Early Morning Open Thread: Ya Think?

From the Department of Obvious Conclusions:

TOKYO — Japan will scrap a plan to obtain half of its electricity from nuclear power and will instead promote renewable energy and conservation as a result of its ongoing nuclear crisis, the prime minister said Tuesday.
Naoto Kan said Japan needs to “start from scratch” on its long-term energy policy after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was heavily damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami and began leaking radiation.
Nuclear plants supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, and the government had planned to raise that to 50 percent by 2030.
Kan told a news conference that nuclear and fossil fuel used to be the pillars of Japanese energy policy but now the government will add two more pillars: renewable energy such as solar, wind and biomass, and an increased focus on conservation…

Not that we can afford to make fun of the Japanese, of course. If (when) a similar nuclear-power accident happens here in America the Exceptional, a large percentage of our political class will insist that what we must do first is double down on tax subsidies for multinational oil/gas/coal companies, give a few billion dollars to Blackwater/Xe to investigate the possibility that the accident was the result of terrorist activity, and incidentally pass new laws limiting reproductive freedom and/or gay marriage, because 27% of the voting population believes Jeebus has radioactively smote us for our freedom librul wickedness.

On a more cheerful morning note, this is a great story on resilience in the face of tsunamis and other tragedies.

35 replies
  1. 1
    Amir_Khalid says:

    … has radioactively smote …

    should be

    … has radioactively smitten

    With the present perfect tense, you use the past participle, not the imperfect, of the verb.

    Brave man, that Sasaki-san. Japan is going to need a hell of a lot of people like him.

  2. 2
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Amir_Khalid: I did that on purpose, truly. Real ‘Murkans recognize no participles, past or perfect! ‘Smote’ is quasi-biblical, while ‘smitten’ is what pre-teen girls are with Justin Beiber.

  3. 3

    If and when a similar incident happens here, we won’t have to import all of that coal that would be needed to keep the economy going until renewable energy alternatives are on line.

    As for energy conservation- I’ll believe people are turning off their tvs and computers and not charging their i-devices when I see it.

    That said, a reliable source at the Oak Ridge labs tells me we’re 40 years out from fusion. Time to roll up the sleeves and make like it’s the Hoover Dam, TVA, Manhattan and Apollo Projects all rolled into one and make fusion happen inside of 15 years.

  4. 4
    nancydarling says:

    Anne, I have not read this guy’s book, but my mechanical engineer son says it is worth the read. The Youtube is from the Business of Climate Change Conference 2009.


    Rubin’s book is “Why your World is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization”

    I wish I could believe we are going to get through the next few decades without major disruptions. Interesting times.

  5. 5
    Hypnos says:

    Even if we gracefully adapt to declining oil supplies, Katrina and the Russian heatwave and the Queensland floods and the Pakistani floods and the Brazilian drought followed by the Brailian/Colombia floods show that we are crap at adapting to climate change.

    Apparently the Mississippi is also going to give a good test run to the Old River Control Structures in the next few days.

    We could do “how’s that whole adaptation thingy working out for ya” bumper stickers in Alabama, but given how as usual its the poor who get hammered and have no recourse, I don’t know how satisfactory it would be to rub it in their faces.

  6. 6
    Xenos says:

    Helium-3, baby. Give NASA a worthy project and tell ’em to go fetch it.

  7. 7
    Calouste says:

    One of the side-effects of that nuclear crisis will take effect today: Winfried Kretschmann will be sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg making him the first Prime Minister of a German state from the Greens.

  8. 8
    grumpy realist says:

    Actually, the whole “nuclear or bust!” has been a pillar of Japan’s energy policy every since 1955 when the whole LDP started. It’s also been the reason for a regulatory/turf catfight between MITI/STA and MAFF (Ministry of Forest and Fisheries). Japan’s always been pushing conservation; this just makes it even more official (and probably will cause most of the lighted ads to go out in Tokyo.) What the Prime Minister has just done is given a slap on the nose to METI (what MITI turned into) and blown a kiss to MAFF. Expect more bureaucratic turf battles and changes where $ goes…

    Wonder if STA will resurrect the tidal energy stuff?

    (I used to work in the Japanese government, so got to see a lot of this up close.)

  9. 9
    DBrown says:

    So the Japanese get the worse possible nuclear reactor – of course, an Amerikan design – that one is about the worse in the world short of the old air cooled graphite Russian design – and they are now giving up on nuclear?

