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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Splitting The Atom: Japan's Nuclear Energy Conundrum

Whether tis nobler in the mind to the suffer the slings and arrows of once again splitting the atom, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and thus by opposing end nuclear power generation in Japan - that is the question.

Or, is better to pay lots of moolah for other forms of energy or face the fears of the heated and hated atom for less-expensive electrical power generation.

Sure… I can understand that Japan is antsy regarding nuclear power use after the March 11, 2011 earthquake caused a tsunami that pretty much took down the safety wall of the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima-ken causing several very near meltdowns that could have put a portion of the country back into the Stone Age….

… but the country has also had the crap blown out of it from two atomic bombs being dropped on first Hiroshima and then Nagasaki back in 1945 to effectively cause the surrender of Japan during WWII… and yet, it managed to embrace the split atom as a means of providing affordable electrical power.

It's funny how relatively cheap power can change the mind of even the most jaded, radioactive individual... but this time?

Until very recently, nuclear power generated about 30 per cent of Japan's electricity.

The Glow Is Fading
After the Fukushima debacle that erected a 20-kilometer-wide no-go zone around the hot facility causing the effective closure of towns and villages and business, not to mention the uprooting of families from ancestral homes et al (approximately 100,000 people displaced)… the Japanese government essentially came under radioactive fire for its apparent lax attitude towards the maintenance of its nuclear reactors, causing all 51 of them to go off-line until the plethora of problems were fixed, or in the best case scenario, the reactors were judged to be safe by Japan's new agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

That was as of September 2013. That was a long sentence.

But here it is… October of 2014, and Japan is without electrical power generated by nuclear energy. As of right now, only the Kyushu Electric Power Sendai reactor is ready to go back on-line. But it hasn't yet.


Some of it is due to public perception… that people are afraid… and truthfully, after the shoddy track record of public safety and maintenance of nuclear power facilities was recently revealed in Japan - who the hell can say otherwise?

Me, I suppose.

Nuclear reactors generating electrical power can be as safe as crossing the street on the green light.

Yeah… there's always some nut bar who's going to run the light (call it the X-Factor), but the odds are pretty good your journey across the street will be uneventful. Basically… it should be easy.

As long as proper and regular checks of the process are done by qualified people and agencies…

But, until 2013 - even that simple, little thing was not being done.

Start me up!

Between now and 2020, of the 48 remaining nuclear reactors, 12 will reach 40 years of age (reactor age limit), and four others are too close to the Dai-ichi reactor - in the fall-out zone and thus are also no-go's to be fixed or used.

That leaves 32 reactors with a viable operating life remaining. Surely that would help remove Japan's burden on being overly reliant on fossil fuels, specifically LNG (liquified natural gas).

Part of the problem in purchasing the fuels comes down to the policies of Japan Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (surname first), who, over the past three years, devalued the country's money to create more competitive exports for Japanese businesses.

Sure… I can understand that.

However… when you need to buy stuff - import them into Japan, it means you have to pay more. Consider that Japan has zero fossil fuels, and needs to import everything.

Now… also consider that Japan often purchases parts from other countries because it costs too much to manufacture them at home.

Case in point? Yesterdays blog where many components used to build a next-gen supercomputer (HERE) are being outsourced ON PURPOSE, with everyone realizing that it's cheaper to purchase foreign-made goods than Japanese ones… which of course leads to your own economy getting weaker as your own manufacturing sector gets kicked in the balls.

Power, Power Everywhere & Not A Drop To Frack
As for the nuclear reactors that still aren't back on-line… the privately-owned energy companies that own the various nuclear raptors have pledged the more than $12 billion needed to upgrade these facilities—so the interest and effort is there to bring the nuclear power back to Japan.

Right now there are nine privately-owned companies that comprise Japan's power providers. Right now.

By 2016, Japan is apparently deregulating its energy market, opening up energy provision to foreign companies.

Gaijin power?!

With some competition in place, the price of electricity will at least be stable or, as is hoped, be reduced.

Still, when it comes to how Japan wants to power up its electrical grid, the question over nuclear power remains: To be, or not to be?

Andrew Joseph
PS: Watch this cool short art film:

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