Japan will build no new nuclear reactors. Their decision delivers a huge body blow to the global nuclear industry, and could mark a major turning point in the future of energy. As Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said about his country,
We need to start from scratch… and do more to promote renewables.
Wind power alone could—and now probably will—replace 40 nukes in Japan. The United States must join them. Axing the $36 billion currently stuck in the 2012 federal budget for loan guarantees to build new reactors could do the trick.
The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind
Wind potential alone between the Mississippi and the Rockies could produce 300% of the nation’s electricity. That doesn’t include solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, sustainable bio-fuels and the many more renewable sources poised to re-shape the American energy future once the prospect of new nukes is discarded.
Japan was set to build 14 new nuke plants before Fukushima. Six of Japan’s 55 total reactors were shut by the earthquake and tsunami. Three at Kashiwazaki remain shut from the seven that were hit by an earthquake less than five years ago. Kan wants three more closed at Hamaoka, also in an earthquake and tsunami zone.
Japan’s reactor fleet remains the world’s third-largest, behind the US and France. The General Electric and Westinghouse nuclear divisions, builders of nearly all the commercial reactors in the US, are at least partly controlled by Japanese companies. Reactor pressure vessels and other major components are built there.
Shake it up, baby
Four California reactors also sit in earthquake zones vulnerable to tsunamis. San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego, has 7.5 million people living within a 50-mile radius. Its two operating and one dead reactor sit less than a mile from the high tide line. After the steadily worsening news out of Japan, this is hardly anyone’s idea of a good energy plan for such a vulnerable area.
Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo, sits near a series of earthquake faults, including one newly discovered less than two miles from the two reactor cores there. Numerous other US reactors are perilously close to earthquake faults, including two operating at Indian Point, 35 miles north of Manhattan. The Perry reactor, on Lake Erie east of Cleveland, was damaged by an earthquake in January, 1986.
The heat is on
Massive quantities of heat have poured into the global eco-system from the multiple explosions, partial melt-downs and spent fuel fires at Fukushima, contributing significantly to global warming. Highly radioactive fallout has been found miles from the site. Millions of gallons of extremely contaminated water have poured into the ocean. Radioactive fallout has also been detected in rainwater, milk and on vegetables throughout the United States, threatening the health of millions of Americans, especially small children and embryos in utero.
Now Fukushima Unit Four appears to be on the brink of physical collapse. Fission may be continuing in at least one spent fuel pool, and possibly in one or more cores. Radiation levels are high enough at the site to guarantee certain near-term death to workers, many of whom have come to consider work at Fukushima to be a virtual suicide mission. A definitive end to the disaster could be years away.
A change in tack
Kan’s decision to shut Hamaoka and then to cancel future nukes came as a shock. Widely criticized for weakness in the wake of Fukushima, he has now redefined Japan’s energy future. Though dependent on imported fossil fuels, major Japanese corporations have substantial investments in wind, solar and other Solartopian technologies. This will push them to the forefront of Japan’s energy future, possibly setting the stage for other nations to follow their example.
Likewise Germany. In the wake of huge public demonstrations and a major electoral defeat, Prime Minister Angela Merkel has shut seven old reactors and says ten more will go down by 2020, making Germany nuke-free. For decades Germany has been pushing wind, solar and other green technologies harder than any other industrial nation, with enormously profitable results.
In the US, renewables are also booming, while the reactor industry has been taking hard hits. Just this week a major French-operated reactor component factory proposed for Virginia has been pushed back two years—which means likely cancellation. A $5 billion taxpayer-funded facility in South Carolina to produce plutonium-based mixed oxide reactor fuel faces a lack of customers, and growing doubts about the project’s viability or real purpose.
Overall, Fukushima has complicated an already dark financial picture. A Texas project meant for Japanese financing is now all but dead. So is one proposed for Maryland by the French. While the Obama Administration continues to push for those $36 billion in loan guarantees, it’s unclear what reactor projects are in credible shape to accept them.
Meanwhile ferocious battles to shut old reactors in Vermont, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere are heating up. With roughly two dozen of a similar design to Fukushima Unit One now operating in the US, the public demand for more shut-downs continues to escalate. We need to finish the job and get to a green-powered Earth.
Nuclear power makes global warming worse, and spells economic as well as ecological doom. The industry can’t get private financing, can’t get meaningful liability insurance, can’t deal with its wastes, can’t compete in the marketplace, can’t guarantee us we won’t suffer a Fukushima of our own, and, with peak uranium, can’t provide a reliable energy supply into the future.
What lies before us once we kill these loan guarantees is an energy reality powered by the sun, wind, tides, waves, earth’s heat and more, calling on us to redefine necessities, imagine better socio-cultural constructs and bolster our economy through new investments.
Those countries like Germany, Denmark and now Japan that head definitively toward a nuke-free future are in the process of turning toward survivability and prosperity.
Here at home, let’s kill that loan guarantee package, shut the dying nukes like Vermont Yankee and Indian Point, and join them in truly green-powered future.
–Harvey Wasserman, Transition Voice
Cross Posted from HarveyWasserman.com