The Godfather of efficiency and renewables on why Nuclear Power makes Climate Change worse, part 1.

Sorry for the bad sound synch, too tired to correct the file.  Very good information, even though somewhat dated – from 2008.  Best to forget the picture and just listen to it while you surf, like NPR.

In an article written this week to respond to the Fukushima incident, Lovins updates this point and more:

“Each dollar spent on a new reactor buys about 2-10 times less carbon savings, 20-40 times slower, than spending that dollar on the cheaper, faster, safer solutions that make nuclear power unnecessary and uneconomic: efficient use of electricity, making heat and power together in factories or buildings (“cogeneration”), and renewable energy. The last two made 18% of the world’s 2009 electricity (while nuclear made 13%, reversing their 2000 shares)–and made over 90% of the 2007-08 increase in global electricity production.”

Part 2 below the fold.

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Professor Barry Brook holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide.

He authors the blog Brave New Climate, which argues that climate change is a primary challenge of this century, and nuclear energy is an important part of the solution.

Below the fold, a San Francisco television station interviewed students and professors at UC Berkeley’s School of Nuclear Engineering.  Their take?

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Just so I can’t be accused of not presenting fair and balanced news.

Radiation, according to Fox, is good for you. Tell your radiologist, no need to duck behind that wall when he x-rays you next time. In fact, might even help his tan.

Here,  Fox news veers into Art Robinson territory, with his views on “hormesis”. (sprinkling radiation around is a good thing…)

As of friday, anyway.  Useful informed discussion. Thom is bright and pretty careful – I think he needs to caveat the “plutonium is the most dangerous element on earth” meme – there are a number of qualifications to that statement.

CBC had the best images of the water cannon hosing down the hot reactors. Have had trouble uploading that video, so here’s a still.

NYTimes reports:

Yukio Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, said that spinach and milk were the only products found to have abnormally high radiation levels. The level of radioactivity found in the spinach would, if consumed for a year, equal the radiation received in a single CAT scan, he said, while that detected in milk would amount to just a fraction of a CAT scan.

“These levels do not pose an immediate threat to your health,” Mr. Edano said, adding that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry would provide additional details. “Please stay calm.”

The milk with the elevated radiation levels was found in Fukushima Prefecture on farms about 19 miles from the nuclear plants. The contaminated spinach was found one prefecture to the south, in Ibaraki Prefecture, on farms 60 to 90 miles south of the plants.

Food safety inspectors said the iodine-131 in the tested milk was up to five times the level the government deems safe, and the spinach had levels more than seven times the safe level. The spinach also contained slightly higher than allowable amounts of cesium-137.

The issue of radiation exposure is more complex than a mere number can express.

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Kamisu wind farm just 300 km (180 miles) from the earthquake epicenter

Grist reports:

While Japan’s water-dependent nuclear power plants suck and wheeze and spew radioactive steam, “there has been no wind facility damage reported by any [Japan Wind Energy Association] members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami,” says association head Yoshinori Ueda.

Even the country’s totally badass Kamisu offshore wind farm, with its giant 2 MW turbines with blades big as the wings on a jumbo jet, and only 186 miles from the epicenter of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan, survived without a hiccup thanks to its “battle proof design.” As a result, the nation’s electric companies have asked all of its wind farms to increase power production to maximum, in order to make up for the shortfalls brought about by the failure of certain other aging, non-resilient 20th-century technologies.

Bottom line, if Japan had 30 percent of its energy coming from offshore wind, as opposed to nuclear, the tidal wave and earthquake would have caused nary a ripple in power flow.

This resilience of distributed, renewable energy sources was also demonstrated during the great northeast blackout of  2003 in the US. When power went down, a dozen or so east coast nuclear plants tripped offline, necessitating a restart process that had to proceed, slowly and deliberately, over several days while the power was desperately needed. Meanwhile, wind turbines just kept on churning.

One of the (so far) little covered aspects of the Japan/nuclear story is the potential for longer term economic fallout from the accident.

