Japan Edges Back Into Nuclear Energy

The Masses are Protesting that Decision

Ken Silverstein | Jul 16, 2012


The Japanese democracy has been less rambunctious than that its American counterpart. But the government’s decision there to resume nuclear power generation in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster is causing hundreds of thousands of people to pour into the streets.

Sentiments on all sides run deep. But proponents of restarting some of the nuclear facilities are emphasizing that the country cannot replace 25 percent of its electric power generation overnight and that all of the nuclear reactors are going through rigorous new stress tests to try and ensure that they will survive massive natural events. And since May, when nuclear energy there has been shut down, the country has increased its fossil fuel imports. That is releasing more emissions and is more costly to homeowners and businesses.

“We made a political decision after carrying out strict stress tests and getting through procedures in the safety committee and agency,” says Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in a televised interview, according to news reports.

In May 2012, Japan closed the last of its 54 nuclear units that were operational prior to the events in March 2011. But fear of energy shortages has prompted Japan to give permission to restart two of the country’s nuclear energy units, one of which just revved up in western Japan and which was met by massive protests, estimated at 200,000 people.

Those opponents are not just fearful of accidents but are also pushing cleaner energy forms. They are urging the Japanese government to move more aggressively into greener energies, pointing out that in the months following the disaster that the nation cut its energy consumption by 15 percent. They are also saying that the power structure there has yet to compensate the people for their losses, or to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of radiation.

Perhaps the most powerful weapon in their arsenal is a recent report by the Japanese Parliament, which said that much of the problem can be attributed to human error. True, the 9.0-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale and the subsequent tsunami were devastating events. But that report released on July 4th goes on to say that the cozy relationship that Tokyo Electric Power Co. had with its regulators there has put the people at risk.

Cozy Relationship

According to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’s Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the accident should have been foreseen and therefore it “could and should have been prevented.” The Tokyo University professor emeritus goes on to say that if the relationship between the regulated and the regulator would have been at arm’s length, the fallout from the disaster could also have been mitigated. 

“Across the board, the Commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power,” the study says, which was first reported by Bloomberg news.

Those conclusions will now be debated within nuclear circles, as well within Japan itself. But it would appear certain that the people there will let their voices be heard in ways that have been anathema to such a polite and ordered culture.

For their part, Japanese government officials are saying that during the Fukushima saga that they didn’t have enough reliable information and that they didn’t want to relay anything erroneous. An independent review board based in Japan, however, found otherwise. The panel notes that while leaders there prevented a worst-case scenario, they were not as forthcoming as they should have been.

What now? A more cohesive international strategy is required — one where technological and safety features are universally shared through multilateral treaties. Currently, 435 reactors exist in 30 countries that generate 14 percent of the globe’s electricity, says the World Nuclear Association. And more are on the way: China now has 26 nuclear reactors under construction and is planning six more by 2020. Russia is building 10 more. At the same time, India and Pakistan are moving forward as is Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

“The relevance of these accidents and related damages are not restricted solely to the technical and operational collapse of nuclear reactors and nuclear power plants,” says Yoichi Funabashi, chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. “They also highlight a governance crisis involving corporations along with municipal and central government agencies, as well as something inherent in the way Japanese citizens think.”

The Japanese people are rightfully timid and deserve a more open dialogue. But such communication works both ways. Each side’s sentiments should be incorporated and while nuclear energy may not expand there, it is still unlikely that Japan’s existing nuclear units will fade to black.

EnergyBiz Insider is named a 2012 Finalist for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein


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Fukushima and 'fault'

I believe that nuclear power has a fine future, continuing to provide abundant, reliable, clean electricity to power our economy and provide a high standard of living for people around the world.  That said, Fukushima, and Chernobyl and Three Mile Island demonstrate the need for vigilance.  Important to all three was human error, and that ought to be a sobering reminder to all of us.

Specific to Fukushima, the earth quake was huge and the resulting tsunami overwhelming.   But, there were human errors in sitting the reactor in such a vulnerable location, and there was human error in TEPCO management’s and the government’s response to the accident.  (Everything I have read says the site people were heroes).   Traditional Japanese thought processes of deferring to seniors, blindly trusting technology, and group decisions to avoid personal responsibility appear to have been rampant.  And there have been previous examples in Japan.  A few years ago there was a criticality accident, and a few years before that a major scandal when a large corporation was falsifying quality inspection records. 

Japan needs to restart its nuclear units ASAP.  Japan also needs deep soul searching about how it manages these assets.  This might be a chicken-and-egg dilemma; I suggest bringing the units back carefully, with a vigorous, transparent discussion of how Japanese management and regulators ought to think. 


Let's get real

I read a great article last week "Wishing Away Nuclear Won't Work" and found the author's perspective relevant and realistic. It is no surprise that Japan is reconsidering their stance on nuclear generation. And I too believe that Germany will soon follow in similar steps and recognize that one or two devastating events should not spell doom-and-gloom for the entire industry. No doubt nuclear is expensive - and many costs are not fully considered such as disposal. But nuclear generation is a mainstay of baseload production, accounts for significant percentages of baseload in most regions, and is fairly 'green' compared to certain alternatives. Shuttering nuclear plants without a comprehensive transition plan and deep analysis is akin to an emotional reaction - it may sound good at the time but be unrealistic. Ultimately, we know renewables generation whether centralized or distributed cannot meet the same baseload requirements pound-for-pound and the loss in capacity will need to come from somewhere else.

Not the peoples choice

The people of Japan are NOT choosing to edge back into nuclear power. It is being forced on them by the Yakuza which controls the government, quite similar to the Chicago banker mob presently controling our White House.  Japan is having huge public protests against nuclear power, seldom reported here or anywhere.  Nuclear power is insanity squared. It has never lived up to claims.  It only exists anywhere due to bribes and corrupt force. It has never been clean and it can't even show a legitimate profit to investors. Whether it was GE's technology back in the 70's to reprocess waste, or the complete remediation of the waste proven in the 80's, politicians won't allow it.  They want Plutonium for bombs and don't give a flip about the health of the world.  Nuclear power is a total scam to front for ways to make nuclear bombs. It fails miserably in thepower generation task.  Spend the same money on alternative methods and we'd have clean energy throughout the world.

With the massive birth defects that resulted from Chernobyl and now Fukushima will do the same, I am well justified to say nuclear power is like a rabid dog and needs to be put down before it kills again. Any defense of nuclear power is like trying to pet this angry mongrel that wants to kill you.