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The true cost of nuclear power

The photo shows pages of a 2001 report purportedly outlining a breakdown of the cost of nuclear power. It was provided by Kenichi Oshima, a

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government's cost analysis committee regarding  the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been blacked out. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power.

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government’s cost analysis committee regarding the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been redacted. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power. PHOTO COURTESY OF KENICHI OSHIMA

Ritsumeikan University professor of environmental economics, who was among lawmakers and researchers who had requested from the government a breakdown of how the cost of nuclear power had been calculated.

Clearly, even after being furnished with the report they would have been none the wiser. Oshima says that a similarly redacted dossier was released following the original assessment of the costs of various energy over 50 years ago. The popular PR slogan used in the early days was that nuclear power was “too cheap to meter,” perhaps because the meters, too, had been covered in black ink.

The Japanese government has always said that nuclear was the cheapest power, it was a method used to sell nuclear power right from the start,” Oshima told me. “But the figures submitted were accepted without question and were the subject of huge criticism. Nobody was allowed to access the actual data, not even Parliament members.”

According to Oshima, the figures submitted to the government’s cost analysis committee by the federation of electric utilities placed nuclear energy at ¥5.3 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with ¥13.6 per kWh for hydro; ¥10.2 per kWh for oil; ¥6.5 per kWh for coal; and ¥6.4 per kWh for LNG.

Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, however, the data was reappraised by a governmental “cost verification committee” that included Oshima among its expert analysts. The committee revealed that in addition to the much-publicized “safety myth” attached to nuclear power, there was a “cost myth” that had been covered up for decades, Oshima says.

The committee determined that nuclear power had two related costs: first, the cost incurred by generating electricity and back-end fuel cycle costs, such as costs incurred by the disposal of radioactive waste; and second, societal costs, such as research and development and accident costs.

They used a model power plant representing the Japanese average for nuclear power plants to calculate a new Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). The results were revealing. When societal costs were included, nuclear rose to ¥9 (based on accident costs of ¥5 trillion) as opposed to coal (¥9.4); LNG (¥10.7) and hydro (¥10.6).

Oshima was still doubtful that this was a true reflection of the cost of nuclear power, especially as a far greater proportion of public expenditure, such as R&D, goes to nuclear. Indeed, according to some reports, nuclear receives 64 percent of Japan’s total energy R&D budget, compared to renewables’ 8 percent.

Oshima also believes that the final cost of the Fukushima accident could be upwards of ¥15 trillion. Taking those factors into account, his final calculations put nuclear at ¥12.5 per kWh, though he insists that other “invisible” societal costs, such as damage to the environment and loss of human dignity associated with loss of homes and jobs, if calculable, would up the unit price further.

Interestingly, other researchers and industry officials think even this figure is conservative. One of them is Masayoshi Son, CEO and founder of telecommunications giant SoftBank. Admittedly, Son’s company has invested heavily in solar power both in both Japan and India since the 2011 disasters, which may influence his perspective. But using Oshima’s data and other research undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies as a base, Son’s research led to the conclusion that the real cost of nuclear could be as high as ¥15 per kWh.

The cost of energies is covered in more detail in my book, “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe. Fukushima – March 2011.”

For more information visit www.yoshidas-dilemma.com

My book on the Fukushima nuclear crisis is now available

Following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in northern Japan I began researching a book. The focus was on the meltdowns and YOSHIDA COVERexplosions that had occurred at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant and in particular the people who had battled to ensure an even bigger catastrophe was averted.

That research culminated in a book titled “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear catastrophe – Fukushima, March 2011” and I am delighted to announce that on March 11, 2017 — exactly six years since the day of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, that book was published.

There is a website about the book here. It includes an overview of the book and an eight-page extract.

The book is now available through the publisher’s website here and also on Amazon here

It was never my intention to offer my own personal views on the important issue regarding nuclear power, only to try and find out what exactly had caused the triple meltdowns and to try and find an answer to a fundamental question: Should a country like Japan, which experiences one-tenth of the world’s biggest quakes, really be housing so many nuclear reactors.

Below are some comments about the book. I hope they will inspire you to check it out.

“Rob Gilhooly has written what is probably the most comprehensive English-language account yet of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.  Gilhooly is among the best-informed foreign reporters on this issue in Japan, having travelled to Fukushima several dozen times since being one of the first journalists to arrive in the prefecture on a freezing night in March 2011.  He gives the story of Masao Yoshida, perhaps the key figure in the disaster, all the detail, sympathy and pathos it demands.  His remarkable pictures throughout the book are a bonus.  Highly recommended. “

— David McNeil, The Economist.

