Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power — The Conversation

” Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy. ”

by The Conversation

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Nuclear industry in crisis, Japan overview — Reneweconomy.com

” … Japan: Only two of the country’s 42 ‘operable’ reactors are actually operating. The future of Japan’s nuclear program remains a guessing game, but projections are being steadily reduced. According to the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency and the IAEA, installed capacity of 42.4 GW in 2014 could fall to as little as 7.6 GW by 2035 “as reactors are permanently shut down owing to a range of factors including location near active faults, technology, age and local political resistance.”

Another reactor was permanently shut down in 2016 (Ikata-1) in addition to five shut-downs in 2015 and the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors shut down in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster. Japan also decided last year to permanently shut down the troubled Monju fast breeder reactor. For all the rhetoric about Generation IV fast reactors, and the A$130+ billion invested worldwide, only five such reactors are operating worldwide (three of them experimental) and only one is under construction.

(Australia’s nuclear lobby ‒ all three of them ‒ are promoting Generation IV fast reactors yet their arguments were rejected by the pro-nuclear Royal Commission. The Commission’s final report said that advanced fast reactors are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future; that the development of such a first-of-a-kind project would have high commercial and technical risk; that there is no licensed, commercially proven design and development to that point would require substantial capital investment; and that electricity generated from such reactors has not been demonstrated to be cost competitive with current light water reactor designs.)

Late last year, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry revised the estimated cost of decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and compensating victims of the disaster, to around A$244 billion. The latest estimate is four times greater than estimates provided in 2011/12. Indirect costs (e.g. fuel imports, adverse impacts on agriculture and fishing, etc.) are likely to exceed the direct clean-up and compensation costs. … ”

by Jim Green

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Fukushima disaster sways former advocate of nuclear power — Bloomberg

” The man blocking the world’s largest nuclear plant says he grew opposed to atomic energy the same way some people fall in love.

Previously an advocate for nuclear power in Japan, Ryuichi Yoneyama campaigned against the restart of the facility as part of his successful gubernatorial race last year in Niigata. He attributes his political U-turn to the “unresolved” 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster and the lack of preparedness at the larger facility in his own prefecture, both owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

“Changing my opinion wasn’t an instant realization,” Yoneyama said in an interview. “It was gradual. As people say, you don’t know the exact moment you’ve fallen in love.”

Yoneyama won’t support the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata until an investigation is complete into the chain of events that resulted in the triple meltdown at Fukushima, which he plans to visit Wednesday. While utilities don’t need approval of local authorities to restart plants, Japanese power companies are tradition-bound not to move ahead until they get their consent.

Local Opposition

Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor and native of Niigata, is one of the highest-profile local opponents pitted against a political establishment led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which sees nuclear power as crucial for the country’s long-term energy security and environmental goals. Regulations and public opinion are keeping nearly all of Japan’s atomic stations shut almost six years after the accident at Fukushima, where the search has barely begun for fuel that burned through to the bottom of the reactors.

“If the local governor remains firmly opposed to the restart, it will be very difficult for the reactors to come back online,” said James Taverner, an analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. “In addition to the local government, building the support and trust of local residents is key.”

A Kyodo News poll on the day of Yoneyama’s October election showed about 64 percent of Niigata voters opposed the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, known popularly as KK. The restart of the facility was one of the key issues in the race to replace Governor Hirohiko Izumida, who was famous for his tough stance on Tokyo Electric. He unexpectedly announced in August that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.

To the residents of the prefecture, Yoneyama was the candidate who would make nuclear safety a priority, while his main opponent gave off the vibe that he was a member of the nuclear restarts camp, the former governor said by e-mail.

Switching Sides

In last year’s gubernatorial race for the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, where Kyushu Electric Power Co. operates the Sendai nuclear plant, a three-term incumbent was defeated by an opponent campaigning to temporarily close the reactors. A district court last year barred Kansai Electric Power Co. from running two reactors at its Takahama station in western Japan only weeks after they’d been turned back on.

Yoneyama supported bringing back online Japan’s reactors during his unsuccessful bid in 2012 for a seat in Japan’s lower house. The country was being forced to spend more on fossil fuel imports after the disaster, so restarting the plants was needed to help the economy recover, he said at the time.

