Friday, December 06, 2013

Japan: The strongest signal yet on nuclear energy

News from Japan:

Japan should continue to use nuclear power as a key energy source despite the Fukushima power plant disaster, a government panel said on Friday in a reversal of a phase-out plan by the previous government.

Given the turn over in Japanese governments, policy reversals could go on forever, but the recommendation is sound. That doesn’t mean that there will not be significant pushback, though.

The primary example remains the former, much respected, prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has really gone on a tear against nuclear energy:

In a speech Nov. 12 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Koizumi said, “I think it will be good (for Japan) to end (nuclear power generation) immediately.”

It was a brutally clear message from the mouth of a person who had long been at the center of political power.

And though he faced a lot of criticism for taking this stand (he was for nuclear energy as PM), his words carry real weight with the public:

In an opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun last weekend, 60 percent of the respondents agreed with Koizumi. Among the supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party [also Koizumi’s party], 58 percent agreed.

Polls being polls, it can be parsed any number of ways, but Koizumi’s influence can be little doubted. 

Which doesn’t mean the recommendation is not good news. It is. Very good news.

Business Week explains why:

Energy costs also are a concern for the government. Power prices in Japan are more than twice those in the U.S. Electricity for industry use costs an average 17.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in Japan compared with 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.S., 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.K., and 12.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in France, according to an energy ministry research paper citing 2011 figures.


The alternatives to nuclear power either pollute more or come with a higher fuel cost, limiting Abe’s scope to reshape the energy industry and boost economic growth. Coal use rose 26 percent from a year ago in October. While solar power is taking off, the added capacity is nowhere near replacing what traditional plants supply.

Whatever Japan decided about nuclear energy has always been up to Japan. Whatever arguments could be arrayed to show that it remains the best solution to Japan’s social, economic and energy goals cannot trump the country’s experience after Fukushima Daiichi and the fantastically destructive earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident. That’s a national trauma outsiders cannot gainsay. 

And now we need not. Because Japan is close to returning to nuclear energy – current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will need to issue a policy statement – but as Business Week writes, “this is the strongest signal yet that it wishes to keep nuclear energy.”


jimwg said...

Good news, but still let's not rest on any laurels, and if there's any way pro-nuke people or organizations or blogs can give moral and educational air support to our brothers in Japan it should be delivered ASAP. I think a lot damage to nuclear plant perception over there has to do because people there don't or won't separate tsunami damage/trauma from the incident at Fukushima. To many it's a single event, not cause and effect. This could've been greatly alleviated had their media not been so hell-bent to bury nuclear energy from the get-go and had provided calm, verified and researched reporting. This bias led to a lot of blatant abuse (to put it mildly) by their media, such as often "accidentally" featuring clips of the burning Tokyo oil refinery in Fukushima stories. This is also a time to aggressively challenge and debunk rabidly anti-nuke blogs mentioned in the media such as "Nuclear News" which will try to trash and smear this decision by Japan, just as there are a despicably alarmist plague of media and webcasts out to slander "Pandora's Promise."

Prime Minister Abe, stand by your guns against Fear. I'm behind you all the way and wish I could offer more!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

jimwg said...

It behooves nuclear advocates and professionals to actively pay a visit to sites as these to challenge unfounded and often off-the-cuff-off-the-wall assertions. I wouldn't care if such rabidly anti-nuclear sites sank or swim, but this one and a few others are quoted in mass media whose FUD is relayed on to a clueless and gullible public that votes on energy policy. Nuclear community shrugs them off at our own peril. To not challenge them only endorses the anti's standing to the public.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Joris van Dorp said...

Fukushima Daiichi produced about 1000 TWh of electricity before the tsunami destroyed it's poorly sited backup generators causing the meltdowns, which killed nobody. The financial cost of the meltdowns is put at 150 billion dollars by some observers. Divided by the electricity produced by Fukushima Daiichi, this comes down to about 13 ct/kWh. Divided by all electricity ever produced by nuclear power in the world, it comes down to less than 0,3 ct/kWh.

So Japanese people may recognize that the financial cost of "Fukushima" is high (especially due to the overblown and costly public and political reaction) but in the great scheme of things it is not high.

Preventing the meltdowns would have been as easy as locating the backup generators on higher ground. Building inherently safe reactors would eliminate the risk of meltdowns altogether. Whatever Fukushima is, it is *not* a valid reason in an of itself to stop using nuclear power. However, it underlines the need for making sure such a thing doesn't happen again, for which there are numerous technical options available.