Japan scraps plan for 14 new nuclear plants

Japan PM on Fukushima: “Taking this as a lesson, we will lead the world in clean energy such as solar and biomass”

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday that Japan would abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors, saying his country needed to “start from scratch” in creating a new energy policy….

Mr. Kan said Japan would retain nuclear and fossil fuels as energy sources, but vowed to add two new pillars to Japan’s energy policy: renewable energy and conservation.

Even before Fukushima, nuclear power had priced itself out of the market in most industrialized countries (see “Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve?“)  Back in October, Exelon CEO John Rowe explained that low gas prices and no carbon price pushed back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two.”

After Fukushima, the myth that we could somehow cuts costs by accelerating the permitting and construction process and skimping on safety had its own melt down (see “The Nukes of Hazard“).  And that myth was always going to take its hottest hit in Japan itself.

Last month, Kan made clear the future was going to be non-nuclear clean energy:

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said alternative new energy would become “a major pillar” after the Fukushima accident.”Taking this as a lesson, we will lead the world in clean energy such as solar and biomass, as we take a step toward resurrection,” he told lawmakers last week.

Now Kan is starting to take a more aggressive stance on this inevitable future, as the NYT reports today:

Tuesday’s decision will abandon a plan that the Kan government released last year to build 14 more nuclear reactors by 2030 and increase the share of nuclear power in Japan’s electricity supply to 50 percent. Japan currently has 54 reactors that before the earthquake produced 30 percent of its electricity….

The cancellation of the planned nuclear plants is the second time that Mr. Kan has suddenly announced big changes in Japanese nuclear policy without the usual endless committee meetings and media leaks that characterize the country’s consensus-driven decision making. Mr. Kan appears to be seeking a stronger leadership role after criticism of his government’s sometimes slow and indecisive handling of the Fukushima accident….

While Japan has been a global leader in energy conservation, it lags behind the United States and Europe in adopting solar and wind power, and other new energy sources….

Mr. Kan also appeared to pull back from his earlier vows to remain committed to nuclear power. His apparent about-face may be driven partly by public opinion, which has soured on nuclear power since the Fukushima accident.

The good news is that energy efficiency and renewable energy are ready now to take up any slack (see “Why clean energy can scale today“).  See also “IPCC special report finds renewables could meet over three quarters (75%) of global energy needs in 2050.”

Finally, Climate Connect has a relevant post from last month, “Enormous wind, solar energy resource potential available in Japan: Govt report.”

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22 Responses to Japan scraps plan for 14 new nuclear plants

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Nice to see some decisiveness here, and a facts-driven change.

    Japan has a small fraction of the wind and solar resources that we do, and not much in the way of biomass, either. It’s pretty far north for solar, and strong winds are offshore, where turbines cost much more.

    This has a positive aspect to it. The Japanese are brilliant engineers and manufacturers, but have spent too much time tagging along Western technology habits. When they break away- as in the Prius and electronics robotics, for example- they lead the world.

    Expect to see Japan producing ingenious and pioneering wind turbines and solar modules in the next five years. I love that country and its people, and fully expect them to do so.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    125 Southeast of Tokyo –
    TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese utility agreed Monday to shutter three nuclear reactors at a coastal power plant while it builds a seawall and improves other tsunami defenses there.

    Chubu Electric Power Co. acted at a special board meeting after Prime Minister Naoto Kan requested the temporary shutdown at the Hamaoka plant amid concerns an earthquake magnitude 8.0 or higher could strike the central Japanese region sometime within 30 years.

  3. Richard Brenne says:

    Mike Roddy (#1) – Great comment, as always. You have an amazing knowledge of the history, politics and geography of clean energy, and I always find myself agreeing.

    What’s the latest from Fukushima? Why does this story disappear like everything’s okay?

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    A quick search for Japan’s wind and solar potential yields:

    “Enormous wind, solar energy resource potential available in Japan: Govt report”

    Apply all relevant grains of salt to these estimates of course, but Japan has wind and solar resources, and now it has an incentive.

    [JR: Thanks for this!]

  5. The US hasn’t built a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years and look how successful the US is as far as energy independence and reduced global warming are concernce. Japan is making a politically correct decision that’s going to make domestic energy production there extremely expensive while China continues to construct nuclear reactors on a massive scale.

