Japan’s nuclear dream over…? Ummm, not really!

I posted something on the issue of Japan becoming a nuclear-power free country about a week ago and what impact this would have on the country, particularly coming up to the heavy power usage summer period.

I suggested that Japan would become a very important case study for other countries considering going away from nuclear power.

Well, it seems that this isn’t now going to happen and that at least two nuclear power reactors will be brought on-line very soon, to deal with a reported 15% power deficit in the western area!

I have to say i’m a bit surprised, given what has very recently happened to the country. In some ways it’s a good thing and will lead to far less CO2 being emitted from alternative power sources, including oil and gas. It’s also actually a bit predictable, given Japan’s renewable power system is not yet able to support the country’s power needs. A very tempting situation to be in for the Government – having a fleet of 50+ reactors just standing by, ready to supply vast quantities of power.

A bit more time needed for the renewable power sector.



The nuclear debate: Monbiot v Simon…


Probably the most interesting 5,000 words i’ve read for many years. If you are into energy production, the environment or sustainability, this small exchange between George Monbiot and Theo Simon will really bring the issue of nuclear power into focus.


The article in full: Theo Simon response to George Monbiot

The two issues which really do need to be investigated are the ‘need’ for new nuclear power (can renewables fill that gap and quickly enough to prevent runaway climate change?) and the issue of what happens to the nuclear waste?

As things stand, i’m in favour of a new generation of nuclear waste-processing power stations, not power stations which will create the next waste legacy for generations to come. I’m also very interested in exactly how renewables will fill the gap, but fear that coal and gas will inevitably fill the gap instead, as is happening already in Germany and Japan.


Energy and pollution…

I just realised it’s been at least a day since my last rant about energy/pollution and the environment, so here goes… : )

Another great article from Monbiot on the issue of pollution, from one of the most feared sources on Earth – Nuclear power!

‘Let’s begin with safety. The best evidence for the safety and resilience of nuclear power plants can be found at Fukushima. Not at Fukushima Daiichi, the power station where the meltdowns and explosions took place, but at Fukushima Daini, the plant next door. You’ve never heard of it? There’s a good reason for that. It was run by the same slovenly company. It was hit by the same earthquake and the same tsunami. But it survived. Like every other nuclear plant struck by the wave, it went into automatic cold shutdown. With the exception of a nuclear missile attack, it withstood the sternest of all possible tests.

What we see here is the difference between 1970s and 1980s safety features. The first Daiichi reactor was licensed in 1971. The first Daini reactor was licensed in 1982. Today’s technologies are safer still. The pebble bed reactors now being tested by China, for example, shut themselves down if they begin to overheat as an inherent property of the physics they exploit. Using a plant built 40 years ago to argue against 21st-century power stations is like using the Hindenburg disaster to contend that modern air travel is unsafe.

Compare it to the damage and death that climate change will cause, and you find that our response is so disproportionate as to constitute a form of madness. It’s a straightforward pay-off. Germany’s promise to ditch nuclear power will produce an extra 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. In June Angela Merkel announced a possible doubling of the capacity of the coal and gas plants Germany will build in the next 10 years. Already Germany has been burning brown coal, one of the most polluting fuels on earth, to make up the shortfall. The renewable technologies which should have replaced fossil fuels will instead replace nuclear power.’

In terms of pollution reduction, David JC MacKay (Professor of Natural Philosophy Department of Physics, Cambridge) has developed an amazing resource website which covers every topic within the field of sustainable energy.

Here are some extracts from the website.

Fast breeder reactors use nuclear fuel 60 times more efficiently than once-through reactors and use the waste produced by standard reactors.

– The nuclear energy available per atom is roughly 1 million times more than the chemical energy per atom of conventional energy, meaning the waste in theory is 1 million times less. As an illustration, the amount of natural uranium required to provide the same amount of energy as 16 kg of fossil fuels, in a standard fission reactor, is 2 grams – 8,000 times more power per weight. This isn’t a million times more because most reactors only use 1% of the total nuclear potential of the uranium used as fuel.

– The period of time nuclear waste is dangerous = 1000 years, not 100,000 as suggested by other sources. The 100,000 year figure is apparently the time the Uranium will take to decay to a safe radiation level, but as a raw material found within uranium mines, it is as radioactive as nuclear waste which has been stored for 1000 years.

