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Nuclear Power Is No Solution For the World’s Energy Problems

Nuclear power is no solution to the world’s energy problems. Not even close.

It’s important for electric power but electric power is not even 40% of the world’s energy supply—nor is it expected to increase much over the next 30 years.

IEA projects that nuclear power will account for only 5.5% of world energy supply in 2050 (Figure 1). That’s an increase of only 0.5% from 2020.

Figure 1. IEA most-likely scenario is for nuclear to account for 5.5% of world energy supply in 2050—an increase of 0.5% from 2020. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Nuclear power has limited application beyond electric power generation and some heating capability. Yet the outlook is not much better for nuclear to increase as a major source of electric power either. IEA’s most-likely scenario is for nuclear to account for only 12.5% of electric power supply in 2050 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. IEA most-likely scenario is for nuclear to account for 12.5% of electric power supply in 2050. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

Electric power currently accounts for about 39% of world energy supply (Figure 3). IEA estimates that it will only increase to about 41% by 2050.

Figure 3. Electric power will increase from 39% to 41% of world energy supply by 2050. Source: IEA & Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2021 is largely in agreement with IEA’s assessment of both electric and nuclear power. Unlike IEA, however, EIA provides data to account for the considerable energy losses during power generation, transmission and distribution. The losses amounted to 64% in 2020 (Table 1).

Table 1. EIA electric and nuclear net power to the electric grid and energy losses. Source: EIA and Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

When losses are included, net electric power to the grid is expected to increase from 19% in 2020 to 28% in 2050 (Figure 4) instead of 41% in IEA’s evaluation shown above in Figure 3.

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Experts Say Nuclear Energy as Climate Solution Is Total ‘Fiction’

anti-nuclear campaigner in France

A protestor gestures during an anti-nuclear demonstration on October 1, 2016 in Siouville-Hague, northwestern France. (Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

Experts Say Nuclear Energy as Climate Solution Is Total ‘Fiction’

“The reality is nuclear is neither clean, safe, or smart; but a very complex technology with the potential to cause significant harm.”

As global scientists continue to warn of the urgent need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a quartet of European and U.S. experts on Tuesday made a comprehensive case for why nuclear power should be not be considered a solution to the climate crisis.

“The central message, repeated again and again, that a new generation of nuclear will be clean, safe, smart and cheap, is fiction.”

While the experts recognize in their joint statement that “the climate is running hot,” they push back forcefully against those who argue nuclear could be a “partial response to the threat of global heating.”

With four signatories—Paul Dorfman, former secretary of the U.K. government’s Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters; Greg Jaczko, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Bernard Laponche, former director general of France’s energy management agency; and Wolfgang Renneberg, former head of the reactor safety, radiation protection, and nuclear waste at Germany’s environmental ministry—the statement comes as a direct challenge to a nuclear industry trying to bill itself as a reliable part of the world’s transition to a more sustainable energy system.

“As key experts who have worked on the frontline of the nuclear issue,” their statement explains, “we consider it our collective responsibility to comment on the main issue: Whether nuclear could play a significant role as a strategy against climate change.”

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The Long Term Perspectives of Nuclear Energy: Revisiting the Fermi Paradox

The Long Term Perspectives of Nuclear Energy: Revisiting the Fermi Paradox

This is a revisitation of a post that I published in 2011, with the title “The Hubbert hurdle: revisiting the Fermi Paradox Here, I am expanding the calculations of the previous post and emphasizing the relevance of the paradox on the availability of energy for planetary civilizations and, in particular on the possibility of developing controlled nuclear fusion. Of course, we can’t prove that nuclear fusion is impossible simply because we have not been invaded by aliens, so far. But these considerations give us a certain feeling on the orders of magnitude involved in the complex relationship between energy use and civilization. Despite the hype, nuclear energy of any kind may remain forever a marginal source of energy. (Above, an “Orion” spaceship, being pushed onward by the detonation of nuclear bombs at the back).
 