    But this could be good news for the US if it allows America to dominate the new generation of small underground nuclear reactors which could have dramatically lower capital cost if they are centrally mass produced. If such reactors are also used to manufacture carbon neutral synfuels such as gasoline, methanol, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and dimethyl ether using the green freedom process, the US could be a major clean energy exporter of carbon neutral synfuels to places like Japan and Germany and other countries that don’t want to use nuclear power plants.

  6. Solar Jim says:

    The latest news is that at least two leading global economies, Germany and Japan, are abandoning the failed Atomic Age concept of civilian atomic fission. This is revolutionary. Congratulations to these two nations for integrity and wisdom of leadership for the benefit of their people and the world.

    Will the United States be next, or next to last in the safe, clean, renewable energy and efficiency revolution? Stay tuned and stay politically engaged.

    Maybe if the people of the United States can remove the corrosive financial ownership of our government by fossil and fissile fuel ideologues, then we might follow these courageous examples. This might entail figuring out what to do with our trillion dollar per year military which is powered by fossil and fissile materials. Maybe civilian clean energy service economics should be separate from the fuels of war (or war for fuels, or war of fools, or fools for war, fossil/fissile fools.) Then, only the military would be creating national and international insecurity via ecosphere contamination including climate change.

    As we stand in solidarity with those suffering in Japan, we say thank you to Japan and Germany for these momentous transformations of national economic policy.

  7. catman306 says:

    @Richard Brennne

    U.S.-Japan joint survey reveals high radiation beyond evacuation zone

    Bad news.

  8. Pessimisti says:

    There goes the chance to reduce Japan’s CO2 emissions. Renewables will not be able to provide reliable energy for the heavy industry in Japan. The gap will be filled mostly with fossil fuels. Just wait and see. Same happens in Germany after they close down the old nukes. I hate nukes but we can’t do without them at the moment. Heavy industry just doesn’t run on wind and solar (it may in the future though).
    On the positive side this might result in new innovation once the Japanese engineers put more effort in renewables. It will be an extreme challenge to provide clean energy for such a big population and economy situated on a few small islands.

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks Catman, that is bad news. I try to read Desdemona Despair before going to bed in case I’m running out of nightmares (I’m not). I had dinner with Jim who runs Desdemona in Seattle and with Gail at Wit’s End, Mike Roddy, Richard Pauli and others. I thought I’d died and gone to Doomer Heaven.

  10. Peter Sergienko says:

    I attended a one-hour, 30,000-foot level overview of nuclear power generation a couple of weeks ago presented by the faculty member responsible for running the reactor at Reed College. Yes, there is a very small nuclear reactor at Reed, which, interestingly, is adjacent to a lovely residential neighborhood in Southeast Portland. He was certainly still a proponent of utility-scale nuclear, but this seems unlikely to contribute a solutions wedge at this point. I didn’t get a chance to ask this at the talk, but is, could, or should be an alternative solutions model for “distributed” nuclear? Would much smaller plants using standardized technology be economically feasible? Assuming economic feasibility, distributed nuclear seems to avoid two of the three strikes (cost and operating safety) that seem to keep sending utlity-scale nuclear back to the bench looking befuddled by the umpire’s shout of, “Yer outta here!” The third strike is waste management. I don’t see how we avoid that one with current technology.

  11. Lou Grinzo says:

    Mark(4): “…and now [Japan] has an incentive.”

    I would phrase this a bit differently and say that they now perceive (accurately, IMO) that they have had an incentive to ditch nuclear power for a long time, so they’re now going to act on that perception. It just took them slightly less time to figure it out than it’s (still) taking other countries to get to 4 from 2 + 2.

    This is a point that can’t be stressed enough, although I try: All of us, from individuals up to very large aggregations of people and power, act on our perceptions, not on reality. And unlike reality, perception can be dramatically changed via advertising and bribery, among other dark arts…

  12. Mike Roddy says:

    Mark Shapiro,

    Yes, Japan has lots of wind and solar potential, as do most countries. The issue is whether those sources are close enough to being competitive with fossil fuels when utility scale plants are built. 25% less power delivery makes a huge difference in feasibility, since hardware costs are similar.

