Archives for : renewable energy

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.”

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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.

Renewable village offers lifeline to Fukushima farmers

I had a story published in New Scientist (in the magazine print edition in late December and in the online edition on Jan. 6) about a community-run project that promotes renewable energy generation and the reuse of farmland in Fukushima. Below is a slightly longer version of the story, which I think demonstrates once more how some local residents are showing initiative in the face of adversity.


By Rob Gilhooly

Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture.

It seems like the last place to find a Utopian blueprint. Yet, on an idyllic patch of Fukushima land blighted by nuclear fallout 33 months ago stands the foundations of a model village of the future.

Kenro Okumura stands by the PV panels that form part of the Renewable Energy Village in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. ©Rob Gilhooly Photo. All rights reserved

The farmland in this coastal city is currently home to 120 photovoltaic panels bolted atop a 3-meter-high frame. Upon completion, however, the “Renewable Energy Village” will also feature a wind farm, farmland for radioresistant crops, educational and recreational facilities and an astronomical observatory.

One crop that has already been planted, namely rapeseed, was chosen, say project organisers, because its oil is free of contaminants even though the plants themselves take in some radioisotopes such as those of caesium.

The community-run project was launched in an attempt to protect the area’s farming industry, which was devastated by the triple meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

People evacuated from areas closer to the plant have given up ever farming their fields again,” said project leader Ryozo Hakozaki. “There might be an amusement park feel to the project, but we’re trying to show them what the future could hold.”

Around 65 percent of Minamisoma’s 8,500 hectares of farmland lies within the nuclear evacuation zone, a 1,256 sq. km area – around half of which is land – that includes parts of Minamisoma. The remainder was flooded by tsunami waves and showered with radionuclides, but in December permission was granted to plant rice there, despite tests revealing cesium levels exceeding the official 100 becquerels per kg limit.

Some farmers see the move as facile, says local assemblyman Kenro Okumura, a local assemblyman and farmer who donated farmland for the project. “It’s three years since the accident, but still there’s no guarantee that crops can be sold,” he said. “At worst our plan protects farmland.”

Central to the project is “solar sharing”– erecting solar panels above farmland and growing crops underneath. Complementing the idea is a government initiative encouraging enterprises to sell solar energy to utilities companies.

That initiative, which was introduced in July 2012, centers around generous feed-in tariffs, which are among the highest in the world. As a result, they have triggered the development large-scale solar parks – though none uses solar sharing. Most have solar panels resting on the ground itself, which makes growing crops impossible. One will be the country’s largest solar park, also in Minamisoma.

Largely thanks to these, shipments of solar more than tripled in the second quarter of 2013, according the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association.

Hakozaki says such large-scale ventures have a major drawback in that they threaten Minamisoma’s farming industry. “If farmers decide to sell up their land to megasolar parks … entire communities will be wiped off the map.”

The Renewable Energy Village model offers a way around this issue, said project chairman Sohei Takahashi, whose radionuclide decontamination research organization is also developing new, radioresistant produce.

Through the project we can protect farmland and communities and with two parallel revenues create increased prosperity compared with before the disasters.”


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