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Is Japan’s nuclear-free pathway environmentally friendly?

By Sanghyun Hong, University of Adelaide and Barry W.


Brook, University of Adelaide

On 14 September 2012, the Japanese Government considered a new policy that excited many self-proclaimed environmentalists and anti-nuclear power protestors. Following intense political wrangling, they proposed phasing out the use of nuclear power in Japan by 2040, replacing it with renewable energy (and fossil fuels). This decision, if carried through, has important environmental and financial implications that may come as a surprise to many.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident on 11 Mar 2011, caused by an earthquake-triggered tsunami, consigned the established Japanese electricity-generation plan to the dustbin. Along with it went Japan’s Kyoto-protocol commitments for greenhouse-gas mitigation.

Originally, the Japanese government had planned to increase nuclear power to 45% and renewables (including hydro) to 20% by the year 2030, up from 26% and 10% respectively in 2010. After the accident, the National Policy Unit in Japan hinted that the original plan was likely to be scrapped in favour of a new scenario, whereby the nuclear target was to be reduced to somewhere between 0–35% and the renewables target increased to 20–30%. Even with an increased share of renewables, the shift away from nuclear under any of the proposed scenarios will lead to greater use of fossil fuels.

The Fukushima disaster sparked protests and prompted a move away from nuclear energy for Japan SandoCap

To compare the proposed options fairly, we argue that it makes sense take a holistic view of their relative sustainability. To do this, we need to account for a range of environmental and socio-economic factors, including greenhouse-gas emissions, water consumption, land transformation, health and safety issues, and cost of electricity. One should use an evidence-based auditing method like multi-criteria decision-making analysis (MCDMA), which is transparent and relatively objective.

Our recent research (currently submitted to the journal Energy) uses MCDMA to show that even when the negative consequences of using nuclear power are properly factored in (and costs assigned to waste management, accident consequences, and so on), those scenarios with reduced nuclear power result in a less sustainable future in Japan.

In particular, the greenhouse-gas emissions of the nuclear-free scenario can reach up to about 430kg per megawatt hour. By comparison, in the 35% nuclear-power scenario, it is only 267kg per megawatt hour, in spite of the higher renewable energy share of the former. Except for the differing nuclear capacity, in all scenarios the ratio of coal to gas power had the largest influence on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Unfortunately, a high dependency on renewables without ongoing support for nuclear in Japan cannot cut the electricity generation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions unless some currently undeveloped alternative forms of cheap, large-scale energy storage are deployed in the future.

Nuclear power is a zero-carbon energy technology Michael Kappel

Efforts to increase the penetration of renewable energy in Japan are obviously a better pathway than a fossil-fuel-only future. However, Japan must face a number of realities.

It is not possible to supply 100% of Japan’s current electricity consumption using renewable energy, due to physical limits of generation on the densely populated island nation. As such, the nuclear-free scenario aims to replace a massive “greenhouse-gas free” energy source (nuclear), with other forms of zero-carbon energy sources (renewables). It does not seek to mitigate or displace dependence on coal, natural gas and oil.

The consequences of this choice are, obviously, losing the battle against global climate change. This is more serious than any known nuclear-power-related issues, such as waste management or accidental releases of radioactive material.

We all must understand that there is no “silver bullet” energy source which can solve all problems perfectly without any negative impacts to society and the environment. Trade-offs are, like death and taxes, inevitable.

Some examples:

The life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of photovoltaic power are higher than nuclear power.

According to RenewableUK, in United Kingdom, there had been about 1,500 wind-power-related accidents and four fatalities during 2007–2011.

Manufacture of photovoltaic cells uses a mix of toxic chemicals.

Wind turbines and solar thermal plants use relatively large amounts of concrete and steel per unit of electricity.

Hydro requires massive land transformation.

Intermittent renewable energy sources typically rely on natural-gas backup.

The Japanese government’s original plans for nuclear energy to provide 45% of their total power by 2030 have been abolished. IAEA Imagebank

Moreover, most countries are not able to supply 100% of their own electricity consumption from renewables due to physical limits (such as usable land that is not already dedicated to human use or for nature reserves). For instance, our Energy paper shows that Japan can theoretically meet 20–30% of their electricity consumption using non-hydro renewables. Although some countries are able to achieve a 100% renewable-powered electricity network (for example, Norway or Iceland; they both have plentiful hydro and/or near-surface geothermal resources), other forms of energy must be supplied, for heating, domestic-vehicle fuels, shipping and aviation, and industrial processes.

