The Japanese government continues to push for reactor restarts and to establish nuclear power as part of the national energy policy even though public opinion is still heavily against it. At the same time the government has pushed for politically motivated reopening of parts of the evacuation zone.
The Japanese government has declared nuclear power as an “important baseload energy resource“. While the government insists that nuclear power is an important power source they did not declare a percentage of generation that should come from nuclear. At least one nuclear expert pointed out that the lack of any significant contribution from nuclear power throws the government’s claim of it being a baseload power source out the window. The government also classifies coal and hydro power as baseload power sources. The concept of baseload power has been highly disputed as being an outdated concept that was fabricated by various power industries to protect their stake.
At the same time Japan is declaring nuclear’s “importance”, the energy minister admitted that they wish to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power and that they would do more to increase the use of renewable energy. Japan’s previous energy policy had only set renewables to increase 3.5% by 2020. The new energy policy doesn’t say since they didn’t set percentages per generation sector. The new government plan also scraps all work on fast breeder reactors and would turn the experimental Monju fast breeder reactor into a nuclear research center, changing its use.
Japan only has 48 reactors left with any potential to operate. Reuters estimates that up to 2/3rd of Japan’s reactors may never restart even as operators are throwing millions of dollars into upgrades. 17 reactors may be permanently shut down, safety and other issues could keep the number possible to ever restart quite low. This would leave Japan with less than 10% of their energy from nuclear power as a best case scenario for the industry. With only 8 reactors with any real possibility of a restart, where does this leave Japan? All the money the nuclear industry has been spending to try to get reactors back online may be more lost money if only 8 reactors even have the potential to restart. This is as big of a nuclear phase out as Germany has been implementing when you look at these numbers.
Japan’s nuclear industry has suffered about 5 trillion yen in losses since the 2011 nuclear disaster. Add to this about 9 trillion yen spent on replacement fossil fuel and 1.6 trillion yen spent on upgrades to nuclear plants that may never restart.
While the Japanese government is pushing for nuclear power to restart, they picked one power plant they assumed had the best chance to restart. The Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima is newer, is a PWR design different from that of Fukushima Daiichi and had a lower chance of being sited over a fault line. We explain here how Sendai is still a high risk power plant. Now the possible restart of Sendai that had been claimed to be early June is now expected to be well past July leaving it offline during peak summer energy use. This is the first of the reactors being pushed for restart. This power plant is being given first in line status that potentially puts any others even further behind any restart potential. If Sendai would be lucky to restart in July it then puts all the others out of summer peak operation. Japan will have a third summer with little or no nuclear power.
At the same time the Japanese government has been making a public facing push for restarts and putting nuclear power back into formal energy policy, the same cast of political actors have been trying to white wash the problems in Fukushima. We already covered at length how the reopening of Tamura in Fukushima was politically motivated and included doctoring radiation readings to make it happen.
Yomiuri Shimbun, always ready to plead the case for the nuclear industry issued this disturbing editorial last week. It called “returning people home” to be important but doesn’t really say why. It proclaims the entire problem to be the supposed irrational fears of evacuees as the problem. Yomiuri declares the 20 mSv/year radiation level to be the official level of safety, yet this is a highly disputed level that only the government has deemed safe for political reasons. ICRP calls 1 mSv/year safe or as close to “safe” as they assume can be achieved. Yomiuri goes on to cite UNSCEAR who has been publishing erroneous and skewed data on the disaster, much of it dependent on the official government data known to be inaccurate. As usual Yomiuri falls back on blaming the evacuees for somehow not understanding things. The reality is that this is a well educated resistance to a politically motivated plan to force people to return to contaminated areas that are unsafe. Why this political tactic against the victims of nuclear disasters is so dangerous is explained here.
Japan’s public facing stances have gotten attention while some of their less publicized ones tell the larger part of the story. While declaring they are bringing nuclear back, they are drastically cutting what reactors could operate, moving towards renewables and ending portions of their fuel recycling policy.
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