In  the event of a larger radioactive release, in particular with an unfortunate shift in prevailing winds,  the real or perceived impact of radio-active contamination of Japanese facilities or fields, could raise doubts in consumer’s minds about a range of Japanese products, from industrial to agricultural. The impact for one of the world’s largest export economies has not, to my knowledge, been analyzed.

CNN reports:

Tokyo (CNN) — Nissan has started scanning vehicles made in Japan for traces of radioactive material, a company official said Friday.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to implement all appropriate measures to reassure the public that all products from our company remain within globally accepted safety standards and until we are confident that any risk of contamination is completely removed,” said Simon Sproule, corporate vice president of marketing for Nissan Motor Company.

Sproule said the monitoring began this week.

Sources inside the company said there is virtually no risk of contamination from a car and no potential health risk to customers, but testing began because of public concern.

Assuming a “best case” scenario, in which the nuclear plant continues to seep radiation, while cooling over the next few weeks and months, with prevailing winds carrying radionuclides “away”, ie out to sea, there will undoubtably be an impact on the ocean food chain near and around the Japanese islands.

To my knowledge, no one has analyzed the impact of bio-concentrating radioactive materials in the ocean food chain, on a nation that depends on sea food and sea vegetables as export commodities, and for major parts of it’s traditional diet.

Update to the NYTimes story today:

In a further sign of spreading alarm Friday that uranium in the Japanese plant could begin to melt, Japan planned to import about 150 tons of boron from South Korea and France to mix with water to be sprayed onto damaged reactors, French and South Korean officials said Friday. Boron absorbs neutrons during a nuclear reaction and can be used in an effort to stop a meltdown if the zirconium cladding on uranium fuel rods is compromised.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the plant, said earlier this week that there was a possibility of “recriticality,” in which fission would resume if fuel rods melted and the uranium pellets slumped into a jumble on the floor of a storage pool or reactor core. Spraying pure water on the uranium under these conditions can actually accelerate fission, said Robert Albrecht, a longtime nuclear engineer.

Nuclear reactions at the plant had been halted soon after last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.


Fukushima Unit number 4

US experts now believe that the spent fuel pond at the badly damaged Fukushima number 4 reactor is breached, and may be difficult or impossible to fill with badly needed new cooling water.

LA Times had it first:

U.S. government nuclear experts believe a spent fuel pool at Japan’s crippled Fukushima reactor complex has a breach in the wall or floor, a situation that creates a major obstacle to refilling the pool with cooling water and keeping dangerous levels of radiation from escaping.

Unlike the reactor itself, the spent fuel pool does not have its own containment vessel, and any radioactive particles and gases can more easily spew into the environment if the uranium fuel begins to burn. In addition, the pool, which contains 130 tons of uranium fuel, is housed in a building that Japanese authorities say appears to have been damaged by fire or explosions.

A breach in the pool would leave engineers with a problem that has no precedent or ready-made solution, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“My intuition is that this is a terrible situation and it is only going to get worse,” he said. “There may not be any way to deal with it.”

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In this video from NHK world TV, personel use a water cannon on the disabled Fukushima Daichi 3 Reactor.

AP report March 18 0027 am EDT:

YAMAGATA, Japan (AP) — Smoke billowed from a building at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant Friday as emergency crews worked to reconnect electricity to cooling systems and spray more water on overheating nuclear fuel at the tsunami-ravaged facility.

Four of the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant’s six reactor units have seen fires, explosions or partial meltdowns in the week since the tsunami. While the reactor cores where energy is generated are a concern, water in the pools used to store used nuclear fuel are also major worries. Water in at least one fuel pool — in the complex’s Unit 3 — is believed to be dangerously low, exposing the stored fuel rods. Without enough water, the rods may heat further and spew out radiation.

“We see it as an extremely serious accident,” Yukiya Amano, the head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters Friday just after arriving in Tokyo. “This is not something that just Japan should deal with, and people of the entire world should cooperate with Japan and the people in the disaster areas.”