By Mark Halper
Posting in Education
Nuclear power can cut energy industry's carbon emissions. But Japan, Germany are closing down reactors, firing up fossil fuels, post-Fukushima. Hello Carbon Bigfoot.
Like or dislike nuclear power, its reactors do not emit carbon dioxide - the global warming culprit. So guess what's happened to Japan's CO2 footprint since it started shutting down its nuclear plants and replacing them with CO2 spewing fossil fuels?
In case you need a clue: Japan has switched off all but two of the 54 reactors that had provided 30 percent of the country's electricity before Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant meltdown a year ago.
The answer: "They're swapping (in) fossil fuels for nuclear, and that's driving up their CO2 emissions and the carbon intensity of their electricity supply," says Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst with research firm the Breakthrough Institute, in an article on the NPR website.
The country has made up a good portion of the energy gap by burning liquefied natural gas (LNG), and also coal and fuel oil. While LNG emits less CO2 than coal, it is still a significant emitter (the nuclear value chain, including mining and fuel processing, has a very small CO2 footprint, as do solar and wind). On top of that, the country imports its fossil fuels from far afield - Japan has precious little of its own coal, oil or natural gas. That incurs extra environmental demerits through the high CO2 emissions of overseas shipping.
"A permanent shutdown (of Japan's nuclear) would boost annual CO2 emission by 60 million tons - or more than 5 percent - as the nation draws extra power from burning fossil fuels, according to the country's Institute of Energy Economics," writes New Scientist, in a kindred story to NPR's.
There's a similar CO2 rise in Germany, which began phasing out nuclear power and using more coal after the events at Fukushima. Germany has closed 8 nuclear plants, and plans to shut its remaining 9 by 2022.
"The additional German emissions alone could add up to more than 300 million tons by 2020, which according to the World Nuclear Association, would 'virtually cancel out the 335-million-ton savings intended to be achieved in the entire European Union by the 2011 Energy Efficiency Directive'," New Scientist notes.
Both Germany and Japan have significant plans to use solar and wind energy. Germany is already one of the world's largest generators of solar electricity (the largest by many measures, although some rankings now put Italy on top). But solar and wind generally cannot provide the steady "baseload" power that nuclear can.
Japan has also responded to its nuclear shutdown with impressive conservation efforts. Its Institute of Energy Economics has estimated that the country could eliminate the need for 13 nuclear reactors alone simply by replacing 1.6 million lightbulbs with energy efficient LEDs.
The country has reasons other than environmental to continue to seek energy efficiency gains. The fossil fuel imports are subject to geopolitical instabilities, as the LNG comes largely from the Persian Gulf, threatened by tensions in Iran.
The imports have even flipped the manufacturing powerhouse's long vaunted trade surplus. As the NPR article notes, "The country now spends more on imports than it earns from exports. What is Japan buying? Fuel." It sites figures from the International Energy Agency in Paris pegging Japan's daily fuel import bill at $100 million. One IEA analyst says that Japan would use 20 percent of the world's supply of LNG if it kept going at its current rate.
And let's not forget why Japan built up its nuclear energy profile in the first place. As the CIA handbook points out, the country "has virtually no energy natural resources." It is "the world's largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas, as well as the second largest importer of oil," the CIA says. That's a dubious distinction in an era of globally intense political and industrial hydrocarbon volatility.
Nuclear power, and its CO2 avoidance, could well rise up the international environmental agenda, especially as post-Fukushima time goes by. Just yesterday, word leaked that the UK government wants the European Commission to include nuclear as a "renewable" source of energy in 2030 targets for the European Union.
Note to EC: heed Britain's suggestion. But don't just stick with conventional uranium, water-cooled nuclear. Head into a nuclear world of safer alternative technologies, such as thorium and others. Thorium reactors could have won the day back in the 1960s, when for political reasons they did not. It's time to go back to the future.
More nuclear and Japan on SmartPlanet:
- Fukushima's Lesson: 'Alternative' nuclear, not 'no' nuclear
- Asian Super Grid: How Japan's anti-nuclear plan could go nuclear
- Meet the future of nuclear power: 8 guys in China
- The new face of safe nuclear
- What's keeping the lights on in Tokyo?
- How to eliminate Japan's nuclear reactors: LED lightbulbs
An alternative nuclear report:
Mar 12, 2012
>"Where's the evidence that German CO2 emissions have increased?" Google tells me that, among others, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says so. By the way, this article is not only about Germany but also Japan. >"The author wants to gamble a liveable climate on technology that does not exist" That seems like an evidence-free claim to me. Might be called a fantasy too, I think. >"and that has been researched and failed to deliver for at least 50 years." I quite doubt that the situation is that simple.
Where's the evidence that German CO2 emissions have increased? Germany was a net exporter of electricity before Fukushima and it still is, although it exports less as a result of taking many of its nukes offline. > "Head into a nuclear world of safer alternative technologies, such as thorium" The author wants to gamble a liveable climate on technology that does not exist and that has been researched and failed to deliver for at least 50 years. That seems like a reckless plan.
