Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Sayonara, nuclear power?

Japan has - temporarily at least - closed its final nuclear power station, for testing and maintenance, in the continuing aftermath of last year's disaster at Fukushima. Some pundits are suggestion that this may simply be a Japanese way of ending nuclear power in the country for good, with pro-nuclear commentators claiming that they have ducked taking the tough decision to keep nuclear operational, instead creating the risk of summer power cuts as air-conditioners are switched in in Japan's humid weather.

However it may be that the right decision is to admit that relying heavily on nuclear power in an area noted for its seismic activity wasn't such a good idea after all. If fracking is leading to a global fall in gas prices (albeit unevenly distributed), then maybe LNG is a safer prospect (in both senses of the word safe). And a nation that is collectively as keen on high-tech solutions as Japan will likely find more cost effective ways of storing energy from renewables, if they know that they have not got the base load of nuclear on which to fall back. Moreover, Japan is also a world beater in finding ways of cutting energy demand without damaging industrial competitiveness, and is socially cohesive enough that a call for citizens to show restraint in cooling their homes or offices in summer in order to conserve energy is likely to succeed. So it may be a smart decision to go for the short sharp shock and end nuclear power in the country now.

Ironically, this may then make nuclear a better option in the UK, as if LNG is being swallowed up by Asia, the cost of delivering to Milford Haven shoots up. And that makes our CCGT generation look less attractive. Of course, we can always wait for the Japanese to solve the energy storage issue...