I’ve often made the case that even in the face of the Fukushima disaster, Japan is likely to ease back into nuclear.
But these days, I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong; on a global scale, it is clear that nuclear power expansion is well under way, particularly in China, India, and Saudi Arabia. In fact, over the next 10 to 20 years, I suspect there will be a lot of money to be made in the nuclear space — as long as you focus on regions that are actively embracing nuclear, and not ignoring or running from it.
In other words, forget the United States (in the near term) and put Japan out of your mind.
Fukushima is really the gift that keeps on giving.
From day one, reporting of the Fukushima crisis has been riddled with lies and misinformation from both pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear zealots. As a result, it’s hard to get an accurate read on public perception.
But those who support firing up those nuclear plants in Japan again were dealt yet another blow a couple of weeks ago after an AP report revealed the frail Dai-ichi power plant has been struggling to maintain its staff…
According to the report, keeping the power plant in stable condition requires thousands of workers. But the plant’s operator is struggling to find enough workers to do the job, thereby setting a potentially disturbing trend that could worsen and slow progress.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that it’s going to take more than 40 years to decommission the plant, a labor shortage could make it even more difficult for officials to put a lid on that Pandora’s box.
Here are a few highlights from the report:
- Some Fukushima veterans are quitting as their cumulative radiation exposure approaches levels risky to health, said two long-time Fukushima nuclear workers. They requested anonymity because their speaking to the media is a breach of their employers’ policy; they say being publicly identified will get them fired.
- Experts, including even the most optimistic government officials, say decommissioning Fukushima Dai-ichi will take nearly a half-century. TEPCO acknowledges the exact path to decommissioning remains unclear because an assessment of the state of the melted reactor cores has not yet been carried out.
- Since being brought under control following the disaster, the plant has suffered one setback after another. The process of permanently shutting down the plant hasn’t gotten started yet, and the work up to now has been one makeshift measure after another to keep the reactors from deteriorating.
- A Fukushima Dai-ichi worker who has gained a big following on Twitter because of his updates about the state of the plant since the meltdowns said veteran workers are quitting or forced to cut back on working in highly-radiated areas of the plant as their cumulative exposure rises.
- During the first quarter of this year, only 321 jobs got filled from 2,124 openings in decontamination, which involves scraping soil, gathering foliage, and scrubbing walls to bring down radiation levels.
A Bit of Optimism
Of course, it’s not all bad news…
Although the United States has no shot at getting serious about nuclear expansion in the near term, the nuclear industry was given a gift last month after three reactors went back online. With the reactivation of reactors in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland, nuclear power generation in the U.S. rose 0.9%, thereby taking nationwide production capacity up to 83%.
Some were simply shut down for refueling and maintenance purposes, although Calvert Cliffs in Maryland tripped offline due to an equipment failure.
In any event, for those bullish on nuclear in the U.S. even this small bit of optimism is much needed for an industry otherwise pushed to the back of the line because of dirt-cheap natural gas, public opinion, and prohibitive cost restraints.
But for the sake of locking in the energy plays that’ll give you the most bang for your buck in the United States — and with the least amount of risk — you’re much better off sticking with natural gas and solar. Without a doubt, these are the two energy sectors that continue to crush it.
To a new way of life and a new generation of wealth…
Jeff is the founder and managing editor of Green Chip Stocks. For more on Jeff, go to his editor’s page.
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