What if the $152 billion to clean up Fukushima were spent on geothermal instead?
Here's a crazy idea: why not use the enormous geothermal resource under Japan — which is after all sitting on a "ring" made of "fire" — as a source of nearly always-on baseload power?
I asked Alex Richter, an Icelandic financier of geothermal energy projects, how much geothermal energy $152 billion would buy. (That's the projected total cost of the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and doesn't even include the cost of building and maintaining it in the first place.)
Using a conservative scenario — namely the cost of geothermal power in the U.S., which is more expensive than, for example, Iceland — he estimates Japan could buy 33 gigawatts of geothermal power with $152 billion. (At a cost of $4.5 million per megawatt.)
That's 10 times as much power as the entire Fukushima Daiichi plant was producing when it was hit by the tsunami, and seven times as much as it could produce when it was running all-out.
Geothermal works a lot like a regular nuclear power plant, except the nuclear reactor powering it happens to be somewhere safe: The center of the Earth. (The Earth’s heat is generated by radioactive decay in its interior, for those of you who didn’t know.)
If you want an alternate history — what Japan's energy present could have looked like if only, you can to turn to Iceland, which produces the overwhelming majority of its primary energy with its native geothermal resource. Y'know, 'cause it's also an island nation sitting on top of a bunch of volcanoes.