renewable power, supposedly due to concerns about grid stability – hardly plausible in view of their far smaller renewable fractions than in several European countries – but apparently to suppress competition.

“The utilities also continue strenuous efforts to ensure that the imminent liberalization of the monopoly-based, vertically integrated Japanese power system should not actually expose utilities’ legacy plants to real competition.

“The ability of existing Japanese nuclear plants, if restarted, to operate competitively against modern renewables (as many in the U.S. and Europe can no longer do) is unclear because nuclear operating costs are not transparent. However, the utilities’ almost complete suppression of Japanese wind power suggests they are concerned on this score.

“And as renewables continue to become cheaper and more ubiquitous, customers will be increasingly tempted by Japan’s extremely high electricity prices to make and store their own electricity and to drop off the grid altogether, as is already happening, for example, in Hawaii and Australia.”

The Japan Association of Corporate Executives, with a membership of about 1,400 executives from around 950 companies, recently issued a statement urging Tokyo to remove hurdles holding back the expansion of renewable power – which supplied 14.3 percent of power in Japan in the year to March 2016.

The statement also notes that the outlook for nuclear is “uncertain” and that the 20‒22% target could not be met without an improbably high number of restarts of idled reactors along with numerous reactor lifespan extensions beyond 40 years.

Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said the push signalled “a profound change in thinking among blue-chip business executives.” DeWit added:

“Many business leaders have clearly thrown in the towel on nuclear and are instead openly lobbying for Japan to vault to global leadership in renewables, efficiency and smart infrastructure.”

Safety concerns – the case of Takahama

The restart of the Takahama 3 and 4 reactors in Fukui Prefecture is indicative of the nuclear industry’s broader problems. Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) first applied to the NRA for permission to restart the reactors in July 2013. In February 2015, the NRA gave its permission for KEPCO to make the required safety upgrades. The restart process was delayed by an injunction imposed by the Fukui District Court in April 2015, but the ruling was overturned in December 2015.

Takahama 3 was restarted in late January 2016, and TEPCO was in the process of resolving technical glitches affecting the start-up of Takahama 4, when the Otsu District Court in neighbouring Shiga Prefecture ruled on 9 March 2016 that the reactors must be shut down in response to a petition by 29 citizens.

The court found that investigations of active fault lines and other safety issues were not thorough enough, it expressed doubts regarding the plant’s ability to withstand a tsunami, and it questioned emergency response and evacuation plans. Citizens and NGOs also questioned the use of arbitrary figures in KEPCO’s safety analysis, and fire protection.

Nuclear Engineering International reported on 2 February 2016:

“While there are plans on paper to evacuate some Fukui residents to Hyogo, Kyoto, and Tokushima prefectures, many municipalities there have no detailed plans for receiving evacuees. Kyoto Governor Keiji Yamada said he did not feel adequate local consent had been obtained, citing concerns about evacuation issues. Shiga Governor Taizo Mikazuki said there was a lack of sufficient disaster planning.”

On July 12, the Otsu District Court rejected KEPCO’s appeal and upheld the injunction preventing the operation of Takahama 3 and 4. KEPCO plans to appeal the decision to the Osaka High Court.

Meanwhile, KEPCO is considering whether it is worth investing in upgrades required for the restart of the Takahama 1 and 2 reactors. The NRA controversially approved 20-year lifespan extensions for the two reactors (grid connected in 1974 and 1975), but citizens have initiated a lawsuit to keep them shut down.

Japan’s ‘lax’ and’ inadequate’ regulatory regime

While safety and regulatory standards have improved in the aftermath of Fukushima, there are still serious problems. Citizens and NGOs have raised countless concerns, but criticisms have also come from other quarters.

When the NRA recently approved lifespan extensions for two Takahama reactors, a former NRA commissioner broke his silence and said “a sense of crisis” over safety prompted him to go public and urge more attention to earthquake risks. Kunihiko Shimazaki, a commissioner from 2012 to 2014, said: “I cannot stand by without doing anything. We may have another tragedy …”

Professor Yoshioka Hitoshi, a Kyushu University academic who served on the government’s 2011-12 Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations, said in October 2015:

“Unfortunately, the new regulatory regime is … inadequate to ensure the safety of Japan’s nuclear power facilities. The first problem is that the new safety standards on which the screening and inspection of facilities are to be based are simply too lax. While it is true that the new rules are based on international standards, the international standards themselves are predicated on the status quo.

“They have been set so as to be attainable by most of the reactors already in operation. In essence, the NRA made sure that all Japan’s existing reactors would be able to meet the new standards with the help of affordable piecemeal modifications – back-fitting, in other words.”