Post revised and readapted from “The Hubbert hurdle: revisiting the Fermi Paradox” — Published on “Cassandra’s Legacy” in May 2011
The discovery of thousands of extrasolar planets is revolutionizing our views of the universe. It seems clear that planets are common around stars and, with about 100 billion stars in our galaxy, organic life cannot be that rare. Of course, “organic life” doesn’t mean “intelligent life,” and the latter doesn’t mean “technologically advanced civilization.” But, with  so many planets, the galaxy may well be teeming with alien civilizations, some of them technologically as advanced as us, possibly much more.

The next step in this line of reasoning is called the “Fermi Paradox,” said to have been proposed for the first time by the physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1950s. It goes as, “if aliens exist, why aren’t they here?”…

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The Great Turning Point for Humankind: What if Nuclear Energy had not been Abandoned in the 1970s?

The Great Turning Point for Humankind: What if Nuclear Energy had not been Abandoned in the 1970s?

The Italian translation of Walt Disney’s book, “Our Friend, the Atom,” originally published in 1956. It was a powerful pitch of the nuclear industry to sell a completely new energy system to the world. It could have been a turning point for humankind, but it didn’t work: nuclear energy was abandoned in the 1960s-1970s. It was probably unavoidable: too many factors were staked against the nuclear industry. But we may wonder about what could have happened if it had been decided to pursue nuclear energy and abandon fossil energy. (In the background: a completely different concept, that of “holobionts,”)

 

 

I remember having read Walt Disney’s book, “Our Friend, the Atom,” (1957) in the 1960s when I was, maybe, 10 years old. That book left a powerful impression on me. Still today, when I visualize protons and electrons in my mind, I see them in the colors they were represented in the book: protons are red, electrons are blue or green. And I think that one of the reasons why I decided to study chemistry at the university was because of the fascinating images of the atomic structure I had seen in the book.More than 60 years after its publication, “Our Friend the Atom” remains a milestone in the history of nuclear energy. You can easily find on the Web the Disneyland TV episode from which the book was derived. It is still stunning today, as it was in the 1950s, in terms of imagery and sheer mastery of the art of presentation. The nuclear industry was in rapid expansion and it saw itself as able to grow more. Hence, a pitch for the “Atomic Age” that would have brought cheap and abundant energy for everyone, perhaps even energy that was “too cheap to meter.”

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US Experts to Trudeau: Your Nuclear Dream May Turn Nightmare

US Experts to Trudeau: Your Nuclear Dream May Turn Nightmare

Rethink backing the Moltex reactor, urge nine non-proliferation heavyweights.

A blue-ribbon group of American nuclear non-proliferation experts warns that Canada’s investment in new nuclear technology could lead to the spread of nuclear weapons and new threats to the environment.

“We write as U.S. non-proliferation experts and former government officials and advisors with related responsibilities to express our concern about your government’s financial support of Moltex — a startup company that proposes to reprocess CANDU spent fuel to recover its contained plutonium for use in molten-salt-cooled reactors.”

The warning came in the form of an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that was delivered on Tuesday and signed by the nine experts.

The group is spearheaded by Frank von Hippel, professor and senior research physicist at Princeton University; it includes Matthew Bunn, the Schlesinger professor of the practise of energy, national security, and foreign policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Thomas Countryman, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation.

“We understand your government’s motivation to support nuclear power and to reduce fossil fuel use but saving the world from climate disaster need not be in conflict with saving it from nuclear weapons. Also, like other reprocessing efforts, Moltex, even in the R&D stage, would create a costly legacy of contaminated facilities and radioactive waste streams, and require substantial additional government funding for cleanup and stabilization prior to disposal,” they wrote.

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Gen IV SMR nuclear reactors

Gen IV SMR nuclear reactors

Preface. Peak conventional oil, which supplies over 95% of our oil, may have peaked in 2008 (IEA 2018) or 2018 (EIA 2020). We are running out of time. And is it really worth building these small modular reactors (SMR) given that peak uranium is coming soon? And until nuclear waste disposal exists, they should be on hold, like in California and 13 other states.