Even with major improvements in energy efficiency, we will need much more future electricity to manufacture synthetic fuels to replace the currently dominant role of mined liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons.

These comparisons do not mean that renewable energy is worthless, or that nuclear power is the only option. But they do illustrate the risks posed by arbitrarily closing off technology options.

To achieve a sustainable electricity network, the inherent trade-offs and workability of the whole system – now and into the future – need to be carefully balanced. Choosing one or two renewables might be helpful to reduce greenhouse gas emissions somewhat. But substituting renewables for existing and proposed nuclear, while also allowing dependence on fossil fuels to increase rather than diminish, as Japan now proposes, is irresponsible from an environmental and energy-security perspective.

Recognising this reality, talk is already emerging that the zero-nuclear policy may be shelved.

Climate change and its many consequences are arguably the greatest environmental threat facing humanity this century. Fossil-fuel combustion for electricity production is a major cause of the buildup of greenhouse gases, and its use must be mitigated heavily and eventually eliminated.

Nuclear fission, an abundant and zero-carbon energy technology, has an enormous potential to supply reliable baseload electricity and displace coal and gas power plants directly. Energy plans that expand the role of both nuclear and renewables make sense.

Policies that result in a swap of nuclear for coal and gas, and so increase emissions intensity, put us on the road to disaster.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

BT takes on BSkyB sport to protect broadband business

The former telecoms monopoly, which has committed around 1 billion pounds to the project, is stepping into an arena where others have failed, invariably outmanoeuvred by BSkyB in the battle for programming and subscribers.


But the deep-pocketed, 168-year-old BT has learnt from the master. While the battle over sports rights grabs the headlines, the underlying struggle is for supremacy in the triple play market – the bundling of television, telephone and broadband.

“This is all about broadband,” Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker said. “BT are not in this to get a new stream of revenues, what they’re in this for is to persuade their customers not to churn (switch) to Sky on broadband.”

Sky, 39-percent owned by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, has dominated the British pay-TV market in the last decade and seen off rivals like the Disney-owned ESPN and the Irish-based challenger Setanta, by using revenue it gets from more than 10 million households to outbid rivals for content.

For years it built up its business by luring customers with the offer of high-quality sports and movie programming. Eyeing an eventual saturation of the pay-TV market however and rapid changes in technology, it moved into BT’s territory in 2006 to offer broadband and telephony services.

The move has helped to grow the firm’s market value to more than 13 billion pounds and its steady growth stands in contrast to the roller coaster ride endured by BT which suffered two major profit warnings in 2008 and 2009.

Having shed costs, the telecoms group has started to rebuild itself by launching a superfast fibre broadband network and an online TV service that was designed to persuade customers to upgrade to the quicker, more expensive offering.

The surprise acquisition of Premier League rights is the icing on the cake for a group that is now valued at double that of BSkyB.


The clash between two of Britain’s biggest media companies is already evident on billboards around the country.

Determined to protect its leadership of the broadband market, BT is offering its sports service free to consumers who take its broadband. It has 6.8 million customers, which includes some small businesses, compared with BSkyB’s 4.9 million.

BT, whose adverts feature current Premier League players Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie, said last week that more than half a million customers had signed up to take the sports service. It said the number of lines being dropped by consumers preferring its rivals was at its lowest level in five years.

BSkyB has responded by offering free broadband to consumers who subscribe to its sports channels for the next year. Its own ad campaign features former England captain David Beckham following its Premier League coverage everywhere from his sofa to his local cafe.

“We feel very good about where Sky Sports is and what we have got planned,” Chief Executive Jeremy Darroch said last week.

The BT service will go live at 1700 GMT on Thursday, with football action from a pre-season tournament involving Manchester City and European champions Bayern Munich.

Two weeks later it will help launch the new Premier League season, the main attraction for many sports fans, with its rights to 38 live Premier League games per season at a cost of 246 million pounds a year.

BSkyB retains the lion’s share of the rights, with 760 million pounds spent on 116 games per season, and while analysts do not expect Sky customers to depart in droves for BT, it may make it harder for the pay-TV group to sign up new customers.

BT has made much of the fact that it will have the first choice of matches for almost half of its games, an advantage that ESPN did not enjoy. However, BSkyB will show some of the plum early fixtures including the first three games for champions Manchester United.