Even the IAEA has slammed the feeble NRA

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review in early 2016 made the following recommendations (among others) regarding the NRA:

  • To attract competent and experienced staff, and develop competencies relevant to nuclear and radiation safety.
  • To amend relevant legislation with the aim of allowing NRA to improve the effectiveness of its inspections. The NRA inspection programme “needs significant improvement in certain areas. NRA inspectors should be legally allowed to have free access to any site at any time. The decision process for initiating reactive inspections should be shortened.”
  • To strengthen the promotion of safety culture including a questioning attitude.
  • To give greater priority to the oversight of the implementation of radiation protection measures.
  • To develop requirements and guidance for emergency preparedness and response in relation to radiation sources.

The IAEA further noted that the NRA’s enforcement provisions are inadequate:

“There is no clear written enforcement policy in place at the NRA. There is no documented process in place at NRA for determining the level of sanctions. NRA inspectors have no power to enforce corrective actions if there is an imminent likelihood of safety significant event. They are required to defer to NRA headquarters. … NRA processes for enforcement are fragmented and some processes are not documented.

“NRA needs to establish a formal Enforcement Policy that sets forth processes clearly addressing items such as evaluation of the severity level of non-conformances, sanctions for different levels of non-conformances, processes for issuance of Orders, and expected actions of NRA inspectors if significant safety issues develop.”

As the industry declines, expect new safety cutbacks

The narrative from government and industry is that safety and regulatory standards in Japan are now adequate – or they soon will be once teething problems with the new regime are sorted out. NRA Chair Shunichi Tanaka claims that Japanese regulatory standards are “the strictest in the world.”

But Japan’s safety and regulatory standards aren’t strict. Improvements are ongoing – such as NRA actions in response to the IAEA report, and reports that legislation will be revised to allow unscheduled inspections of nuclear sites. But improvements are slow, partial and piecemeal and there are forces pushing in the other direction. An Associated Press report states that nuclear laws will be revised in 2017 but not enacted until 2020.

Reactor lifespan extensions beyond 40 years were meant to be “limited only to exceptional cases” according to then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, speaking in 2012. Extensions were considered an emergency measure against a possible energy crunch. But lifespan extensions have been approved in the absence of an energy crunch, and more will likely follow.

If Japan’s nuclear history is any guide, already flawed safety and regulatory standards will be weakened over time. Signification elements of Japan’s corrupt ‘nuclear village’ are back in control just a few years after the Fukushima disaster. Add to that aging reactors, and utilities facing serious economic stress and intense competition, and there’s every reason to be concerned about nuclear safety in Japan.

Tomas Kåberger, Professor of Industrial Energy Policy at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, noted in the foreword to the latest edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report:

“A nuclear industry under economic stress may become an even more dangerous industry. Owners do what they can to reduce operating costs to avoid making economic loss. Reduce staff, reduce maintenance, and reduce any monitoring and inspection that may be avoided.

“While a stated ambition of ‘safety first’ and demands of safety authorities will be heard, the conflict is always there and reduced margins of safety may prove to be mistakes.”

 

 

August 12, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Hurdles mar Japan’s renewable energy equation

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Workers walk among rows of solar panels at Kyocera Corp.’s floating solar power plant at Sakasama Lake in the city of Kasai, Hyogo Prefecture, in May last year.

At Yamakura Dam, 45 km southeast of Tokyo, construction workers are screwing together a 51,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of floating solar panels. When completed, it will be one of the world’s largest floating solar projects.

Roughly 30 percent of the work on the project in Chiba Prefecture is complete, and when it comes online in 2018, the 13.7 megawatt facility will provide enough electricity to power almost 5,000 households annually.

However, even attention-grabbing projects like this one will produce less than 1 percent of what’s needed for Japan to reach its 2015 goal of doubling its renewable energy use to between 22 and 24 percent by 2030 from around 10 percent at present.

The growth of renewable energy in Japan risks being smothered by a wave of newly approved coal mines across the country, as the government is expected to lower its optimistic goal of reviving nuclear energy.

Experts say the government energy policy review, expected as early as next year, will likely result in a downgrading of the forecast for nuclear power’s role in the 2030 energy mix — to between 10 and 15 percent from its current 22 to 24 percent. The move to amend the forecast, initially made in 2015, comes as the government faces ongoing legal challenges and public backlash against the restart of nuclear reactors that were taken offline in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns.

Downgrading the nuclear proportion of the energy mix will provide a fresh wave of opportunities for alternative energy sources to play a larger role.