And since trucks can’t run on electricity (When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation 2015, Springer), what’s the point? Nor can manufacturing be run on electricity or blue hydrogen (Friedmann 2019). Once oil declines, the cost to get uranium will skyrocket since oil is likely to be rationed to transportation, especially agriculture.

***

Cho A. 2020. Critics question whether novel reactor is ‘walk-away safe’. Science 369: 888-889

Engineers at NuScale Power believe they can revive the moribund U.S. nuclear industry by thinking small. Spun out of Oregon State University in 2007, the company is striving to win approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the design of a new factory-built, modular fission reactor meant to be smaller, safer, and cheaper than the gigawatt behemoths operating today (Science, 22 February 2019, p. 806). But even as that 4-year process culminates, reviewers have unearthed design problems, including one that critics say undermines NuScale’s claim that in an emergency, its small modular reactor (SMR) would shut itself down without operator intervention.

NuScale’s likely first customer, Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), has delayed plans to build a NuScale plant, which would include a dozen of the reactors, at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho National Laboratory. The $6.1 billion plant would now be completed by 2030, 3 years later than previously planned, says UAMPS spokesperson LaVarr Webb. The deal depends on DOE contributing $1.4 billion to the cost of the plant, he adds.

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In Promoting New Nuclear Power, Biden-Harris Back Fiction Over Science

In Promoting New Nuclear Power, Biden-Harris Back Fiction Over Science

Nuclear fuel assemblies being inspected before entering a pressurized water reactor in the United States – Public Domain

Although possibly a sad comment on his predecessors, incoming U.S. president, Joe Biden, is offering the most progressive climate policy so far of any who have previously held his position.

As Paul Gipe points out in his recent blog, the Biden-Harris climate plan uses the word “revolution” right in the headline — a bit of a departure from the usual cautious rhetoric of the centrist-controlled Democratic Party.

But ‘revolution’ is proceeded by two words which let us know we are still lingering in conservative ‘safe’ territory. They call it a “clean energy revolution”, which Gipe rightly refers to as “focus-group shopped terminology.” He goes on:

”Clean energy is a term forged by Madison Avenue advertising mavens in the crucible of focus groups. It ‘polls well,’ as they say. It means one thing to one interest group, something else to another. So it’s perfect for politics in America.

“To environmentalists, it means wind and solar energy, often only those two forms of renewable energy, and sometimes only solar. It also means good times to the coal and nuclear industry. (Ever hear of ‘clean coal’?)

“So clean energy is one of those misleading words that party leaders and, importantly, fundraisers can use to elicit money from donors of all stripes. Why say renewable energy, when you want to raise money from the coal and nuclear industries?”

The Biden-Harris energy plan hits all the right notes in its opening paragraphs, focusing on a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 and emphasizing infrastructure, international collaboration and the protection of poor communities of color, who suffer the most harm from unfettered polluters.

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Russia’s New Floating Nuclear Power Plant Begins Delivering Electricity To The Arctic

Russia’s New Floating Nuclear Power Plant Begins Delivering Electricity To The Arctic

On September 14, we reported that the world’s first ever floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, reached the port city of Pevek in Russia’s Chukotka after covering a distance of more than 4,700km from Murmansk.

Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant has two KLT-40S reactor units that collectively generate 70 MW of energy.

A year ago we noted video of the beginning of the ships’ voyage (from St.Petersburg to Murmansk)


A floating nuclear power plant made by Russia headed out for its first sea voyage on Saturday. The floating plant, the academic lomonosov will provide power for a port town and for oil rigs.


And now, as The Barents Observer reports that at 11 am Moscow Times on December 19th, the “Akademik Lomonosov” delivered its first electricity to the grid in Pevek, Arctic Russia.

