Australian news, and some related international items

The Ghosts Of Fukushima & Japan’s Nuclear Turnaround

TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 14: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s office on July 14, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. Kishida announces the countermeasures of recently surging COVID-19 cases, resumption of nuclear power plants to deal with energy crisis and state funeral of assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Sep 7, 2022,

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s announcement that Japan was going to revive nuclear power and invest in it as a solution to Japan’s energy woes, came as a 180 degree policy reversal after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. Kishida and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are investing a lot of political capital and their long-term industrial policy commitment in nuclear energy.

With Japan facing summer blackouts, and Russian gas supply in question after Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine politicizing natural gas exports, the Japanese government announced it was approving 33 nuclear projects for operation. 10 nuclear plants have already been restarted, with 7 more planned for Spring 2023 revival. These plants are spread in the Fukui, Miyagi, Shimane, Niigata, and Ibaraki prefectures and some are still pending local and safety approval. In addition, the Kishida administration is looking into increasing the lifespan of nuclear plants from 40 to 60 years. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings which accounts for 24.8% of Japan’s existing nuclear capacity is aiming to restart 2 of the 7 reactors for 2023 in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

The Japanese private sector, energy markets, and economy are ecstatic at the news. Japan’s three nuclear power plant general contractors: Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Hitachi have been developing nuclear technology including next-generation projects, small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), and nuclear reactor parts. Fusion energy is also on the horizon but not ready for commercial exploitation.

Other companies running and producing parts for nuclear plants include IHI Corporation, Kansai Electric Power, and Chubu Electric Power. Following the announcement of nuclear plant revivals, the share values of nuclear companies in Japan shot up and energy prices and futures stabilized. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHVYF) has been working with state-owned Japan Nuclear Fuel on the Rokkasho plant had its shares increase by 6.9%. IHI Corporation’s shares rose by 5.4%, and Hitachi’s climbed 1.9%. For the utilities sector, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings’ (TEPCO) share values increased by 10%, Kansai Electric’s 2.9% and Chubu Electric Power’s by 1.3%.

If any country has the “right” to fear nuclear power, it would be Japan. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster only solidified a long-running anti-nuclear Zeitgeist in Japanese society stemming back to the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the pacifism engrained in Japan’s constitution via Article 9 which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes. So, why, and how, has Japan embarked upon such a drastic policy U-turn when many others, such as Germany, are wavering?

One would think that amid soaring energy prices and blackouts, the news of nuclear energy revival would result in a surge of popularity for the LDP, but instead it is facing mixed responses. Only a few weeks ago the LDP felt compelled to announce they had no plans to build new reactors even as the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) was drafting technology for nuclear plants . Even though the Japanese public is increasingly aware of its energy predicament, public support for building new nuclear reactors and replacing aging units only has a 34% approval rate and a 58% opposition rate. The Kishida administration may see the effects of ignoring public opposition to nuclear in the upcoming local elections. It clearly needs a powerful public information campaign to explain why Japan needs nuclear power.

Nevertheless, Kishida and the LDP are determined to bring the public to its side before the next general elections and show the benefits of their nuclear vision. They should recognize Japan’s structural weaknesses caused by the island’s dependency on imports for industrial inputs, geographic position requiring imports of fossil fuel from thousands of miles away, dependence on the historic foe Russia, the difficulty of employing renewables in Japan. Kishida-san would need to explain that all this is making nuclear a good choice for Japan.

Protesters stage a rally against the restart of a nuclear reactor, near Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office in Tokyo, Friday, July 6, 2012. A nuclear reactor in western Japan begun generating electricity, Thursday July 5, in the first restart since last year’s tsunami led to a nationwide nuclear power plant shutdown. The banner reads: “Against the restart of a reactor.”

Why can Japan make this embrace, against immediate public concerns, when so many other countries cannot? The most important component is long-term strategic thinking wherein political elites are willing to bear short-term political costs for future gains rather than weaponizing energy politics for partisan food fights as it is the case in Germany and elsewhere. Also vital is the public trust the Japanese Agency for Natural Resources and Energy enjoys, being under the auspices of Japan’s hallowed Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Japanese bureaucrats are capable of generating energy policy cognizant of national security demands and private sector capabilities. Flexible zoning laws which allow for dense urban-integrated energy infrastructure is also vital as this preempts NIMBYism and land-use problems found with many other energy projects. Lastly, the non-partisan nature of energy policy in Japan, where no political party clings to a specific energy initiative, is something to emulate in Berlin and elsewhere.

If densely populated, earthquake-prone Japan can step into a nuclear future, there is no excuse for the rest of the world. U.S., Germany, and others should learn from Japan on how to exorcise our own, far less rational, nuclear demons.–japans-nuclear-turnaround/?sh=3bf1a8d15b41

September 12, 2022 Posted by | Fukushima, Fukushima 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

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 | , , | Leave a comment