Japan after the March 11, 2011 Deluge
A Report by NISS
Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao
The Report emphasized the need for a massive international effort, perhaps mandated by the UN Security Council, to assist Japan in the huge task of dealing with multiple reactors and spent fuel ponds affected by the earthquake, explosions, meltdowns, and radioactive contamination. The report suggested that the “next steps” in the power sector response should include consideration of examining carefully the costs of establishing a nationally integrated “smart grid” that enables intermittent renewable to be scaled up alongside a massive program of fast, super-efficient end use efficiency in all sectors.
The report further dealt with the implications of the damage for electricity supply with reference to the nuclear and non-nuclear power stations in terms of demand and appraised how the two (Tokyo Electric Power Company-TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Company) power systems may evolve in future a best case, baseline case, and worst case scenario. The report also touched on the implications for the future use of nuclear power in East Asia in light of the disasters in Japan in the nuclear plants.
The Fukushima nuclear crisis has had an enormous impact on China. Given its geographical proximity to Japan and with a large Chinese population living and working in Japan, the Chinese government and a great many Chinese citizens have been keeping a close watch on the unfolding events. The team observed that, China’s State Council reportedly decided to halt its plan to build new nuclear power plants, ordered a re-examination of the safety risks of nuclear power stations currently under construction, and decided to enhance the management of safety aspects of a nuclear power stations currently in operation in China. In publicly released information first of its kind, on China’s nuclear industry and planning, the Chinese public is able to know about many of the new nuclear plants and their locations.
Domestically, the Japanese nuclear crisis provoked sharp division between the government and opposition political parties and civil society critics of South Korea’s nuclear power system. The Ministry of Knowledge Economy acknowledged the potential impact of the crisis in Japan on South Korea’s ambitious plan to increase the number of power plants from 21 at present to 38 by 2030. Opposition legislators called for reconsideration of the nuclear power building plan, and particularly called attention to the fact that Korean nuclear facilities are at present built only to resist an earthquake of 6.5 on the Richter scale.
From the day of the earthquake and tsunami, South Korean President pledged support for Japan, including emergency supplies. He also ordered renewed inspection of the safety of South Korea’s 21 nuclear power plants, as well as a wider focus on “earthquake-proof conditions of public buildings, early warning systems and overall contingency plans”.
It is unclear, at this early stage, to what extent the nuclear crisis in Japan might affect North Korea’s plans to move ahead with its planned program of domestic light-water reactor development. It is also possible that South Korea and the United States may take a very hard line indeed against an attempt by the North to complete and turn on a small light water reactor that is upwind and would be of highly dubious quality and reliability. On the other side of the equation, the experience in Japan would help to induce the international community to offer such assistance to North Korea.
Southeast Asian Government and industry proponents of the nuclear plants in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia dismissed suggestions that the Japanese nuclear crisis would have a negative influence on planning. Australia has a particular relationship to the Fukushima crisis: Critics of uranium mining emphasized the direct links of Australian uranium industry to the Japanese crisis through the flow of Australian uranium directly to the Fukushima reactors. Australian uranium plays a major role in the operations and planning of the Japanese nuclear power industry and TEPCO in particular. The Australian government made no public statement on uranium exports immediately following the onset of the Fukushima crisis.
While Russia is a major power in civil nuclear energy, there are very few reactors in the Russian Far East, and they are small. Following the earthquake, Russia announced offers of aid and expertise to Japan. The specter of a catastrophic failure of containment of the Fukushima I reactors brings echoes of the antagonism between the two countries after the fall of the Soviet Union when Russia clandestinely dumped reactors and spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned Soviet navy submarines in the Sea of Japan.
Malaysia has been proceeding quite rapidly over the past year towards its announced goal of establishing a nuclear power plant in that country. Malaysian government was closely monitoring the Japanese situation, but would “implement what is the best” for the country. In Indonesia, the head of the National Nuclear Power Agency discounted the influence of the Japanese crisis on his country’s plans.
The incidents at the Fukushima plants are likely to have a chilling effect on the perception of nuclear power in many countries. Politicians and the public in several countries will be asking for additional certainty regarding the safety of nuclear power, with the likely result being at least delays in deployment of additional reactors, more rigorous safety studies for existing and to-be-built reactors, and possibly additional costs for safety modifications and as a result, construction delays.
The accident in Japan will cause some countries that do not yet have nuclear power, but are actively seeking it, to look more carefully at the technology and its implications. Indonesia and Philippines have a recent history of volcanism and earthquakes, and Japan’s experience may (and probably should) give them pause.
