Japan’s DPJ has announced that they intend to phase out the use of nuclear power by 2030. While the campaign promise has many hopeful it is quite vague, without immediate actions and leaves open the potential to un-do the policy in the future. It is also newsworthy that the DPJ’s new effort to avoid election defeat is causing some very telling reactions throughout the world.
Most in Japan proclaimed it as progress though many were cautious about the lack of concrete action. The phase out states “2030’s” as in it could stretch it out to 2039 actually making it 2040. Also that all of this policy will be revisited periodically and could be changed.
The future of the nuclear reprocessing plant in Aomori prefecture then became a question. The officials there insisted without the reprocessing plant they would no longer allow nuclear plants to send their spent fuel there. Any spent fuel already there would be sent back to the nuclear plant it came from. Aomori insists they will not become Japan’s garbage pit for nuclear waste. So the DPJ government states they will continue to allow the nuclear reprocessing plant to finish construction and operate. Yet they will have no reactors operating by the 2030’s. They don’t elaborate what will happen to that fuel if there are no reactors to run it in.
Then the question came up about some nuclear reactors that were already under construction when the disaster hit, what will happen to them? The government has announced they will be allowed to finish construction and operate.
The government has also stated that they will continue to push for reactor restarts in Japan in the near term as they have with the Oi nuclear reactors, something that created a huge public backlash. That plan is still on. The government admitted some of the exceptions they have allowed in place could mean some reactors still operating “well towards the end of the century”. Reactors over 40 years old may be forced to shut down but any that pass the rubber stamp safety tests (like Oi) would be allowed to restart.
The new nuclear agency brought about in an effort to restore public confidence has largely fallen face first. The head of the new agency is a long time nuclear insider. The new agency appears to be the old agency (NISA) with some new offices.
TEPCO had also announced that they will form a committee with the purpose of restoring public confidence in the company so they can restart the nuclear reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. The head of the committee? TEPCO’s CEO, who himself has come under fire for some comments he has made. This appears to be yet another lame attempt to “appease the public” yet do nothing of substance. TEPCO’s CEO declared recently the company has no money to build renewable energy facilities. Also that he wants to restart reactors at the damaged plants at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini. They have money for that apparently.
The nuclear farce in Japan is enough to have people shaking their heads. The comments and actions from the nuclear industry in and outside of Japan and various governments are even more interesting.
Japan’s Kaidanren, their business association has come out very against the end of nuclear power. The Kaidanren doesn’t represent all business sectors in Japan. Suzuki has said they would move a factory elsewhere if the Hamaoka nuclear plant was restarted, they considered it too big of risk to their business.
Outside of Japan has evoked the loudest and largest protests about this change. Many of the same characters are also blasting Germany for their nuclear phase out and now going after France for an announced reduction of nuclear dependence by 2025.
The loudest protesting is of course from the nuclear industry. Nuclear insiders, nuclear corporate representatives, nuclear lobbyists and pro-nuclear bloggers have all been declaring some very over the top fearmongering. This hasn’t just been for Japan’s nuclear exit but they have thrown stones at France and even the US. A recent debate in New York about the Indian Point nuclear plant caused declarations that the subways would stop working and people would be dying in hospitals due to a lack of nuclear power. Of course this wasn’t true. A state report showed the region could survive just fine without Indian Point and that the plant only sent 5% of the power it generates to the NYC area. After the fearmongering was revealed to be propaganda the NYC power authority that manages electricity for public works such as the subways and city street lights terminated a contract with Indian Point. The nuclear plant will no longer provide power for city services in NYC. This incident is a microcosm of Japan’s situation and the larger world as we rethink energy.
The US government has decided to stick their nose into Japan’s energy policy. High ranking US Department of Energy officials have come out harshly against Japan’s new pledge to phase out nuclear. One of the US NRC commissioners (William Magwood) also has been commenting on Japan’s nuclear phase out. This is even more notable since the NRC is supposed to be the safety regulator for nuclear power in the US, yet one of the commissioners is cheerleading for the industry. The sudden declaration by the US on this issue seemed a bit bizarre since certain sectors such as fossil fuels in the US would actually benefit from such a phase out. It was also announced this week that a former NRC official will join TEPCO’s new group that is attempting to rehabilitate the company’s reputation in order to restart the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant. TEPCO and Japanese officials have stated that without the restart of that nuclear plant the company will financially fail.
The US decision to intervene uninvited into Japan’s energy debate comes at a time when the nuclear industry worldwide has been attacking Japan and Germany for their phase outs and going after other energy sectors with disinformation campaigns.
Some of the more notable comments made by US officials regarding Japan’s nuclear phase out:
US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman –
“At a meeting with the DPJ’s policy chief Tuesday, Poneman said that if Japan takes such steps it might have unexpected effects on the United States and other concerned parties, Maehara said.”
“Poneman replied that Japan must make its own decision on energy issues but requested measures to minimize any negative effects that may arise if Japan sets a zero nuclear target, according to Maehara. Japan should stay flexible about implementing the strategy, Poneman added, noting the importance of holding further discussions. If the world’s third-biggest economy snaps up fossil fuels, energy prices will change significantly, Poneman was quoted as saying.”
Unnamed US officials also declared the lack of nuclear power in Japan would be a “national security” issue. Yet Japan imports all of their nuclear fuel currently and all of their uranium. This puts the nuclear program into the same “national security” risk as other energy fuel sources.
A nuclear industry representative from “World Nuclear University” and former employee of nuclear company EDF, said this:
“I am scared by the decisions in Japan and France because these are short-term visions influenced by public pressure,” said Francois Perchet, technical adviser at the World Nuclear University and formerly employed at France’s EDF. “These people will be judged in 2080 for acting in their own interest instead of that of the planet.”
In the Fukui region of Japan the chairman of Kansai Electric Power (who also happens to be chairman of the local economic federation) decried the phase out this way:
“It’s extremely regrettable that what our company advocated was not accepted in the government’s decision. The policy of zero nuclear reactors in operation in the 2030s is not a government action that defends the lifestyle of the people”
KEPCO the large power monopoly in Fukui, Kyoto and Osaka:
“Kepco President Makoto Yagi warned that the new energy goals damaged the trust of the people in Fukui Precture, which hosts 11 Kepco reactors, including the two at the Oi plant that were restarted in July — the only ones now running. “Aiming for zero nuclear power plants means an increase in fossil fuel prices, utility bills, problems with global warming, and problems ensuring necessary personnel for nuclear power,” Yagi said, also in a press release.”
The head of the Kaidanren (Japan’s business federation) made these statements:
“The ruling parties should not be swayed by elections. They should think about the future of this country,”
A vice president at GE Hitachi plays the “baseload power” card, something that has been proven to be a myth.
“You’ve got to go back to the fundamentals of why nuclear is important. It’s the drive towards low-carbon technology and nuclear will provide you that in large baseload amounts,”
It becomes more clear who are the power players in Japan’s nuclear program as people voice their displeasure to the media. France has also announced their plan to reduce nuclear dependency in the near term. Japan’s turn against nuclear energy if it actually does happen would be considerably bigger than Germany’s. Most of the big nuclear companies are now owned all or in part by Japanese companies. Toshiba-Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi are two of the big players. With Japan staking so much on nuclear power over the years, their exit would really be a blow to the world nuclear industry. The countries leaving nuclear behind would bring more pressure on the US and UK to do the same.
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