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Japan’s Tsunami Threatens The Global Warming Movement

The nuclear emergency is Japan will be a disaster for global warming activists. For a start, Japan’s own emissions will most likely rise in the medium term, now that so many nuclear plants – one of the most greenhouse-friendly power sources – have been knocked out:

Analysts think Japan will compensate for the shutdown of its 10 nuclear reactors by relying more heavily on traditional fossil fuels.

It can choose from a variety of sources. The majority of Japan’s energy is produced by power plants fired by coal, most of it from Australia. It burned 37,500 tons of coal in 2009. Japan also consumed 3.3 trillion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas that year, imported mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.

Japan also operates natural gas-burning generators and a number of aging, oil-fired plants that can be cranked up when demand for energy peaks.

Second, while in the short term emissions growth will be dampened by emergency power cuts, the destruction of whole sea-side towns and a possible economic slump, the reconstruction is going to demand huge increases in the production of emissions-intensive steel, concrete and aluminium.

Third, the fear-mongering about nuclear will almost certainly slow the renewed push to build many more nuclear power stations around the world:

Germany today announced the temporary closure of its two oldest nuclear power stations and suspended plans to extend the life of all of the country’s remaining plants as jitters over nuclear power spread across the world.

Switzerland also put on hold plans to build and replace nuclear plants and Austria’s environment minister called for atomic stress tests to make sure Europe’s nuclear facilities are “earthquake-proof”. On Tuesday there will be an emergency meeting of European Union nuclear safety authorities and operators to assess Europe’s preparedness in case of an emergency.

This will mean more countries will be forced to use fossil fuels rather than nuclear, the only relatively cheap source of greenhouse friendly base-load power other than hydroelectricity, also opposed by most greens. Few will dare now to commit to huge cuts in emissions, and especially not in this shaky economic environment, made more turbulent by Japan’s disaster. Few will be willing to trust to the green alternatives – all expensive, under-developed or unreliable.

Meanwhile, Japan is living the green dream with nuclear power taken off line and Earth Hours every day:

Tohoku Electric Power Co. said Tuesday that it would implement electricity rationing from Wednesday to deal with power shortages in the wake of Friday’s powerful earthquake, a day after Tokyo Electric Power Co. took the unprecedented measure in areas near the capital.

With the rationing set to continue through the end of April in eastern Japan, and longer in northeastern Japan, concerns are growing over its impact on the Japanese economy and people’s everyday lives through the suspension of factory operations and reduced train services….

The planned power outages through April are expected to affect many of the 45 million people in TEPCO’s service area covering Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki, Kanagawa, Saitama, Tochigi, Yamanashi and part of Shizuoka prefectures. The area has been divided into five groups, each of which could experience electricity outages for 3 to 6 hours a day on a rotating basis.

I don’t think Earth Hour will have the same resonance again in Japan.

The conclusion: Japan will have to learn from this disaster how to make its nuclear power stations even more invulnerable. And global warming activists – or those who don’t dream of mud hits – should pray they succeed.

Herald Sun, 16 March 2011