    The Candu is a great design that is safe. While nuclear waste is an issue it can be overcome(in time, not in the next forty years or so)and processing is dangerous but coal is worse and AGW will kill many millions of third world people (who caused almost zero of the CO2!) and change our world in the worse possible manner. Wosre still, peak oil is within the next ten years so we don’t really have much choice if we want to continue to have AC, people living far from work and not living tightly packed in cities … besides getting so many worse in was fun.

  10. 10
    Social outcast says:

    If there’s an accident at a nuke facility, I expect they’ll blame the perils of over-regulation.

  11. 11
    Montysano says:

    and incidentally pass new laws limiting reproductive freedom

    Ah yes, HR 3. Because… why not? Way too much of the GOP legislative agenda amounts to nothing more than assholery and eye-poking.

  12. 12
    superdestroyer says:

    The Japanese currently live in small houses/apartment, drive small cars, take public transportation, and consume less than Americans.

    I wonder how much they can really save through conservation.

    In addition, I doubt that the Toyota plants and steel mills will be able to function on solar cells or biomass.

    Giving up both coal and nuclear means that Japan is setting a course for post-industrialization and a lower standard of living.

  13. 13
    Ben says:

    Since this is an open thread… An idea just occurred to me about the debt ceiling issue. Republicans may push their stupidity to (or past) the August 1 deadline. Failure to raise the ceiling could require a 40% reduction in federal spending. Meanwhile, Obama has said he still plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting this summer. Could he save 40% just from defense?

  14. 14
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    Just one thing:

    “investigate the possibility that the accident was the result of terroristic activity”

    FTFY – it blows me away the extent to which sport mallogisms have taken over the people who are supposed to write and speak news for a living.

  15. 15
    El Cid says:

    The TeaTards and the beltway establishmentarians will not care for this at all.

    Especially the part about over half of Americans thinking he should be re-elected.

    AP-Gfk poll: Obama approval hits 60 percent
    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s approval rating has hit its highest point in two years — 60 percent — and more than half of Americans now say he deserves to be re-elected, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll taken after U.S. forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
    In worrisome signs for Republicans, the president’s standing improved not just on foreign policy but also on the economy, and independent Americans — a key voting bloc in the November 2012 presidential election — caused the overall uptick in support by sliding back to Obama after fleeing for much of the past two years.
    Comfortable majorities of the public now call Obama a strong leader who will keep America safe. Nearly three-fourths — 73 percent — also now say they are confident that Obama can effectively handle terrorist threats. And he improved his standing on Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States’ relationships with other countries.
    Despite a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, 52 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy, giving him his best rating on that issue since the early days of his presidency; 52 percent also now like how he’s handling the nation’s stubbornly high 9 percent unemployment.

    What? Where’s America’s love for David Brooks’ Ultimate Fantasy President, the uber-wise and budget-slashing-perfectoid Mitch Daniels?

    And how dare Americans not understand that it was George W. Bush Jr. who caught bin Laden, and Obama just arrogantly suggested he had something to do with the military operation to kill the Pakistani-compound-in-the-military-academy-suburb living terrorist?

  16. 16
    Robert Sneddon says:

    An international energy consultant on a panel discussion I attended recently claimed that the Japanese have purchased options on the entire global production of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) for the next fifteen years. This is probably to cover the loss of electrical generating capacity due to the tsunami and the shut-down nuclear plants around the country. Adding gas-cycle generators to a system can be done in a hurry as long as they can be kept supplied with fuel. Losing the Chiba gas/oil plant to fire during the earthquake was a big hit to their fuel-shipping capacity though so they’ll have to build new terminals to deal with the extra gas supplies from abroad. This summer’s peak electrical load will be interesting as they try and get extra capacity on-line since bringing shut-down nuclear plants like the ones at Fukushima Daini back onto the grid will take months of inspections before restarts can be authorised.

    Note that these purchase options doesn’t involve pipeline gas, just tankerable LNG. It still drives a coach and horses through the Japanese Kyoto summit carbon emission limits which they originally planned to meet using increased nuclear capacity for baseload which they absolutely need to maintain their high-tech export economy and feed their population.

  17. 17
    grumpy realist says:

    Yah, most of the energy that Japan uses aside from nuclear comes from LNG. The relative ease of further purifying LNG is why Japan was looking seriously into things like fuel-cell co-gen systems 10 years ago. (Left the field, so have no idea what the present status is.)

  18. 18
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @El Cid:

    Nearly three-fourths — 73 percent — also now say they are confident that Obama can effectively handle terrorist threats.

    And there’s that 27% again.

  19. 19
    terraformer says:

    The paleo-cognicists (yes, I just coined that term!) that rule our discourse on energy simply refuse to embrace the obvious truth of the unsustainability of our current energy sources. While some are enlightened, their livelihood depends on their denying objective reality (as opposed to subjective or manufactured reality).