BT, which is basing its studios on the London 2012 Olympic Park, has signed up for three years for the Premier League and believes its service will gain momentum as the season goes on. It has also taken a leaf out of BSkyB’s sporting playbook by boosting its content by buying ESPN’s UK operations and acquiring rights to English club rugby.

BSkyB says its rights to English cricket, Formula One motor racing and Champions League football mean it remains a must-have service for British sports fans.

It has seen off past threats but BT has deep pockets and big ambitions, making this clash one to watch.

“BT has laid down a marker,” Liberum’s Whittaker said. “It’s not going anywhere anytime soon and it’s got plenty of cash. We’ll have to wait and see but BSkyB is used to dealing with big threats.”

($1 = 0.6530 British pounds)

(Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Bailout may not be the last for Greece

The dark clouds hanging over the eurozone have receded along with the threat of a Greek default, but the latest bailout for Athens may not be the last.


After nine long months of negotiations, a large majority of Greece’s private creditors agreed to a bond swap that will see them accept huge losses and wipe some 100 billion euros ($131 billion) off Athens’ debt.

Eurozone finance ministers immediately unblocked part of a second aid package of 130 billion euros and were expected to approve the rest in the coming week.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde welcomed the debt deal as “an important step that will dramatically reduce Greece’s medium-term financing needs and contribute to debt sustainability”.

And US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that thanks to the measures taken by Europe to tamp down the debt crisis, the continent no longer posed major risks to the global economy.

“We are not out of the woods but we have taken an important big step,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

The comments highlighted that the worst-case scenario — the debt crisis spreading to the rest of the world — was no longer expected.

The swap, which was taken up by 83.5 percent of Greece’s private creditors, was a key condition for the bailout to go forward, with the Greek parliament having already approved further spending cuts and reforms to liberalise the economy.

European leaders are now waiting for the International Monetary Fund to say how much it will contribute to the second aid programme.

Even within the 17-member eurozone another spike in the financial crisis was seen as unlikely and contagion of Greece’s endebted neighbours as less probable.

An upbeat French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that “the page of the financial crisis is turning”.

Still, the second bailout which covers the period to the end of 2014 leaves Greece fragile and Athens may need to soon ask for more aid, diplomats warned.

Basing itself on a joint report by the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF, the German news magazine Der Spiegel said Greece may need 50 billion euros in 2015.

A preliminary version of the latest report by the troika of EU, ECB and IMF did not expect Greece to return to the bond markets in 2015. However, Greece may need up to 50 billion euros between 2015 and 2020, and could be struggling to find the funds.

Schaeuble has warned German lawmakers, who voted on the aid packages, that they may have to look at helping out Greece again, but has not mentioned a figure.

And Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker has said: “Nobody should think Greece is going to be on its feet again quickly but nobody should also think that Greece is getting back on its feet without our solidarity and without organised growth policy”.

Juncker warned in an interview last month that a third aid package may not be totally ruled out but added “…we should not have as a starting assumption that a third programme will be” needed.

Along the same line, a European government source said that a third package “seems quite logical” as there was only a small chance for Greece to return to the markets.

But more aid will be less of a problem as the amount of money needed will not be the same, the source added.

The debt swap was aimed to reduce Greek debt to a sustainable level of about 120 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020, against 160 percent now.

But experts see even that reduced level as far too optimistic in a deteriorating economic environment.

“Weak business and consumer sentiment, a rapidly rising unemployment rate and scarce credit all suggest that the economy is likely to continue to contract sharply this year,” said economist Ben May from Capital Economics.

“By contrast, the troika seems to think that the recession is almost over. What’s more, we think that real GDP and inflation will be weaker than the troika assumes in the medium term.”

The latest data released Friday showed the Greek economy shrank by a worse than expected 7.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Based on the quarterly figures given, the Greek economy shrank by 6.9 percent in 2011.

The economy was initially expected to shrink by 5.5 percent in 2011 and by 2.8 percent this year, according to budget forecasts.

Murray-Darling plan: Indigenous nations ‘not consulted’

Fred Hooper, the chairman of the Northern Murray Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations says he’s saddened that representatives of the more than 30 nations who live in the basin were not involved in discussions which led to the Murray-Darling basin plan announced today.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard pledged an extra $1.7 billion to deliver an additional 450 billion litres, or gigalitres, to the ailing river ecosystem.

Most of the $1.77 billion will be earmarked for water recovery projects on farms instead of buying back water from irrigators, a strategy staunchly opposed by many in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

Up to $200 million will be used to remove river constraints, such as low-lying bridges and undersized dam outlets, to help free the additional 450GL for the environment.