If this technology can be refined and properly controlled (still a big question mark) then the cost and efficiency of this power source could easily decarbonise our whole existing economy, as well as provide the bridge to the longer-term solution which is renewable energy from solar, wind, tidal and thermal.


A response to Monbiot’s nuclear questions…


There has recently been some fallout (certainly no pun intended) from the Fukushima meltdown, in the form of various on-going debates and arguments between prominent journalists and researchers. This has certainly helped expand my understanding of the subject of energy … Continue reading

Film: ‘Into Eternity’…

A human made structure capable of lasting 100,000 years, designed to store nuclear waste. The Onkalo nuclear waste repository.

This is the subject of the documentary film Into Eternity, directed by Danish director Michael Madsen. We just watched this last night and it was an amazing film. It explores the psychological, political and philosophical issues behind the very long-term storage of nuclear waste.

One of the lasting images was the ‘landscape of thorns’; one of the potential methods of depicting to future generations what is stored there. One of the major concerns was if at some distant (or not so distant) point in the future, human society had broken down to a level where the knowledge of the facility had been lost, but also our modern communication methods and languages had also changed. What if humans tried to uncover the facility and could not understand the markers left behind by our generation?

The main conclusion was that we cannot predict what the distant future will hold and what the fate of Onkalo will be. The scientists and engineers interviewed basically said they had to deal with the theories and information that exist as at this time and the necessity to deal with the nuclear waste legacy of the previous generations (as well as our own) was too big a responsibility to just ignore. They had to take action and after considering all the issues, this was their conclusion.

There will have to be many more Onkalo facilities in other countries, but the issue of reprocessing waste still needs to be very carefully considered, if we are to reduce the waste stock and try and get as much use out of the limited resources. Thorium also needs to be considered as an alternative to plutonium, given it only stays radioactive for roughly 100 years!


200m cooling tower in your backyard…?

This is one example of NIMBYism I can agree with…


A proposed 200m (!!) cooling tower reduced in height to 70m. Seems sensible and given that it will be a power station generating electricity anyway, the power the fans will use within the tower will come directly from the source of the power, which is the most sustainable method.

It must be bad enough living near one of these beasts but to wake up to a bulkier and taller (by some 130metres) set of towers would be terrible.


Heathrow & the environment…


Just read an email from Greenpeace Uk about plans for the 3rd runway at Heathrow being axed! below is the email text.

Dear matt,

Fantastic news – climate-wrecking plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been axed.

The new government confirmed yesterday that it will scrap Heathrow expansion, and also refuse additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted. This is a huge victory in our fight for genuine action against catastrophic climate change – and a recognition of the impact aviation is having on the climate.

This wouldn’t have been possible without you and your name was on the first petition delivered to the new government this morning.

Greenpeace campaigners and Sipson residents presented Airplot’s legal Deed of Trust at 10 Downing Street with all 91,317 of us who ‘benefically own’ the plot. It may no longer prove necessary, but shows the new PM the huge number of us who are prepared to stand in the way of the bulldozers should he change his mind.

The announcement happened so quickly it took us a bit by surprise. Our aim was to use the Airplot to create a significant legal headache for any government trying to build the runway, but now it seems that it won’t be needed. Particularly since the new Deputy PM Nick Clegg and all of the Liberal Democrat front bench are also beneficial owners of the one acre plot, and David Cameron agreed to have a tree planted on the land in his name.

Great though this news is, it’s not the end of the campaign. Neither the Tories nor the Lib Dems have yet ruled out expansion at other airports around the country – so we’ll keep going until the new government recognises that all airport expansion has to stop.

From this (just averted disaster) to another potential environmental disaster to another (potential) one.

The continuing Deepwater oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could see BP paying for ALL cleanup costs. Good.

The other major British issue is the dropping of the Lib Dems opposition to new nuclear power plants. The positive coming out of this is that they have agreed a ‘no subsidy’ deal, meaning no tax payers money will be used to fund new nuclear plants.

This basically means that no new plants will be built, given nuclear is the most expensive form of energy production available and even E-on will shudder at the total costs involved.