Tag Archives: Japan

Fossil fuels: Heading down, but not yet out

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Worse cyclones will hit East Asia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines are trying to piece together their lives after the devastation caused late last year by tropical cyclone Haiyan. New research shows that while such cyclones are growing in strength they are increasingly tracking northwards to hit the coasts of China, Korea and Japan. LONDON, 16 January – It will be of little comfort to people in the southern and central Philippines repeatedly hit by tropical cyclones over the years, but a new study indicates that storm patterns might be shifting northwards. The study, by a team of scientists at Seoul National University and other South Korean scientific institutions, looks at tropical cyclone activity across the north-west Pacific between 1977 and 2010. Researchers found that increasing sea surface temperatures likely due to climate change, together with changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, have led to a significant increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting the east Asia region over the 30-year period. “Noticeable increases of greenhouse gases over the globe could influence rising sea surface temperature and change large-scale atmospheric circulation in the western North Pacific, which could enhance the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting land over east Asia”, says Professor Chang-Hoi Ho, one of the study’s authors.

Intensity changes

The study, which appears in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyses five separate sets of data relating to the growth and behaviour of tropical cyclones across the north-west Pacific. It found that the area of maximum storm intensity had shifted both westward and northward: while the intensity of tropical cyclones had lessened somewhat in areas of south-east Asia it had increased significantly in east Asia – particularly in coastal regions of central China and of Japan and around the Korean peninsula. The study found that cyclones were tending to build up around the northern Philippines and track along coastal areas from Vietnam northwards, gaining energy along the way. The researchers say a significant factor behind the alteration in the intensity and direction of tropical cyclones is a change in what’s called the Walker circulation – an ocean-based atmospheric circulation system over the Pacific.

Sea temperature difference

The Walker circulation strengthens as the difference between sea temperatures in the warmer western Pacific and the colder central-eastern Pacific grows more marked: the result is that wind flows associated with the Walker circulation drive tropical cyclones towards the north-eastern coast of Asia, where they reach maximum intensity. “This change in large-scale climatic fields suggests that the principal region in which many tropical cyclones attain peak intensity during their lifetime might have been translocated”, says the study. Cyclone Haiyan ravaged a large part of the central coastline of the eastern Philippines. However, the study found that over the 30-year period analysed, tropical cyclone activity in seas off the east Philippines coast had decreased while “the maximum intensity has shifted toward east Asia and intensified landfall intensity.” That’s bad news for millions of coastal dwellers in central and northern China, Japan and on the Korean peninsula. More catastrophic tropical cyclones will strike east Asia in future than ever before, says the study. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines are trying to piece together their lives after the devastation caused late last year by tropical cyclone Haiyan. New research shows that while such cyclones are growing in strength they are increasingly tracking northwards to hit the coasts of China, Korea and Japan. LONDON, 16 January – It will be of little comfort to people in the southern and central Philippines repeatedly hit by tropical cyclones over the years, but a new study indicates that storm patterns might be shifting northwards. The study, by a team of scientists at Seoul National University and other South Korean scientific institutions, looks at tropical cyclone activity across the north-west Pacific between 1977 and 2010. Researchers found that increasing sea surface temperatures likely due to climate change, together with changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, have led to a significant increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting the east Asia region over the 30-year period. “Noticeable increases of greenhouse gases over the globe could influence rising sea surface temperature and change large-scale atmospheric circulation in the western North Pacific, which could enhance the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting land over east Asia”, says Professor Chang-Hoi Ho, one of the study’s authors.

Intensity changes

The study, which appears in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyses five separate sets of data relating to the growth and behaviour of tropical cyclones across the north-west Pacific. It found that the area of maximum storm intensity had shifted both westward and northward: while the intensity of tropical cyclones had lessened somewhat in areas of south-east Asia it had increased significantly in east Asia – particularly in coastal regions of central China and of Japan and around the Korean peninsula. The study found that cyclones were tending to build up around the northern Philippines and track along coastal areas from Vietnam northwards, gaining energy along the way. The researchers say a significant factor behind the alteration in the intensity and direction of tropical cyclones is a change in what’s called the Walker circulation – an ocean-based atmospheric circulation system over the Pacific.