It follows a model proposed earlier in October by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

“If you’re a blackfella today you should be very disappointed in the announcement today and left out of the whole consultation process. The minister said that he spoke to the peak bodies last night. We’re a peak body. We didn’t get a call from the minister and we’re being treated like mushrooms”.

Mr Hooper has also challenged the Prime Minister to meet him to discuss cultural flows.

“It’s all about putting money into ways to save water for irrigation and there’s no money for anything such as research into cultural flows and what they mean to Aboriginal people of the Murray Darling Basin”.

Mr Hooper has called on the federal government to provide support for future projects along the system involving Indigenous Australians.

The Murray-Darling Basin plan will be funded from existing government resources and cash set aside in this week’s mid-year economic outlook.

Legislation to set up the special account for the plan is expected to be introduced to parliament by the end of the year.

Bird flu traced to Shanghai market

Shanghai ordered all live poultry markets in the city closed on Friday after culling more than 20,000 birds to curb the spread of the H7N9 flu virus, which has killed six people in China.


The latest fatality was a 64-year-old farmer who died in Huzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, local officials said according to the state Xinhua news agency.

He was the second person from Zhejiang to die from the bird flu strain, with the other four fatalities in Shanghai, China’s commercial hub.

The number of confirmed infections rose to 16 with two new ones in neighbouring Jiangsu.

Tests on a seven-year-old girl quarantined in Hong Kong after showing flu-like symptoms following a trip to Shanghai came back negative, officials said.

Shanghai is China’s biggest city with a population of 23 million people and municipal government spokesman Xu Wei said its live poultry markets were being shuttered temporarily for “public safety” purposes, and all trade in live poultry banned.

The moves came after the virus was found in pigeon samples from the Huhuai market in Shanghai, officials said, where a total of 20,536 chickens, ducks, geese and pigeons had been slaughtered.

Local television showed men in protective clothing and facemasks entering the market in the city’s western suburbs during the night, and dozens of empty birdcages.

On Friday, the entrance to the poultry section was concealed with wooden boards and sealed off with plastic tape, with a police car parked nearby and white disinfectant powder sprinkled in the street.

Two staff members at the market told AFP the slaughter was completed overnight.

Consumers in the city snapped up banlangen, a traditional Chinese medicine for colds made from the roots of the woad plant, used as a blue dye in ancient times.

“We sold out. People are buying it one after another. Everyone is afraid of bird flu,” said an employee at the SPH drugstore in downtown Shanghai.

The outbreak was among the most popular topics on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, with 4.7 million posts referring to H7N9. “H7N9 is really frightening, I think you can easily catch it and easily die,” said user Zhou Linlinlin.

The United Nations on Friday drew up a list of recommendations to try to curb the spread of H7N9.

Advice given to those handling birds stressed the importance of regular hand washing, keeping animals away from living areas and avoiding eating sick animals.

“With this virus we don’t have a red flag that immediately signals an infection. This means farmers may not be aware that (the) virus is circulating in their flock,” said Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“Biosecurity and hygiene measures will help people protect themselves from virus circulating in seemingly healthy birds or other animals.”

Hong Kong stocks tumbled 2.73 percent as investors fretted over the flu, with airlines the hardest hit.

The World Health Organisation has played down fears over the H7N9 strain, saying there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission, but that it was crucial to find out how the virus infects humans.

Like the H5N1 variant, which can spread from birds to humans through direct contact, experts fear such viruses could mutate into a form easily transmissible between humans, with the potential to trigger a pandemic.

Shanghai city health official Wu Fan also said Friday there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. One person who had been in close contact with a victim had shown flu-like symptoms but tested negative for H7N9, she said.

The first two deaths from the virus, which had not been seen before in humans, occurred in February but were not reported by authorities until late March. Officials said the delay in announcing the results was because it took time to determine the cause of the illness.

In 2003 Chinese officials were accused of trying to cover up the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed about 800 people around the world.

But the state-run China Daily on Friday quoted the ministry of health in Beijing as pledging “open and transparent exchanges with the WHO and other countries and regions”.

US health authorities said Thursday they were liaising with domestic and international partners to develop a vaccine for the virus.

Experts are concerned that the virus appears to have spread across a wide geographical area, with people sickened not only in Shanghai, but also the nearby provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui.

“I am cautiously worried,” virologist John Oxford of the Queen Mary University of London told AFP. “Because it is so geographically widespread I think it is trying to tell us something.”