Australian news, and some related international items

Professor of Ryukoku University, angry at the Prime Minister’s reference to “new nuclear power plants.

Professor Kenichi Oshima of Ryukoku University (Courtesy of Professor Kenichi Oshima)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has mentioned the construction of “new nuclear power plants” for the next generation, which has been kept under wraps by successive administrations since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in 2011. This is a move in anticipation of soaring resource prices due to the crisis in Ukraine and other factors, as well as the “carbon neutrality” goal of virtually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, which the government has declared it aims to achieve in 50 years. We asked Kenichi Oshima, professor of environmental economics at Ryukoku University, who has critically examined the nation’s nuclear power policy, especially from the perspective of costs.

Sudden Change of Policy

 –The government’s recent reference to the consideration of new nuclear power plants marks a turning point in its nuclear policy.

◆ Even former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who built a long and stable government based on the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident that resulted in a huge “negative legacy” over issues such as compensation and decommissioning, did not mention new nuclear power plants while in office. Prime Minister Kishida’s latest statement represents a significant change in policy.
 –The Liberal Democratic Party and New Kōmeitō did not mention the new nuclear power plant in the Upper House election to be held in July. The statement was made suddenly at the Green Transformation (GX) Executive Council, a government meeting aimed at realizing a decarbonized society.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who attended the GX Executive Conference online, presented his policy for considering new nuclear power plant construction. On the left is Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

◆ The GX campaign pledges did not include the issue, and the Basic Energy Plan, the medium- to long-term national energy policy that was just revised last fall after nearly a year of discussions at a panel of experts, also avoids mention of new nuclear power plant construction. Nevertheless, it is too violent to suddenly overturn the existing policy at another government meeting. It does not seem as if sufficient consideration has been given to the issue. I think it is very shortsighted to consider building new power plants “because there is a shortage of electricity” due to the crisis in Ukraine and other factors.

Contribution to decarbonization “limited”

 –How long will it take for new nuclear power plants to come on line?

◆ Nuclear power plants take 10 to 20 years to build, 40 to 60 years to operate, and another 30 years or so to decommission. If we decide to build new nuclear power plants now, our actions will be tied up for the next 100 to 150 years. If we make a decision to build new nuclear power plants based on current resource prices, which fluctuate in the short term, we risk narrowing other options, such as renewable energy. Nuclear power plants have the advantage of producing no carbon dioxide (CO2) when generating electricity, but it will take a long time before they are operational, and their contribution to 50-year carbon neutrality and decarbonization will be limited.

 -Involved in accelerating the use of nuclear power plants, the GX Executive Council’s government document also includes a consideration of “business environment improvement.

◆ The theory is that “it will be difficult for electric power companies to recover the huge initial investment in new nuclear power plants on their own, so it will be necessary to ‘improve the business environment. In essence, this means a government subsidy program for electric power companies. This is the same system that pro-nuclear LDP lawmakers had been calling for before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011. It is a rehash of the same request.

 In effect, only the major nuclear power companies will be subject to the environmental improvement program. New power companies will not receive support, further widening the gap in the power industry. This could distort the electricity market, which has been fully liberalized since the Fukushima nuclear accident. It has already been half a century since Japan introduced nuclear power. If it still cannot “stand on its own,” it is proof that nuclear power is inferior as a major power source.

New and additional nuclear power plants must be discussed carefully

 –The industry has been calling for the construction of new nuclear power plants. The crisis in Ukraine has caused the price of natural gas and other fossil fuels to skyrocket, and the supply and demand of electricity is tight.

Unit 1 of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. More than 10 years after the accident, there is still no roadmap to decommissioning the plant.

◆ In order for Japan to continue to grow, it is necessary to shift to an industrial and economic structure centered on renewable energy. While Europe, hit hard by the Ukraine crisis, is increasing its investment in nuclear power plants, the main investment for decarbonization and de-dependence on Russia must be in renewable energy. The more the Japanese government works to prolong the life of the nuclear industry, the more it will hurt the Japanese economy in the long run.

 Even if there is a possibility of a tight power supply and demand situation in Japan, it will only be serious during peak demand periods. Nuclear power plants are “baseload power sources” that generate electricity all the time, so they cannot contribute to flexible responses such as increasing power generation only during peak periods. While promoting the operation of nuclear power plants will accelerate the consolidation of thermal power generation, which is currently the base-load power source, it will not lead to an increase in the supply of electricity in times of emergency.

 Nuclear power plants still face the risk of accidents such as the one that occurred in Fukushima and the problem of how to dispose of radioactive waste. The Kishida administration should carefully discuss the construction of new nuclear power plants, rather than looking only at what is convenient. Interviewer: Daisuke Oka

September 12, 2022 - Posted by | Fukushima, Fukushima 2022 | , ,

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