However, experts say burdensome environmental assessments for wind and geothermal energy, disadvantaged access to the power grid, as well as 48 approved new coal mines, will mean renewable energy may see few of the benefits.

In almost every prefecture nuclear power and fossil fuels are classified as “baseload” energy sources and given priority access to the electricity grid. While renewable companies have access, they are the first to be switched off in the event of excess power and they aren’t compensated.

Ali Izadi-Najafabadi, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Japan, said this is the opposite of the way systems are configured in Europe, where renewables get first access to the grid because they have the lowest marginal cost of production.

“The government said they wanted to make sure the baseload generators wouldn’t have to adjust the baseload for renewables, which are unreliable. It’s a bit of a flawed argument,” Izadi-Najafabadi said.

He said it was “more about the financial arguments” for the operators of these plants. “These generators are only cheap if you produce at a constant rate,” he said.

Gerhad Fasol, CEO of Eurotechnology Japan, a company that works with European technology companies investing in renewable energy here, says the country has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world. “Japan had the initial solar surge in 2011, but now there needs to be a focus on how to broaden and diversify,” Fasol said.

Shortly after the March 2011 Fukushima meltdowns the government introduced generous incentives for investment in renewable energy in the form of feed-in tariffs where the government buys renewable energy at above-market rates.

Data from Japan’s 10 largest regional utility companies showed the share of solar in the energy mix rose to around 3.4 percent in 2015 from 0.4 percent in 2012.

But as the initial feed-in tariffs have since been scaled back, the solar investment boom is fading. Sales in photovoltaic units are on the decline and Teikoku Databank Ltd. said in a recent report that the number of solar companies going bankrupt is rising sharply.

Izadi-Najafabadi said that while large-scale solar energy investment will likely see a “significant slowdown” over the next few years, Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects a massive uptake in rooftop solar, driven by consumers incentivized by favorable loan options from banks.

“The government forecast solar would be 7 percent of the energy mix in 2030; our forecast is closer to 12 percent. We also think the government might exceed their overall 22 percent total renewable prediction. Rooftop solar is really going to drive this,” Izadi-Najafabadi said.

Others, however, are not as optimistic. Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist for Greenpeace Germany, who has analyzed Japan’s nuclear program since 1991, said large-scale renewable investment will continue falling and the government may not reach its renewable energy goals unless hurdles regarding access to the grid are surmounted.

“If you are a solar company and you aren’t guaranteed access to the grid, why would you invest? There is a critical role for the government in untangling the grid and wresting back control from the utility company in the next four years,” said Burnie.

“There is an intentional destabilization of renewables from the utility companies (through denying access to the grid) and it needs to stop.”

One of the reasons the government gives coal and nuclear energy preferential treatment is because they are considered more stable than renewable energy sources, which are reliant on weather.

In Europe, Burnie pointed out, an emphasis on a range of renewable energy sources provides most countries with a stable baseload of energy.

In Japan, the spread of renewable energy to sectors other than solar is thwarted by complicated environmental assessment approvals, which take between two and five years and are not required for nuclear power or coal-fired power plants.

There are only a few wind farms currently operating in Japan and most are offshore and in trial phases. Strong community resistance in parts of the country has also severely limited investment in land-based wind energy.

The country also has significant potential for geothermal energy, with a National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science survey in 2008 finding Japan has the third-highest resources for geothermal in the world.

However, investment has also been slowed by the environmental assessment process and resistance from the onsen hot springs industry, which is concerned about the impact accessing more geothermal energy will have on their business.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a moratorium on all new federal coal-mining leases in January and many developed countries are slowly weaning themselves off coal. However, in Japan the government is increasingly turning to fossil fuels to fill the energy gap left by idled reactors.

Liquefied natural gas has been used to fill much of the country’s short-term electricity needs and the approval of the 48 new coal mines in the past several years appears to indicate the government’s medium to long-term goals.

“We say in Japan it’s easier to build coal-fire power plants than wind farms,” said Nao-yuki Yamagishi, leader of the World Wildlife Fund Japan’s climate and energy group.

Yamagishi said that if the 48 new coal plants approved by the government come online, coal will overshoot a 26 percent target in the 2030 energy mix, down from 30 percent in 2013, and block space for further potential renewable energy increases.

Yamagishi said the recent move toward coal has made him skeptical about whether Japan is capable of fulfilling the pledge it made last December at the COP21 climate conference in Paris.

Japan vowed a 26 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a pledge at the lower end compared with other OECD countries.

