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Japan's Last Nuclear Reactor Shuts Down 452

Posted by timothy
from the punctuated-equilibrium dept.
AmiMoJo writes "Japan's last active reactor is shutting down today, leaving the country without nuclear energy for the first time since 1970. All 50 commercial reactors in the country are now offline. 19 have completed stress tests but there is little prospect of them being restarted due to heavy opposition from local governments. Meanwhile activists in Tokyo celebrated the shutdown and asked the government to admit that nuclear power was no longer needed in Japan and to concentrate on safety. If this summer turns out to be as hot as 2010 some areas could be asked to make 15% power savings to avoid shortages, while other areas will be unaffected due to savings already made."
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Japan's Last Nuclear Reactor Shuts Down

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  • Good job japan! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lanteran (1883836)

    That's securing your nation's future in the post-oil world! /s

    • Re:Good job japan! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:47PM (#39903511)

      Adding to this:

      At current LNG prices Japan pays additional $200 billion a year for its elecricity generation from gas compared to what nuclear generation would cost. The anti-nucreal crowd can calculate the cost of Fukushima disaster as they want, but in no way they can deny the fact that cheaper elecricity would cover the cost of the disaster in few years. The bigger economic cost was not the nuclear disaster itself, but that the reactors shutdowns afterwards.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Seems like they are securing their future in a post-nuclear world pretty well though.

  • by sethstorm (512897) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @02:47PM (#39903061) Homepage

    While nuclear can be done safely, there seems to be no effort to do so - as it would deny environmentalists a chance to remake the power grid in their own way.

    Environmentalism - as practiced today - has been about control versus the original intent of cleanliness and efficiency.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ohnocitizen (1951674)
      Do you have a shred of evidence suggesting environmentalists want control over power vs clean energy? It almost sounds like an oil executive projecting his own motivations onto green activists: "Harumph, CLEARLY they are just after more control and power, and don't actually give a rat's behind about the well being of the planet or the implications for human health! ... (cough) ... Stevens, fetch me a glass of brandy, I'm done giving press conferences for the day."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How about the simple fact that "environmentalists" are celebrating the shut down of nuclear reactors while ignoring the coal and oil based power plants?

        When solar and wind power becomes widespread then we can celebrating shutting down nuclear power plants. Until then, all you're doing is trading one evil for an even greater evil.

        • by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:23PM (#39903307)
          I don't see environmentalists ignoring anything at all. In fact efforts to fight Oil have been really stepped up, especially in light of what happened in the Gulf with BP. Plus, more and more environmentalists are arguing for modern, safe nuclear power, not against ALL nuclear power. Just the sort of plants that put profits before safety.
          • It sort of looks like these environmentalists are celebrating the fact that ALL nuclear power plants have been shut down in Japan. While I will admit there might be some bad plants that needed to be shut down and that some changes needed to happen, was it necessary to shut all of them down at the same time?

            Keep in mind that the celebration is over the last of the nuclear power plants being shut down. They are celebrating the death of even the concept of nuclear energy.

            If there was a real concern about the environment, they would be far more worried about increasing dependence on coal and oil for electrical power. Heck, just by restarting some of these older coal power plants they are going to be introducing more radioactive debris into the environment than had they simply left the nuclear power plants running. These environmentalists are in that way celebrating a nuclear future AND the destruction of the environment on a massive scale, where many more people will die because these plants are being shut down.

            If you were genuinely concerned about safety, you would be insisting that these nuclear power plants be restarted ASAP. If you look strictly at deaths directly caused from mining coal to replace these nuclear power plants, I think that would more than offset any potential deaths caused from even casual handling of spent nuclear rods, much less the risk of having another Fukushima-type disaster happening in the next few years.

            • If there was a real concern about the environment, they would be far more worried about increasing dependence on coal and oil for electrical power.

