In the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, many people missed an important lesson staring them in the face. Nuclear power’s CO2 emissions are small in comparison to fossil fuels, there is no doubt. But safe nuclear energy is very expensive. Japan has to decide which goals it wants to attain. Do the Japanese want carbon-free energy, cheap energy, or safe energy?
I read an article at Grist that takes the new Japanese Prime Minister to task over his desire to restart Japan’s off-line nuclear power stations. I doubt that Susie Cagle has to find a way to deliver power to an industrialized island nation with no energy resources of its own, which allowed her to take this tack. The title of her post is misleading or biased, take your pick. Fukushima isn’t damned in this decision:
The newspaper said making the necessary upgrades to meet the proposed guidelines would cost plant operators about $11 billion, in addition to improvements already made after the Fukushima accident. The agency has said the new guidelines will be finalized and put in place by July 18.
$11 billion to meet new guidelines doesn’t come across as ignoring Fukushima’s lessons. The fundamental flaw in Cagle’s argument is an incorrect interpretation of risk. How many nuclear power plant disasters has the world suffered? How many plant-hours have those plants operated? What is the ratio of disasters to operating hours or Giga-watts of electricity produced for people? Astoundingly low. How many people are killed in Japan or the US by motor vehicles per year? Fatalities decreased to 36,000 in 2009, if you’re curious. What replacement technology does Cagle and other anti-nuclear advocates propose? Because one technology kills people every day while the other does not.
How will Japan replace 33% of its electricity generation if it keeps all of its nuclear power plants offline? Natural gas has replaced nuclear since Fukushima, which still releases CO2 into the atmosphere and requires drilling and transport.
The Japanese government’s handling of nuclear safety was and is an issue (corruption infests regulation enforcement). But Cagle’s article didn’t discuss the causes behind Fukushima (besides using nuclear at all) or offer solutions – about either nuclear safety or energy policy. Does she really expect Prime Minister Abe to try to convince the Japanese people they shouldn’t have electricity or they should pay more for their energy when viable technologies are at hand?
Also missing from the article was the following. As Japan and Germany add to CO2 concentrations by closing nuclear power plants and burning more fossil fuels, Japan’s coast faces rising sea levels in a warming world. Cagle could have discussed the need to add sea-level change projections into Japan’s nuclear energy policy as they strengthen infrastructure. How many additional billions of dollars might the Japanese need to spend to handle climate change effects?