Nuclear Power in Japan No More

On March, 10, 2011, Japan got 30% of its power from Nuclear, today it is Nuclear free. The last operating Nuclear plant has been shut down for routine maintenance.  It will not be started until it has been certified safe by local officials who are in no hurry.  Power failures this summer are possible.  It could drive manufacturing offshore, looking for more reliable or perhaps cheaper power.

I understand the Japanese reaction to the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster, particularly in light of their WWII experience, but is it wise?  I’m not sure.  I suppose it depends on which demon you fear more, Nuclear energy or carbon dioxide.

What would I do, if I were in the predicament they find themselves in?  I don’t know for sure.  Clearly the Japanese were not good Nuclear operators, but the alternatives all have consequences too.  Are there ways they could become a better operator?  Are there changes to the plants that could and should be made?

Let’s make the wild ass guess assumption that carbon dioxide does matter and that Japan still wants to meet their Kyoto obligations.   Japan has a problem. Japan is going to produce much more carbon dioxide and they are going to fail to meet their obligations under the Kyoto treaty.  Before the disaster of March 11, 2011, Japan was struggling to meet Kyoto.  They were buying credits from abroad and they were madly planting trees…but they were still coming up a bit short.

In 2010, Japan’s power operations produced about 65% of Japan’s man made carbon dioxide.  With no Nuclear, they must rely on coal and natural gas. If we assume the mix of coal and natural gas stays the same, the change in emissions will be linear.  A 30% increase in power emissions means a 20% increase in total emissions.  Japan is the third largest economy in the world, this is a significant event.

Japan, in 2008, was #38 on the per capita list of carbon producers .  This single change moves them up the list and into a tie with Russia at #23.  The USA was, in 2008 when the list was calculated, sitting at #12.  I suspect when the 2012 list gets made in a few years, the USA will be a bit better (low emissions being better) than Canada, currently 15th on the list.

I think we all know why Japan made the choices they made.  China is headed in the opposite direction, constructing many new Nuclear plants as they struggle to clean the air in their cities.  France is a relatively low carbon emitter because of Nuclear Power.  It will be interesting to see what they do next.

We all face similar choices as we try to decide what is and isn’t important to our society.  I don’t  know quite how I feel about Nuclear Power.  I suspect it is the best house in a bad neighborhood.  If carbon really matters, we need Nuclear power.  If its importance is overblown…how overblown is overblown….we still may need Nuclear power depending on how wrong the IPCC actually is.  If the actual impact carbon dioxide has is only 25% of what the UN says it is, we still may want more Nuclear power for a variety of reasons.

I’d like to see more and better global warming science before I make up my mind.  Science that doesn’t know what the answer is before they begin.  In other words a better IPCC.  In the mean time, I suspect we are stuck with Nuclear Power…and may even want to add a bit more.

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