Koizumi’s nuclear power questions – The Japan Times editorial

” While political repercussions continue over former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise calls for ending nuclear power generation in Japan, what the once popular leader points out are all sensible and legitimate questions about Japan’s energy policy that remain unanswered by members of the Abe administration. Any energy policy that fails to squarely answer the questions posed by Koizumi will not have any credibility.

Koizumi, who kept largely out of the media spotlight after retiring as lawmaker in 2009, has been speaking out in recent months that Japan should end its reliance on nuclear power. He says the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed his perception of nuclear power as a low-cost and safe source of energy and now says, “There is nothing more costly than nuclear power.” He urges the government to divert the massive energy and money needed to maintain nuclear power in Japan into more investments in the development and promotion of renewable energy sources.

Many of his former Liberal Democratic Party colleagues initially tried to dismiss Koizumi as a retired politician who has nothing to do with the party today. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who served in key Cabinet and LDP positions during Koizumi’s 2001-2006 rule, said it is “irresponsible” to commit to ending nuclear energy at this point. Meanwhile, hopes have emerged within the opposition camp that an alliance with Koizumi — who drew strong popular support while in office — on the zero nuclear agenda could provide them with ammunition against the LDP’s dominance in the Diet.

The political ripple effects — and some criticism over his flip-flop after promoting nuclear power while in office — aside, what seems missing in the controversy are discussions on the very real and pressing issues highlighted by Koizumi. He points to poor prospects for finding a permanent storage site for highly radioactive waste after spent fuel is reprocessed. This problem — for which Japan’s nuclear power industry has long been likened to a “condominium without a toilet” — has been set aside since well before the Fukushima crisis.

Abe has told the Diet that a technology has been established to store such waste in geological layers deep underground. Koizumi says the problem is that despite the existence of this technology, the government has been unable for more than a decade to find a candidate site anywhere in Japan. And this technology, Koizumi says, might be problematic in this quake-prone country — a point that Abe conveniently neglects to mention. Given the safety concerns over nuclear power following the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, it is even more doubtful that a candidate site will ever be found, Koizumi says. Thus radioactive waste will continue to pile up as long as nuclear power plants are operated.

Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle program is at a standstill. Completion of a fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been delayed for years, and the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has been idled for much of the time since a sodium leak and fire in 1995. Meanwhile, storage space for spent nuclear fuel from reactors around the country, and in the Rokkasho complex, is nearly 70 percent full.

As Koizumi points out, the myth that nuclear power is cheaper than other sources of energy is thrown in doubt when the expenses for siting nuclear plants, their future decommissioning and waste disposal are included. And on top of this there is the massive cost of dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns, including compensation, which far exceeds the financial capacity of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. This is necessitating the injection of a huge amount of taxpayer money.

Abe’s rebuttal is that increased fossil fuel imports for thermal power generation to make up for the nuclear plant shutdowns is costing the nation trillions of yen a year. But his rhetoric does not answer the question whether nuclear power is really the affordable source of energy — as it has long been touted to be by the government — especially after the costs of compensation and decontamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis are taken into account.

Abe has vowed to scrap the nuclear phaseout policy of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration that his LDP ousted from power last year. But the prime minister has yet to present a new vision for the nation’s energy policy — except to say that he would reduce as much as possible Japan’s reliance on nuclear power while maximizing energy-saving efforts and development of alternative energy.

While the future of Japan’s energy policy remains elusive and the Fukushima nuclear crisis is continuing, Abe has been pushing for the sale of Japanese nuclear power plant technology overseas as part of his bid to boost infrastructure exports. When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France’s Areva clinched a joint-venture deal in October to build a nuclear power plant with four advanced reactors in Turkey, Abe said Japan “is responsible for helping improve the safety of atomic power in the world by sharing the experience and lessons” from the disaster at the Fukushima plant — whose situation he has described as “under control.”

At home the Abe administration and the LDP are pushing for the restart of some idled nuclear reactors once they have cleared a new set of safety criteria, even though radiation-contaminated water continues to leak from the Fukushima compound nearly 2½ years after the meltdowns.

Abe should lay out a new energy vision that will fully address the doubts about nuclear power raised by Koizumi. His legitimate concerns are likely shared by a large part of the public — a majority of whom, according to media surveys, oppose restart of the idled nuclear reactors. As Koizumi says, only Japan’s political leaders can set the direction for the nation’s energy policy. The Abe administration has an obligation to choose a path that ensures Japan will not have to contend with another nuclear power plant disaster in the future. ”

by The Japan Times



Junichiro Koizumi-led group pitches bill calling for ‘immediate halt’ to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power — The Japan Times

” A group advised by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday unveiled details about a bill calling for an “immediate halt” to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to prevent a recurrence of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The group is seeking to submit the bill to an upcoming Diet session in cooperation with opposition parties.