“A powerful synthesis of the technical and the personal, Gilhooly succeeds in conveying the events of March 2011, its aftermath and the dramatic impact on the people of Fukushima and wider Japan. Six years after the start of the accident, Yoshida’s Dilemma is a necessary reminder of how through the actions of heroic individuals and luck Japan avoided an even greater catastrophe.”  
— S. David  Freeman, former Tennessee Valley Authority chairman, engineer, energy expert and author of Energy: The New Era and Winning Our Energy Independence

“As one of the few journalists to have covered the Fukushima story from the very start, Rob Gilhooly is perfectly placed to discuss the disaster’s causes and aftermath, and its wider ramifications for the future of nuclear power. From the chaotic scenes as the plant went into triple meltdown, to the plight of evacuated residents and Japan’s long and troubled relationship with atomic energy, Gilhooly combines fine story-telling with journalistic integrity to produce a book that is admirably free of hyperbole.” 
— Justin McCurry, The Guardian.

Japan to start new nuclear regulations

DR. Shunchi Tanaka, chairman of Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA), speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Press Center in Tokyo, Japan on 04 July, 2013. Tanaka said that while operators of Japan's 48 reactors would be eligible to recommence operations should they meet the NRA's new guidelines, they would ultimately need to gain the cooperation of local governments and people of the communities in which those reactors are located. Photographer: Rob Gilhooly

 

Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has given the go ahead for the nation’s two reactors currently online to remain in service without further inspections following the announcement of NRA’s new safety standards, which will come into force July 7.

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka said during a news conference July 4 that Japan’s 48 other reactors, offline since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, would need to comply to “strict and stringent” new regulations before they could be considered for re-start approval.
The NRA has even wider-reaching power than previous watch-dog bodies to ensure the regulations are met, Tanaka said Friday. A new “back-fit” system will be implemented to ensure that any aspects of plant inspections previously left at the discretion of operators will now be independently monitored. The upgrade would turn a previously B-ranked regulatory system into “one that at last comes into line with international standards,” the nuclear watchdog’s chair added.
Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the troubled utilities operator of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has said it will ask the government to allow it to restart two of its reactors at another facility in Niigata as they meet the new NRA safety guidelines.
Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida has expressed dismay at Tepco’s request to restart two of the seven reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which was completely shutdown following an earthquake in 2007.
NRA chairman Tanaka said even should utilities companies satisfy the new regulations they would need to win over local people. “The resumption of reactors will come only after operators and political leaders gain the understanding and cooperation of host communities,” he said.
He also believed that due to the severity of the new regulations a new safety awareness culture would grow, superseding the tendency previously seen within utilities companies to undertake the legally allowed bare minimum measures.
Tanaka also commented on the Fukushima power plant saying he did not feel a sarcophagus of the type used to enshroud Chernobyl’s reactor 4 was appropriate for the three damaged Fukushima reactors, which went into meltdown after massive earthquakes and tsunami hit the plant in March 2011.
At Fukushima Daiichi heat would continue to be emitted for tens or possibly hundreds of years, meaning countermeasures will still need to be taken. Rather than enshrouding the leaking reactors it was better to continue efforts to decommission the plants, he said.

Visit to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

It has been quite some time since I added anything to this blog, though quite a lot has happened in the intervening weeks and months. In March I spent the best part of three weeks covering a trial for an Irish newspaper, which related to the murder last May (2012) of an Irish student in Tokyo. There are a few other projects I have been working and hopefully I will get around to adding posts to update this blog in the near future.

On to more recent assignments, on June 12 I  part in a tour of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, which suffered triple meltdowns following the March 2011  earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s northeast. My plan is to write up a more personal account of the experience but for the time being here is the story that I wrote up for the New Scientist, which appeared in the magazine last week.

Photo shows the steel canopy arching over Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The now completed structure will be used to support a overhead crane strong enough to lift 100-ton vessels into which will be placed the 1533 pent fuel assemblies that are still residing inside the unit's spent fuel pool on the 3rd floor. they will be moved to a common spent fuel pool

 

 

By Rob Gilhooly at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

 

An alarm lets off a shrill beep as a dosimeter on the bus hits 1500 microsieverts of radiation. “Do not open the windows,” an official warns. We are inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, driving by one of the three reactors that went into meltdown following the earthquake and tsunami that struck north-eastern Japan on 11 March 2011.

The place is a mess, with mangled containers and vehicles scattered around crumbling buildings – but the fact that I’m even here is testament to the now relative safety of the plant. However, much remains to be done and the clean-up operation is starting to look never-ending.

The group I’m with is ushered into a quake-proof building, the plant’s nerve centre since the disaster, by staff from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the plant’s operator. Inside, the only sign of the post-disaster panic and stabilisation operations, undertaken by 3,000 workers a day, is a line of unmade bunk beds, indicating that the clean-up operation is still a round-the-clock affair.

