Monday, April 4, 2011

Asia, North-South: Nuclear, Climate, Energy and Efficiency

It's been a while since the last round up of “local” news. Below is a long link fest of articles about Asian views on the events in Japan, nuclear power, climate change, energy and efficiency. I've added a little link table of contents at the top to help speed navigation.

Korea – nuclear power

ASEAN – region rethinks nuclear

Myth of Japanese safety shattered

Vietnam – energy efficiency, climate change and efficient lights

Thailand – Japan, nuclear, climate

Singapore – Japan, nuclear, regional consequences

Malaysia – nuclear safety: are developing nations ready?

India – Nuclear Safety in light of Fukushima, protests over large nuclear facility at Jaitapur. Prominent scientists call for moratorium.

END – Next Post: Garnauts Gambit

Should Korea rethink atomic energy pursuit?

The Korea Times 4/3/2011

A recent revelation that South Korea’s nuclear reactors broke down 89 times over the past 10 years due to malfunctions warrants a reflection over the country’s ambitious pursuit for nuclear energy. Korea, always dubbed as an economic model for developing nations, is also the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia after Japan. It operates 21 nuclear reactors which provide about 40 percent of the national power supply.

As claimed in local dailies a few days ago, the suspensions of operations in these nuclear reactors resulted to a whopping 333 billion won ($299 million) in loss implying serious safety risks involved.

Though the deliberations on nuclear reactors and subsequent radiation checks around Seoul have been provoked by Japan’s devastating nuclear plant accident in Fukushima recently, the situation perhaps opens a bigger debate on whether nuclear energy is worth pursuing altogether.

But what lessons has Korea learned from Japan? Unfortunately, opinions from the media outlets around the globe have been quite disappointing. Many proponents of nuclear energy hysterically suggest that the world should now build and operate modern nuclear reactors that use the latest and safest technology.

India’s own atomic scientist Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan was recently quoted warning that nuclear safety in India has been compromised. India has plans to buy 21 foreign nuclear power reactors at a time when, according to a former chief the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), Indian engineers are yet to grasp new and unfamiliar technologies ― a dangerous situation should an accident occur.

Developing countries and newcomer nuclear countries perhaps have the best opportunity to invest in green energy for a number of reasons. First, owing to the realities of climate change, governments need to radically reduce dependence on fossil fuels and rethink nuclear power ambitions. Secondly, one of the greatest unacknowledged threats to global economy is the looming peak of global oil production. And thirdly, natural calamities are neither 100 percent predictable nor its destructive capacity controlled.

Korea debating whether nuclear reliance is wise

Korea JoongAng Daily April 4, 2011

The terrifying chain of accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has given Koreans pause about their dependence on 21 nuclear reactors for almost 32 percent of the country’s electricity. Following the disasters in Fukushima, the first reaction was for environmentalists to demand that the country’s older reactors be closed down. Then the partisan divide arose, with the opposition criticizing the pro-business, conservative government for over-reliance on nuclear energy, and the government defending itself by saying a growing industrial economy like Korea’s can’t be chintzy about power.

Since the first nuclear reactor began operating in 1978, Korea has tirelessly built more. By 2022, the government plans to build 12 more reactors, increasing the nuclear share to 48 percent. More could also be built to increase the stake to 59 percent by 2030.

The administration announced on March 28 - 17 days after the earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan’s nuclear plant - that Korea will continue to expand its nuclear capacity to maintain stable energy supplies and fight against climate change. “To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is crucial to develop technology to lower emission from fossil fuel and use clean energy,” Kim said. “But we have to admit that with technical limits and low economic effectiveness, there is a limit for renewable energy to wholly replace thermal and nuclear power generation.”

The opposition quickly seized on the issue as a fighting point. “The government must completely reconsider its energy supply plan focusing on nuclear energy,” said Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu in a radio address to the nation on March 30. He said the time has come for Korea to contemplate the path of nuclear-free growth.

Kim said only two unplanned shutdowns were reported in 2009 at Korea’s nuclear power plants, an average of 0.1 per reactor, the lowest among the major nuclear power players. In 2009, the United States recorded 0.3 unplanned shutdowns per reactor per year, while France recorded 0.86. Japan and Germany both recorded 0.17.

The Democratic Party’s Ahn said structural problems in Korea’s power industry have fueled the country’s high dependency on nuclear energy.
“We are using electricity so much because it’s cheap,” Ahn said.  According to the government, the average electricity consumption per person was 7,607 kilowatts in 2010, higher than that of Japan. While Korea was the world’s 13th largest economy, it was the 11th largest energy consumer, the report said.