“The current administration doesn’t place any emphasis on climate change,” Yamagishi said, adding that the recent Upper House election campaign had a lot of discussion about nuclear energy, but nothing about climate change.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/07/22/business/hurdles-mar-japans-renewable-energy-equation/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+japantimes+%28The+Japan+Times%3A+All+Stories%29#.V5K-2e1VK1F

July 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Japan business lobby says Abe govt can’t rely on nuclear energy

Japan‘s use of nuclear power is unlikely to meet a government target of returning to near pre-Fukushima levels and the world’s No.3 economy needs to get serious about boosting renewables, a senior executive at a top business lobby said.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s energy policies, nuclear is supposed to supply a fifth of energy generation by 2030, but Teruo Asada, vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said Japan was unlikely to get anywhere near this.

The influential business lobby has issued a proposal urging Tokyo to remove hurdles for renewable power amid the shaky outlook for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The move shows how business attitudes are now shifting as reactor restarts get held up by legal challenges, safety issues and public scepticism.

“We have a sense of crisis that Japan will become a laughing stock if we do not encourage renewable power,” said Asada, who is also chairman of trading house Marubeni Corp.

Long dependent on imported fossil fuels, Japan’s government and big business actively promoted nuclear energy despite widespread public opposition.

The government wants nuclear to make up 20-22 percent of electricity supply by 2030, down from 30 percent before Fukushima. So far, however, only two out of 42 operable reactors have started and the newly elected governor of the prefecture where they are located has pledged to shut them.

Renewables supplied 14.3 percent of power in the year to March 2016 and the government’s 2030 target is 22-24 pct.

“In the very long term, we have to lower our dependence on nuclear. Based on current progress, nuclear power reliance may not reach even 10 percent,” said Asada, adding the association wanted measures to encourage private investment in renewables and for public funding of infrastructure such as transmission lines.

The influential business lobby has a membership of about 1,400 executives from around 950 companies.

Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo focusing on energy issues, said the push signaled “a profound change in thinking among blue-chip business executives.”

“Many business leaders have clearly thrown in the towel on nuclear and are instead openly lobbying for Japan to vault to global leadership in renewables, efficiency and smart infrastructure.”

When asked about the association’s proposals, an industry ministry official said the government was maintaining its nuclear target.

“The Japanese government will aim for the maximum introduction of renewable energy but renewable energy has a cost issue,” said Yohei Ogino, a deputy director for energy policy.

But three sources familiar with official thinking told Reuters in May that Japan will cut reliance on nuclear power when it releases an updated energy plan as early as next year.

Following the nuclear reactor meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011, Japan has had some success in overcoming one of the world’s worst peacetime energy crises, partly due to lower oil prices and liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices.

Japan has also promoted renewables but most investment has been in solar and in recent years it has cut incentives.

“There are too many hurdles for other sources of renewable power,” Asada said.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/japan-energy-idUKL4N19N1D4

 

July 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Renewable energy projects happening without fanfare

(Canada) B.C. renewable-energy news items add up – City of Industry, Vancouver Sun, By Derrick Penner Biz 23 Nov 2010 They aren’t making big news, but the companies working on renewable energy projects continue to rack up small news items in the continuing development of the sector. Continue reading

November 26, 2010 Posted by | Canada, renewable | , , , , | Leave a comment

Time for Canada’s govt to come clean on renewable energy promotion

the Harper government has favoured solutions that benefit established industries in the Conservatives’ Western Canada power base. In its last budget, the government created a “clean-energy fund” of nearly $800 million, but most of the money is being invested in carbon capture and storage, which oilsands developers plan to use to store carbon emissions underground.

Tories quietly reviewing support for renewable energy technologies Companies say Canada needs to urgently develop a national strategy for clean energy By Andrew Mayeda, Vancouver Sun, s November 22, 2010 Continue reading

November 23, 2010 Posted by | Canada, politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Britain to help renewable energy development in Africa and Asia

Britain today pledged to spend several hundred million pounds to finance a series of private sector green energy initiatives intended to bring electricity to some of the poorest African and Asian households….In Asia the project could generate 5GW of new renewable energy and create 60,000 jobs,”

Government to fund private sector renewable energy schemes for Africa Global development | guardian.co.uk, 18 Nov 10, The international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, pledges to finance green energy projects proposed by industry that could raise £9 for every £1 of government money  guardian.co.uk,  18 November 2010 Continue reading

November 19, 2010 Posted by | AFRICA, renewable | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Research needed for smart grid and renewable energy development