Sporting his signature leonine hairdo, Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular prime ministers in recent memory, made a rare appearance before reporters with his unabated frankness, lashing out at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his persistent pro-nuclear stance.

“You may think the goal of zero nuclear power is hard to achieve, but it’s not,” Koizumi said, adding that he believes many lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party support nuclear power passively out of respect for Abe, but that they could be persuaded to embrace a zero-nuclear policy under a different leader.

“Judging from his past remarks, I don’t think we can realize zero nuclear power as long as Abe remains in power. But I do think we can make it happen if he is replaced by a prime minister willing to listen to the public,” Koizumi told a packed news conference organized by Genjiren, an anti-nuclear association for which he serves as an adviser along with Morihiro Hosokawa, another former prime minister.

Claiming that the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant exposed the “extremely dangerous” and “costly” nature of atomic power — with a means of disposing of spent fuel still not in sight — the bill drafted by Genjiren calls for Japan’s “complete switch” to renewable energy.

Specifically, it demands that all active nuclear reactors be switched offline immediately and that those currently idle never be reactivated. It also defines the government’s responsibility to initiate steps toward a mass decommissioning and to map out “foolproof and safe” plans to dispose of spent fuel rods.

The bill sets forth specific numerical targets, too, saying various sources of natural energy, including solar, wind, water and geothermal heat, should occupy more than 50 percent of the nation’s total power supply by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

That Japan has experienced no mass power shortage following the shutdown of all 48 reactors in the wake of the 2011 crisis, except for a handful since reactivated, is in itself a testament to the fact that “we can get by without nuclear power,” Koizumi said.

A 2017 white paper by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry shows Japan’s reliance on nuclear power has plunged to a mere 1 percent after the Fukushima meltdowns. The vast majority of Japan’s power is supplied by sources such as liquefied natural gas, coal and oil.

Although the controversy over nuclear power has rarely emerged as a priority in recent parliamentary debates, the creation of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan may herald a breakthrough.

Later Wednesday, Genjiren pitched the bill to the CDP in a meeting with some of its members, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in power when the Fukushima crisis erupted.

The CDP seeks to submit its own “zero nuclear power” bill to a regular Diet session slated to kick off later this month, positioning itself as a clearer anti-nuclear alternative to Abe’s ruling party than its predecessor, the Democratic Party.

The DP, which until recently held the most seats among opposition parties in both houses of the Diet, had failed to go all-out in crusading against nuclear power under the previous leadership of Renho, who goes by only one name.

At a party convention last March, Renho balked at adopting an ambitious target of slashing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to zero by 2030 after reportedly facing resistance from party members beholden to the support of electricity industry unions.

In a preliminary draft unveiled Wednesday, the CDP’s bill-in-the-making called for ridding Japan of nuclear power “as soon as possible.” ”

by Tomohiro Osaki, The Japan Times


Fears of another Fukushima as Tepco plans to restart world’s biggest nuclear plant — The Guardian

” If a single structure can define a community, for the 90,000 residents of Kashiwazaki town and the neighbouring village of Kariwa, it is the sprawling nuclear power plant that has dominated the coastal landscape for more than 40 years.

When all seven of its reactors are in operation, Kashiwazaki-kariwa generates 8.2m kilowatts of electricity – enough to power 16m households. Occupying 4.2 sq km of land along the Japan Sea coast, it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world.

But today, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa are idle. The plant in Niigata prefecture, about 140 miles (225km) north-west of the capital, is the nuclear industry’s highest-profile casualty of the nationwide atomic shutdown that followed the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.

The company at the centre of the disaster has encountered anger over its failure to prevent the catastrophe, its treatment of tens of thousands of evacuated residents and its haphazard attempts to clean up its atomic mess.

Now, the same utility, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], is attempting to banish its Fukushima demons with a push to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, one of its three nuclear plants. Only then, it says, can it generate the profits it needs to fund the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi and win back the public trust it lost in the wake of the meltdown.

This week, Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave its formal approval for Tepco to restart the Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s No. 6 and 7 reactors – the same type of boiling-water reactors that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.

After a month of public hearings, the nuclear regulation authority concluded that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and said the two reactors met the stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 disaster.

Just before that decision, Tepco gave the Guardian an exclusive tour of what it claims will be the safest nuclear plant in the world.

Now, as on the day of the triple disaster that brought widespread destruction to Japan’s northeast coast, Kashiwazaki-kariwa has the look of a working nuclear plant. Just over 1,000 Tepco staff and 5,000-6,000 contract workers provide the manpower behind a post-Fukushima safety retrofit that is projected to cost 680 billion yen ($6.1bn).

They have built a 15-metre-high seawall that, according to Tepco, can withstand the biggest tsunami waves. In the event of a meltdown, special vents would keep 99.9% of released radioactive particles out of the atmosphere, and corium shields would block molten fuel from breaching the reactors’ primary containment vessels. Autocatalytic recombiners have been installed to prevent a repeat of the hydrogen explosions that rocked four of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors.