    Then there are those who know better, but refuse to embrace going full-tilt for alternative energy sources just because such sources have traditionally been lobbied for by DFH, and we all know that pissing off the DFHs is the preferred sport of kings.

  20. 20
    Amir_Khalid says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    Really? If the Japanese were to buy all the LNG extracted in the world for the next 15 years, most of the electricity generation, half the taxicabs and nearly all the kitchen stoves in Malaysia would go out of operation. I imagine my country wouldn’t be the only one to suffer.

  21. 21
    Woodrow L. Goode, IV says:

    @DBrown: It’s one of the great mysteries of our time. The Japanese decide to make better cars, cameras, stereos, electronic musical instruments (to name a few) than anyone else.

    But the one thing they buy American is nuclear reactor technology. It just boggles the mind.

    And, as you point out, the CANDU technologies are a hell of a lot better. They require a higher initial investment, but they’re much safer and fuel costs are lower.

    That’s why China, South Korea and India are buying CANDUs– it’s a sign that they know what they’re doing.

  22. 22
    Redshift says:

    If (when) a similar nuclear-power accident happens here in America the Exceptional, a large percentage of our political class will insist that what we must do first is double down on tax subsidies for multinational oil/gas/coal companies, give a few billion dollars to Blackwater/Xe to investigate the possibility that the accident was the result of terrorist activity, and incidentally pass new laws limiting reproductive freedom and/or gay marriage, because 27% of the voting population believes Jeebus has radioactively smote us for our freedom librul wickedness.

    You forgot insisting that when feelings are running high following such a crisis it is not the time to discuss its implications for our energy policy.

  23. 23
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Amir_Khalid: They’ve bought options, not the gas itself (and I’m only repeating something someone else said). By doing so they have ensured they’re at the front of the queue if future shortages happen or future demand for LNG exceeds supply. I expect more capacity will come on-stream to provide LNG if that demand increases but any intermediate shortcomings will not affect the supply to Japan, or so the theory goes.

    If it turns out they don’t need the options they can be traded back into the international markets for others to buy, whether at a profit or a loss.

  24. 24
    Redshift says:

    @Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again):

    As for energy conservation- I’ll believe people are turning off their tvs and computers and not charging their i-devices when I see it.

    The important thing to realize is that it’s conservation and efficiency, and it’s not just everyone acting virtuous and denying themselves nice things. The thing to remember is that after the energy-efficiency measures put in place by the Carter administration (even after many of them were gutted by Reagan), national energy consumption didn’t rise above 1979 levels until 1992, and contrary to the sneering of conservatives, it didn’t involve all of us shivering in the dark.

    For example, I suspect there’s a lot that could be done with the iPods and TVs to make “vampire devices” use less energy when they’re “off”, make those charger transformers switch completely off when power’s not being drawn, etc.

    That said, a reliable source at the Oak Ridge labs tells me we’re 40 years out from fusion.

    Unfortunately, we’ve pretty much always been about 40 years out from fusion since we started working on it. That doesn’t mean I disagree about it being worthwhile to dramatically increase spending on it, just that I think it’s a gamble, not something we can definitely make happen soon with sufficient effort.

  25. 25
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Redshift: Fusion, when it becomes available on the gird, is going to be as expensive or more so than current (no pun intended) power sources. It could well be more expensive than conventional fission nuclear power as each fusion plant will be a lot more expensive to build and operate due to the size and fragility of the structures. Its one saving grace is the cost of fuel, but a lot of the effort being put into fusion was initiated in the 70s predicated on uranium being a lot more expensive and less abundant than it actually is.

    A fission nuclear power plant is actually quite a simple structure like a steam locomotive boiler. It’s built tough and heavy because once it’s fired up it can’t be easily repaired if something breaks inside it but it will run for thirty or forty years with minimal maintenance required in the reactor itself. In comparison a tokamak-based plasma fusion reactor is like a Swiss watch inside and it will have to be taken apart regularly for essential parts to be repaired and replaced. That’s what the ITER project is meant to do, to discover how to run a hi-Q plasma long-term and fix the reactor afterwards expeditiously and at low cost. The next step after that is DEMO, the first commercial power reactor prototype which will actually provide a grid power surplus. There is talk of a Dash for Fusion where intermediate results from ITER will be used to design and build a Son Of DEMO reactor in parallel, overlapping the timescales to bring fusion on-grid earlier but that will cost a lot of money to pull off and it might not work in the end.