Research and development is needed to prepare the electric grid for the coming onslaught of new solar and wind power, in much the way farmers must prepare the ground before sowing a crop, (picture below from Repower America)


Report: Electric Grid R&D Must Parallel Expansion of Renewable Power,  NYTimes.com, By JENNY MANDEL  November 16, 2010 tThe Energy Department should expand its research on energy storage, long-distance electricity transmission and short-term weather forecasting in order tosupport the growing use of renewable energy, the American Physical Society says in a report released today. Continue reading

November 18, 2010 Posted by | renewable, USA | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Growing strength of new international energy agency

IRENA believes that renewable energy use must, and will increase dramatically in the coming years, because of its key role in:

  • enhancing energy security
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change
  • alleviating energy poverty
  • supporting sustainable development, and
  • boosting economic growth.

IRENA – Building a New Energy Agency RenewablesNovember 15, 2010 by Anja Atkinson On the 24th and 25th October, the International Renewable Energy Agency held it’s fourth session of the Preparatory Commission in Abu Dhabi. All together 300 delegates attended from more than 100 countries. Continue reading

November 17, 2010 Posted by | 2 WORLD, renewable | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No, Mr President, we can’t ‘restart’ the nuclear industry

A “commercial” nuclear reactor would cost upwards of 15 billion dollars to build in America today and require massive government subsidies which could be invested in, for example, offshore wind power and transmission lines instead.

A response to President Obama on nuclear industry, Media With Conscience , By Ace Hoffman, 8 Nov 10, During a press conference after the elections this week, President Obama made a short reference in vague support of nuclear energy. He said:”There’s been discussion about how we can restart our nuclear industry as a means of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases.  Is that an area where we can move forward?” Continue reading

November 8, 2010 Posted by | general | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Californians vote for solar energy and ‘green collar’ jobs

the solar energy sector has created 17,000 jobs since 2009, and supports roughly 46,000 related jobs in the U.S. Employment in solar is expected to surpass 60,000 jobs by the end of 2010.
“Californians get it,” said Rooney. “California continues to lead the way on a critical national policy debate by rejecting the Prop. 23 notion that clean energy means fewer jobs.

CALIFORNIA VOTERS REJECT PROP 23 AND SEND MESSAGE: “RENEWABLE ENERGY IS HERE TO STAYaltenergy.com Solar Industry Leader Says Validation of AB32 Cements Foundation for Continued Investment and Job Creation in America’s Largest Renewable Power Market   NOVATO, CA—November 3, 2010 Continue reading

November 4, 2010 Posted by | renewable, USA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Singapore delaying nuclear power indefinitely, as solar gets cheaper

you won’t see a nuclear power plant in or around Singapore for at least something in the order of 10 to 20 years or even longer than that…Another option being explored by Singapore is solar power, which has become more cost effective over the years.

Nuclear power plant in S’pore not likely for next 10-20 years expert – Channel NewsAsia, By Joanne Chan  : 02 November 2010 , SINGAPORE : Singapore is unlikely to have a nuclear power plant for at least the next 10 to 20 years, said one advisor to the local energy sector. Continue reading

November 3, 2010 Posted by | ASIA, business and costs | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Small scale renewable energy has big future in Africa

“Many developmental agencies consider small-scale RE projects as the most feasible solution for accelerated rural electrification and therefore are increasingly investing in medium-sized projects, especially wind and solar projects.”

South Africa’s Renewable Energy Gold Rush Renewable Energy news, by Energy Matters, 2 Nov 10, Renewable Energy in South AfricaSub-Saharan Africa is likely to become the new boom region for global renewable energy investment, according to a new international study. Continue reading

November 2, 2010 Posted by | AFRICA, decentralised | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Renewable energy for Austria

Austrians stake claim to green energy – The Diplomat Bucharest – November 2010 Renewable energy investments from Austria are expected to rise – if the legal incentive scheme for this is in place, according to Rudolf Lukavsky, commercial counsellor for the Austrian Embassy in BucharestAustria is expecting a rise of its investments in renewable energy projects in Romania, especially in the fields of hydro power and wind parks, according to Rudolf Lukavsky, commercial counsellor for the Austrian Embassy.
However the Government is still putting the financial touches to a workable law on renewable energy, which was drawn up at the end of June, but still lacks the secondary legislation.
Once this is in place, there should be a clearer incentive scheme for the period up until 2020, helping investors in green energy to establish a predictable business plan to present to their potential financiers. Austrians stake claim to green energy – The Diplomat Bucharest – November 2010

November 1, 2010 Posted by | EUROPE, renewable | , , | Leave a comment