ASEAN rethinking nuclear energy use

The China Post 30/3/2011

The nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan, has prompted ASEAN members to rethink their nuclear energy policies. Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have said they will reassess the future construction of nuclear plants. Be that as it may, these countries, regardless of the potential nuclear risk, have very little choice because of their industrialization plans and energy demands. Worst of all, ASEAN citizens have not yet taken up the low-carbon conscience in their everyday life.

Before the current crisis in Japan, there was a growing consensus, in ASEAN in particular, that nuclear power was the cleaner, greener and better energy option. To use fossil fuels, renewable energy resources and other alternatives can be costly and greatly impact the climate. …[It] is important ASEAN devise a policy with a diverse energy portfolio but also with a nuclear energy option. Other countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia have followed this path.

Despite this realization, ASEAN has been slow in putting together common protocols and standards regarding civilian nuclear use. In 2010, ASEAN agreed that the Nuclear Energy Cooperation Sub Sector Network would serve as the key body to assist the ASEAN members in their civilian nuclear energy cooperation but there has been little progress since then. This inertia has a long history.

As is well known, the discussion on nuclear energy, especially the construction of nuclear power plants and their sites, remains highly sensitive and has been confined so far within the national boundaries. Vietnam has made the decision to build two nuclear power plants in the central region in Ninh Thuan with Japan's assistance while Indonesia and Thailand, despite their huge and urgent energy demands, struggle over locations and providers. Obviously, in a more democratic country, there would be more political and geographical challenges that need to be addressed and overcome, especially from burgeoning civil society groups.

Thailand aside, ASEAN must get its act together on a common region-wide nuclear power plan in which all stakeholders in the ASEAN community of 600 million people get involved.

Tepco Downfall to Shatter ‘Myth’ of Safe Toshiba, Hitachi Nuclear Reactors

Bloomberg March 31 2011

Toshiba Corp. (6502) and Hitachi Corp. may struggle to find buyers for their nuclear reactors after the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl damaged Japan’s reputation for safety, analysts and investors said. While operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. is responsible for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant accident, the reactor makers will find it harder to win contracts since they typically bid with the utility, said Yuuki Sakurai, president at Fukoku Capital Management Inc.

“Any plans to export all-Japan nuclear reactor projects will be delayed,” said Takeo Miyamoto, a Tokyo-based analyst at Deutsche Bank AG. “Improving the safety of the type of reactors involved in the Fukushima accident will take time and Tepco’s crisis management methods are being questioned.”

The disaster will likely be a boon for Paris-based Areva SA (CEI) and Dongfang Electric Corp. of Chengdu, China, racing to build sturdier facilities, said Martin Prozesky, a London-based analyst… .

“The myth of Japan’s nuclear safety is dying,” said Yuichi Ishida, an analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities Co. in Tokyo. “Until now, Japanese reactor makers had a track record free of serious accidents.” [there are some disputes about this]

Confab promotes energy efficiency

VietnamNet 3/3/2011

Viet Nam is a nascent market for energy efficient technology, presenting an exciting opportunity for investors, energy service companies (ESCO), equipment suppliers and financial institutions, heard attendants at a conference in Ha Noi yesterday.

The "Climate Change Response and Energy Efficiency Investment in South East Asia" conference held by the British Embassy in Viet Nam aimed to present the potential of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam as potential energy efficiency investment markets.

British Ambassador to Viet Nam Antony Stokes, said investing in energy efficiency was an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases and save energy costs.

"Viet Nam has taken drastic measures to deal with climate change. The country should consider investing in increased energy efficiency instead of fossil fuel for its sustainable development," he said.

George Norris, head of South East Asia Economic Network said countries in the region still subsidised fossil fuel despite its cost.

"Eliminating fuel subsidies could yearly increase GDP by 0.1 to 0.7 per cent due to lower taxes and the removal of price distortions," he said, adding that the elimination could also reduce CO2 emission by 14 per cent by 2050.

"In Viet Nam, prices paid for energy were low relative to those in most other countries," he said, adding that domestic coal prices were below levels in other countries.

George Norris said market-based electricity tariffs and energy efficiency friendly policies were crucial for development.

Climate change – what does it mean for Vietnam?

