Ten months ago the antinuclear Bulletin of Atomic Scientists posted a report entitled “The myth of renewable energy” (11/22/2011). While numerous blog-sites reported on the Bulletin posting, there is no coverage to be found in Japan’s popular Press. With the current love affair the Japanese Press has concerning a shift to renewable electricity sources, it seems they have intentionally ignored the Bulletin’s realistic assessment of renewables. Why?
The Bulletin report identifies the impossibly massive volume of materials needed to make the world’s electricity needs entirely “renewable” by 2030. One astonishing statement summarizes the folly of making the world renewable; “Renewable energy sounds so much more natural and believable than a perpetual-motion machine, but there’s one big problem: Unless you’re planning to live without electricity and motorized transportation, you need more than just wind, water, sunlight, and plants for energy. You need raw materials, real estate, and other things that will run out one day. You need stuff that has to be mined, drilled, transported, and bulldozed — not simply harvested or farmed. You need non-renewable resources [to make it happen].”
The Bulletin looks at three of the major renewables available in the world – solar, geothermal, and wind – with respect to the amount of construction materials that would be needed. They also identify the major geophysical drawbacks in the use of biomass and hydro. With respect to wind, they point out that a single two-megawatt wind turbine needs a copious amount of two important rare earths – 800 lbs. of Neodymium and 130 lbs. of Dysprosium. They are entitled “rare earths” because there are relatively little of them to be found on earth, the deposits are “scattered” and few locations are easy to access. If the entire world went “wind” by 2030, 7.6 million two-megawatt wind mills would have to be built. The Bulletin says “That’s a heckuva lot of neodymium.” They add that it would take 720,000 wave generators, 1.7 billion solar-voltaic units, 5,350 geothermal plants, 900 hydroelectric, or 49,000 concentrated solar power systems to do the same thing.
The Bulletin then explains, “Unfortunately, ‘renewable energy’ is a meaningless term with no established standards. Like an emperor parading around without clothes, it gets a free pass, because nobody dares to confront an inconvenient truth: None of our current energy technologies are truly renewable, at least not in the way they are currently being deployed.” This seems to be the bottom line of the report – belief that renewables can be easily and cheaply used to power the world is a myth.
Why didn’t the Japanese press share this revealing Bulletin report with their readers? They dutifully tell Japan everything antinuclear the Bulletin posts. It is unlikely the Japanese Press “missed it”. Here’s the rub. In general, the Japanese public suffers under the mortal fears of nuclear energy (the Hiroshima Syndrome) and radiation itself (radiophobia). A majority of the people want nuclear energy completely abandoned and replaced with renewables. Public opinion seems to be more important than anything else, especially with the Japanese Press. But the truth about the immense undertaking of replacing all nukes with renewables has received only cursory mention by the news media. All Japanese antinuclear voices make it sound as if shifting to renewables will be easy and affordable, and the Press broadcasts these pie-in-the-sky statements continually. The Bulletin report would have terrific impact on the debate, especially since the report itself comes from one of the world’s foremost antinuclear voices. Deplorably, the Japanese Press has decided to keep their readers ignorant of the truth about renewables, in order to conform to public opinion. Challenging public opinion is bad for news media business. But in this case it potentially inflicts colossal injury on Japan. Their economy has circled the drain ever since 3/11/11 due to the tsunami recovery, naïve radiation fears and confusion between reactors and bombs. The cost of replacing nukes with renewables will be staggering, possibly bringing the nation to its economic tipping point. Not telling Japan of the risks concerning such a colossal shift is unforgivable.