  26. 26
    PeakVT says:

    @Woodrow L. Goode, IV: No, they’re not. India has been developing PHWRs independently since 1974, when it tested a nuclear weapon. Most are only 220MWe, and the largest under construction is 700MWe. India is also building two Russian PWRs and there are plans for a plant with 4 EPRs. Korea and China have purchased CANDU reactors in the past, but all commercial reactors under construction are PWRs. Not even Canada is buying CANDUs, because the bid for two in Ontario came in at about $26B CAD, or about $11,000/KW. The only place CANDUs are being built is Romania, where they are finishing two reactors that were started in the 1980s.

  27. 27
    NaveenM says:

    What I find frustrating is that this is how we used to behave. When we faced large problems, we dealt with them logically. If something was proven not to work, we changed what we were doing, we didn’t double down and do more of what doesn’t work.

    Today, the “answer” to every problem we face seems to have more to do with political ideology and the influence of lobbyists that anything else.

  28. 28
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @PeakVT: India is working on reactors than can burn thorium but they are not the magical liquid-fluorine thorium reactors designs that have assorted techies wetting their panties with Squee! Instead they are modified PWRs which can burn thorium in a mix with other fuels. The bad news is that they absolutely require plutonium and highly-enriched uranium (20% plus) to work at all due to thorium by itself not producing enough neutron flux in normal circumstances.

  29. 29
    priscianus jr says:

    If (when) a similar nuclear-power accident happens here in America the Exceptional, a large percentage of our political class will insist that …

    The system works! in that it has a built-in mechanism for revealing its own technical shortcomings which can then be corrected by more market-oriented solutions. A catastrophic nuclear accident is only Nature’s® way of finding better solutions. “Adopt, adapt, improve.”

  30. 30
    DZ says:

    @Robert Sneddon:

    You obviously know a lot more about this stuff than I do. The French produce 78.8 % of their electric power from nuclear. What do you think of their systems?

  31. 31
    PeakVT says:

    @Robert Sneddon: PHWRs, not PWRs. The H signifies a big difference.

  32. 32
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @DZ: We in the UK are looking at licencing and building French EPR1000 pressurised-water reactors, the latest design from EDF. There are, I think, four in the process of construction elsewhere in the world including two in China. They’re evolutionary rather than revolutionary which is a good thing if you want affordable baseload energy that isn’t dependent on unreliable renewable sources such as wind and solar. We tried revolutionary designs with our AGR reactors which work great and are very efficient (about 40% thermal compared to 32-33% thermal for BWR and PWR designs) but they were very complex and expensive to build, so we’re not building any more of them.

    France is getting into the baseload-electricity exporting business more and more, especially to those countries depending on solar and wind renewable generators such as Spain and Germany. The UK has been sucking down about 2GW of electricity from French sources pretty much continuously since the completion of an undersea 270kV HVDC link across the channel back in the 80s but with other energy-starved markets opening up for the French generators in Europe plus a growing domestic demand for baseload nuclear within France itself the days of cheap imports may not continue and we may have to start generating all our power ourselves.

  33. 33
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @PeakVT: Structurally heavy-water reactors are similar to PWRs, being large pressure boilers producing steam to generate electricity at one remove via a heat exchanger. The bad news is that heavy-water reactors are not quite as proliferation-proof as commodity uranium or even MOX-fuelled light-water reactors. The need for thorium fuel to be supplemented with 20% MEU is another worrying aspect of these thorium reactor designs given India’s failure to sign up to the Nuclear Weapons Non Proliferation Treaty (something which should mean an absence of support from Western countries to their nuclear industry but the Obama administration recently decided otherwise).

  34. 34
    Woodrow L. Goode, IV says:

    @PeakVT: @PeakVT: You’re right, damn it. My subject matter expertise hasn’t been refreshed since about 2003… and a quick look reveals that the Chinese did a U-turn (which appears to be partly cost-based and partly lobbying).

    I notice China has suspended approvals and say they will be conducting testing in the wake of the Japanese incidents, so maybe sanity will prevail. I’m assuming it isn’t for show. at least– in their political system, they don’t need to worry about optics.

    It’s amazing how almost every industry seems to have moved to “let’s reduce costs and maximize profits”, just assuming that nothing unexpected will ever happen.

  35. 35
    El Cid says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    And there’s that 27% again.

    Right, but is that entire 27% right wing monarcho-fasci-medievalists?

    I doubt it.

    Some chunk of that believes that terrorism is a hoax made up by the reptilian aliens to keep us from seeing their landing spots.

    Others surely believe that the most effective anti-terror leader would be the poltergeist they have detected in their cellars.

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