Thanh Nien News 3/4/2011

Energy security has become a dominant theme and many countries are targeting renewable energy for much of their long-term electricity needs. Vietnam will make important progress here this year with construction of one of the world’s largest solar cell manufacturing plants. Other low carbon business opportunities can be created through good policies. For example, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies makes clean energy comparatively more attractive while Vietnam should also consider setting attractive feed-in tariffs for renewable energy supplied to the national grid and enhanced investment in research and development of clean technology.

…Vietnam should adopt a voluntary target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions growth below ‘business as usual’, as China, India and Indonesia have done. This should focus on forestry and especially on the energy sector. It would help secure international support and help business, growth and employment in the medium and long term.


Efficient lights brighten prospects in climate-threatened Vietnam

AlertNet 23 March 2011

Until recently, when teacher Nguyen Thi Thu Ha wrote something on the blackboard of her dimly lit classroom, her students would immediately consult their classmates to see if anyone could read it.

“They used to have to turn to their neighbour and ask, ‘What is it?’” remembers the fourth grade teacher, who battled to keep noise levels down.

But thanks to the installation of new energy-efficient classroom lighting – part of a nationwide effort to improve energy conservation in Vietnam and curb climate change – Ha’s classroom is now quieter, brighter and producing better test results.

Vietnam is often listed among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Sea level rise threatens the Mekong Delta, home to the country’s rice production, as well as Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, its economic capital and home to much of the nation’s wealth of new industry. Increasingly irregular rainfall is hurting the country’s reliance on hydroelectric dams for a share of its power.

But Vietnam’s leaders also see climate change pressures as an opportunity. Since 2005, the government has passed energy efficiency laws and worked with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)…

to increase the use of high-efficiency public lighting and turn the country’s biggest state-run lighting manufacturing plant into a largely private and increasingly profitable producer of energy efficient light bulbs… high-tech lighting products, including compact fluorescent and LED (light emitting diode) bulbs.

That has fueled a surge in exports to countries as diverse as Brazil, South Korea, Australia and India.

Since 2005, state support for the factory has been reduced from 100 percent to 20 percent, and private investment has helped pay for a $7.2 million new production line to build energy efficient bulbs, Thang said.

In a country where 25 percent of power production goes to keep lights burning, “energy efficiency for lighting plays a very important role” in conserving power, said Phan Hong Khoi, director of the UNDP-backed Vietnam Energy Efficient Public Lighting project.

Nuclear crisis to affect climate battle

Bangkok Post 3/4/2011

Japan's nuclear crisis will have a clear impact on global efforts to fight climate change, the chief EU negotiator said Sunday as the latest round of UN talks got under way.

"Nuclear is one of those energy options that has very, very low greenhouse gas emissions,'' Artur Runge-Metzger said at a news conference on the sidelines of the meeting in Bangkok.

"If you look at the energy mix countries were planning to have in the future, nuclear [played] an important role.''

But the crisis must not lead to reduced ambitions about tackling climate change, with renewable energy an alternative option, Runge-Metzger said, while indicating that the EU might re-examine its own energy roadmap.

Negotiators at the first UN climate talks of the year are looking to hammer out the details of an accord reached in the Mexican resort of Cancun in December last year that brought cautious optimism to the difficult process.

The six days of discussions, which begin Sunday with informal workshops, are being held as the world's energy problems are in sharp focus amid the Japanese troubles and with oil prices hovering near record highs.

Thailand Steers Investment Toward Sustainable Development:

BOI Fair 2011 Opens New Opportunities for Green Investment in Thailand

PR Newswire, 4 April 2011

Mrs. Atchaka Sibunruang, Secretary General of the Thailand Board of Investment, has revealed that emphasis is being given by the BOI to promoting investment conducive to sustainable development that allows industry to coexist harmoniously with the community and with the natural environment. This approach will enable Thailand to develop in a sustainable way on into the future.

Last year, the BOI issued investment promotion policies for sustainable development. Special tax incentives have been offered to attract investment in activities related to eco-friendly products, alternative energy and high-tech industries. Additional measures have also been implemented to encourage companies to reduce energy consumption or use renewable energy. The BOI equally grants additional incentives to support companies in investing in reducing environmental impacts or alleviating environmental problems.

This greater prominence in sustainable development clearly goes along the same line as the BOI Fair 2011: Going Green for the Future, Thailand's biggest fair to be organized from 10 to 25 November 2011. With the theme focus on sustainability, this event will feature not only leading-edge technology and green technologies but also many other innovations that show the Thai industry's readiness and dedication to protecting and conserving the environment. It will also showcase Thailand's capabilities in both industry and services and opens new opportunities for green investment in Thailand.