              Well, of course. It's long been known that the Greens are only interested in forcing people to take specific actions (shut down all nuclear plants) but not interested in producing specific results (lowering the amount of radiation released into the atmosphere). The fact that what they're demanding will have exactly the opposite effect from what they claim to
        • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @04:19PM (#39903715) Homepage
          That people are celebrating is not evidence that they want control. What is evidence of is that a large number of environmentalists are deeply ignorant about the pros and cons of different types of power and that they have absorbed a large number of anti-technology memes. That's not an indication of a desire for "control". Hanlon's razor seems a bit relevant here.
      • by rgbrenner (317308) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:09PM (#39903223)

        Of course he doesn't have any evidence. The pro-nuclear crowd wants to pick and chose the best parts about nuclear... they want to pretend that each plant lasts for 40-60 years--so that the cost of nuclear is competitive with coal,etc.. and then when those 50 year old reactors are found to be unsafe, they say it's because they are out of date.

        Well... if they were rebuilt every decade with the latest safety improvements, they would not be cost competitive. So chose: unsafe reactors... or uncompetitive energy prices.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          Do you see coal plants or even solar power farms being rebuilt every ten years?

          It takes time to phase in changes in engineering and design, where certainly nuclear energy plants built in the early 1960's perhaps ought to be phased out and shut down. Then again that was over 50 years ago. I would agree that 50 year old nuclear power plants should be decommissioned and perhaps even rebuilt. Sadly too many of plants that age are still being used because the new plants aren't being built to replace them.


          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Do you see coal plants or even solar power farms being rebuilt every ten years?

            Solar power farms don't have the same problems when they fail, and the panels we had in the 1970s could repay the energy cost of their production in seven years. Why in hell have you brought them into this conversation? To make Nuclear look shitty?

        • by WrecklessSandwich (1000139) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @04:17PM (#39903699)
          The safety improvements in modern designs are enough that they don't need to be rebuilt every decade. This isn't like computers where you need the latest and greatest all the time. There is no Moore's Law of Reactor safety. This is an issue of the technology having matured since the reactors in question were built.
      • by sethstorm (512897)

        There's evidence of this in the US by the government propping up companies like Solyndra - while blocking oil, coal, and nuclear from having any chance to be usable.

        If you want green energy, fine. Just be prepared for when it fails to deliver as promised.

        • by Kenja (541830) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:31PM (#39903373)
          2002-2008 the United States handed out subsidies to fossil fuel industries to a tune of 72 billion dollars. I sure wish the government would block me like that...
          • by Kreigaffe (765218) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:43PM (#39903473)

            So 12 billion a year across a wide industry, of which how many companies went bankrupt? Didn't Solyndra get 2 billion? Wasn't there a few other billion-dollar handouts to solar firms that have gone belly-up?

            Government money should not be involved in the creation or propping up of business and industry. Research, yes, and if such research leads to advancements that are economically feasible and viable.. money will find and support those advancements.

            • by cynyr (703126)

              I'm not sure you understand how R&D works... sometimes all you get out is 5 paths you know won't work and 10 more to look at. It would be pretty easy to go through quite a bit of money developing power generation equipment just to find out something doesn't scale up like you though for your first full scale test.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Ah that's alright, considering Japan seems to be going full bore towards coal power plants. They're buying up every coal mine in western Canada that they can get their hands on so they can export it. I'm sure this is a much better option.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Environmentalists seem to be more concerned with gross pollution, as opposed to pollution per capita or per kwh, and seem to neglect the fact that you need more of something that produces less power to get the same output.

    • by fermion (181285)
      I look at it another way. We can get rid of a whole inefficient industry at the loss of 15% of peak capacity. Sure the wasteful liberals just want everything to be given to them, but sometimes we must live within our means. This is what we should be doing everywhere. Figuring out how to be efficient.
    • by jamstar7 (694492) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @10:49PM (#39905693)

      While nuclear can be done safely, there seems to be no effort to do so - as it would deny environmentalists a chance to remake the power grid in their own way.

      Nuclear isn't done so much in the US because of litigation. The instant somebody announces they're going to be looking at building a nuke plant anywhere, the lawyers come out from the rocks and start burying the courts in paperwork, trying for injunctions to stop any and all nuclear construction.