As Thomas Nilsen reportssymbolically, given the season, the town’s Christmas tree was first to be lighted with electricity produced by the two reactors on board the plant that is moored in the port.

Additional to the town of Pevek, the grid includes the Chaun-Bilibino junction in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Rosatom informs.

“Today a historic event occurred, the first connection of the “generators of “Akademik Lomonosov” floating nuclear heat- and electricity nuclear power plant were connected to the grid,” Rosenergoatom Director General Andrey Petrov said.

He said Pevek is now the new energy capital of the region, “a stronghold for the development of western Chukotka and a key link for the Northern Sea Route.”

As we concluded previouslythe launch of the first ever floating nuclear power plant has become an important engineering breakthrough that will impact the energy sphere on a global scale. This technology, which could potentially provide safe and clean energy to a large part of the planet, could also be provided at an attractive price.

Bernie Sanders’ Plan to Phase out Nuclear Power Draws Attacks — Here’s Why They’re Wrong

Bernie Sanders’ Plan to Phase out Nuclear Power Draws Attacks — Here’s Why They’re Wrong

Nuclear power cooling towers

Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has released an ambitious climate proposal, one which champions of the status quo were quick to criticize. One line of attack, coming from many different sources, focuses on Sanders’ plan to phase out nuclear power, but the arguments, and who is behind them, deserve a closer look.

Sanders’ proposal refers to nuclear power as one of several “false solutions” to the climate crisis:

“To get to our goal of 100 percent sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”

The Washington Post editorial board quickly blasted Sanders’ plan to eliminate nuclear power: “Mr. Sanders also promises to make his plan unnecessarily expensive by ruling out a long-established source of carbon-free electricity: nuclear power.”

The New York Times quoted Joshua Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way, a think tank that describes itself as promoting “modern center-left ideas.”

“The Sanders plan appears to be big, but it’s not serious,” Freed said. “We need to have every option on the table.” Freed’s biography on the Third Way website makes clear that “advanced nuclear” is a top priority for the organization.


Bernie Sanders’s $16 Trillion Green New Deal is doomed to fail & impoverish millions. How do I know? For starters, I helped create the last one.

The only Green New Deals that have worked were done with nuclear, which Bernie’s would ban, not renewables https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/02/08/the-only-green-new-deals-that-have-ever-worked-were-done-with-nuclear-not-renewables/ …The Only Green New Deals That Have Ever Worked Were Done With Nuclear, Not RenewablesNo nation has decarbonized its electricity supply with solar and wind, while France and Sweden in the 1970s and 1980s built nuclear plants at the rate required to achieve the alleged climate goals of…forbes.com


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Nuclear Power Offers an Abundant Supply of Low-Carbon Energy. But What to Do With the Deadly Radioactive Waste?

NUCLEAR POWER OFFERS AN ABUNDANT SUPPLY OF LOW-CARBON ENERGY. BUT WHAT TO DO WITH THE DEADLY RADIOACTIVE WASTE?

The race is on to develop new strategies for permanently storing some of the most dangerous materials on the planet.

Intro image

Photo of Chernobyl confinement structure © iStockphoto.com/E_Kryzhanivskyi 

There’s a small red hammer and sickle flag of the old Soviet Union on my dresser at home. I found it years ago on the floor of a primary school in Pripyat, the town built for workers at the doomed Chernobyl nuclear plant in what is now Ukraine. Perhaps it had been waved by a child at a state occasion, or had been left behind in the rush to evacuate Pripyat after the world’s worst nuclear disaster in April 1986.

Less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) away, the stricken, crumbling Reactor No. 4 was one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Everything for miles around, from the mushrooms in the woods to the trucks left in the parking lots to the toys in the nursery and the hospital beds, was radioactive to some degree.

Even though a dosimeter showed that after being washed down, the little flag was barely more radioactive than normal background levels found in nature, it should have been packaged up and landfilled as low-level nuclear waste.