Lessons of the nuclear crisis

The Japan Times March 30 2011

SINGAPORE — Before Japan's nuclear crisis struck, the world appeared to be on the verge of a nuclear renaissance. An increasing number of countries, especially in Asia, were turning to atomic power to provide electricity for rapid economic growth without the carbon emissions that many scientists say are causing dangerous climate change.

The series of explosions, fires and radiation leaks from reactors and spent fuel storage pools at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Japan's northeast coast since it was hit by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 have rekindled a global debate about nuclear risk, especially in areas of known seismic activity.

Many Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, lie on or close to geologically unstable fault lines around the Pacific basin that also run through Taiwan, Japan, Alaska and down the west coast of the Americas.

But the key to the question whether nuclear power will remain an indispensable component of the world's "clean" energy future lies in China and other economies in Asia that need huge amounts of low-carbon electricity to sustain their rapid growth without the air pollution associated with fossil fuels like coal.

Before the Fukushima crisis, more than 155 power reactors were planned and over 320 others proposed worldwide. If all were to go ahead, they could more than double global nuclear generating capacity by 2030.

Of the 85 power reactors under construction or about to start, 56 are in Asia. Thirty three are in China, eight each in India and South Korea, six in Japan and one in Taiwan. These economies are already so far down the nuclear power generation path that it would be difficult to turn back without disrupting their national development plans.

Still, China — which plans to nearly quadruple nuclear generating capacity by 2020 — announced recently that it was temporarily suspending approval for all new nuclear power plants until the government issues revised safety rules. Safety checks will be made on existing nuclear facilities and those under construction.

India, South Korea and Japan are also reviewing safety standards and the capacity of nuclear plants to withstand large-magnitude natural disasters. Taiwan says it may defer the scheduled 2012 start of a 2,700-megawatt nuclear plant, on the coast about 40 km east of Taipei, following Japan's calamity.

But Indonesia and Vietnam, the countries with the largest-scale plans for nuclear power generation in Southeast Asia, have indicated they will go ahead, although the Indonesian government has delayed awarding a tender this month for a feasibility study on the first plant.

Indonesia's National Atomic Energy Agency proposed an island off the north coast of Sumatra as a possible site for the four nuclear power reactors it wants to develop, arguing that the area is not located in an earthquake-prone zone.

Don’t make technology the bogeyman

New Straits Times

According to the World Nuclear Association, a number of technologically- advanced countries are banking on nuclear power as an electricity source: France (75 per cent); Belgium, South Korea and Sweden (30 per cent); Finland, Germany and Japan (25 per cent), and the United States (20 per cent). Many members of Asean, including Malaysia, are contemplating nuclear power as an option.

As the world nervously watched Japanese attempts to prevent a meltdown of the reactor’s core, the incident sent shockwaves through nuclear planning agencies around the world. Policymakers demand safety reviews, public concern is sky high, and several governments have started to shelve plans to construct new nuclear plants.

In India, the Japanese tragedy has likewise prompted a renewed focus on nuclear safety, which had been somewhat marginalised until now in the rush to secure India’s entry into the commercial nuclear technology market.

Closer to home, the chairman of our Energy Commission and president of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, was quoted as saying that “for the time being, we can perhaps buy time and not rush into nuclear… the right thing is to have options available that push the necessity to have nuclear further and further away, and hopefully by that time, there will be other technologies and solutions to address the current concerns”.

But how will Malaysia meet its growing energy appetite? At present, fossil fuels provide most electricity in Malaysia. In 2008 and 2009, 65 per cent of electricity was generated from natural gas, followed by coal at 29 per cent, and hydro at six per cent.

Today, fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and alternate energy sources must be found soon.

Renewable energy may be a major part of the solution. However, as Tajuddin points out, it is not enough to meet future needs.

Nuclear proponents argue it isclean, cheap and could lower the cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, increasing the chance of meeting climate change objectives.

The Fukushima crisis boldly underlines the nuclear safety question.

This time, a cataclysmic disaster happened in Japan, one of the most safety-conscious and technologically- advanced nations on earth. And if it could happen in Japan, how, one wonders, would a less tech-savvycountry cope confronted even with a lesser calamity?

The bottom line is we should, first and foremost, stress energy efficiency to reduce consumption. Given our depletion of traditional fossil fuel resources and the still far-off contributions of renewables, however, we should cautiously retain nuclear power as an option.