The walls are decorated with messages of encouragement to embattled workers from school children. “We’re rooting for you,” reads one, a bright red heart drawn above. Many of the messages were penned during more ominous times, when tens of thousands of residents living near the plant were evacuated from their homes, and plant workers struggled to secure  water to cool the compromised containment vessels housing the reactor fuel.

Water shortages are no longer the problem – quite the opposite. Today, the main issue is what to do with all the water used to cool the fuel that melted through the containment vessels. This is exacerbated by the 400 tonnes of groundwater that are flooding into the basements of the cracked reactors every day and mingling with leaked nuclides.

rest of story available at New Scientist website here

 

Earthquake on Dec. 7 2012

Injuries were reported in Japan Friday after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake jolted the northeastern region that was devastated by  last years quake and tsunami.

The meteorological agency immediately issued a tsunami warning in the area around Ishinomaki, one of the cities that was flattened by 20 meter waves during the March 2011 disasters.

Tsunami warnings were sounded throughout the area urging people to flea to safety on higher ground. Several cities in Miyagi, including the region’s capital, Sendai, urged residents in coastal areas to evacuate. Sendai Airport was immediately shut down, and flights headed for the airport from domestic destinations were ordered not to land. The tsunami eventually reached Ayukawa at 18:02.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities had been detected at nuclear plants in the area, including Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, site of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster last year, and Tohoku Electric Power Co’s Onagawa plant.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency reported that a tsunami measuring 1 meter in height had hit the Ayukawa area on Ishinomaki’s Ojika Peninsula. Further tsunami were anticipated, a spokesman said.

Television images showed violent shaking in Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures. In Tokyo the shaking continued for more than a minute. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cancelled appointments and immediately returned to his offices, telling reporters he intended to “thoroughly” respond to the quake.

The M7.3 quake hit at at 17:22 local time some 237 km off the Pacific coast of the Ojika Peninsula at a depth of 10 km. The biggest tremors, estimated at around 5 in the Japanese scale of 7, could be felt as far away as Hachinohe in Aomori and Hitachi in Ibaraki.

Some high-speed bullet train services were suspended while minor injuries were reported in Ibaraki and Miyagi.

Japan is estimated to experience 10 percent of the world’s earthquakes and has been stricken by 2 major quakes in the past 17 years, killing a total of 25,000 people.

Municipality votes to close Hamaoka nuclear power plant

A man fishes from the beach in front of Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan (top). Photo of the plant from the viewing plant (bottom left), while woman entertains baby in a room allowing children try on plant worker's uniforms. Rob Gilhooly Photos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local news this evening reports that Makinohara City has voted to close indefinitely Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. The plant was temporarily shut down by the national government on May 6 due to estimates that a magnitude 8+ quake would strike the area where the plant is located over the next 30 years. The municipal level vote is the first to be held by the 4 cities under whose jurisdiction the plant falls. Makinohara City officials reportedly made the 11-4 vote on the grounds that “Without reliable guarantees of its future safety and security, the Hamaoka plant, which is built on the focal area of the (predicted) Tokai Earthquake, should be close indefinately.”

The Hamaoka plant lies directly over the subduction zone over 2 tectonic plates, though it was reportedly built to withstand  a quake in excess of magnitude 8.5. It was not affected directly by the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami. The photos above were taken a few years ago when I visited the plant. On my way down to the seafront I was stopped and questioned by local police for almost 2 hours. Apparently they had been put on alert for possible terrorist attacks. At the end I asked if they shouldn’t be more worried about the Tokai quake. They smiled.

Typhoon Roke

Two women cling on to a street sign and guard rail as typhoon Roke blows through Tokyo, Japan on 21 Sept. 2011. The typhoon was reported to have killed at least 4 people and by evening was heading toward Fukushima's stricken nuclear plant, where it is feared heavy rains may force radioactive water into the sea. Photographer: ROBERT GILHOOLY

Incredible typhoon swept through western Japan and then Tokyo yesterday. TV news was reporting 5 people killed and thousands being evacuated from many parts of western/central Japan. Images of severe flooding and people wading chest-deep through water. The roof of my father-in-law’s garage was blown off — and it’s not one of those flimsy plastic covers you often see.

We live on the top floor of an 11-story building and the winds made the structure sway quite noticeably. I had to bring in everything off the veranda, including a heavy glass vase that had been blown over and smashed. I decided to venture out at one point to see if I could get some pictures, wrapping my camera up in a plastic protective cover. It was mad, the swirling wind and rain dragging me all over the place.

Not unsurprisingly there were very few people out on the streets. I could see in the distance a few students trying to cross the street with umbrellas, which got ripped clean from their hands by the strength of the wind and rain.

Further on — and now completely drenched — I came across the two women in the photo. They were clinging on to road signs for dear life, unable to proceed any further. Across the road a teenage schoolboy got blown off his bicycle. There was all sorts of debris flying around — and not just paper and other light materials either.

