The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.

Editor's Letter: After Japan

In the first moments after the earthquake, it appears that reactors across Japan successfully saw control rods inserted into their cores. Here the technology worked well. It was after the reactors came offline that systems began to fail.

The primary culprits seem to be electromechanical in nature: the pumps, valves and related controls that have been at the core of all steam power generation units for well over 100 years and that serve as the heart of such units, pumping fluid to control, distribute and regulate heat. Shaken by one of recorded history's most powerful earthquakes and battered by a tsunami, these systems–along with various backup and fail-safe systems–failed, precipitating Japan's nuclear crisis.

The scenario that began unfolding March 11 previously had seemed so unlikely. But Japan itself is the product of tectonic action and the majority of the country's nuclear power plants line its coasts. In 2007, the world's largest nuclear power plant–the seven-unit Kashiwazaki-Kariwa station–suffered minor earthquake damage and was offline for 22 months as operators and regulators scrutinized the causes and extent of the damage. The world's nuclear industry dodged a bullet in 2007. It was not nearly so lucky in 2011.

Headlines and live video from Japan make it easy to write off nuclear power. But in the U.S. the technology has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround following the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. The industry created the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations following that accident to improve and standardize training and operations across the nation's 104 operating nuclear units. Since then, nuclear power has been a consistently reliable–and, with few exceptions–safe electricity generator.

And yet I return to comments made to me last year by two MIT-educated engineers both of whom are working to develop new processes to manufacture photovoltaic cells. Emanuel Sachs and Frank van Mierlo clearly have skin in the game to ensure the success of their solar energy-focused company, 1366 Technologies. But in an interview with them as the Deepwater Horizon crisis in the Gulf of Mexico was unfolding, they spoke of the inherent risk of complex technology. Systems fail, bad things happen all the time. With some technology–and here they spoke of nuclear power and not the oil spill in the Gulf–the consequences of failure can be enormous. We are relearning that lesson from Japan.

Having said that, we must acknowledge that the nuclear industry–whose technology today is, after all, largely Japanese technology–saw the flaws in overly complicated systems and designed Generation III+ power plants to incorporate safety systems that rely far less on electromechanical devices when something goes terribly wrong.

In light of Japan's crisis the global nuclear industry needs to consider the worst possible scenarios and then design and build with those consequences in mind, plus an additional measure of safety. Whether or not new nuclear power plants are even insurable remains to be seen; risk calculations no doubt are being scrutinized by insurance underwriters who have been shaken–literally–by quakes in Chile, New Zealand and now Japan.

Nuclear power remains among the world's best sources of baseload, largely emission-free electricity. It can and should continue to play a major role in efforts to provide reliable and virtually carbon-free power. In the final analysis, a future that contemplates nuclear as a major source of baseload generation complemented by small-scale and geographically dispersed renewables still holds much promise for electric power generation.


First Anniversary of The Balkan Floods Highlights Renewable Energy Market Opportunities

Ilias Tsagas, Contributor One year ago this month, severe flooding in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia killed 79 people, displaced about half a million and caused economic paralysis of the region. In the wake of these the catastrophic events, ...
Canadian Climate Goals

Canada Announces Weak Climate Target

Danielle Droitsch, NRDC Last week, Canada has announced its contribution to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases by announcing its post-2020 target. The target announced today is off-track to the 80 percent cut by 2050 they committed to in...
Renewable Energy Stocks

What Drives Alternative Energy Stocks?

Harris Roen, The Roen Financial Report Alternative energy became a serious market player after the turn of the millennium. Since that time, solar, wind, smart grid and other alternative energy stocks have experienced both strong up and down trends. The forces at...
Rooftop Solar Panels

Hypocrisy? While Buffett Champions Renewables, His Company Fights Rooftop Solar

Mark Chediak, Noah Buhayar and Margaret Newkirk, Bloomberg Warren Buffett highlights how his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. utilities make massive investments in renewable energy. Meanwhile, in Nevada, the company is fighting a plan that would encourage more residents to use green power.


Volume 18, Issue 3


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @megcichon @jennrunyon



Doing Business in Brazil – in partnership with GWEC, the Global Win...

Brazil is one of the most promising markets for wind energy.  Ranke...

EU PVSEC 2015 (European PV Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition)

The EU PVSEC is the largest international Conference for Photovoltaic re...

Using Grid data analytics to protect revenue, reduce network losses...


EU PVSEC 2014 extends its Scope

Added focus on application and policy topicsAbstracts for conference con...

EU PVSEC 2014: Call for Papers Receives Great Response

More than 1,500 contributions apply for presentation in AmsterdamScienti...

Boulder County Residents Generate Their Own Energy with Community S...

Despite a soggy afternoon, solar energy advocates gathered at ...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now