    The report you linked mentioned about 5 times as much offshore potential, which is costly, but even the onshore potential probably refers to wind that will merely turn turbine blades. That’s not the same as wind in, say, Kansas or California’s Tehachapi Pass, which is strong and continuous.

    Solar at utility scale is far more cost effective in the desert, and closer to mid latitudes than Japan is. Why do you think the Europeans, with conditions similar to Japan’s, want to build solar plants in the Sahara, with all of the political and transmission headaches?

    For distributed power, even if roofs sprout a lot of panels, much of the housing in Japan is multistory, without enough space for collectors. I’ve lived and worked in Japan.

    This all gets back to my point: Japan will have to work harder, and design better systems, in order to make renewables work in that environment. I think they can do it, but improvements will be required.

    And thanks, Richard Brenne! I hope you are writing the screenplay that we need.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Lou Grinzo #12. Yes, you are right, people trust their perceptions and they can be manipulated, particularly through TV, but we are coming to the point where our perceptions of climate change based on local weather are coinciding with the reality of the science.

    This point of coincidence provides us with the perfect opportunity to inject the most basic facts about the action of GHGs, which in my experience many people do not understand, in exactly the same way that Japan’s earthquake and tsunami provided the opportunity for a politically successful change of heart about nukes.

    Also, politicians will not normally change course until they perceive that the moment is right and recently there have been postings here such as Republicans ‘forgetting’ they voted for subsidies to fossil fuel companies, plus opinion polls, that indicate that such a moment is getting closer.

    Wild weather combined with public anger about such things as a poor economy or rising cost of living can provide a perfect opportunity for a politically successful move on climate change. Maybe even in the USA? I hope I’m right, ME

  14. kiwichick says:

    geothermal could provide 50% of japan’s electricity

  15. David B. Benson says:

    I should think that solar PV might well make sense in Japan, even if just for the summer heat & humidity.

  16. prokaryotes says:

    Japan PM on Fukushima: “Taking this as a lesson, we will lead the world in clean energy such as solar and biomass”

  17. Mark Sandeen says:

    @catman306 @Richard Breene The chart shows Cs-137 radiation which has a half life of 30 years.

    The red section of the graph shows 19 to 90 microSV / hour of Cs-137 radiation.
    That works out to 166 to 788 mSV/ year for people living in that area.

    The US limit for an individual’s radiation exposure from a nuclear plant is 1 mSV / year.
    The US has set a radiation limit of 50 mSV / year for nuclear plant workers.
    Japan has set a radiation limit of 250 mSV / year for nuclear plant workers.

    It is going to be a long, long time before it is safe to live in that area.

  18. madcitysmitty says:

    What about liquid floride thorium reactors? The Earth’s crust has 4X more thorium than uranium. India–which has no uranium, but massive thorium reserves–and France are working on it. A friend (who is very concerned about GW) claims thorium reactors have advantages in design, operation, safety, waste management, cost and proliferation resistance. Apparently, Admiral Rickover tipped the U.S. toward uranium powered reactors to get plutonium-239 for bombs. With disarmament, that’s not a factor.

    Do any of you nuclear experts know whether this merits serious attention?

  19. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Good Move. Will then Japan invests heavily in Renewables?

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  20. Artful Dodger says:

    “…Did it work? Anyone? Anyone know the effects? It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve.”
    — The Economics Teacher (1986).

  21. Mike # 22 says:

    TEPCO is reporting that Number 1 was a meltdown, and may have melted a hole through the Reactor Pressure Vessel, releasing highly radioactive materials along with thousands of tons of very contaminated water. Plans to flood the containment in order to start a new cooling process are on hold.

    The badly damaged upper sections of Number 4 may be leaning, and TEPCO is planning some structural support for the spent fuel pool at the top of Number 4, which has several cores worth of fuel in it.

    Temperatures in Number 3 are up sharply this week, according to TEPCO.

    Large amounts of smoke or steam have been seen coming from Number 3 and 4, TEPCO says this is OK.

    Observation on Number 4. Doesn’t look like anyone has modeled what happens when a fuel pool with 200 plus tons of (very carefully arranged) rods collapses. It can be expected to include a large release of radioactive materials.

    Storing spent fuel on top of reactor buildings has turned out to be a very bad idea. These pools have to emptied as much as possible, as soon as possible, everywhere in the world.

    This is horrible.