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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Is TEPCO?

For the average global citizen, I would bet they would have been hard-pressed to explain just who TEPCO was prior to March of 2011.

After a March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake spawned a massive tsunami that smashed into the northeast coast of Japan, including the TEPCO-owned Dai-ichi nuclear power generating station in Fukushima-ken—that five-letter four-word acronym became one of the world's most despised and read company.

Whether they are or not is up to you and your opinion. I'm not here to change your view on anything. I'm just going to give you a bit of a backgrounder on just who TEPCO is, but will not even get into the whole problems following March 11, 2011. Okay? Okay. 

TEPCO is the privately-owned Tokyo Electric Power COmpany. It is the largest electric power company in Japan and the largest privately-owned electric utility in the world. A gentleman by the name of Hirose Naomi (surname first), is the president of TEPCO. 

Under normal circumstances - IE before March 11, 2011, the company supplies around one-third of Japan's electrical needs, covering Tokyo and other  densely populated parts of the country.
Hirose Naomi
 

Prior to 1951, the Japanese government ran all the power-generation companies.... a hold over of government policy from the Meiji era starting in 1868.

As of 1951, Japan's nine electric companies, including TEPCO, were established.

TEPCO—along with the other companies—sought to create a rapid recovery of the country's infrastructure following the dismantling of it following WWII. It did that, and then needed to expand its supply capacity to catch up with the demand  thanks to economic growth.

To do this, TEPCO began developing fossil fuel power (gas and oil) power plants, along with a more efficient transmission network. 

During the 1960s and 1970s Japan, like the rest of the world, suddenly realized that it was causing a lot of pollution... and then faced a huge shock of a lack of oil.

To combat the problem of environmental damage, TEPCO began expanding its power station networks as fueled by LNG (liquified natural gas).

It also began to rely more on nuclear power... in fact, TEPCO built its first nuclear power generating unit at the Dai-ichi (Fukushima 1) facility, going to power for the first time on March 26, 1970.
Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant

Now... I'm unsure about exactly how long it took to built the reactor - let's conservatively say five years... but that would be only 20 years removed from Nagasaki and Hiroshima getting bombed back into the Stone Age by a pair of atomic weapons (Fat Man & Little Boy) dropped on them by the U.S. in August of 1945.

Fukushima Dai-ni Nuclear Power Plant
That's 20 years after being nuked. Being afraid of radiation poisoning, scorch marks on a building, death by extreme heat... and here's the country realizing that there are few other viable options left to it if it wants electrical power.


Incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. It depends upon which side of the nuclear furnace you are on. Me? As long as the facilities are looked after and proper maintenance and disposal of the nuclear materials is observed... and maybe use the less fissionable uranium that Canada uses in its CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors - a Canadian-invented, pressurized heavy water reactor... that creates non-weapons grade by-products, then I have no problem with nuclear power. There. That's my glowing review.

Niigata Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant
Anyhow...  TEPCO is not your one-trick pony.  It actually owns a total of 17 nuclear reactors: 10 in Fukushima-ken and seven in Niigata-ken, which are contained within the Niigata Kashiwazaki Kariwa power plant.

In total, these nuclear reactors when running at capacity could pump out 17,308 MW of electrical power.

How important are/were these nuclear power generating plants to TEPCO? Well, for all of TEPCO's electrical output, the nuclear reactors (all 17 of them) made up approximately 40% of it.

So... where did the other 60% come from?

Well... it turns out that TEPCO - the company we love to hate - actually gets 50% of its energy output from its thermal power generation facilities. The TEPCO-owned thermal power plants utilize LNG (liquified natural gas) conversion to thermal energy.

This was first used at TEPCO's Minami-Yokohama Thermal Power Station in 1969 because it was a relatively clean energy generating system that did not emit smoke dust - which was part of everyone's ecology agenda.

Ecology was what people in the 1960s and 70s called greening and sustainability and everything else a hippie cared about (not including sex, drugs and rock and roll... but never showers, man).

Using LNG in this process was a first globally... and it worked. 