      Nuclear plants are expensive. They wouldn't be nearly as expensive if it weren't for the legal fees associated with the word 'nuclear'. When you have an activist-lawyer go in front of a camera and say "The only phisics I know is Ex-Lax', you know you're dealing with idiots.

      Just read the history of the Perry Nuclear Plant. Most of the 'construction time', the plant was idle, nothing was moving due to the injunctions. They weren't even allowed to do maintanance on what they already had up, so when the injunctions lifted, they got the construction crews in there to inspect 100% and replace anything that even LOOKED like it had a rust spot, or they wouldn'tve received their operating license. And they had to keep full construction crews on the payroll even while they were waiting for the injunctions to crawl through the courts because if they didn't, the crews would vaporise off to other jobs with no guarantee of getting them back. Half the time they just barely got through with the inspection and maint before they got hit with yet another injunction. The lawyers made tons of money on that project.

      All told, Perry cost $6 billion and took 9 years to build, mostly due to the injunctions. They never did finish the #2 Unit because of cash flow problems from all the litigation. Even though all but the containment vessel is done for #2, they stopped construction on it in '85 & 'abandoned' it in '94. They still have to do maintanance on the empty building in order to keep their license to operate since it's considerted legally to be 'one complex'. It could have gone online with both reactors at half the cost and within 3 years of groundbreaking if it wasn't for all the injunctions.

  • Thorium Nuclear (Score:5, Informative)

    by iCEBaLM (34905) <> on Saturday May 05, 2012 @02:48PM (#39903073)

    We need to start making some of these Thorium reactors [].

    • Thorium reactors are well and good and may be the future of nuclear energy, but they are just as susceptible to a Fukushima-style meltdown as any other modern reactor. The Fukushima reactors were successfully shut down the moment the earthquake was registered, the problem was the decay heat. About 7% of a reactor's output is from the beta-decay of the fission fragments, so even after you stop fission you have to wait for these to decay away, which means weeks of continued heat removal. Thorium does not s
      • Liquid thorium reactors do not require active cooling once shut down. Once they drain their fuel into holding tanks they are passively cooled.

        A Fukushima-style meltdown is hard to imagine, especially since they are already molten.

  • Math? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @02:53PM (#39903103)

    Before the accident 27% of Japan's energy came from nuclear power. Even if everyone could 15% (which is impossible because many big users are already conserving due to costs) that still leaved 12% unaccounted for. Sure green power can make up for some of that in the long term but in the short term it means increased import and burning of fossil fuels []. A 54% increase in fossil fuel base electricity production in one year is significant.

    • Increased import, and the 15% is over and above current savings
    • Re:Math? (Score:4, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo (196126) <> on Saturday May 05, 2012 @05:28PM (#39904253) Homepage

      There was a lot of excess capacity in the system. All power sources are unreliable, including nuclear, so there needs to be spare capacity available in case it one goes offline. Japan was able to use that capacity and run its non-nuclear generators harder than usual (postponing maintenance to low demand periods etc.) The electricity grid had been upgraded to allow power to be distributed more efficiently and further to even out local demand too.

      The 27% figure is for all nuclear installations, and in normal operation a significant number of them were offline for maintenance and safety checks anyway. They have magnitude 5 or 6 earthquakes every single month in Japan so need to regularly look for damage to reactor casings, plumbing and so forth.

      The 15% figure is on top of what has been done so far, which has reduced power consumption significantly. Most of it is simple stuff like turning off lights in shops that are not open or turning air-con down. Government ministers turned up to work in Hawaiian shirts to encourage people to dress less formally at work and reducing their cooling needs.

  • Meanwhile activists in Tokyo celebrated the shutdown and asked the government to admit that nuclear power was no longer needed in Japan

    If this summer turns out to be as hot as 2010 some areas could be asked to make 15% power savings to avoid shortages

    Would seem to me that it is very clear that nuclear power is still needed in Japan if areas have to make cuts in power draw to avoid shortages.

