nuclear

Is it safe to go into the ocean? Probably not, but . . .

onjuku_beach_hills

日本の海は危険でしょうか。暑い日に、海はまだ楽しいです。千葉の御宿で。

In the heat of August, who can resist a visit to the ocean? Despite the on-going revelations about nuclear leaks, the ocean is irresistible. This is Onjuku in lower Chiba. Below is the river that passes near the station. The tall skinny palms remind me of California.

onjuku_canal

Commemorating Japan suspending nuclear power on May 6, 2012

日本の原発の全休止が実行されて、5月6日に高円寺でパレードがありました。演説、抗議のプラカード、散歩、音楽、そしてコズプレがありました。あいにく、強い嵐が来て、雹が降っていました。それでも、幸せな会合でした。

The day after Japan suspended operations at the last nuclear plant, there was a celebration in Koenji that involved speeches, protest signs, marching, music, and fun costumes. Unfortunately, as soon as the march began, there was incredible hail and wind. Nonetheless, it was a happy parade throughout Koenji.

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First sakura after great earthquake

井ノ頭公園が花見を中止するというのは、本当でしょうか。先が見えないので、みんなが不安で落ち着かないようです。

My friend Matt sent me this intricate sakura weather map: it shows the updated forecast for the start of cherry blossoms across the Japanese archipelago. Even if you can’t read Japanese, it’s impressive to see how much weather forecasting amplifies cherry blossom season.

Today I also heard from Twitter’s @Matt_Alt that there are big signs at Inokashira park Big asking visitors to refrain from holding cherry blossom viewing parties there. This is one of Tokyo’s most famous parks, and one of the most popular places for young people to celebrate spring with all night and all day drinking parties.

It’s now just over two weeks after the horrific natural and man-made disaster that began with the East Japan great earthquake. With looming energy shortages, national mourning for the dead, and continued fears about nuclear fallout, Tokyo life will not be the same. Yet it is still impossible to fully know what will emerge in the coming months and years.

Will these events increase or reverse Japan’s hyper-urbanization? How will people respond to new concerns about food and water safety? Can the government and industry regain trust and provide leadership? How can civil society contribute to rebuilding the country and restoring Japan’s international reputation?

And can public spaces and local businesses flourish in a time of anxiety and uncertainty?

Inside a Japanese nuclear power plant

原発についてたくさん勉強になりましたけれども、毎日の生活とエネルギーの本当のコストの問題が残っています。

A fascinating short video from IDG News Service’s @martyn_williams shows the inside of a functioning nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear plant, on the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea of Korea.

In the past two weeks, we have all learned many details about nuclear power generation: from containment vessels to doughnut-shaped torus, steam venting, cooling pools, basement pumps and generators, and dangers from radioactive iodine and cesium. While the Daichi survived the earthquake, several days without electricity led to pressure build-up, exposed fuel rods, explosions, and radioactive releases.

Most Japanese school children are given tours of nuclear facilities to encourage familiarization and acceptance. Watching the video above, I am struck by the incongruity of these images of rational organization with the recent realization that a lack of power can quickly turn these engineering marvels into a grave threat to human existence.

It is interesting that the video above, and I am certain the hundreds of school tours, fail to mention that the reactors serve a second and equally dangerous function: they are the storage locations for spent nuclear rods. While the active rods have control rods and secured cases, the spent rods seem to be in less protected parts of the reactors.

The explosions at the Daichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima have literally blown the lid off a scary reality that is normally kept far from conscious thinking. Everyone knows that nuclear waste and the long-term dangers it poses are the by-product of this “clean,” low carbon energy. What is less known is that these spent rods remain near population centers and alongside ocean coasts that routinely experience tsunamis and earthquakes. They remain hidden from view within the plants because the rods are difficult to transport safely and few communities would welcome them.

I expect that as the crisis becomes less acute, there will be more attention to the questions of how much energy we need, how to balance what is possible with what is prudent, and how to make visible the true costs of energy production, including the wars used to “secure” petroleum from hostile regions, and the potential contamination of people and land from nuclear power and waste.

In the coming weeks, this blog will focus on recovery from the nuclear crisis, including increased city bicycling, reduced power consumption, and other positive developments. I will also show signs of Tokyo’s spring, and other evidence that the natural world continues in spite of human activity.

Conservation and sharing

東京のみんなが協力しているのを感じます。

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to inquire about Tokyo and its residents’ wellbeing this week. We appreciate that so many people are helping with the rescue and recovery.

I saw this Tokyo conservation poster online. It’s good to focus on conservation and sharing while tolerating the after-shocks and nuclear radiation fears. Tokyo was very fortunate compared to the horrible destruction in the north, with almost 20,000 missing and dead and 500,000 homeless.

The Tokyo cityscape is much darker at night. Outdoor signage, video screens and billboards have been turned off. It seems everyone is pulling together.

DPJ and the Environment

solar power

As I wrote earlier, the Democratic Party of Japan, which recently won a landslide election, is calling for major environmental changes, including significantly greater carbon emission targets than the outgoing LDP party. This week I learned that, on the premise of reviving the struggling Japanese countryside, the DPJ has also promised to reduce the gasoline tax and highway tolls. These pro-automobile ideas will not help with emissions targets.

Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, is strongly opposed to the more ambitious emission goals. By calculating the difference in today’s prices between fossil fuels and renewable energy, numbers have been created to alarm the public about costs to consumers and businesses. A particularly Japanese explanation I heard from one Japanese corporate spokesperson was articulated as concern for the finances of business customers.

This organized resistance to change strikes me as short-sighted. According to a Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs chart based on International Energy Agency data, Japan is already the world’s most energy efficient nation (calculated as energy supply per unit of GDP): three times more efficient than the global rate, twice as efficient as the US, almost twice more than the European Union, and more than seven times India and China.

In the United States, Obama has called for 25% of electric energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. The DPJ’s solar subsidies and carbon taxes will spur adoption of solar energy, benefiting Sharp and Kyocera. In a world of climate change and peak oil, investing now in renewable energy seems vital for Japan’s energy security and global technology exports.

If the focus is strictly on carbon emissions, and not renewable energy, Japan risks further dependence on nuclear energy. Already 26% of electric power in 2007, nuclear power produces dangerous waste, all the more so in a small island nation prone to earthquakes. This makes news that nuclear industry and international energy leaders are seeking to increase operating rates. From the Japan Times,

Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the International Energy Agency, urged Japan last year to relax its “hyper cautious” atomic safety standards to increase output.

The country’s operating rate averaged 59 percent in 2008, compared with 90 percent in the U.S. and 76 percent in France, according to industry group the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Inc.

With energy use increasing in the developing world, now is the time to debate the difference between carbon neutral and renewable energy, and the role of national governments in promoting change that can spur international competitive economic advantage.

japan's nuclear reactors

(from the Nuclear Fuel Transport Co, Ltd)

japan's nuclear ship transportation

japan's nuclear ship transportation