Ultimately, the additional scrutiny of nuclear power may lead to accelerated development and deployment of new reactor types that will be more robust under accident conditions. Indeed, the reactors being built today should be significantly more robust than the Fukushima I reactors, which are now 30 to over 40 years old. In the long term, safer reactors could be the result of the response to the accident at the Japanese plant, but it seems likely that additional development of nuclear power will be delayed in many countries as a result of this accident.
The huge challenge posed by the virtual destruction of the Fukushima I reactor complex also lead to far reaching adverse effects. Site stabilization and recovery of the damaged and contaminated sites will take years, possibly as long as a decade, and will cost far more than constructing the plants and the stabilization and recovery effort likely will require an international mobilization of necessary hardware, equipment, and trained personnel, and may need a UNSC mandate to establish authority and funding management for the cleanup.
Although the original massive 9.0 earthquake a large number of ongoing frequent and often powerful earthquakes bracketing the area immediately offshore from the plants have taken place. When the earthquake occurred there were 54 nuclear power stations in operation. Five sets of nuclear reactors were affected by the earthquake: Onagawa, Fukushima I, Fukushima II, Higashidori, and Tokai. When the earthquake hit, safety systems at the reactors automatically triggered control rods, which successfully shut down the nuclear chain reactions at the plants affected by the earthquake. The key to the subsequent developments at a number of the reactors in the affected zone was the ongoing generation of heat in reactors that had been shut down. The decay of radioactive atoms in the fuel in a reactor core continues even after the nuclear chain reactions are shut down, and this decay generates a lot of heat, which must be removed from the core. The account of the Fukushima I plant is complex, and highly uncertain.
The combined stock of radioactive materials in the reactors and spent fuel ponds at the Fukushima I reactor site is large. The exact quantities of fission products and other irradiated materials in the reactor and spent fuel ponds depends on how long fuel rods have been in the reactors, the degree of burn-up over time in the cores, and the age of spent fuel removed into storage ponds.
The three major implications of the reactor damage for the electricity system are very important. Power Requirements on the TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Company Systems are badly affected. There would be a mounting pressure on the existing and Operable TEPCO and Tohoku Supply-side Resources. Demand-side Resources for Power Companies are affected. Even if the reactor cores and spent fuel pools in the affected nuclear power plants are stabilized immediately, a number of questions remain, the answers to which will determine what the electricity supply system in Japan looks like for years to come. On the demand side, what fraction of the industrial, commercial, and residential infrastructure that was affected by the earthquake will be rebuilt, as opposed to moving elsewhere? At what level of energy efficiency will infrastructure be rebuilt?
In a Best Case scenario, nuclear generating capacity must be replaced or otherwise compensated for by supply- or demand-side resources. The “Best Case” scenario is necessarily preliminary and incomplete. In the Best Case scenario, assuming no significant damage is found in the review of the other nuclear and thermal plants that have been shut down, when those plants are restarted, in perhaps one to three years, much or all of the short-term electricity supply shortage in the area may be eliminated.
In the Base Case scenario, the supply shortfall for the two companies is likely to last longer, perhaps several years longer (around five years total), and would need to be ameliorated by a combination of much more thermal generation, construction of new thermal generation plants (assuming availability of fuel), and probably a significant effort to curb net demand for both electrical energy and peak power. Curbing demand could take the form of rotating power cuts, agreements with industry to curtail consumption at peak times, aggressive energy efficiency programs as well as encouraging residents, businesses, and industries to develop on-site generation, including solar photovoltaic (PV) generation, and gas-fired combined heat and power systems.
The “Worst Case” scenario would extend the Base Case in that all of the nuclear power plants in the earthquake area are found to have significant seismic or other damage, leading to prolonged (more than 5 years) retrofit requirements, and some thermal plants are found to have been compromised to the point where they cannot be repaired, and must be replaced (requiring several years.
Depending on how these uncertainties play out, the earthquake-affected area of Japan could be short of electricity for many years observed the report.
The Nautilus Institute is a non-governmental organization that focuses on security and sustainability issues in Northeast Asia. By providing innovative research and analysis, the Institute addresses global issues such as nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula, U.S. nuclear policy, energy security, climate change adaptation, and the development of civil society. With branch offices in San Francisco, California, Melbourne, Australia, and Seoul, South Korea, Nautilus pursues its mission through a highly networked organization.