Sea temperature difference

The Walker circulation strengthens as the difference between sea temperatures in the warmer western Pacific and the colder central-eastern Pacific grows more marked: the result is that wind flows associated with the Walker circulation drive tropical cyclones towards the north-eastern coast of Asia, where they reach maximum intensity. “This change in large-scale climatic fields suggests that the principal region in which many tropical cyclones attain peak intensity during their lifetime might have been translocated”, says the study. Cyclone Haiyan ravaged a large part of the central coastline of the eastern Philippines. However, the study found that over the 30-year period analysed, tropical cyclone activity in seas off the east Philippines coast had decreased while “the maximum intensity has shifted toward east Asia and intensified landfall intensity.” That’s bad news for millions of coastal dwellers in central and northern China, Japan and on the Korean peninsula. More catastrophic tropical cyclones will strike east Asia in future than ever before, says the study. – Climate News Network

Fukushima faces long road to repair

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Saturday 20 April Efforts to repair the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami are making slow progress, and an imminent International Atomic Energy Agency report is expected to make depressing reading – for Japan and for other nuclear energy states. LONDON, 22 April – The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling. These setbacks come as a 12-man team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna tours the stricken plants to assess the country’s efforts to make safe, clean up and eventually dismantle the crippled reactors. Within Japan there is alarm at the situation and criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco.  Even government safety officials say the company is not demonstrating that it is competent in dealing with a problem that will probably take decades to solve, judging by other serious nuclear accidents. Spent nuclear fuel melted into lumps of unknown size will remain dangerous for hundreds of years, and so far no one has devised a method of retrieving it. Tepco admits only that the leaks are a “crisis” but says has it has kept the stricken reactors stable by injecting water continuously.  Without the water the spent fuel inside the reactors could overheat, causing another potential radioactive release. But it is the massive amount of radioactive water that is becoming part of the problem, because it cannot be discharged into the sea without breaching international law and risking contamination of fish stocks. Instead it is pumped into reservoirs that have been inadequately lined, and it is from three of these that the radioactive leaks of thousands of gallons are continuing. Pumping the reservoirs dry to solve the problem will take weeks.

Still seeking safety

  Comments by Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, summed up the current situation: “The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident. We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.” Even without the leaks and the rats, just keeping the plant safe following the damage inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami two years ago is keeping 3,000 labourers busy. They work in difficult contaminated conditions in an area isolated from normal life. A large perimeter round the plant is off limits. The 160,000 people who used to live nearby and were evacuated when the scale of the disaster became apparent are unlikely to be allowed to return for years, if at all. There is still little information about the extent of the contamination. More information about the perilous state of the four reactors damaged by the tsunami will be released when the IAEA produces its interim report on 22 April, but it is unlikely to be encouraging. Even without the safety fears, the costs of dealing with the problem will be enormous and a drain on Tepco’s finances for decades. How to bring the reactors to a safe, stable state remains an unsolved problem. The last serious nuclear accident, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, is still causing concern, and international efforts to make the reactor safe are continuing. That reactor exploded, spilling radioactive dust over a vast area of Europe. Again an exclusion zone was established while emergency repairs were carried out. Today there is still a huge area known as the dead zone around the reactor while the international community pays for a scheme to try to keep the reactor safe for another 100 years or so. The initial cap or sarcophagus built to cover the reactor is in danger of crumbling and causing another radioactive release.

