Japanese meltdown highlights energy dilemma as peak oil enters hot phase

In a frightening coincidence Fukushima reactors face – in the best case scenario – years of decommissioning while Saudi troops enter Bahrain, marking the start of fights between Shia and Sunni over Saudi Arabia’s oil. A beneficiary of the situation will be Iran. At the same time, continuing battles in Libya mean that foreign oil workers will not return there soon. There is also unrest and /or protests in other oil exporting countries like Yemen and even Oman. Above-ground factors are now likely to overwhelm the oil-geological peaking which started in 2005. Welcome to year #7 of peak oil.



Germany has now responded to the Japanese nuclear crisis by suspending its extension plan of aging nuclear plants built in the 70s. The 2 oldest plants  (out of 17) which were supposed to go off the grid in the next 3 months are now likely to close after all.

As we struggle to understand the human tragedy behind the tsunami the Japanese nuclear emergency highlights several problems we now need to solve:

  1. Japan faces immediate power shortages. The government has asked the population to save electricity. We have to closely watch how Japan deals with this situation as we can learn from their experience.
  2. The decommissioning of aging nuclear power plants in several countries will raise the question how that energy will be replaced. Given the 10 year limit NASA climatologist James Hansen has given coal there can be no medium or long term return to coal as a primary source of energy
  3. The resulting power shortages give us an indication of future shortages when the global warming tsunami will force us to shut down coal fired power plants
  4. The risk analysis for the Fukushima nuclear power plants was obviously flawed as it was foreseeable that a tsunami would flood vital parts of the cooling system including the back-up generators.
  5. In the same way, we have no proper risk analysis for peak oil in general nor for oil vulnerable projects in particular. It is foreseeable that there will be more oil price shocks and even fuel shortages.
  6. The world faces not only a liquids crisis but also an electricity crisis
  7. The double whammy of tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan will have yet unknown flow-on impacts on the world economy, the financial system and the insurance industry, putting in doubt current toll-way projects. Moreover, our ability to finance projects to respond to peak oil could have been reduced without us noticing it now

We can already draw following conclusions:

  • Immediate moratorium on new toll-ways, freeways airport extensions and other oil dependent mega projects
  • Emergency plans have now to be prepared for a double whammy of a liquid and electricity crisis
  • Do not add new energy hungry developments like skyscrapers and air-conditioned shopping centres. Example in Sydney: that absolutely unnecessary Barangaroo project with an international hotel
  • Electric cars which would substantially add to power demand will not be an option to solve the problem of peak oil
  • The oil geological process of global crude oil peaking which started in 2005 will from now on be overshadowed, if not obscured, by “above-ground factors” like ethnic unrest, civil wars and other armed conflicts.
  • We are critically running out of time to get away from oil which can only be done by converting our truck/bus/loco fleet to CNG/LNG and by developing electric freight and passenger transport. Given future power shortages these also need to be energy frugal, which excludes very fast trains.

Links and further reading:


(a) How black is the Japanese Nuclear Swan?

Author Ilargi did a master thesis on nuclear safety at the University of Coventry, UK

“Japan is a sophisticated country with a long history of nuclear power, and also a long history of seismic activity. One could argue that this is Japan’s Hurricane Katrina moment, in that a predictable scenario was not adequately prepared for in advance despite the potential for very severe consequences.” (more…)

(b) Nuclear power plants and Earthquakes

Article adapted from an information paper published by the World nuclear Association in December 2009


Even for a nuclear plant situated very close to sea level, the robust sealed containment structure around the reactor itself would prevent any damage to the nuclear part from a tsunami, though other parts of the plant might be damaged. No radiological hazard would be likely.” (more…)

This means a risk analysis for what might happen when “other parts” are damaged was not done properly

(c) Japan disaster: Germany halts nuclear extension plan

“Germany has responded to the Japanese nuclear crisis by suspending for three months a plan to extend the lives of its ageing nuclear power stations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government announced last year that the country’s 17 power stations would close around 12 years later than planned.

The government has faced growing calls for the extension to be scrapped.

The two oldest plants that had been due to shut in the next three months are now likely to be closed after all.” (more…)

(d) Images before and after the tsunami

Fast forward sea level rises plus James Hansen’s storms of my grandchildren. (more…)

(e) Will Japanese earthquake be the straw that breaks Europe’s Back?


(f)    Gulf States send forces to Bahrain following protests

“Troops from a number of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have arrived in Bahrain at the request of the kingdom, officials say.” (more…)

Saudi tanks prepare to enter Bahrain


(g) Neon City goes dim as power shortages threatens traffic lights and telephones in Tokyo

“THE neon city is dim and flickering as power rationing threatens traffic lights, telephones and medical clinics.

Residents of Japan’s bustling capital are getting used to a life without luxuries as the shock of the earthquake and tsunami disaster extends to Tokyo.

A power shortage sparked by the disaster has led to electricity rationing, train cancellations, closed offices and food shortages.” (more…)