Tag Archives: nuclear energy Japan

Can Nuclear Power Beat Climate Change?

The 2019 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR2019) assesses the status and trends of the international nuclear industry and analyzes the potential role of nuclear power as an option to combat climate change. Eight interdisciplinary experts from six countries, including four university professors and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s co-founder and chairman emeritus, have contributed to the report.

While the number of operating reactors has increased over the past year by four to 417 as of mid-2019, it remains significantly below historic peak of 438 in 2002.  Nuclear construction has been shrinking over the past five years with 46 units underway as of mid-2019, compared to 68 reactors in 2013 and 234 in 1979. The number of annual construction starts have fallen from 15 in the pre-Fukushima year (2010) to five in 2018 and, so far, one in 2019. The historic peak was in 1976 with 44 construction starts, more than the total in the past seven years.

WNISR project coordinator and publisher Mycle Schneider stated: “There can be no doubt: the renewal rate of nuclear power plants is too slow to guarantee the survival of the technology. The world is experiencing an undeclared ‘organic’ nuclear phaseout.”  Consequently, as of mid-2019, for the first time the average age of the world nuclear reactor fleet exceeds 30 years.

However, renewables continue to outpace nuclear power in virtually all categories. A record 165 gigawatts (GW) of renewables were added to the world’s power grids in 2018; the nuclear operating capacity increased by 9 GW. Globally, wind power output grew by 29% in 2018, solar by 13%, nuclear by 2.4%. Compared to a decade ago, nonhydro renewables generated over 1,900 TWh more power, exceeding coal and natural gas, while nuclear produced less.

What does all this mean for the potential role of nuclear power to combat climate change? WNISR2019 provides a new focus chapter on the question. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Professor at the Central European University and Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III, notes in her Foreword to WNISR2019 that several IPCC scenarios that reach the 1.5°C temperature target rely heavily on nuclear power and that “these scenarios raise the question whether the nuclear industry will actually be able to deliver the magnitude of new power that is required in these scenarios in a cost-effective and timely manner.”

Over the past decade, levelized cost estimates for utility-scale solar dropped by 88%, wind by 69%, while nuclear increased by 23%. New solar plants can compete with existing coal fired plants in India, wind turbines alone generate more electricity than nuclear reactors in India and China. But new nuclear plants are also much slower to build than all other options, e.g. the nine reactors started up in 2018 took an average of 10.9 years to be completed. In other words, nuclear power is an option that is more expensive and slower to implement than alternatives and therefore is not effective in the effort to battle the climate emergency, rather it is counterproductive, as the funds are then not available for more effective options.

Excerpts from WNISR2019 Assesses Climate Change and the Nuclear Power Option, Sept. 24, 2019

Why Japan Likes its Monju: nuclear reactors

Monju  is a Japanese sodium-cooled fast reactor, located in Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, Fukui Prefecture..  Monju is a sodium cooled, MOX-fueled, loop-type reactor with three primary coolant loops…The reactor has been inoperative for most of the time since it has been built [due to accidents and resulting public suspicion].  On December 8, 1995, the reactor suffered a serious accident. Intense vibration caused a thermowell inside a pipe carrying sodium coolant to break… [T]he sodium was not radioactive. However, there was massive public outrage in Japan when it was revealed that Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), the semigovernmental agency then in charge of Monju, had tried to cover up the extent of the accident and resulting damage. This coverup included falsifying reports and the editing of a videotape taken immediately after the accident, as well as issuing a gag order that aimed to stop employees revealing that tapes had been edited.

More  Problems

On 16 February 2012 Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agenbcy reported that a sodium-detector malfunctioned.  On 30 April 2013 an operating error rendered two of the three emergency generators unusable.  On Monday 16 September 2013 before 3 a.m. the data transmission of the reactor stopped to the government’s Emergency Response Support System.

Excerpts from Wikipedia

A panel of experts set up by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has begun discussions on what should be done about the Monju reactor. The panel is expected to reach a conclusion by the summer 2016.  Since 2012, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has repeatedly conducted on-the-spot inspections of Monju, which is now operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Every time these inspections were conducted, however, they have identified faulty maintenance checks of the reactor and others that violated related laws and regulations.,Monju’s maintenance and inspection program was drawn up in 2009. What is a serious issue is the program had a large number of defects.About 50,000 pieces of equipment must be inspected at the reactor. Without a carefully thought-out plan, these inspections will be far from smooth. It is crucial to review the maintenance and inspection plan, which is the foundation for ensuring safety…

Under the government’s Strategic Energy Plan, Monju is considered a key research base to reduce the volume of nuclear waste. The development of nuclear reactors similar to Monju is under way in Russia, China and India, as uranium resources can be effectively utilized with the fast breeder reactor.Can Japan afford to stop development of the fast breeder reactor and let these countries lead the way? This is indeed a crucial moment.

