A significant fact to emerge from the Fukushima disaster, besides the heavier than reported fallout*, is in a nation that once generated a third of
has turned against nuclear power. It is not clear whether some of the idle plants will return to service before the remaining two operating plants are taken off line for maintenance in April. This was a nation committed to the nuclear future, but as the chart from The Economist shows, planning could now include a phase out of nuclear power within forty years, a goal considered by the new Japanese Prime Minister. Another fact is clear: nuclear power is hugely expensive when the entire fuel cycle is considered. A Japanese expert estimates decontamination of stricken facilities will cost $623 billion. Decommissioning of expired plants will cost trillions. And if governments did not subsidize the industry directly as in Russia and China, and indirectly by limiting its liability for disasters like Fukushima (damage claims estimated at $75 to $260bn; TEPCO was refused renewal of its insurance contract with the Japanese Atomic Energy Insurance Pool which expired in January), the industry would collapse under its own expense.
After the Fukushima meltdowns, Angela Merkel's center-right coalition made a policy decision to go off nuclear power. The decision echoed the policy of the German Greens who wanted to phase out nuclear by 2021 when they were in a coalition government of the left. Seven reactors were shut down immediately and plans laid to phase out the remaining nine plants by 2022. In the cold winter weather there has not been one blackout. Renewable energy does not make up all of the energy deficit of the nukes. Coal is still burned in Germany, but for the first time renewable sources of electricity exceed that provided by either nuclear or black coal. Brown coal, which is subsidized by the government and highly polluting, produces the most electricity. Germany is now exporting energy to France, the leading national proponent of nuclear power and prices are stable and lower than French prices. Germany's plans for a renewable energy future are ambitious. By 2020 35% of its electricity should be generated by renewable sources. By 2050 that figure is scheduled to increase to 80% for factory fuel and most homes in the world's fourth largest economy.
*the US National Science Foundation said the Fukushima fallout and direct discharges to the ocean were the largest in history. The French say an estimated 27 PBq or 729,000 curies were poured into the sea with unknown long-term consequences for benthic life. Now, concrete is being dumped onto the seafloor to slow the spread of radioactivity. Tons of water is still being dumped on the melted reactors and the waste pool of #4 where intensely radioactive slag has melted through containments. The peer-reviewed journal, International Journal of Health Services, reports that as many as 14,000 excess deaths occurred in the United States as the result of fallout. A diesel engineer, Greg Palast, reveals that the critical emergency diesel generators at Fukushima failed because they were required to perform in a manner for which they were not designed. The diesel generators were based on cruise ship engines or locomotive designs that needed to warm-up and obtain crankshaft speed for 30 minutes before taking a load. In the emergency, the Fukushima generators were required to go from idle to load within 10 seconds, probably snapping the crankshafts which eventually led to the reactors overheating for lack of cooling water circulation.