Though Yoneyama’s position switch helped secure his first electoral victory after four failed campaigns for the country’s legislature, nuclear opponents see him driven by more than political opportunism.

“I had my reservations about Yoneyama,” said Takehiko Igarashi, an official at the Niigata division of the anti-nuclear group Nakusou Genpatsu. “But after he was vetted and endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and other smaller parties that have an anti-nuclear slant, I knew that I could trust him.”

evTokyo Electric and Abe’s government see restarting KK as one way for Japan’s biggest utility to boost profits and help manage its nearly 16 trillion yen ($139 billion) share of the Fukushima cleanup. Resuming reactors No. 6 and No. 7 will boost annual profits by as much as 240 billion, the utility has said.

The economic argument, however, is beginning to hold less sway, with Yoneyama saying the benefits to the local economy are ‘overstated.’ While the prefecture risks missing out on 1.1 billion yen a year in government support without the restart, that represents a small slice of the prefecture’s budget, which tops 1 trillion yen, according to Yoneyama.

Abe, a strong backer of atomic power, leads a government aiming for nuclear to account for as much as 22 percent of Japan’s energy mix by 2030, compared with a little more than 1 percent now.

While restart opponents like Yoneyama demand the government guarantee the safety of the reactors, they’ve also criticized evacuation and emergency response plans as inadequate.

In his first meeting with Tokyo Electric executives since taking office, Yoneyama earlier this month told Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose that he won’t support KK’s restart until a new evacuation plan is drawn up using the results of a Fukushima investigation. Tepco will fully cooperate with the probe and stay in communication with the governor, the company said in response to a request for comment.
“Once I realized that the Fukushima disaster couldn’t be easily resolved, of course my opinion changed,” Yoneyama said. “If another accident occurs, overseas tourism will become a distant dream. Even Japanese may flee the country.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski and Emi Urabe

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Japan governor tells Tepco bosses nuclear plant to stay shut — Yahoo! News

” NIIGATA, Japan (Reuters) – The governor of Japan’s Niigata prefecture reiterated his opposition to the restart of Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, adding it may take a few years to review the pre-conditions for restart.

During a meeting on Thursday with Tepco Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose, Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was elected in October on his anti-nuclear platform, repeated his pledge to keep the plant shut unless a fuller explanation of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster was provided.

He also said that evacuation plans for people in Niigata in case of a nuclear accident and the health impacts that the Fukushima accident have had would need to be reviewed before discussing the nuclear plant’s restart.

The restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s largest, is key to helping Tepco rebound from the aftermath of the 2011 disaster at its Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

The Japanese government last month nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($185 billion), increasing the pressure on Tepco to step up reform and improve its performance.

Many of Japan’s reactors are still going through a relicensing process by a new regulator set up after the Fukushima disaster, the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

Shutting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant for additional years would mean that the company would have to continue relying heavily on fossil fuel-fired power generation such as natural gas.

Governors do not have the legal authority to prevent restarts but their agreement is usually required before a plant can resume operations.

Three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant melted down after a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people. “

by Kentaro Hamada, Reuters

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The future of nuclear energy in Japan, nearly six years after the 2011 Fukushima disaster — ABC News

” Japan has been pursuing a dream of nuclear energy since the 1960s.

The country’s first nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 and between then and 2011, Japan invested hundreds of billions of dollars into the industry.

Money is still being funnelled into the industry, but these days it is mostly just for upkeep of idle reactors.

When disaster struck the Fukushima nuclear plantin Japan in March 2011, there were 54 nuclear reactors operating in the country and generating about one third of Japan’s power.

But with the triple, reactor-core meltdown at Fukushima came concerns about nuclear power in other areas of Japan. The government of the day ordered an immediate review of the safety aspects of the remaining reactors.

Today, there are just four reactors in operation across Japan (although one is “paused” while a legal challenge is heard).

Eleven are in the process of being decommissioned — six of these are at Fukushima — and decisions are yet to be made about 42 other reactors.