CLIMATE SPECTATOR: The view from Jaitapur

Business Spectator 1/4/2011

The radiation leak from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-power plant, triggered by the powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, has raised fresh questions about plans for the world’s largest nuclear-power station on the west coast of India. After months spent riding roughshod over protesters fighting the project in the state of Maharashtra, the Indian government has adopted a slightly different tune. The authorities say they will review and enhance safety features at the proposed plant, though they still insist “there is no alternative to nuclear power”.

The mistrust is increased by the opacity of India’s nuclear establishment. The government’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) owns NPCIL and also runs the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), where any citizen wishing to make a complaint about the nuclear industry must go. People cannot even use the Right to Information law to find out what is going on, as anything nuclear falls under the Official Secrets Act, making it exempt from transparency regulations.

Jaitapur’s residents have protested for five years against the proposed complex of six reactors, each capable of generating 1,650 megawatts of power. The government has responded by jailing protestors and banning civil-society activists from entering the area – that was until the Fukushima incident showed the world that even safety-conscious Japan can fail to avert a serious nuclear accident.

NPCIL chief SK Jain has said that the reactors being designed for Jaitapur by French firm Areva are different from those at Fukushima – and therefore safer. But now even the AERB’s former head A Gopalakrishnan is asking why the residents of Jaitapur should be made guinea pigs for a new design. The model in question – the Evolutionary Power Reactor (also known as the European Pressurised Water Reactor) – is not yet up and running anywhere in the world. The first one is being built in Finland, where it has run into many problems (construction is running at least four years behind schedule and 2.75 billion euros over budget).

News that one of the project’s main funders, Germany’s second-largest bank Commerzbank, has pulled out (according to information obtained by the India office of the environmental NGO Greenpeace) comes as little surprise. Civil society activists say that, unless the government puts pressure on one of the insurance firms it owns, no one will be willing to insure the project either. Against a background of growing unease over nuclear development around the world, India’s ambitious programme may too be starting to unravel.

Nuclear Moratorium: 'I' for India Comes After 'G' for Germany?

theenergycollective April 3 2011

A top Indian scientist and government advisor, backed by more than 50 prominent figures, has called for a moratorium on all future nuclear projects following the nuclear crisis in tsunami-hit Japan.  Dr. P. Balaram's call marks the first direct appeal from within government circles for a temporary stop to nuclear power plans and production and comes a day after prime minister Manmohan Singh sought more transparency, accountability and transparency from the Indian nuclear establishment.  Dr. Balaram’s demand for a moratorium -- stopping nuclear power production for the time being -- is likely to pressure the Indian government because of the strategic positions he holds.

Dr. P. Balaram, director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and part of prime minister Manmohan Singh's scientific advisory council, described the events in Japan as "a wake-up call" for India.  In an open letter, signed by more than 50 prominent figures, Balaram states:

1. "We strongly believe that India must radically review its nuclear power policy."

2. "Pending the review, there should be a moratorium on all further nuclear activity, and revocation of recent clearances for nuclear projects."

3.  The Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has "cavalierly minimised (the possibility of an accident)... and declared that Indian reactors cannot undergo serious accidents."

4.  The Japanese crisis shows "that even in an industrially advanced country, nuclear reactors were vulnerable to catastrophes, in spite of precautions and safety measures."

5.  The letter urges the Indian government to conduct an independent and transparent safety audit of its nuclear facilities.

"In the light of what has happened in Japan.... we strongly believe that India must radically review its nuclear power policy for appropriateness, safety, costs, and public acceptance, and undertake an independent, transparent safety audit of all its nuclear facilities, which involves non-DAE experts and civil society organisations. Pending the review, there should be a moratorium on all further nuclear activity, and revocation of recent clearances for nuclear projects," said Dr Balaram.  He said he agreed to be a co-signatory to a key petition seeking a nuclear moratorium because many of India's proposed nuclear plants were likely to come up in populated and ecologically sensitive areas.

The Japanese crisis has fuelled opposition in India to the construction of what would be one of the world's largest nuclear power plants in a seismically-sensitive region of Maharashtra state, with six reactors providing 9,600 megawatts of combined power.  French company Areva has signed a 9.3-billion-dollar framework deal to supply the first two of Jaitapur's third-generation pressurised water reactors, with the nuclear plant scheduled to begin producing power in 2018.

Are India and Germany beginning to show the way for other democracies around the world? The nuclear moratorium issue appears to be fast becoming the clarion call of our times.

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