New organization needed to regain public trust in Monju management, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan 18, 2015

Fukushima Nuclear Waste: the storage plan

The Japan’s Environment Ministry officially announced on December 14, 2013 that the government aims to buy 19 sq. km of land around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex to build facilities for the long-term storage of radioactive and other waste churned up in decontamination work…Under the plan, the government will build storage and volume reduction facilities on land bought around the Fukushima No. 1 plant host towns of Futaba and Okuma, as well as a small facility in Naraha, while utilizing an existing disposal site in Tomioka. Those two towns co-host the Fukushima No. 2 power station.

Up to 28 million cu. meters of waste could be stored in the envisaged facilities, whose total cost is estimated at about ¥1 trillion, the officials said.  Providing local consent is secured, the government will take legislative action to ensure that the waste’s final disposal will take place outside the prefecture within 30 years from the start of storage, the ministry said.  With the dim prospects of building interim storage facilities delaying decontamination of areas affected by the March 2011 nuclear disaster, the government hopes to start using the planned facilities in January 2015.  Desperate to begin construction in April, the government will seek ¥100 billion in the fiscal 2014 budget for related expenses, including the cost of acquiring the land, ministry officials said.

Ministry unveils plan to buy 19 sq. km of land around Fukushima No. 1 for waste storage, Japan Times, Dec. 14, 2013

The Renewable Energy Bubble in Japan

The shining light that was once Japan’s renewable energy industry is beginning to dim as reality sets in and it faces competition from a rejuvenated nuclear power industry…According to a February nationwide survey by the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, 34 of the 79 solar energy producers who responded said they had given up on at least one solar power project. Roughly 45 percent of those respondents cited difficulties in land procurement, followed by 25 percent who said they had problems joining the power grid.

One such project in Hokkaido, located near the New Chitose Airport, called for a 100-hectare solar power generation facility. The site adjacent to the Abiragawa river remains covered in weeds to this day.  “We call it an April 17 crisis,” said Hiroaki Fujii, the 43-year-old executive vice president at SB Energy Corp., a Tokyo-based company that designed the plans.  On that date this year, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said it would only purchase a total of 400 megawatts of electricity as part of the feed-in tariff system from the so-called mega-solar power plants, each with a generation capacity of 2 megawatts or more. That amounts to turning down as many as 70 percent of the 87 applications to sell it power, filed through March, with a combined output capacity of 1.568 gigawatts.  One Hokkaido Electric official justified the decision: “Our power grid has a limited capacity. Accepting too much power from solar plants, where output levels fluctuate wildly depending on the weather, compromises a stable supply of electricity.”

One Sapporo-based real estate company lost money speculating. The company purchased two plots of land to host solar power plants that never materialized. “We were taken in by a renewable energy bubble,” the company’s president lamented.

The renewable energy feed-in tariff system was introduced in July 2012. It obligates utilities to purchase electricity generated by solar and wind plants at predetermined prices. The then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan initiated the system in a bid to bolster the nation’s renewable energy production, which accounted for less than 2 percent of the total power generation at the time, to 30 percent.

The regional utility’s decision to limit its purchases of solar power cannot be assigned to grid capacity alone. The decision was taken in large part due to Hokkaido Electric’s expectations that all three idled reactors at its Tomari nuclear power plant will eventually go back online…But if utilities revert to relying on nuclear power to levels before the Fukushima disaster, that could leave very little room for the emerging renewable energy industries to grow.

Enter the savior of Japan’s nuclear energy sector: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s growth strategy. The Abe administration is eager to export Japan’s nuclear technologies and expertise. Not only did his government help secure a contract to build nuclear reactors in Turkey, but Abe himself, acting as the country’s top salesman, visited Saudi Arabia, India and Central Europe to promote Japanese nuclear capabilities.  In late March, a group representing the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) also visited the Sizewell nuclear power plant 160 kilometers northeast of London. The forum’s constituent members include power utilities and manufacturers dealing in nuclear technologies.  There are plans to build two more nuclear reactors on the grounds of the Sizewell site.