    • It's the activists that claim we don't need nuclear power, but the majority of them don't realize that as the reactors are being refused activation licenses there has been a massive increase in the reliance coal and natural gas - which has increased power generation costs, has large carbon footprint, and is neither sustainable nore feasable for long-term power needs. We absolutely need nuclear power, and even now there's no reason not to restart the Chubu Denryoku and Touhoku Denryoku reactors.

      Of course the

  • Alternatives (Score:3, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:05PM (#39903201)
    The main alternative to nuclear is coal. Most people who oppose nuclear power don't realize the amount of radioactive material that is raining down on them near a coal plant. It's enough to trigger radiation alarms if they aren't recalibrated from 'nuclear' to 'coal'.

    And despite what the greenies say, wind and solar aren't always reliable, especially near the ocean -- clouds come and go, as do storms, and wind fluxuates, whereas power demand is constant. Not only that, but the efficiency of solar panels isn't high enough yet to be a replacement in an urban area -- panels have to be installed outside the city and cover large tracts of land. That may work in America, but it will not work for an island city-state.

    Japan is taking a step backwards here because of political pressure and disinformation about the safety of nuclear power: Fukishima wasn't a failure of engineering, it was a failure of management, and it's something every government has to contend with when they hand over to capitalists and industrialists anything that can go boom; They are asked to balance profit with safety, but invariably when the two conflict, profit wins.

    • Re:Alternatives (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:37PM (#39903419)

      Actually it is not uncommon for air monitoring alarms to go off in a nuclear plant from the effluents from and adjacent coal plant when the wind is wrong. Japan probably had a spinning reserve of about 15% just like the US but now even with all of nuclear units down there is no reserve even with a massive conservation effort and there is a significant shortfall that will have to be picked up by coal. Wind and solar have a place but they cannot be the baseload. Energy storage is extremely difficult and costly rendering them appropriate for peaking but not much else. Nuclear plants have an incredible safety record when it comes to direct industrial safety and I would bet that there are far more injuries playing on windmills than in the entire nuclear fuel cycle in a given year. Are solar panels made out of toxic materials? I would expect so. Without subsidies use of solar panels to produce electricity works out to about a dollar a kilowatt. Nuclear about a nickel at the bus bar (poor performer). The news emphasised the scary nuclear plant which had 3 fatalities (2 drownings and 1 heart attack) at the expense of a human tragedy that cost 18000 people their lives. A large area was exposed to numerous chemical carcinogens that are a part of modern life that probably exceeded the risk from radiation. In a couple of years a lot of the area quarantined may be reclaimed. The nuclides that are causing the concerns are Cesium and Strontium both of which have about a 30 year half life but both of which are relatively soluable, weathering will result in quite a bit of removal over time. The bigger concern for the area would be the social stigma for those that moved back into the area because of ignorance.

    • by cmdr_tofu (826352)

      Coal gassification plants offer a much cleaner way to burn coal (or any biomass really). Not that I'm a proponent of growing dependence on coal, but there have to be sustainable alternatives (nuclear is not sustainable) like geothermal (might be very promising in Japan), wave and wind (I know it fluctuates, so you overbuild. There is consistent wind pattern and excess power generation could be stored in hydrogen)

    • Most people who oppose nuclear power don't realize the amount of radioactive material that is raining down on them near a coal plant.

      These days, as a sum total for the whole planet, it's somewhere around six or seven Chernobyls of radioactive material annually. Not once per a quarter of century, like with nuclear power plants.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The main alternative to nuclear is coal. Most people who oppose nuclear power don't realize the amount of radioactive material that is raining down on them near a coal plant. It's enough to trigger radiation alarms if they aren't recalibrated from 'nuclear' to 'coal'.

      They understand, and this is not their concern. They are worried about accidents.

      Fukishima wasn't a failure of engineering

      Yes it was. The original design didn't take into account a very large earthquake causing a very large tsunami, or the prospect of the emergency cooling generators being flooded and no other power source being available.

      There were management failings as well, but the designers and engineers are not blameless.

      And despite what the greenies say, wind and solar aren't always reliable, especially near the ocean -- clouds come and go, as do storms, and wind fluxuates, whereas power demand is constant.

