Many believed that the 11 March 2011 nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi complex was the death knell for worldwide interest in nuclear power.
That has not proven to be the case, but many countries have scaled back their nuclear efforts and Germany has abandoned it completely.
The central question for countries stepping away from reliance on nuclear power to generate electricity is that renewable energy alternatives such as solar and wind lack the capacity to generate power 24/7.
Now Belgium, whose own nuclear industry has experienced setbacks, is considering an innovative sea-based facility, the first to utilize wind produced electricity to generate power during times of little or no wind.
Prior to Fukushima, roughly 57 percent of Belgium's electricity, 45 billion kilowatt hours annually, was generated by the country’s seven nuclear power facilities, but since then the Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were off-lined after metallurgic flaws were discovered during scheduled maintenance. Two more reactors are scheduled to be taken out of service in 2015 and the Belgian government has decided to phase out nuclear power generation completely by 2025, earlier if enough energy from alternative sources becomes available.
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Johan Vande Lanotte, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, Consumer Affairs and North Sea during a recent meeting in Zeebrugge laid out a four point government Development Plan for marine areas. The most intriguing part of the presentation was when he stated that the government should designate a specific site for an offshore wind farm, with provisions, and that the government build a 25 foot high, circular doughnut-shaped artificial island two miles offshore to store electricity surpluses.
The concept behind Lanotte’s proposed Seawater Pumped Storage Power Plant is simple, utilizing gravitational potential to store energy, allowing the facility to act as a massive “battery” to store the wind power’s surplus electricity. At times of peak electricity output, water would be pumped into the island’s hole for storage, to be released to drive turbines when electricity from wind power dipped or was absent. The efficiency of this system is typically 70- 85 percent, making it one of the more efficient methods for storing energy.
Geography will impact the project. Belgium's North Sea coast is only 42 miles, and sits astride the English Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Belgian coastal shore is flat, with the country’s only mountainous region being its eastern Ardennes forest region, where the dense population and environmental concerns would eliminate the region as a viable location for energy storage.
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Belgium currently meets about four percent of its energy from wind power, but the European Wind Energy Association estimates that Belgium could expand its capacity to over 4,000 megawatts within seven years.
As for design expertise, Belgium can turn to – Japan, where the Okinawa Yanbaru Seawater Pumped Storage Power Plant has been generating electricity since March 1999, utilizing sea water rather than dammed freshwater from rivers.
The Seawater Pumped Storage Power Plant is estimated to take roughly five years to build and will be located off the coast near the village of Wenduine in the province of West Flanders. A not insubstantial undertaking the facility will be roughly two miles in diameter, enclosing a giant water reservoir occupying most of its territory.
So all that remains then is Brussels finding the Euros to construct the facility. Belgium is currently seeking potential members for a consortium and while no detailed project has been yet drawn up, the government estimates that its cost would be about the same as a wind farm.
All in all, despite start-up costs, seems a better environmental bet for a densely populated nation than aging reactors with metal fatigue.
By. John C.K. Daly