The Climate Post: Japan, Germany Struggle With Nuclear Power Slowdown
21 Jul 2011
With a large share of their nuclear power plants down at the moment, both Japan and Germany are scrambling to meet energy demand and figure out how to get by without nuclear in the future.
Two-thirds of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are currently down, most of them for maintenance and testing. To cope with the power shortfall, Japan’s central government asked consumers to cut back on electricity use. But by spring of next year, all reactors currently running in the country would need to shut down to go through scheduled check-ups. If they fail, or if local opposition prevents them from restarting, it could lead to “a once unthinkable scenario,” the Japan Times reports, with the country losing all its nuclear power generation.
After Japan’s nuclear disaster, Germany temporarily shut down seven of its oldest nuclear reactors, and later decided to keep them shut. Not long after, the country’s parliament voted to phase out all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022. But Germany’s Federal Network Agency said last week one of the old reactors may need to be restarted to meet energy demand.
Less Nuclear Means More Coal, Gas
While Germany has voted for an “energy revolution” based on renewables, the country is slated to boost its reliance on fossil fuels in the short run. Germany plans to build new coal and natural gas power plants, subsidized by revenues from selling emissions credits—money previously slated for energy efficiency efforts.
Germany also signed a deal with Russia to boost cooperation between the countries. Germany is already Russia’s biggest natural gas customer, and their purchases will likely increase once a new pipeline under the Baltic Sea opens in October.
In Japan, if all the nuclear plants did go offline, in the short term the country would be unable to fill the gap with fossil fuels, according to a study by the Japan Center for Economic Research. Nonetheless, Japan will boost its use of fossil fuels this year, raising its greenhouse gas emissions significantly, which could potentially throw the country off its targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Morgan Stanley estimated Japan would use more coal, liquefied natural gas, and oil—including, in the worst-case scenario, an additional 540,000 barrels a day for the rest of the year.
Oil Addiction Leaves Few Options
If terrorists were to attack the world’s largest oil production facility in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. would have few options to deal with the resulting massive oil shortfall, according to a “war game” run by Securing America’s Future Energy, a coalition of retired military leaders and business officials.
Global oil markets are well-enough supplied for the moment, concluded the International Energy Agency in a 30-day review of its release of emergency oil stocks in June, so it will not coordinate release of more stocks right now. The agency is still waiting to see the effects of its release of 60 million barrels—less than one day’s worth of global consumption—which is still in process.
One reason for the agency outlook is some members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries have boosted production—in particular Saudi Arabia. That country’s own oil consumption has reached a record high, and is set to continue rising—meaning in the longer term their exports will probably dive.
The United Nations Security Council heard arguments for the creation of a peacekeeping force to deal with climate change-related conflicts. The President of Nauru, a small island nation in the Pacific, pushed for the new force, and also wrote an editorial for the New York Times, arguing his own country’s unsustainable reliance on phosphate deposits, now largely depleted, is a cautionary tale about ecological limits and the threat of climate change.
However, the U.N. failed to agree on whether climate change poses a security threat.
Carmageddon’s Unforeseen Benefit
Americans are willing to avoid gridlock traffic, at least for a few days, as Los Angeles found. The city closed its most heavily used freeway for roadwork to add a carpool lane. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa warned residents to “stay home. Or go on vacation. Walk. Go on a bike. But do not get in your car … It’s going to be a mess.” The feared traffic jams were quickly dubbed “carmageddon.”
What actually happened was anti-climactic, as people heeded the warnings and stayed off the roads, leading to a dramatic drop in smog levels. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said locals “turned Carmageddon into Carmaheaven.” He added, “Why can’t we take some chunk of L.A. and shut it down to traffic on certain days or weekends, as they do in Italy?”