      No, there is always enough wind available offshore in Japan to supply its entire power needs. All year round, 24/7, no exc

  • Until it is. Desperately. Hydrocarbons aren't long for this world from an "energy return/aggregate price" point of view. Do they expect to pull power from the behinds of pink unicorns and baby godzillas?

    Which would, admittedly, be pretty cool.

  • There are reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grayhand (2610049) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:13PM (#39903251)
    I know we are all supposed to point out how foolish they are being but they do have reasons for such a strong reaction. Up until Chernobyl they were the only country to deal with major contamination in heavily populated areas. Even Chernobyl was in a rural area not two major cities. It badly scarred them not only physically but mentally. The recent disaster effectively killed a chunk of the country and Japan already has a shortage of land especially farmland. It may have been smarter to phase it out but the fear of a second such disaster was too great. Japan is fairly new to nuclear power and they are in a unique situation. The country is very active geologically and earthquakes are commonplace and it has a lot of potential for similar disasters. None of us can know the real position they were in. The accident happened because they got sloppy and after reviewing other plants they may have seen shortcomings in the other plants that could have lead to disasters and the upgrades would take too long. I'm just saying there may be more to it than we know and Japan has a lot of pride and it's hard for them to admit they got sloppy. It's easy to say all the disasters are human error but it's impossible to take human error out of the equation. Growing up I heard there would statistically be one disaster every thousand years. If statistics were accurate we would be safe for the next three thousand years. Human error will always be a factor. As costs rise also there's a tendency to cut corners increasing risk. That's what caused the gulf oil spill. All the reactors in this country are rapidly approaching the end of their projected lives and many have already passed it. The nuclear materials have a corrosive affect on the pipes so the risk keeps going up on existing plants. The point I'm trying to make is it isn't as cut and dry as most think. There are a lot of pros and cons. Fusion makes a lot more sense but in truth I've never heard anything to convince me it'll ever be practical. For all it's potential every test so far takes nearly as much energy as it produces. We need safe, stable, long term solutions and there is no magic bullet one size fits all solution. In the near term we need all of the sources including coal and oil but a critical part of the puzzle will be that ugly word, conservation. Trust me, the Japanese will be hearing that word a lot over the next few years. Used wisely conservation is a powerful part of the puzzle. Obama got laughed at for suggesting properly inflated tires would save as much oil as the arctic reserve would contribute. As funny as some found it the fact is he was right. If everyone embraced conservation they wouldn't have to change their lifestyles significantly and we could put off new power plants for a decade or more. That would buy us time to make the needed changes including building more nuclear plants if that's the solution. I'll predict this, Japan will become the world leader in conservation. It's the only way they'll survive.
    • by swillden (191260)

      (I suggest you use paragraph breaks -- it really makes your post easier to read.)

      I think there's another key factor that you've overlooked: The damage done by the tsunami was huge, while the damage done by the reactor's failure was pretty small. But the reactor is something they can do something about, while there's simply no way to stop a future tsunami. An excessively-strong reaction to the tiny bit of the event which can be addressed is a natural, if irrational, response to the larger but completely

    • by Teancum (67324)

      The problem with conservation is that you can't conserve or recycle your way out of a shortage. It can be something to be done as a temporary measure, but it shouldn't be viewed as a long term solution. I'm all for wise use of our resources, so don't take this as being against higher efficiency devices, but you also must take a more pragmatic way of thinking about this stuff. BTW, Obama was justifiably ridiculed over his comment of inflating tires while doing things like shutting down oil pipeline constr

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  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:18PM (#39903279) Homepage

    Japan has essentially no internal oil or natural gas resources. Everything has to be imported. As a result of the nuclear shutdown, imports are up. Way up. So are prices.

    From the Financial Times: []

    As utilities last year met the shortfall of nuclear power, Japanese consumption of LNG rose by 56 per cent, crude oil for direct burning by 27 per cent and fuel oil usage by 20 per cent. The trend, which is helping to keep spot LNG prices in Asia and global oil prices higher, is set to accelerate in the next few months as utilities burn more hydrocarbons to compensate for the lack of nuclear power.

