Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What to Expect from Japan's Nuclear Fleet and 2011 in Context

A late Happy New Years to all our readers! And the new year, of course, means we have new exciting full sets of data for 2011!

The EIA hosts a useful online data browser for international energy statistics. However, if one was interested in the nuclear electric generation in Japan, for instance, they would find the data only goes through the year 2009. Although that is still decent, it certainly won't give up-to-date information about how the 3/11/2011 earthquake-tsunami event off Japan's Tohoku coast affected the energy market. For that, I have turned to statistics from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC). It was just last week, 1/17, that they released the data for December 2011, wrapping up the year. As pdf files, it wasn't the most convenient format to work with, but it's the only place I know to find this. I couldn't resist plotting this data to compare what the nuclear generation in 2011 versus 2010 (as a reference) was. Here is what I found:

What is this graph showing? The Earthquake automatically tripped a number of reactors, so there was a instantaneous decrease in generation at that second, so for the month of March 2011 the time before the earthquake averages with the time after the earthquake to give a number in-between what you would have if the fleet was running normally versus when crippled by the earthquake. One would expect the number for April would be a better representation of the generating capability of the post-earthquake fleet.

A funny thing happens after April 2011. The generation from nuclear in Japan continues to decline almost every month. This is the political and regulatory backlash from the event. Reactors that were not immediately affected were shut down due to safety concerns. Others had trouble getting approval to restart after scheduled outages. By December, the total generation is at a disturbingly low level. Just for a sanity check, the reported capacity factor for Dec 2011 is just 15.2%, and this is excluding the Fukushima plants.

How does this compare to past troubles Japan's nuclear industry has faced? And what are reasonable expectations for the future? Glad you asked. Firstly, I'm going to explain how I made up a guesstimate for future generation. I made up 3 different values.
  • For 2012, I multiplied the average of Oct, Nov, and Dec 2011 by 12 (months per year). This is how much energy the fleet with produce in 2012 if they continue at the same performance as the end of 2011.
  • For 2014 and beyond I took the generation in April 2011 (see my prior arguments) and multiplied that by 12 (mo/year).
  • For 2013 I just made up a number.
I believe that these give the most reasonable baseline to use for comparison purposes right now. The ex-Fukushima capacity factor of the total fleet in April 2011 was about 70%. Is it reasonable to expect that they will perform better than that in 2015? That's certainly a loaded question, but I don't think so. I also don't think it's reasonable to give much credit for new builds. We could see significant new capacity addition, but we could also see the number go to a flat 0.0 starting in 2013.

For this graph, keep in mind that my number for 2011 includes the first 2 months and 10 days when everything was working normally. Because of that, I didn't find it representative to stop with that year. Let me address each of the historical dips in this graph so we can look at the current state of affairs in context.
  • Chernobyl - This event obviously did not happen in Japan but it obviously affected their safety regulations and the nuclear plants (even though in the middle of a growth period) saw reduced availability as a result.
  • TEPCO Scandals - Around 2003 there were numerous data fabrication scandals by TEPCO coming to light. Before 2011, this was one of the most costly events in the worldwide nuclear industry. You can see that the event was more gradual than abrupt, contrary to the natural disasters. It takes time for investigations to proceed and the regulator starts with incomplete information.
  • Kashiwazaki-Kariwa earthquake - This was a major event impacting the largest nuclear plant in the world owned by TEPCO. Record breaking shaking occurred in many of the buildings on site, up to 20 m/s^2 in one turbine hall. The severity of the earthquake exceeded design specs by a large margin, although the reactors safely shut down. Because this kicked up new concerns about seismic safety, the plants were completely out of commission in 2008 and slowly began starting back up in 2009.
  • 2011 Tohoku Earthquake-Tsunami event - Obviously the greatest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, this was domestic to Japan. Similar to the K-K earthquake, it was found that a natural disaster far exceeding the design specifications not only posed a risk, but actually caused a full scale nuclear disaster. Similar to the anatomy of prior scandals and regulatory revisions, however, plants all over the nation were gradually shut down over safety concerns. This event, no doubt, caused more loss of capacity than all other events combined and today even threatens to bring Japan's entire nuclear fleet to a halt if the recent months are any indication.

What has made up for this shut down of nuclear plants? Fossil fuels exclusively. Hydroelectric or any renewables don't have the ability to adjust. Well, we need to mention that demand reduction was also a large factor.

Japan's Generation (TW-h) by all Fuel Type
(only large utilities) for 2010 and 2011

One would imagine that this could have an impact on Japan's economy. I am very interested to know myself. The fact that fossil fuel imports to Japan have increased and will stay high is obvious. The impact on the Uranium market also can't be understated.

Topic for my Next Post

Also with the year of the Dragon, we have a new EIA Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) draft for 2012! What are the predictions? Increasing nuclear production, explosive growth in shale natural gas production, and after decades of failed promises we finally start decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. Starting now. How is this possible? I don't know myself.

I'll take a shot at what's predicted and set my own reasonable expectations for nuclear generation in the United States, somewhat like I've done for Japan here.

Extra Links

Here are some thing I ran across after the fact:
Summary of these two: Japan is now importing much more fossil fuels. Again, not surprising.