“Expanding our nuclear operations overseas has come to play a larger role in our perspective since the Abe administration came to power,” said Akihiro Matsuzaki, an official in the JAIF Department of International Affairs and a member of the mission to Sizewell. Foundation work is already under way there.  Hitachi Ltd., which acquired Britain’s Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd., said it also hopes to boost the annual sales of its nuclear business division from the current 160 billion yen ($1.64 billion) to 360 billion yen by fiscal 2020.  “We will be part of Abenomics (Abe’s economic policy),” Hitachi Senior Vice President Tatsuro Ishizuka told a briefing session for investors on June 13.

MARI FUJISAKI, Japan’s growth in renewable energy dims as nuclear strives for comeback, Asahi Shimbun July 7, 2013

Nuclear Energy and the Supplies of Uranium: 2013

Uranium is poised to rebound from a second annual decline as Japan considers restarting its atomic plants almost two years after the Fukushima disaster and China pushes ahead with the world’s biggest nuclear building program…A revival in demand from Japan is raising the prospect that supplies of the radioactive metal will shrink at the same time as China continues with a project to increase its nuclear power capacity at least fivefold by 2020. That’s a boost for uranium producers such as Perth, Australia-based Paladin (PDN) Energy Ltd. It’s also a blow for liquefied natural gas exporters including Qatar and Australia, which have helped plug Japan’s power shortage since the earthquake that led to the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March 2011.,,,

The uranium forecasts for 2013 ranged from $45 to $62.60 a ton in the Bloomberg survey conducted Dec. 10 to Dec. 19. That compares with a three-year high of $73 in February 2011, according to data from Roswell, Georgia-based Ux Consulting, which advises the nuclear industry. The fuel averaged $56.80 in 2011 and was $43 a pound on Jan. 3.  The price plunged as low as $49.75 a ton in March 2011 after Japan’s biggest earthquake on record and a subsequent tsunami damaged reactors at the Fukushima site run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), releasing radiation and causing the evacuation of 160,000 people. The government responded to the disaster by keeping all 54 of the nation’s then-functioning atomic plants shut after safety checks, while countries from China to France reviewed their nuclear policies and Germany said it would close its facilities….

Speculation that uranium demand will rebound has grown since Dec. 16, when Japan’s Liberal Democrat Party won a landslide election victory. The previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, which ordered the shutdowns, planned to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s…

Stockmarket investors have been betting that the resumptions will occur and boost uranium demand just as China pushes on with plans to build at least 26 new reactors. At the same time, analysts are predicting a drop in the price of LNG as Japan’s utilities seek to reduce their electricity-generation costs by switching back to nuclear.

Paladin, which operates two uranium mines in Africa and has exploration assets in Australia, rose 22 percent in Sydney in the two days through Dec. 18. Energy Resources of Australia Ltd. (ERA), whose Ranger mine in the Northern Territory produces about 10 percent of the world’s mined uranium, advanced 13 percent over the same period. Australia has the world’s largest known deposits of the fuel, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The cost of Japan’s LNG imports almost doubled in the past three years, reaching a record $18.07 per million Btu in July, according to Finance Ministry data. Purchases for the first 11 months of last year increased 11.5 percent from the same period in 2011 to a record 79.5 million tons, according to data from the ministry….The country must restart reactors quickly because of the price of fossil fuels, LDP General Council Chairman Hiroyuki Hosoda said Nov. 27.

Ben Sharples. Uranium Rebound Seen as Japan Considers Nuclear: Energy Markets, Bloomberg, Jan. 4, 2012

Nuclear Protesters and the Establishment: Japan

Eight million people signed an Internet petition demanding an end to nuclear power and hundreds of thousands joined public protests. Yet Japan handed an election landslide to the most pro-atomic option on offer.  Anti-nuclear activists have been left licking their wounds after the first national poll since the tsunami-sparked disaster at Fukushima saw an apparent melting away of public anger as the country welcomed back the establishment…

The Liberal Democratic Party bagged 294 of the 480 seats in the lower house, crushing their opponents, the biggest of which won only 57 seats.  Where smaller parties offered an end to nuclear power — immediately, over ten years, or within three decades — the LDP pledged only to “decide” on reactor restarts within three years.

Commentators say the pro-business party is likely to give the green light to power companies. Markets agree, with shares in Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TECPO) surging around 50 percent in two days after the win.  The problem, said the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun newspaper, was that other issues trumped nuclear; voters were frustrated with Japan’s economic malaise, huge public debts, fragile employment and diplomatic friction with China.  The public were looking for a way to punish the ruling Democratic Party of Japan for its policy failures…In fact, says the Asahi, the anti-nuclear vote was almost completely neutralised because of the fragmentation caused by this mushrooming of parties.

Excerpts from Hiroshi Hiyama, Japan anti-nuclear vote melts away, Agence France Presse, Dec. 23, 2012