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Asian Super Grid: How Japan's anti-nuclear plan could go nuclear

Asian Super Grid: How Japan's anti-nuclear plan could go nuclear

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A new initiative seeks an 'Asian Super Grid' that would connect renewable electricity across Japan, China, Russia, Korea, Mongolia. One problem: China's going nuclear.

JREF and Desertec envision solar fields in China's Gobi Desert (above) feeding Japan with electricity. Photo by Mark Lehmkuhler via Flickr and Desertec.

The Japan Renewable Energy Foundation is marking the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by upping its anti-nuclear game: It announced a drive to build an "Asian Super Grid" that would interconnect Asian and Russian renewable electricity and supposedly remove Japan from nuclear power.

It launched the initiative on Saturday, in partnership with non-profit German renewable energy and sustainability promoter Desertec Foundation.

Thiemo Gropp (l), director of Desertec, and Tomas Kaberger, executive board chair of JREF, agree that an Asian Super Grid is a good idea. Now all they have to do is build one. Photo from Desertec Foundation.

"The aim (of the Asian Super Grid) is to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy to provide secure and sustainable alternatives to fossil and nuclear energies," JREF and Desertec said in a press release. "As part of its mission, JREF promotes the Asia Super Grid Initiative to facilitate an electricity system based solely on renewable energy in Asia. This initiative envision the interconnection of the national grids of Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia."

As far as I can tell, there's one super-sized fly in this ointment: China's plans for a low carbon future rely heavily on new nuclear power stations. China could build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030 - nearly a quarter of the number of the commercial reactors operating in the world today.

Would the new high voltage line somehow differentiate nuclear-generated electricity from electricity generated by wind or solar plants, and stop the nuclear stuff from flowing through? Seems unlikely, or prohibitively expensive. Maybe JREF and Desertec envision mega utility scale solar fields in the deserts of China that would feed dedicated, inter-country HVDC lines.

If not, then the new Super Grid would mix all of the above, including plenty of nuclear. Japan could continue with its nuclear shutdown - currently almost all of the 54 nuclear reactors that have supplied 30 percent of its electricity are switched off - while importing nuclear from China.

We'll have to wait for answers  - and for someone to finance and build the cable, which is what JREF and Desertec aim to catalyze. "Establishing an Asian Super Grid will be challenging and require a high level of international cooperation," says Tomas Kåberger, JREF executive board chair.

Desertec invests in a for-profit group called Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii) whose members include grid companies Siemens and ABB. Perhaps Dii can begin to provide some clarity.

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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