Tom O’Sullivan, an energy sector analyst in Japan, said five or six other reactors should come back online in 2017, but there were localised protests to some of those planned restarts.

“Some of the polling that has been done indicates that 60-70 per cent of the Japanese people actually oppose the restarting of the reactors,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

In April 2016, a major earthquake struck Japan’s southern-most island of Kyushu.

An operating nuclear reactor was just 120 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake. Roads and bridges were damaged and landslides cut off access to some areas — aggravating the fears of local people about how they would evacuate if another nuclear disaster was to occur.

Future energy needs quesitioned

In the years to come, the Japanese Government has major decisions to make about the future of the nuclear industry. Nuclear reactors have a natural operating life of 40 years.

“The average age of the Japanese reactors is now close to 30 years, so most of them have only a remaining operating life of 10 years,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“Once they start hitting the 40-year time limit, they’re going to have to write off some of the residual costs associated with them. Then of course you have the additional, significant issue of having to decommission them and the costs in that regard are very, very significant.”

The Government has had very little to say in recent months about its energy policy.

The most recent utterings of Prime Minister Abe were back in March — when Japan was marking the five-year anniversary of the nuclear disaster. He said his Government was aiming to achieve 20-22 per cent of energy needs met by nuclear by 2030.

Environmental group Greenpeace said that aim would be close to impossible to achieve.

“The reality is, they will never get to that 20 or 22 per cent. I think inside Government, there are factions that basically believe that maybe we can reach that target, but a more realistic assessment says maybe it will be a lot less,” Greenpeace nuclear spokesman Shaun Burnie said.

“I think the Japanese Government will be forced to change its energy policy. This cannot go on indefinitely. Nuclear utilities are unable to operate their reactors.” ”

by Rachel Mealey

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Fate of Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant remains unknown — The Japan Times

” The government is struggling to decide the future of Tepco’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, which has been suspended since the March 2011 disaster.

There have been increasing calls for decommissioning the power plant located just a few kilometers south of the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 installation.

The government has been finding it difficult to reach a clear conclusion on Fukushima No. 2’s fate, as it and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings have been busy dealing with its older counterpart that suffered three reactor meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

On Dec. 21, the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling on the central government to decommission the No. 2 plant “at an early date,” arguing that the facility is an obstacle to the prefecture’s recovery from the 3/11 disasters.

A temporary halt to the cooling system for a spent fuel pool at the No. 2 plant caused by an earthquake in November rekindled fears of another meltdown crisis.

In 2011, the prefectural assembly adopted a petition calling for decommissioning all reactors in Fukushima.

The assembly has also adopted a series of written opinions demanding the decommissioning of the No. 2 plant, which is located in the towns of Naraha and Tomioka.

Demands from local communities “have been ignored by the central government,” one person said.

The central government’s official position is that whether to decommission the plant is up to Tepco.

As the government has already lifted the state of emergency for the No. 2 plant, it has no authority to decide the decommissioning under current regulations.

If an exception were made, the central government could receive a barrage of requests for decommissioning reactors all over the country, sources familiar with the situation said.

“Such a situation would destroy Japan’s whole nuclear policy,” a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Some people have called for creating a special law on decommissioning Fukushima No. 2, but others have raised concerns that such a step could infringe on Tepco’s property rights, the sources said.

Some officials in the central government have said that no one believes the No. 2 plant can continue to exist.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet have left room for making a political decision on dismantling the facility, saying that the plant can’t be treated in the same way as other nuclear plants due to fear among Fukushima residents of another nuclear accident.

Since the government effectively holds a stake of more than 50 percent in Tepco, it can influence the company’s policy as a major shareholder.

But Tepco now needs to focus on dealing with the No. 1 plant. A senior company official said that it “cannot afford to decide on decommissioning, which would require a huge workforce.”

The main opposition Democratic Party plans to pursue a suprapartisan law that would urge Tepco to decide to decommission the plant at an early date.

“While understanding calls for early decommissioning, we have no choice but to wait for the No. 2 plant’s four reactors to reach the end of their 40-year lifetimes,” a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said.

The four reactors launched operations between April 1982 and August 1987. ”

by Jiji

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