On March 11th, 2011, a large earthquake caused a large tsunami in Japan, and the two historic events wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The power plant had six boiling water reactors of the kind used around the world in many nuclear power plants. Three of the six reactors suffered a meltdown, and containment structures meant to contain a meltdown were also breached. This is regarded as one of the worst nuclear disasters to ever happen, possibly the worst of all, though comparing major nuclear disasters to each other is hard for a number of reasons.
As you know if you are a regular reader of this blog, Ana Miller and I produced a number of updates no Fukushima, in which Ana’s studiously assembled list of sources was organized, assembled, and commented on. These “Fukushima Updates” together with a number of other posts on Fukushima can all be found HERE.
Yesterday I looked up how much the Fukushima disaster is likely to cost when the cleanup is all over. This is a very difficult number to estimate, but various sources put the cost at between 250 and 500 billion US dollars. For the present purposes, I’m going to assume that the actual cost will be at the higher end of the scale, and I’m going to take that money and do something else with it.
So, I’ve got 500 billion dollars and I want to spend it on non-carbon based non-nuclear energy production. What will that get me?
I’ve only done a few rough calculations, and I welcome you to correct or add or revise in the comments below. I am not an expert on this topic and I am easily confused. Please correct me in the comments but be nice about it I’m sensitive.
According to the good people at Blue Horizon Energy, which installs home solar panels and such, I can have a 625 square foot solar installation that would produce about 5000 W of power for about $20,000 dollars. Why would I want such a thing? Because I want to put it on the high school that is down the street from my house. Oh, I also want to put one on the middle school. And the strip mall where the grocery store is. I know this would be a bit more expensive, but I also want to put one or two over the parking lot at the strip mall, so cars underneath it would not get covered with snow but could hook up during the day to charge their batteries (for people with electric cars). And so on.
With the money to be spent ultimately on the Fukushima cleanup, I can install approximately 25 million of these things at current costs. I have a feeling, though, that I could get a discount. Also, if I was going to spend 500 billion buckaroos on solar, that itself would help drive down costs because costs of solar energy are dropping fast. I’m thinking I could probably squeeze 30 million units out of my budget.
There are about 100,000 public schools in the united states, a bit over that number if you count private schools. But I have 30 million units! There are about 30,000 towns and cities that probably have a city center, city hall, public works department, or some other building that a unit could go on. There are about 35,000 super markets. I’m going to make a guess and figure that if there are 30,000 supermarkets there must be at least 50,000 strip malls. There are probably several tens of thousands of parking structures, private or public. Imma guess 50,000 of those.
So far, then, we have over a quarter of a million places to put my solar panel arrays in a manner that would involve a reasonable level of management and negotiation, but we have 25 million arrays. OK, so maybe we’ll put more than one array on most of these structures. Maybe we can fit four on average, since some strip malls are large. Then we add big box stores that are not on strip malls. There’s almost 1,800 targets so there must be roughly the same number of Wall-marts. There are movie theaters and many other places with flat roofs where it would be fairly easy to install a big bunch of solar panels and still cover only part of the roof (fire departments do not like it when you cover the entire roof). And then, of course, there are farms. Lots and lots of farms with barns and other buildings on which a solar panel could be stores.
In the end, we can install 25,000,000 units that are worth 5000 Watts each. That is 125,000,000,000 W. I’m assuming that this is potential power and not realized capacity, which may be as low as 15%, but could be higher. Hell, let’s just say 20%. That’s 20 gW. Could that be right?
Putting it another way, we can install 16,250,000,000 square feet or 583 square miles of solar power.
Or maybe we should just use the money to build a smaller number of thermal solar installations like the IVANPAH project in California. There, they spent 2.2 billion dollars to develop solar power facilities that produce 392 MW (That’s a bit smaller than a single reactor of the type found at Fukushima). With 500 billion dollars, we could produce over 225 of these plants, which in turn would produce over 89,000 MW of power. That’s like building over 170 new nuclear reactors (distributed among a smaller number of plants, presumably). There are currently about 435 nuclear plants making energy around the world and in a few years that number will rise to about 500. Many of them have multiple reactors. Let’s assume for a moment that there are an average of four reactors per plant, so my 170 new reactors is equal to about 10% of the installed nuclear power base.
So, one way to look at it is this: The cost of Fukushima’s cleanup is equal to about 10% of the existing nuclear power industry’s energy production capacity. Looking it another way, we can retrofit every school district, municipality, parking garage, and farm with enough solar energy to make a big dent in their daily use of energy.
What would you do with the money?
Happy Anniversary Fukushima. Also, thank you Ana for all your work on the Fukushima feed.