The other 10 per cent of TEPCO's power generation comes from hydroelectric, solar, wind and geothermal.

There are so many waterfalls in Japan... but I personally have not seen any hydroelectric power stations - though obviously they exist. Could the waterfalls be better utilized, or must Japan maintain its aesthetic beauty rather than squeeze out a few extra watts?

At one time, hydroelectric power was Japan's main source of energy... but since 1959 as hydroelectric's energy sources dropped - thermal power grew.
Tsugane Hydro Power Station, Yamanashi

TEPCO's Hydroelectric stations have a capacity of 8,980 MW... but that is capacity.. not what it actually produces. It is possible that the resources here may not be as new and viable as we might hope.

Anyhow... just as I asked earlier - why doesn't Japan create more hydroelectric stations at more waterfalls... well... they are! There are a few mini hydroelectric stations!

TEPCO is in the process of building what it calls "small hydro power stations" that have a maximum power output capacity of 1,000 kW... like the one at Yamanashi-ken's Tsugane Hydro Power Station.

Now... despite living in a country affectionately called the Land of the Rising Sun, and having a blazing new sun as part of its national flag, solar power has not really been at the forefront of Japan's thinking regarding energy, and as such, solar power is still very much in its infancy in Japan.

Ukishima Solar Power Plant, Kanagawa

TEPCO's first large-scale commercial solar power plant was built in Ukishima, Kawasaki-shi (Kawasaki City), in Kanagawa-ken, starting up on August 2011, with a second facility opening up in Ohgishima, Kawasaki-shi in December of 2011. A third TEPCO solar plant was started up in 2012 in Komekurayama, Kofu-shi (Kofu City), Yamanashi-ken.


Together, all three of TEPCO's solar plants have an output of 30,000 kW. Please notice that some of these numbers reference MW (Mega watts) and others the much smaller number of kW (kilowatts).

Japan also has wind power plants, with me making the typical joke about politicians - blah-blah-blah.

Anyhow, like with most fledgling technologies (I once paid $527 for a the honor of being one of the first people to own a VCR in Canada), it is expensive. (I also once owned an $850 DVD player, but bought my last one for $40.)
Ukishima Solar Power Plant, Kanagawa

But... wind power has become a bit more cost-effective. TEPCO owns the Hachijojima Wind Power Station, and is in fact the very first commercial wind power plant built by a Japanese electric utility.

In case you are wondering where such a plant exists, here's a map showing the location of Hachijo-jima (Hachijo Island)—apparently this island is built out of a large pair of volcanoes, and has a population of approximately 8000—gets a lot of wind from the surrounding ocean.



Speaking of volcanoes... Hachijo-jima is also home to Hachijojima Geothermal Power Station, TEPCO's first geothermal power station. Situated within the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, this power plant is designed with emphasis on the conservation of the island's natural environment and harmonization with the local community.

Ukishima Solar Power Plant, Kanagawa
 According to TEPCO, it provides the utmost care to the surrounding environment while utilizing geothermal energy.

And... because I have to mention it, in 2002, TEPCO's president, vice-president and chairman of the board all resigned... why? Because there was a nuclear safety scandal.

What? Nine years before all hell broke loose at the Dai-ichi facility, there was a scandal whereby TEPCO admitted that it MIGHT have failed to accurately report cracks at nuclear reactors in the 1980s and 1990s.

MIGHT have failed to report? With people quitting, it sure sounds less like a maybe and more like a Yes.

So... in 2002, TEPCO shut doen every nuclear reactor so that they could be inspected.

In fact, TEPCO actually admitted to some 200 different times when information was falsified (lied about) between 1977 and 2002. Hunh.

Y'know... there is no shame in telling the truth... only in lying. Tsk-tsk. 

Message from TEPCO president Hirose Naomi

That's all for now... just know that if you live in Japan... there's a good chance that whatever you are using to read this blog right now was powered up by electricity generated by TEPCO.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
PS: All images of TEPCO power stations are from their English website: HERE 
 


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