The No.3 nuclear reactor of the Fukushima Di-Ischi nuclear power plant is seen burning after a blast following an earthquake and tsunami in this handout satellite image taken March 14, 2011 (Click Image To Enlarge)
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sendai, Japan, triggering a large tsunami. The earthquake and ensuing damage resulted in an immediate shutdown of 12,000 MW of electric generating capacity at four nuclear power stations. Other energy infrastructure such as electrical grid, refineries, and gas and oil-fired power plants were also affected by the earthquake, though some of these facilities were restored. Between the 2011 earthquake and May 2012, Japan lost all of its nuclear capacity due to scheduled maintenance and the challenge facilities face in gaining government approvals to return to operation. Japan is substituting the loss of nuclear fuel for the power sector with additional natural gas, low-sulfur crude oil, and fuel oil.
Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) Co.'s crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant No. 3 reactor in Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan is seen in this still image taken from a video shot by an unmanned helicopter on April 10, 2011 (Click Image To Enlarge)
Click HERE to view some impressive images of the destruction of the Fukushima Dai-Ischi nuclear power plant one month after the nuclear plant disaster of March 11, 2011.
The sociological and economic aftershocks from the devastation of Fukushima will reverberate through Japan for decades. Of the 52 nuclear plants operating before the disaster, only two continue to run, and the consensus is that Japan will not again resort to nuclear generation for the foreseeable future. That puts enormous pressure on utilities to replace lost capacity with other fuel sources and to better manage demand.
Because Japan has always depended on imported fossil fuels, especially liquefied natural gas and oil, there is now a surge in interest in renewables, particularly solar and wind. And in order to manage demand and integrate intermittent and distributed generation, it is suddenly essential to rethink the grid.
The challenge is not to improve reliability. The Japanese grid is among the most reliable in the world. If the average American loses power for eight hours a year, the average Japanese endures just five minutes of darkness, according to Matt Wakefield, senior program manager, information and communications technology at EPRI.
But the Japanese grid isn’t very smart. Meters, especially residential meters, are still mostly read by meter readers, and while some level of smart metering is deployed, it’s mainly been to establish consumer-to-utility communication to replace these human meter readers. There are a number of pilot projects, but the two-way communication capability that we associate with smart, AMI metering in the United States is at a very early stage of deployment in Japan. The
challenge, then, is to deploy the components of a truly smart grid in order to enable integration of intermittent renewable resources and the ability to dynamically manage demand.
The challenge is urgent. With the sudden loss of virtually all of its nuclear generation, a significant amount of total generating capacity disappeared. Estimates range as high as 30 percent, according to the World Nuclear Association, and as low as 13 percent to 18 percent by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), but whatever the absolute figure, the loss is very serious. And while some demand was also lost in the wake of Fukushima, much of the industrial capacity that was destroyed has been rebuilt.
Since the earthquake, Japan has handled the loss of capacity mainly through voluntary usage curtailment. The country’s utilities have always relied on a voluntary program with their industrial customers to reduce usage on an emergency basis, but such requests were rare. During the first summer after Fukushima, they asked for reductions and demand decreased significantly, according to EPRI’s Wakefield. That says a lot about the ability of utility companies in Japan to communicate with their customers, but it also speaks to what Clyde Prestowitz, the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute and a former counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan administration, calls Japan’s homogeneity. Prestowitz said.
“Everyone is on the same team and everyone is part of the same village. So they work hard to get electricity to the whole village in a way that simply wouldn’t happen in our society.”
But voluntary curtailment of electric usage is a stopgap measure. Lost capacity must be replaced and then keep pace with expected industrial expansion. Although much of the now dormant nuclear capacity is probably safe, restarting those plants is unlikely. There was, naturally, a high level of concern about nuclear energy from the beginning in Japan, but citizens basically trusted the government and utility executives, who championed it. As the facts about the failure to protect against an eventuality like Fukushima emerged, as well as the lack of transparency about the extent of the disaster, that trust was lost, according to Prestowitz. The result is profound ground-level opposition to nuclear power. Because nuclear was seen as the answer to Japan’s long dependence on imported carbon-based fuel, the obvious alternative now is renewable sources, and any move toward greater efficiency and renewable, distributed generation depends on deploying advanced, smart grid technology.
