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Fires and Nuclear Shutdowns: Japan Quake Hits Energy Infrastructure

Early reports of devastation include problems at nuclear plants and oil refineries

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Fires and Nuclear Shutdowns: Japan Quake Hits Energy Infrastructure

fukushima

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

As news and images continue to roll in from the devastating earthquake that struck near northern Japan, issues at energy sites are among the acute problems being reported.

The 9.0-magnitude quake led to the government declaring an atomic power emergency immediately afterward; four nuclear plants were immediately shut down as a safety precaution. Operators were having trouble cooling the Fukushima I plant, and nearby residents were evacuated. There was not enough electricity available to pump cooling water through, but that situation is apparently under control with no real danger reported. At another nuclear plant, the Onagawa plant (pictured), a fire was quickly extinguished, again with no apparent major damage or danger.

Video taken from a helicopter and shown on CNN.com (and elsewhere) featured a large fire burning at an oil refinery near Tokyo, and it remains unclear if firefighters have been able to start fighting it yet.

These are obviously only among the first reports coming in since the quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time, and it seems clear that the casualties and property damage will be immense.

(Image via Getty Images)

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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