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Archive for the ‘Nuclear Power’ Category

Germany and Czech Republic Taking Different Paths with Nuclear Power

Posted by Steve Markowitz on October 26, 2011

Earlier this year Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany’s intention to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.  This includes all it was 17 nuclear plants.  Prior to closing some of its older plants, 25% of Germany’s electricity was generated by nuclear power.

Germany’s announcement is in response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster earlier this year. Merkel indicated that Germany plans to replace its nuclear power with renewable energy sources including solar, wind and hydroelectric power stating: “We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power –  or not to start using it – how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies“.  However, admirable this goal may be, current technological and practical limitations make its feasibility in the foreseeable future unlikely.

Some European countries are taking a similar view of nuclear power as Germany.  For example Switzerland, who obtains 40% of its electric power from nuclear energy, announced last week will shut down all of its reactors by 2034.  Europe is already up to his eyeballs in debt.  Significantly increasing the cost of electricity, as these anti-nuclear policies will do, will make their significant financial problems even worse

However, other European countries have taken a more pragmatic view of nuclear power with Sweden criticized Merkel’s decision rightfully stating that it will drive up electricity prices throughout Europe.  France, who produces 80% of its electricity through nuclear power said after the German announcement that “there’s no way” for Europe to meet its CO2 emission-cutting targets without nuclear power.

Even more pragmatic is the Czech Republic who sees opportunity in Germany’s decision to stop producing electricity via nuclear power.  This week it announced an ambitious energy program that includes spending $25 billion to build five new nuclear reactors by 2025.  This will not only increase Czech’s electric generated via nuclear power from its 30% to 50%, but will also allow the Czech Republic to export power to other European countries including Germany.

At the same time Merkel announced the nuclear power plant shutdown she said: “We don’t only want to renounce nuclear energy by 2022, we also want to reduce our CO2 emissions by 40 percent and double our share of renewable energies, from about 17 percent today to then 35 percent“.  This goal will be hindered by the nuclear power plants’ shutdown.

While Ms. Merkel holds a Ph.D. in physics, she is first and foremost a politician.  She, like many other Progressive politicians, are beholding to the radical environmentalists who are against nuclear power, drilling for oil or natural gas, or spewing more carbon in the atmosphere.  The policies emanating from this radical movement will make it impossible for Europe to continue its current standard of living, irrespective of any resolution of its current financial crisis.  Should the environmentalists continue having their way, Europe need not worry about global warming, but instead many cold winters to come.

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Confluence of Events put Pressure on Energy Prices and the U.S. Dollar

Posted by Steve Markowitz on March 14, 2011

Enduringsense.com is temporarily modifying its format while the editor recuperates from rib injuries.  Snippets of stories from various news sources will be included with a bit less commentary than usual due to typing challenges.  In addition, guests’ postings may be included.

The two articles are from disconnected parts of the world with both having implications on oil prices and the U.S. dollar’s value.

The first article was just reported by the Wall Street Journal involves yet another explosion at one of Japan’s nuclear plants damaged by the earthquake and Tsunami.  This tragedy continues to grow.  It will impact energy prices long into the future as the world becomes even more wary of the safety of nuclear power generation.  Given tight supplies, oil prices will likely rise in the coming months.

In addition, Japan has historically been a large purchaser of U.S. Treasury Bonds.  The huge cost of reconstruction for Japan will likely force it to stop buying U.S. Treasuries and to even sell dollars so it has funds for the reconstruction.  This will put pressure on the value of the U.S. dollar as demand for it drops.  In order to attract Treasury buyers, interest paid on them will have to rise causing many interest rates in the U.S. to increase.

In another article, startfor.com has reports that Saudi Arabian troops have entered Bahrain to help its Sunni government put down the protest by mainly its Shiite population.  This intervention is the result of the Saudi government attempting to stop Shiite Iran, its long-term enemy, from becoming more influential in the region.  In addition, the Saudi government fears similar protest from its own population.

It remains to be seen if the Saudi efforts are successful in putting down protest in Bahrain or if leads to even more problems from its own population.  In either case, the Saudis will likely need more funds to spread amongst its potentially restive population, leaving less for U.S. Treasury purchases.  In addition, this ongoing turmoil in the Middle East can only push oil prices higher.

Unforeseen events of huge magnitudes have occurred throughout history and the world always finds a way to work through them.  That said the world has placed itself in a more precarious economic position at this time because of the huge build up of sovereign debt.  Many countries have already spent their reserves and reached their credit limits. That leaves little wiggle room for these evolving tragedies that continue to unfold.


 

Posted in Nuclear Power, Oil, Sovereign Debt | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Japanese Earthquake Creates Potential Nuclear Crisis

Posted by Steve Markowitz on March 12, 2011

The following report is reprinted with permission from STRATFOR (http://www.stratfor.com).  The coming hours and days will determine how serious this problem becomes and it will likely have serous economic and political ramifications.  But for now, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan as they navigate through this difficult time.

Red Alert: Nuclear Meltdown at Quake-Damaged Japanese Plant, 12 2011 – 02:27

A March 12 explosion at the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Japan, appears to have caused a reactor meltdown.

The key piece of technology in a nuclear reactor is the control rods. Nuclear fuel generates neutrons; controlling the flow and production rate of these neutrons is what generates heat, and from the heat, electricity. Control rods absorb neutrons — the rods slide in and out of the fuel mass to regulate neutron emission, and with it, heat and electricity generation.

A meltdown occurs when the control rods fail to contain the neutron emission and the heat levels inside the reactor thus rise to a point that the fuel itself melts, generally temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing uncontrolled radiation-generating reactions and making approaching the reactor incredibly hazardous. A meltdown does not necessarily mean a nuclear disaster. As long as the reactor core, which is specifically designed to contain high levels of heat, pressure and radiation, remains intact, the melted fuel can be dealt with. If the core breaches but the containment facility built around the core remains intact, the melted fuel can still be dealt with — typically entombed within specialized concrete — but the cost and difficulty of such containment increases exponentially.


However, the earthquake in Japan, in addition to damaging the ability of the control rods to regulate the fuel — and the reactor’s coolant system — appears to have damaged the containment facility, and the explosion almost certainly did. There have been reports of “white smoke,” perhaps burning concrete, coming from the scene of the explosion, indicating a containment breach and the almost certain escape of significant amounts of radiation.

At this point, events in Japan bear many similarities to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Reports indicate that up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of the reactor fuel was exposed. The reactor fuel appears to have at least partially melted, and the subsequent explosion has shattered the walls and roof of the containment vessel — and likely the remaining useful parts of the control and coolant systems.

And so now the question is simple: Did the floor of the containment vessel crack? If not, the situation can still be salvaged by somehow re-containing the nuclear core. But if the floor has cracked, it is highly likely that the melting fuel will burn through the floor of the containment system and enter the ground. This has never happened before but has always been the nightmare scenario for a nuclear power event — in this scenario, containment goes from being merely dangerous, time consuming and expensive to nearly impossible.

Radiation exposure for the average individual is 620 millirems per year, split about evenly between manmade and natural sources. The firefighters who served at the Chernobyl plant were exposed to between 80,000 and 1.6 million millirems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that exposure to 375,000 to 500,000 millirems would be sufficient to cause death within three months for half of those exposed. A 30-kilometer-radius (19 miles) no-go zone remains at Chernobyl to this day. Japan’s troubled reactor site is about 300 kilometers from Tokyo.

The latest report from the damaged power plant indicated that exposure rates outside the plant were at about 620 millirems per hour, though it is not clear whether that report came before or after the reactor’s containment structure exploded.

 

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