My major concern is not that breeders using the Thorium cycle may not be a way forward for the future, but that not one single operator is proposing them now. If we really need nuclear power, then the only option now and possibly for many decades is the uranium fuel cycle. But this is the crunch. Do we need nuclear? Compared with fossil fuels, and coal in particular, nuclear is low carbon, but over the full life cycle of generation, from mining, concentrating fuel, and transporting to to plant and later in the cycle, managing and disposing of waste and decommissioning after use, nuclear is far more carbon intensive than any renewable resource, even large dam hydro and six times more carbon intensive than onshore wind. Germany is producing more carbon now, as it develops its renewables and has to use gas in the meantime, but the way that nuclear operates means that it does not happily coexist with renewables, especially as nuclear is so heavily subsidised. In the future Germany will benefit hugely from developing and deploying sustainable, less polluting sources of energy in the future. Those who are as old as I am will laugh at the statement that the cost of nuclear is "next to nothing". We all heard the calls in the sixties that nuclear will produce elecricity "too cheap to meter". Now we have a ??100 billion bill for clearing up this toixic legacy (see Nuclear Decommissioning Authority budget for details). Nuclear is not the future, it is our very expensive past.
Loic Fauchon, President of the World Water Council, launched the 6th World Water Forum this week, with an opinion on what needs to be provided for 'people to live in dignity, health and prosperity', when he said ".....first and foremost, energy and water so they can finally pull themselves out of poverty....." The developing world is now, and will be for a couple of decades to come, spending billions or maybe trillions on coal fired power stations. And who can blame them, with 40,000 people per day dying from preventable diseases, for the sake of affordable energy and potable water? Coal fired power stations use and contaminate vast volumes of fresh water to cool the waste heat from the steam turbines used to generate electricity. This heat, containing nearly two thirds of the heat from the coal, is truly wasted. In the 50s and 60s, whilst the UK trod a path to a nuclear technology dead end, the US Administration withdrew funding to technological development of Molten Salt Breeder Reactors (MSBRs) in what is surely the 'Saddest Accident of History' ( http://lftrsuk.blogspot.com/2012/03/follow-up-to-i... ) . MSBRs, now known as Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs), use gas turbines to drive the electrical generators and the 'waste' heat from these (just over half of what the reactor produces) is at a high enough temperature to desalinate water. So, nothing is 'wasted'; huge volumes of potable water can be produces from brackish ground water or sea water - and the cost is NEXT TO NOTHING. The Heads of State of the developing world need to find the will to get the first-of-a-kind LFTR up and running, for a piddling amount of money. This will get investment stimulated to the point that venture capitalists and fund managers are knocking the door down to get into the most essential technology of the 21st Century. In the days of slide rules and compasses, when all machining and planning was done manually, the Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) was funded in 1960, switched on in 1965 and ran for many thousands of full power hours until 1969. The MSRE was two thirds of what a LFTR is, so in these days of CAD/CAM, computerised 3D modelling and planning, with the right will, a LFTR could be ready for action in 5 years. Within not much more than a decade, we could have factory built, transportable modular units coming off production lines. Their safety is inherent and their 'greenness' unrivaled. See:http://lftrsuk.blogspot.com/p/benefits-of-lftrs.ht... .
After searching around, it seems that there are no tech breakthroughs needed... just possibly a more than average replacements schedule, in dealing with the extreme core environment. Well worth the extra trouble! Imagine that, just 5,000 tons of thorium could be used to replace all the Billions of tons of FF's and the many tens of thousands of tons of uranium (globally per year). Hmmm, no wonder... there's hardly any money at all... in that! Oh, (Edit) There are far less wastes from LFTR (or any closed cycle reactor) because they actually consume (almost) all the fuel. The LWR (and its kind should be outlawed right now) and most fossil fuels usage should also be outlawed in favor of advanced liquid fuels based nuclear. Yes, I believe that it ain't nice to put XSCO2 into mother nature's air! Edit (again). The energy density of such advanced (and non high pressure, meltdown proof) nuclear is like a million x that from FF's. Therefore, if FF's still net positive EROEI, how could you ever say thorium couldn't? Before you say things like that, you need to realize exactly what the numbers are (or at least do a mathematical exaggeration approach like I just did). Ok, perhaps you're thinking that "it ain't fair to use FF's in mining machinery, thus it would take more energy invested to make batteries needed to replace the ice diesel engines. However, that reasoning would be wrong too... The LiFePO4 battery lasts 2,000 cycles (much more if not completely charged and discharged all the time), and thus would use WAY less energy per unit of work, and also because the electric motor is about 4 times more efficient (in cars, anyways). LFTR's and LiFePO4's are both the best and are both being given over to China... go figure (greeeeeddy big and old fashioned) business interests are clearly doing everything they can to snuff out the future we should have already had!