By contrast, Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 site will remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. In July 2019, 33 years after the explosion, 200 metric tons (220 tons) of uranium, plutonium, liquid fuel and irradiated dust was finally encased below an enormous 36,000-metric-ton (40,000-ton), €1.5 billion steel and concrete structure taller than the Statue of Liberty. The new sarcophagus will last about 100 years — after which it will deteriorate and future generations will have to decide how to dismantle and store it permanently.

The new sarcophagus covering Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 is expected to remain functional for a century. Graphic courtesy of Berria from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Click to enlarge.

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High Cost of Nukes Even Higher If Medical Expenses Included

High Cost of Nukes Even Higher If Medical Expenses Included

Nuclear reactor. Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Nuclear reactors are shutting in the U.S, and across the world. Reactors have always been dangerous, but over time they have also become more expensive than ever. A 2017 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates U.S. reactors lose $2.9 billion per year in operations overall. Eight American reactors have closed permanently since 2013, and most of the remaining 97 units are very old and costly.

Plans have already been made to shut more reactors in the next few years. Only two new reactors are under construction, and due to enormous delays and soaring costs, these may never open.

Natural gas, now the most common U.S. electricity source, is cheaper than nuclear – as are solar and wind power, now the fastest-growing sources of electricity. But nuclear power operators are not giving up just yet. Touting nuclear power as “emission-free” energy, they have used this lie to convince four state legislatures to include nuclear in laws that otherwise attempt to reduce carbon emissions. In these states, nuclear operators are allowed to raise electric bills (totals are in the billions), and more states may follow.

But the true costs of nuclear vs. other sources are not simply a matter of cost per kilowatt hour. Medical costs are a huge factor and must be added to the public discussion.

Nuclear reactors emit a mix of over 100 chemicals, each radioactive and cancer-causing. These chemicals do not exist in nature but are only found in operating reactors and exploded atom bombs. They can be stored as toxic waste – which must be kept from human contact for thousands of years. Some escapes from reactors and enters human bodies through breathing and the food chain.

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Open Energy 4: Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths

Open Energy 4: Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths

Don’t believe the spurious claims of nuclear shills constantly doing down renewables, writes Mark Diesendorf. Clean, safe renewable energy technologies have the potential to supply 100% of the world’s electricity needs – but the first hurdle is to refute the deliberately misleading myths designed to promote the politically powerful but ultimately doomed nuclear industry.

The strategies and tactics of RE deniers are very similar to those of climate science deniers.

To create uncertainty about the ability of RE to power an industrial society, they bombard decision-makers and the media with negative myths about RE and positive myths about nuclear energy, attempting to turn these myths into conventional wisdom.

The article Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths was published in The Ecologist in April 2016. The Ecologist describes itself as “The Journal for the Post-Industrial Age” which leaves me a little confused. Diesendorf appears to be promoting 100% renewable energy as the best option for the future of industrial society but promotes this image in a journal that represents the collapse of industrial society as we know it.

Perhaps I have grown a little sensitive, but I truly resent the use of the term “denier” to describe scientific skepticism.  The connotations with Holocaust Deniers makes this vile language to use.

But a part of what Diesendorf says is true. The tactics deployed by renewable energy skeptics and climate change skeptics are very similar. The common name for these tactics is science.

Let us take a quick look at some of the Myths that Diesendorf wants to dispel. In the spirit of Open Energy threads I am going to resist excessive commentary myself but invite commenters to deconstruct what Diesendorf says. He lists 15 Myths in all, I have only reproduced 5 of those below. Please feel free to reproduce more in the comments.

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Tomgram: Susan Southard, Against Forgetting

Tomgram: Susan Southard, Against Forgetting

As a young man, I was anything but atypical in having the Bomb (we capitalized it then) on my brain, and not just while I was ducking under my school desk as sirens howled their nuclear attack warnings outside. Like many people my age, I dreamed about the bomb, too. I could, in those nightmares, feel its searing heat, watch a mushroom cloud rise on a distant horizon, or find myself in some devastated landscape that I had never come close to experiencing (except in sci-fi novels).

