From Volume 38, Issue 15 of EIR Online, Published Apr. 15, 2011

Global Economic News

To Kill Nuclear Energy, Does Not 'Pay Off'

April 6 (EIRNS)—The Federal Grid Agency in Germany announced yesterday that the shutdown of eight nuclear power plants for a so-called moratorium, in the wake of the March 11 Japan earthquake, has created a situation in which Germany has become a net energy importer. At the beginning of March, Germany was exporting on average about 3,500 MW/h per day to neighboring EU countries. Since March 17, when the "old" nuclear plants were taken offline, an average of 2,500 MW/h per day has been imported—mostly from France and the Czech Republic—both nuclear producers. According to the fantasies of the director of the Federal Net Agency, Germany's supply is safe, even if the plants were to be shut down for a longer period. He had to admit, however, that the producers are using the grid "more than usual at the limit of capacity." Also, "moderate price increases" for electricity were already announced.

In the Face of Disaster, 'Alternative Power' Is Useless

April 4 (EIRNS)—Many conservative Americans are being sold on solar power and other alternative forms of energy as a means of being "free from the grid" and being prepared in the event of a disaster. A similar approach has been used in Japan, except there, a home fuel-cell system is also being pushed. Well, with a true disaster how are these Green alternatives working? They're not.

In the areas most directly hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there is still no power at all, except what is brought in by emergency generating equipment, and in an area around that the power is being incrementally restored. But the power problem is much, much larger.

There is a massive shortfall in power generation capacity for Japan as a whole. Not only are there the four damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, which are not producing power, but there are six other nuclear plants that were automatically shut down by the March 11 quake, and four other unaffected reactors in far points of Japan that were closed for maintenance, and which have not been restarted for "safety" (read: public relations) reasons. A similar number of coal-fired electric plants with a similar capacity are closed, along with six oil-burning plants.

There are still rolling three-hour blackouts in much of central Japan, including in Tokyo and in the damaged Northeast (although power isn't being cut to either the Tokyo Central Business District or the most damaged regions that have a functioning grid.) Strict power saving measures are in effect to reduce industrial, and commercial consumption of electric power. Most of the "knock-on" effects on the quake on the world economy, such as the closing of auto plants in North America and Europe, and the shortage of electronic components, are directly or indirectly a result of the Japanese electric power shortfalls.

These power shortages are driving home to many the known, but completely underplayed realities of "alternative power generation" in real-life conditions. According to a report in the daily Yomiuri Shimbun, "Companies offering these power generation systems say they have received many inquiries from consumers as to whether the systems could be used during a power outage.

"But they said fuel cells need a motor that is powered by an ordinary power supply. Fuel cells therefore cannot be used at the time of a power outage. Solar power generation, meanwhile, is ineffective, as it generates only a small amount of power.

"Since these systems were developed as energy-saving devices, users cannot expect them to make up a household's full power load during a blackout.... The gas company also warns that such devices could be damaged if a blackout occurs while a fuel cell is in use. The company has urged users to turn off their fuel cells before a scheduled power outage begins.

"Many households installed solar panels so they could sell home-generated electricity to power companies in return for lower electricity bills. But this power generation system is not designed to supply power inside the home at the time of a blackout. For the system to be used for home appliances, it needs to be connected through a distribution board usually installed outside the home [greatly increasing the cost of the system]. The system's power generation capacity also is small. Clear skies would enable the system to supply power to some models of refrigerator, but it is considered difficult to run an air conditioner on home solar panels alone."

Japanese firms, by and large, never had "alternative energy" facilities, given that simple engineering calculations indicate their total uselessness. A number of Japanese steel mills, requiring large amounts of electric power, do have in-house, large-scale conventional power-generating facilities, which allowed them to bypass power transmission losses. These facilities are being to used to supplement Tepco's own reduced capacities.

Cassava: Into the Jaws of Biofuels

April 7 (EIRNS)—Among the latest trends of killer biofuels insanity, is that an increasing volume of the root crop cassava—a key part of the food chain for millions of people—is going for ethanol, in particular in China.

This tuber, not highly nutritious, has the benefit of being able to grow in many inferior soils and conditions. Its use in the food chain includes tapioca, various forms of starch, livestock feed, and, for over 200 million people in Africa, the daily diet staple, as it is in places in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Half of the world's harvest of cassava is in Africa.

But among other features of the last few decades of globalization, is that cassava chips from Thailand went into world trade, especially to Europe, for livestock feed—a degradation of the food-production system of both Indochina and Europe, where farmers could well have produced sufficient animal fodder domestically. Thailand became the world's biggest cassava chip exporter.

Now Thailand's cassava chip exports are going almost exclusively to China, mostly for biofuels. Thai cassava exports have grown almost fourfold in the last few years, and in 2010, 98% of it went to China, almost entirely for ethanol.

In Africa five years ago, a Pan-African Cassava Initiative was launched by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), not just for improving the cassava crop for food, but for potential for biofuels. Brazil, the single biggest national producer of cassava, uses the root, as well as sugar cane, for ethanol.

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