Japan’s former ruling party, which was replaced in December by the center-right Liberal Democratic Party, conducted a wide-ranging re-examination of national energy policies. According to Jeffrey A. Miller, the energy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, a key concern has been to replace nuclear with other fuels, especially renewables. To hasten the move toward renewables, the government enacted a feed-in tariff as an incentive for new investments in solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and small-scale hydroelectric. At the same time, Miller says, Japan is fully committed to creating more agile power grid configurations that enable real-time monitoring, control and demand response capabilities, and distributed power generation and energy storage by way of fuel cells and batteries.
The Japanese plan is very aggressive; the goal for solar alone is 28 gigawatts by 2020 and 53 gigawatts by 2030,with about 80 percent of that being rooftop installations, according to EPRI’s Wakefield. That compares with U.S. solar capacity of about 2 gigawatts today. The goal by 2020 is to produce 20 percent of total capacity with renewables.
The pace at which they want to move creates real challenges, notes Jack Azagury, managing director of smart grid s0ervices for Accenture, one of the global firms Japan is working with in its efforts to upgrade the system, and so does the scale involved. “Tepco alone [the utility that serves Tokyo] has 27 million meters. No AMI system operating in the world has that many. So the question is, can they scale the hardware, the network, the software to drive performance
of 27 million meters?” said Azagury. He also thinks utilities and the government need to launch an education campaign in order to avoid possible consumer resistance, such as that which has met some smart-meter initiatives in the United States.
While the feed-in tariff is helping support the move to renewables, full smart grid deployment depends to a large extent on being able to make a good business case for the investment in infrastructure and developing smart appliances that could drive down peak and overall consumption. Azagury believes that sustained, broad consumer acceptance depends on set-it-and-forget-it solutions, because consumers don’t want to interact with their energy provider every day. They want something that is convenient and works and gives them the savings they want. International standards for smart appliances adopted this past December by the Consumer Electronics Association should encourage manufacturers to make more of their appliances smart-grid ready, and the communications technologies to integrate appliances with either a WiFi or cellular system are actually evolving a bit more rapidly than the appliances themselves, says EPRI’s Wakefield. But appliances are long-term investments for most people, so even when smart-grid-enabled appliances are widely available it will take time for them to be deployed.
The twin goals of integrating renewables and managing demand hinge on a smartly upgraded and expanded grid, which requires discipline and serious financial investment. But to flourish today — and tomorrow — depends on meeting the demands of a new energy economy. Japan has clearly articulated its commitment to greener, cheaper, more efficient energy, and while the new government will no doubt revisit the issue, it’s likely the country will continue to vigorously move forward to implement what is likely to be the most sophisticated national grid in the world.
COMMENTARY: As we approach the two-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 Great Earthquake, Japan has not yet adopted a new national energy policy after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that devastated the country, and destroyed the nuclear facility in Fukushima causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
This, however, is not surprising given that developments in energy capacity and infrastructure are normally measured in decades, and not in years and months. Also, Japan does not move quickly on substantive issues like this.
The new Japanese government that took office following a lower house election on Dec 16 now expects a new national energy policy to evolve over the next three years.
Following the Fukushima disaster there have been no significant power blackouts in Japan due principally to higher than forecast excess generation capacity, significant efforts around energy conservation by households and industries, and re-starting older fossil-fuel based generation plants.
Forty-eight of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors remain off-line today. The new independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) is expected to finalize revised safety standards by early summer, that the operators of the reactors must comply with. A period where all reactors may be off-line again may emerge in late summer.
The implications of the Fukushima disaster continue to be felt around the world particularly for the nuclear energy industry.
Lithuania rejected nuclear power through a recent national referendum and Bulgarians also refused to endorse the further development of nuclear energy in their country due to a low turnout in another national referendum. Costs have escalated dramatically for new nuclear facilities, in some cases doubling, and in other cases taking over 10 years to construct twice the original planned time-scales.