And my dreams were nothing compared to those of America’s top strategists who, in secret National Security Council documents of the early 1950s, descended into the charnel house of future history, writing of the possibility that 100 atomic bombs, landing on targets in the United States, might kill or injure 22 million Americans. And they were pikers compared to the top military brass who, in 1960, in the country’s first Single Integrated Operational Plan for nuclear strategy, created a scenario for delivering more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would, if all went according to plan, cease to exist. Official estimates of possible casualties from such an attack ran to 285 million dead.

An American obsession with global annihilation undoubtedly peaked when President Kennedy came on the air on October 22, 1962, to tell us that Soviet missile sites were being prepared on the island of Cuba with “a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.” Listening to his address, Americans everywhere imagined a nuclear confrontation that might leave parts of the country in ruins. Such fears, however, began to fade when the Cuban Missile Crisis was defused.

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Who Killed the Small Modular Reactor Programme?

Who Killed the Small Modular Reactor Programme?

In his Autumn Statement of 2015, the then Chancellor, George Osborne made an announcement that surprised and enthused many; he announced that the UK was to spend up to £250 million on support to nuclear innovation, including a competition to spur the development of small modular reactors (SMRs), a novel approach to delivering nuclear generating capacity. This post describes how the UK Civil Service has killed this worthy initiative.

The announcement was greeted with an almost universally positive reaction – even the reliably anti-nuclear “Guardian” ran the story under the headline “George Osborne puts UK at the heart of global race for mini-nuclear reactors” [1].  Initially, progress appeared good – in particular, the response from the global nuclear industry was strong, with 38 organisations submitting responses to the call for competition.

However, since then, it has become apparent that the early momentum has dissipated, little substantive progress has been made in nearly three years.  It has now become clear that that there is no real possibility of a technology being taken into the nuclear certification process within timescales compatible meeting Osborne’s ambition.

What are small modular reactors, and what benefits might they bring?

Throughout the history of nuclear development, there has been an underlying assumption: that increases in unit size would bring economies of scale.  This logic has developed to the point that units of up to 1750MWe are now in operation, almost three times the size of the UK’s 1970s AGR units.  Increased size, however, brings challenges: larger units become harder to integrate operationally into anything but the largest grids, and if accompanied with increased complexity can make for extended and risky builds.

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Why Can’t Japan Kick Coal And Nuclear?

Why Can’t Japan Kick Coal And Nuclear?

Coal

Earlier this year we reported on a startling anomaly in the global energy market that even the experts couldn’t have predicted. Just one nation, alone against the greening tides, was turning back to coal–Japan. Now, half a year later, a newly released report shows that Japanese financial institutions have funneled US$92 billion into coal and nuclear development—a sum bigger than the gross domestic product of Sri Lanka – in the months between January 2013 and July 2018 alone.

Energy Finance in Japan 2018: Funding Climate Change and Nuclear Risk was commissioned by a climate change-focused non-government organization (NGO) called 350.org based in the United States. The study found that the Japanese finance industry gave US$80 billion in loans and underwriting services, the majority (50 percent) of which went straight to coal development, with the other half split between nuclear and other fossil fuel resource companies. The other US$12 billion went to bonds and shares in the same industries.

Among the 151 Japanese financial institutions analyzed in the Energy Finance in Japan 2018study, only 38 of them were not involved with coal or nuclear energy projects. A similar 350.org study from last year shows that Japanese insurance companies represent a large proportion of investors in domestic and international coal industries. Japan’s single biggest investor in coal for the five-year period studied was Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), followed by Nippon Life Insurance (NLI) and Nomura Holdings.

These numbers mark a stunning turnaround for Japan, which at one point was almost entirely dependent on nuclear, a far cleaner, more efficient energy source than coal. So why the about turn? There is actually a very clear source of Japan’s changing energy attitudes: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

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