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Coal use hits record high in Japan

Posting in Energy
 
Japan Coal Plant Joel Abroad Flickr.jpg
Those big piles of coal at this power plant in Tsuruga, Japan are in practice more deadly than any nuclear fuel.

Japanese utilities burned a record amount of coal and liquified natural gas in October to compensate for nuclear power that had provided around 30 percent of the country's electricity.


The utilities consumed 4.62 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas, the highest for October and up 8 percent from last year, according to data released Friday from the Federation of Electric Power Cos.

Coal use rose 26 percent to 4.78 million tons, which was also a record for the month, according to the industry group, which started compiling data on the 10 companies in 1972.


That's "coal" and "liquified natural gas" as in "fossil fuels", the stuff that emits CO2 that causes global warming that might have flooded your garage last month, or worse.  Coal is the bigger culprit of the two. It's also known for nasty pollutants that can wreck human lungs and that can take years off of lives. 

And get this: Coal plants have put far more radioactive emissions into the air than the world's 430-plus nuclear plants ever have.

If a nuke so much as burps, the authorities in many countries close it. But coal plants as well as coal and gas producers have for years been free to radiate in plumes (modern scrubbers may be minimizing the amount). Their emissions include things like uranium, thorium, potassium 40, radon, radium and others. Mutter those words in a nuclear context, and you've got a posse of angry mothers on your doorstep. From the fossil fuel industry, those same radioactive elements fall on deaf ears as they land silently in public lungs.

Oh, and another thing:  The coal and gas is costing Japan economically, because the country has to import them. That's pricey enough, and the weak yen isn't helping. Japan, long a trade surplus country, is now running a huge trade deficit. It's also not assured of a continuous supply amid unstable geopolitics. 

The country is in this situation because it closed down almost all of its 50 nuclear plants following the tragic March, 2011 tsunami that triggered a meltdown at the poorly conceived and managed Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The avoidable Fukushima disaster has displaced some 160,000 people who could still be home had the nuclear operators been smarter and heeded warnings about how to cool their plant.

Fukushima should never happen again. But that doesn't mean the country should keep its nukes switched off. It should turn them on. It should also pursue new, superior  and even safer nuclear options, such as molten salt reactors that can't melt down.

Then, maybe it could reconsider its recent shocking decision to all but abandon earlier CO2 reduction goals.

Dear Japanese public that is breathing in all those new pollutants and paying for it too: Do you really want to keep the nukes off?

Photo is from Joel Abroad via Flickr 

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— By on December 19, 2013, 4:25 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure