By Matt Owens September 4, 2013
The Japanese government just announced it will spend a half billion dollars (US) to deal with the Fukushima nuclear disaster (by freezing a wall of ice into the ground around the power plant). That comes to a trivial amount of $3.91 per Japanese citizen. But what about the hidden costs - the displaced people the disruption to industry, the loss of land-use, and so on? If we include these other hidden costs, nuclear power for Japan, and by extension, for the world doesn't look so good anymore.
As the Wall Street Journal reported in March, TEPCO, the owner of the Fukushima plant, has raised their electricity rate by 15% in order to cover growing expenses. And the entire country has been importing large amounts of fossil fuels while the Japanese nuclear industry remains mostly shut down.
Insurance companies say their policies won't cover damages from this accident either. And the exclusion zone, an area too radioactive to live in, will likely remain abandoned for decades. The fishing industry near Fukushima is shut down. Farms in the area are closed. And so on.
Meanwhile Japan's offshore wind farms still produce energy like the earthquake and tidal wave never happened. According to the Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER), the real costs of nuclear power in Japan are much higher than reported, in part because for 20 years now, there's been a failure to find a permanent disposal site for spent nuclear fuel. The same problem plagues the American nuclear industry. So all that nuclear waste, still radioactive, just sits at the nuclear power plants. It accumulates there, and in the case of Fukushima, it must be constantly cooled to prevent it from melting down and causing an even worse disaster.
According to several research papers from JCER, after accounting for all hidden expenses of Japanese nuclear power (including the Fukushima cleanup) the costs per kilowatt-hour could be twice as high as government reports, and higher than wind, hydro, or geothermal.
There's been a lot of optimism about nuclear power potentially providing safe carbon-free energy and for recycling nuclear waste, but the reality is right before our eyes in the news headlines. We have wind and solar power available to us now - and with a proven safety record. And as I've written about before, the argument that variable output from wind and solar doesn't store well, doesn't hold water. So let's cut the delusions and start building real power for the future!