50 years of uncertainty

  The latest plan to avoid this happening involves building a giant concrete arch that will be moved on rails over the stricken reactor to contain any further collapse. The arch is being constructed away from the sarcophagus to avoid the continuing radiation and will be wheeled over it. At 270 metres across, 150 metres long and 100 metres high it is the largest moveable structure in the world.  There are hopes that it will be completed in 2015, but even this is seen as only a temporary solution. The cost is estimated at around $1.5 billion. How long completely cleaning up a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima will really take is anyone’s guess. In 1957, before Chernobyl had even been built, there was a serious fire at Windscale in the United Kingdom at a reactor built to provide plutonium for Britain’s first generation of nuclear weapons. The fire burned out of control for only three days before being extinguished. Fifty six years later, the melted fuel remains inside the reactor, or Pile Number One as it is called. Over the years several attempts to remove it and make it safe have been started and abandoned, on safety grounds. The site remains guarded and monitored inside the Sellafield nuclear plant, as Windscale is now known, its future still uncertain, its lurking danger all but forgotten by the outside world. That was one small reactor on fire more than half a century ago. The Fukushima accident involved four much larger reactors, but with similar problems – large quantities of melted fuel which have yet to be recovered. The present generation’s grandchildren may still be wrestling with the problem at the end of this century. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Saturday 20 April Efforts to repair the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami are making slow progress, and an imminent International Atomic Energy Agency report is expected to make depressing reading – for Japan and for other nuclear energy states. LONDON, 22 April – The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling. These setbacks come as a 12-man team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna tours the stricken plants to assess the country’s efforts to make safe, clean up and eventually dismantle the crippled reactors. Within Japan there is alarm at the situation and criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco.  Even government safety officials say the company is not demonstrating that it is competent in dealing with a problem that will probably take decades to solve, judging by other serious nuclear accidents. Spent nuclear fuel melted into lumps of unknown size will remain dangerous for hundreds of years, and so far no one has devised a method of retrieving it. Tepco admits only that the leaks are a “crisis” but says has it has kept the stricken reactors stable by injecting water continuously.  Without the water the spent fuel inside the reactors could overheat, causing another potential radioactive release. But it is the massive amount of radioactive water that is becoming part of the problem, because it cannot be discharged into the sea without breaching international law and risking contamination of fish stocks. Instead it is pumped into reservoirs that have been inadequately lined, and it is from three of these that the radioactive leaks of thousands of gallons are continuing. Pumping the reservoirs dry to solve the problem will take weeks.

Still seeking safety

  Comments by Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, summed up the current situation: “The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident. We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.” Even without the leaks and the rats, just keeping the plant safe following the damage inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami two years ago is keeping 3,000 labourers busy. They work in difficult contaminated conditions in an area isolated from normal life. A large perimeter round the plant is off limits. The 160,000 people who used to live nearby and were evacuated when the scale of the disaster became apparent are unlikely to be allowed to return for years, if at all. There is still little information about the extent of the contamination. More information about the perilous state of the four reactors damaged by the tsunami will be released when the IAEA produces its interim report on 22 April, but it is unlikely to be encouraging. Even without the safety fears, the costs of dealing with the problem will be enormous and a drain on Tepco’s finances for decades. How to bring the reactors to a safe, stable state remains an unsolved problem. The last serious nuclear accident, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, is still causing concern, and international efforts to make the reactor safe are continuing. That reactor exploded, spilling radioactive dust over a vast area of Europe. Again an exclusion zone was established while emergency repairs were carried out. Today there is still a huge area known as the dead zone around the reactor while the international community pays for a scheme to try to keep the reactor safe for another 100 years or so. The initial cap or sarcophagus built to cover the reactor is in danger of crumbling and causing another radioactive release.

50 years of uncertainty

  The latest plan to avoid this happening involves building a giant concrete arch that will be moved on rails over the stricken reactor to contain any further collapse. The arch is being constructed away from the sarcophagus to avoid the continuing radiation and will be wheeled over it. At 270 metres across, 150 metres long and 100 metres high it is the largest moveable structure in the world.  There are hopes that it will be completed in 2015, but even this is seen as only a temporary solution. The cost is estimated at around $1.5 billion. How long completely cleaning up a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima will really take is anyone’s guess. In 1957, before Chernobyl had even been built, there was a serious fire at Windscale in the United Kingdom at a reactor built to provide plutonium for Britain’s first generation of nuclear weapons. The fire burned out of control for only three days before being extinguished. Fifty six years later, the melted fuel remains inside the reactor, or Pile Number One as it is called. Over the years several attempts to remove it and make it safe have been started and abandoned, on safety grounds. The site remains guarded and monitored inside the Sellafield nuclear plant, as Windscale is now known, its future still uncertain, its lurking danger all but forgotten by the outside world. That was one small reactor on fire more than half a century ago. The Fukushima accident involved four much larger reactors, but with similar problems – large quantities of melted fuel which have yet to be recovered. The present generation’s grandchildren may still be wrestling with the problem at the end of this century. – Climate News Network