    Energy analysts say utilities have maximised LNG-fired electricity output, leaving crude oil and fuel oil to meet additional needs. Oil traders believe that Japan's nuclear cutback could add between 450,000 and 800,000 barrels a day to world demand for crude and fuel oil. The figures are significant. The bottom end of the range equals the production of Ecuador and the upper end matches the output of Qatar.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      About the only significant natural resource Japan ever had was coal.... which is one of the reasons why it industrialized in the first place. Much of that coal has already been extracted though, so Japan generally does need to look elsewhere for their energy needs.

      It is a good point to make though that oil prices are going to skyrocket due to this action in Japan. That will have some interesting impacts on other parts of the world.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      Japan has essentially no internal oil or natural gas resources. Everything has to be imported. As a result of the nuclear shutdown, imports are up. Way up. So are prices.

      IIRC, that was one of the reasons for the attack on Pearl Harbor that got the US involved in WW2 when the Americans decided to cut petroleum and metals imports to Japan in order to slow them down a bit in their war effort in China. Of course, I was taught that 45 years ago back in the Stoned Age of the 60's in high school, they obviously

  • You Can't Repeal Murphy's Law

    BP oil spill\
    Costa Concordia Cruise Ship
    Exxon Valdeze

    We were all allsured that they were foolproof. Wrong -- we found the fools.

    • So the take away is what? Go back to living in caves in the dark and eating our food raw because fire isn't safe?

      Give me a fscking break.

      • No, you don't get to take anything away yet. Many things could happen:

        1. Japan has a comparative disadvantage in energy resources and a comparative advantage in manufacturing finished goods. It is a huge net exporter of finished goods, and has lots of economic room to import more energy. One could argue that Japan *should* be importing more energy, rather than subsidizing more expensive domestic energy production. Reducing net exports by importing more would also help Japan balance its current account, whic

  • by djh101010 (656795) on Saturday May 05, 2012 @03:52PM (#39903539) Homepage Journal
    The failure to build more nuclear reactors is the biggest social disaster since the sacking of the library of Alexandria. Just as that act set world civilization back by 1000 years, the failure of humankind to use carbon-neutral and safe modern designs of fission reactors will be seen by centuries of people in the future as a major failing. It disgusts me that people who don't understand reality and science pretend that a 40 year old reactor design in Fukishima, or a completely unsafe design as in Chernobyl, have ANYTHING to do with modern nuclear energy generation technology. The ironic thing is that so often it's the people who pretend to care about the environment who are ignorantly opposing modern nuclear energy plants.
    • You have lived for too long in the Fallout universe, time to return to real life. Fission reactors are - at best - an intermediate technology until fusion power is finally working, not some kind of a holy grail.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 05, 2012 @04:27PM (#39903769)

    Every time this topic comes up, there is the same string of irrelevant nonsense. Wake up.

    There are only two long-term, large, successful, safe nuclear power projects on Earth - the U.S. Navy's and France's. Last year, the Navy logged its 6,500th reactor-year of experience w/out a single serious accident - nuc subs Thresher and Scorpian went down for reasons unrelated to their power plants. Both the Navy and France use a high degree of standardization between plants, rigorous operator selection and training, and procedures enforced by iron-fisted independent regulators - anathema to the unregulated free-market mavens designing and selling reactors and the natural-monopoly privatized power companies either trying to maximize profit or with guaranteed profit margins regardless of efficiency. The U.S. nuc power system failed as much because of the heterogeneous designs afoot - and resultant inability to insure standardized reliable performance and procedures, as because of the political resistance. But, the two are highly related - that is, there was good reason to be skeptical of promises of safe, long-term operation. A small, compact variation of the Navy's system is being marketed to U.S. communities for local power production at this time, but its adoption is meeting strong resistance in the regulatory agencies and congress due to big power and big energy special-interest influence - i .e. corruption.

    So yes, there is a way to have safe, long-term nuclear power right under our feet and it is only our inept corrupted political system that keeps us from realizing it.

Money is the root of all evil, and man needs roots.