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Japan Diary

May 19, 2011

For a shift from nuclear to hydrogen power

(Below is a rough sketch of my ideas)
The disaster at Fukushima nuclear power plant is lingering on. As if for easing people's concern, prime minister Kan suddenly declared that one nuclear power plant "Hamaoka", which turned out to be located on a fault line, should be closed, and the power company listened to him (even though the company is a private firm and does not come under jurisdiction of the government).

But the government is determined to continue with the rest of its plan to heavily depend on the use of nuclear power up to 50% of the total consumption (now 30~40%).

I am worried. I do not want to live under constant fear that a terrorist might disrupt the power plant, that North Korea may target the plant with it state-of-the-art missile, or that one day a meteor will hit one of the plants. And many Japanese share my feeling.

Yet the inertia is very strong, partly because many people live on the nuclear power plants. The nuclear power plants bring employment, subsidy and compensation to the region where they are located, machine-builders and construction companies will get lucrative orders and so on and so forth. Government officials can not change on-going plans without endorsement of politicians.

But there are ways out of this quagmire.
First, power companies should be split into two: power generation and power distribution. The use of electric grid should be allowed to new comers which generate power. Even now large factories possess huge LNG generators, the power of which exceeds the need of their own. If you allow them to sell redundant power to the public grid, it will more than make up for the lost nuclear power plant.

Second, the use of hydrogen and fuel cells should be promoted. There are many ways to produce hydrogen with low cost: solar energy and use of natural gas. Some of Japanese companies have already started sale of family-use fuel cells, which produce hydrogen from natural gas and kerosine. I hear that in this way natural gas can be far more effectively used than at large power plants.

Fuel cells are now used for cars. Norway, for example, has already started its serious use, having built a fair number of hydrogen stations on one highway.

Eventually, by mastering the technology of the photosynthesis hydrogen can be produced much more cheaply. This is now under research at Tokyo University, MIT and others.

Last but not least Japan is very rich in thermal power, but she has not utilized it.

By halting the nuclear power generation, Japan probably will have to eternally give up the prospect of its nuclear armament. But we will divise some other means of deterrence against enemies' nuclear attack.


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