Back at the flat — which was still swaying, though not enough to knock anything over — the news was now reporting that Typhoon Roke was heading toward the disaster zone in the northeast, site of the March earthquake, typhoon and nuclear disasters. Reporters were expressing fears that excessive rains could force radioactive water into the sea.

One report suggested that local workers, who are still fighting to bring a leaking under control, had installed some kind of protective covers to ensure radioactive materials will not be spread by the rains and winds.

Further north, tsunami-affected places such as Ishinomaki were experiencing extreme flooding and residents from several  temporary shelters there and further north in Kessennuma had been forced to evacuated due to flooding.

 

Fukushima man decides to stay behind as guinea pig

 

Story about Fukushima man ho has decided not to evacuate his home near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant published in the Japan Times here

Human Guinea Pig

Nobuyoshi Ito, 67, tends to his rice fields in Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 08 Sept. 2011. Despite being advised to evacuate his home due to high radiation levels, Ito has decided to become a human guinea-pig, testing himself and his crops for radiation levels. Photograph: Robert Gilhooly

 

Visited this chap during a (slightly too long) trip up north, during which I had various work with the London Times, the Manchester Guardian and the Telegraph, among others for the 6-month anniversary of the March 11 quake and tsunami. This man was really quite remarkable, very calm, very organized. He doesn’t trust any of the information that has been out out about the leaking nuclear power plant, just 32 km from his abode, and so decided not to leave — one of only 9 residents now left in the vast, but eerily quiet town.

I wrote up a story about Mr. Ito for the Japan Times and you can find an online version of that story here

A trip to the evacuation zone for hanami

April 20. Went on an assignment for the Times with Japan correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry to the evacuation zone around the No. 1 Fukushima nuclear power plant. Another slightly unnerving trip into the zone — my fourth in total — with the only sign of life being abandoned pets, including thoroughbred dogs and a beautiful but unhealthily thin Siamese cat, and cattle.

We entered from Iwaki in the south and found that the police at the control point at the entrance to the zone were a little more fastidious than on previous visits. We first visited a community that had been hit pretty badly by the tsunami. ‘(Contrary to popular belief, the people of Fukushima have not only been affected by the nuclear power plant and in fact if anything the damage caused by the March 11 quake is more noticeable in these parts than in anywhere I have visited in Iwate or Miyagi.)  There was a terrible stench and later found the source — dead cattle among the rubble. Inside cars parked by the side of a road men in white suits were taking a break from the terrible work with which they are charged.

Other than that there was no sign of human life. Outside one house I found a tray of three shriveled up turnips, or carrots; outside another house a tray of small, blackened potatoes. The front door of one house a little further on had been left open, shoes in the entranceway were scattered about — very unusual for a Japanese home. Inside, the living room and kitchen were a mess. Everywhere there was signs of people having left in a hurry — no,  in a panic.

There are other parts of the day that I’d prefer not to revisit here, but later on we came across a 35-year-old woman — a former worker at the No. 2 Fukushima power plant — who had come back to her home, which is located along a road famed for its magnificent cherry trees, to collect some belongings. She expressed dismay at the damage to the plant, saying she had truly believed that it was built to withstand such a disaster. “I have no intention of returning,” she added tearfully, after taking out her phone and snapping off what could turn out to be her last photos of those lovely cherry trees, now in full bloom, that go on for several hundred meters, forming an incredible tunnel of pink.

Little did we know at the time that the following day the Japanese government would make it illegal to enter this dead zone, though such a move had been rumored. It seems an odd time to impose this ban — enforced by threat of financial penalty (¥100,000) and lengthy detention. The radiation levels are no higher than before — in fact they are probably lower — and the police report that there are only 60 people who have chosen to remain in their homes inside the zone anyway.

But there are those who try to sneak in. We came across one young cherry blossom enthusiast who had decided to come and take some photos of the flowering trees in Tomioka. He was concerned he said, but wanted to see the famed blossom here, before jumping in his car and driving off in search of a point from which he could get a better view of the leaking power plant, about 4 km away in Okuma.

On a personal note: Perhaps the worst part of all of this is the desperation of my friends in Fukushima — the prefecture I spent my first three years in Japan. Ironically, the people of Okuma have relocated to Aizu-Wakamatsu (it’s town offices have been shifted to a girls’ high school there as well), where I spent what were possibly the best 2 years of my time here. My best  friend there tells me that the fields have been cleared of significant levels of radiation. But this is still Fukushima Prefecture and anything with Fukushima attached to it from hereon is not going to be taken lightly.

For many many years to come.

I made a video during two of the trips to the zone and it has been uploaded to YouTube by Global Radio News here

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