France recently completed an assessment indicating that the economic cost of an accident similar to Fukushima at any of its 58 reactors might be in excess of $500 billion (almost 20% of French GDP).
Nevertheless, other countries, many close neighbors of Japan, continue to pursue civilian nuclear strategies such as China, India, Russia, South Korea. Several Mideast countries are also using their petro-dollars to finance alternative energy sources in preparation for oil and gas depletion that may in the long run be inevitable.
Its natural gas imports have now risen to almost 90 million metric tons annualized or over $70 billion with much of the pre-3.11 increase used to make up for its lost nuclear capacity.
Two new receiving liquefied natural gas terminals are now planned for Fukushima and Aomori prefectures. Costs for construction of these facilities can run up to $5 billion.
Japanese gas importers have for the most part contracted to import natural gas at prices that are linked to crude oil prices. As oil prices have continued to rise and the Japanese currency has recently weakened, this has resulted in significantly higher local currency import costs.
Japan may now be spending $250 billion per year on imported oil, gas, and coal. Increased use of fossil fuels may over time undermine Japan’s GHG emissions reduction targets that are now under review with a new Japanese CO2 emissions reduction policy position expected to be announced in November 2013 by the Ministry of Environment (MoE).
It remains to be seen whether Japan’s considerable investments in overseas oil and gas exploration assets by its large trading companies and its exploration and development companies can bring these fuels back to its own shores at reasonable prices given the recent very large escalation of exploration and development costs globally.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Today
Radiation levels in the abandoned communities near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have fallen 40% in the past year. Inside the wrecked facility, construction workers rush to complete state-of-the-art equipment that will remove dozens of dangerous radioactive nuclides from cooling water. Soon, a steel shield will be driven into the seabed to prevent contamination from the plant from leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
Almost two years after a deadly tsunami crashed into the plant, crippling its backup power supply and triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis for a quarter of a century, the gravest danger posed by Fukushima Daiichi has passed.
But for all the signs of progress since the Guardian visited the atomic facility a year ago, the biggest, and most complex, nuclear decommissioning operation the industry has ever seen has barely begun.
The pipes, cables and other equipment strewn across the plant's grounds this time last year are now functioning components in a complex, technologically fraught mission to cool the crippled reactors, while experts struggle to figure out how to extract the melted nuclear fuel lying deep inside their basements.
The three reactors struck by meltdown and hydrogen explosions two years ago were brought to a safe state known as "cold shutdown" in December 2011, nine months after the tsunami left almost 20,000 dead or missing along Japan's north-east coast.
Now, Japan is about to embark on a clean-up that could cost at least $100bn – on top of the cost of compensating evacuees and decontaminating their abandoned homes.
Fukushima Daiichi's manager, Takeshi Takahashi, conceded that decommissioning the plant could take 30 to 40 years.
Mr. Takahashi told a small group of visiting foreign journalists on Wednesday.
"Even though we are still faced with a difficult task, we'll keep pushing on with the decommissioning process. It will take a long time to complete our work, especially on the three reactors that suffered meltdown, but we'll do our best to keep them stable."
The clean-up operation will begin at building No 4, where the fuel rods inside survived unscathed after it was hit by the tsunami, then badly damaged by a hydrogen explosion.
By the end of this year, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) says it will begin removing fuel assemblies from the reactor building's storage pool and placing them in a nearby cooling pool, where they will remain for four years before being stored in even safer dry casks in a purpose-built facility on higher ground.
In total, workers will have to extract more than 11,000 new and used fuel assemblies from seven badly damaged storage pools. Work to remove melted fuel won't begin until 2021, and the entire decommissioning project is expected to take up to 40 years.
Courtesy of an article appearing on pages 28-29 in the March/April 2013 issue of Energy Biz Magazine, an article dated June 4, 2012 appearing in the EIA Country Analysis Briefs, an article dated February 12, 2013 appearing in RenewableEnergyWorld.com and data provided by the Global Wind Energy Council, an article dated March 5, 2013 appearing in Japan Today, an article dated April 18, 2011 appearing in TotallyCoolPix.com and an article dated March 6, 2013 appearing in The Guardian