Japan plans to spend $487 billion on renewable energy over the next 20 years as it phases out nuclear power by 2040, according to an energy policy announced Friday by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The energy policy is Japan's first since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown in 2011, which prompted Germany to abandon nuclear power as well. China and India are investing in renewable power to meet the demand created as swaths of the two most-populous countries move into the middle class.
"The Germans decided after Fukushima, 'we're done,'" said Joe Zwetolitz, president of Westinghouse Americas at Westinghouse Electric Co. in Cranberry. "They're the outliers. The speed with which they made that decision says to me that that was already in their minds before Fukushima."
The nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986, occurred after an earthquake-spawned tsunami knocked out the plant's backup generators and cut circulation of coolant to reactors. The disaster offered a selling point for Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor, which has a passive cooling system that uses gravity to run coolant, Zwetolitz said.
Despite Germany's decision, "Fukushima for the United States did not delay the renaissance" in nuclear energy, Zwetolitz said. Westinghouse is constructing the first four U.S. reactors in 30 years -- two at a South Carolina power plant, and two at a Georgia plant. China has 20 reactors under construction and 40 planned, Zwetolitz said.
The last time Americans endured a downturn as bad as this -- the Great Depression of the 1930s -- the discovery of an enormous oil field, nicknamed the Black Giant, brought a rush of people and tumultuous prosperity to a rural corner of East Texas.
In the dusty fields and low, rough-hewn hills of Western North Dakota, history is repeating.
Herb Nolan drove to Williston from Spokane, Wash., in early August, hoping to find work on a drilling rig. Pulling into town, he stopped at a gas station to fill up, and someone approached to ask if he needed a job.
"I was here, like, five minutes," said Nolan, 51. The man offered $750 a week to help erect grain bins on farms surrounding Williston. "I first told him no, but then I realized I was short on cash, so I said yes."
Eleven counties in the country had unemployment rates lower than 2.1 percent in July; 10 of them are in western North Dakota.
The census estimated Williston's population at 16,000 in 2011, up from less than 15,000 a year before. Add those who live in Williston but don't call it home -- oil field roughnecks, temporary laborers and new arrivals looking for work -- and there could be as many as 30,000 people in an area built for half that number.
Lines of semi trailers rumble to and from the town along congested Highway 2, against the backdrop of prairie. Miles of light-blue pipe lie in segments alongside roadways. Bare electrical towers crisscross fields, awaiting power cables.
"Right now, if you come into town, you can find a job very easily, but finding housing is very hard. Because supply and demand are nowhere near each other, if you can find an apartment -- and I'm talking a studio or one-bedroom apartment -- it could cost you $1,500 to $2,000," said Marci Seamples, director of the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce. She moved to the area in May from Naples, Fla.
"It's busting at the seams."
Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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