Other parts of the sprawling complex are home to fleets of emergency vehicles, water cannon, back-up power generators, and a hilltop reservoir whose 20,000 tonnes of water will be drawn to cool reactors in the event of a catastrophic meltdown.

“As the operator responsible for the Fukushima accident, we’re committed to learning lessons, revisiting what went wrong and implementing what we learned here at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, says the plant’s chief, Chikashi Shitara. “We are always looking at ways to improve safety.

“Because of our experience at Fukushima, we’re committed to not making the same mistakes again – to make the safety regime even stronger. That’s what we have to explain to members of the public.”

‘This is no place for a nuclear power plant’

The public, however, is far from convinced. Last year, the people of Niigata prefecture registered their opposition to the utility’s plans by electing Ryuichi Yoneyama, an anti-nuclear candidate, as governor. Exit polls showed that 73% of voters opposed restarting the plant, with just 27% in favor.

Yoneyama has said that he won’t make a decision on the restarts, scheduled for spring 2019, until a newly formed committee has completed its report into the causes and consequences of the Fukushima disaster – a process that could take at least three years.

For many residents, the plant’s location renders expensive safety improvements irrelevant. “Geologically speaking, this is no place for a nuclear power plant,” says Kazuyuki Takemoto, a retired local councillor and a lifelong anti-nuclear activist.

Takemoto cites instability caused by the presence of underground oil and gas deposits in the area, and evidence that the ground on which Tepco’s seawall stands is prone to liquefaction in the event of a major earthquake.

Local critics have pointed to the chaos that could result from attempting to evacuate the 420,000 people who live within a 30km radius of Kashiwazaki-kariwa. “That’s more people than lived near Fukushima, plus we get very heavy snowfall here, which would make evacuating everyone impossible,” Takemoto adds. “The situation would be far worse than it was in Fukushima.”

Adding to their concerns are the presence of seismic faults in and around the site, which sustained minor damage during a magnitude-6.6 offshore earthquake in 2007. Two active faults – defined by nuclear regulators as one that has moved any time within the last 400,000 years – run beneath reactor No. 1.

But for Tepco, a return to nuclear power generation is a matter of financial necessity, with the utility standing to gain up to ¥200 billion in annual profits by restarting the two reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

The bill for decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, decontaminating neighbourhoods and compensating residents affected by the meltdown could reach 21.5tr yen [$191bn], according to government estimates. That is on top of the money the firm is spending on importing expensive fossil fuels to fill the vacuum left by the nuclear shutdown.

Earlier this year, the Japan Centre for Economic Research said the total cost of the four-decade Fukushima cleanup – including the disposal of radioactive waste from the plant’s three damaged reactors – could soar to between 50-70tr yen.

“As Tepco’s president and our general business plan have made clear, restarting the reactors here is very important to us as a company,” says Shitara.

Much is at stake, too, for Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who has put an ambitious return to nuclear power generation at the centre of his energy policy. His government wants nuclear to provide about 20 percent Japan’s electricity by 2030 – a move that would require the restart of about 30 reactors.

Of the country’s 48 operable reactors, only four are currently online. Several others have passed stringent new safety tests introduced in the wake of Fukushima, but restarts have encountered strong local opposition.

As part of the restart process, people across Japan were recently invited to submit their opinions on the Kashiwazaki-kariwa restart and Tepco’s suitability as a nuclear operator.

Kiyoto Ishikawa, from the plant’s public relations department, insists Tepco has learned the lessons of Fukushima. “Before 3-11 we were arrogant and had stopped improving safety,” he said. “The earthquake was a wake-up call. We now know that improving safety is a continuous process.”

The firm’s assurances were dismissed by Yukiko Kondo, a Kariwa resident, who said the loss of state subsidies if the plant were to remain permanently idle was a sacrifice worth making if it meant giving local people peace of mind.

“Tepco caused the 2011 accident, so there is no way I would ever support restarting nuclear reactors here,” she said. “They kept telling us that Fukushima Daiichi was perfectly safe – and look what happened.” ”

by Justin McCurry, The Guardian

source with internal links

Kansai Electric to scrap two reactors in latest blow for Japan’s nuclear sector — Intelligencer

” TOKYO (Reuters) – Kansai Electric Power Co said on Friday it will decommission two 38-year-old reactors at its Ohi nuclear plant as Japan’s electricity industry struggles to cope with new safety standards imposed after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The widely expected announcement brings to 14 the number of reactors being scrapped since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. More than six years on, Japan is still turning away from nuclear power in the face of technical problems, public opposition, court challenges and unfavorable economics.

Most of Japan’s reactors remain shut, with only four operating, while they undergo relicensing processes in a bit to meet new standards set after the Fukushima crisis highlighted shortcomings in regulation.

Kansai Electric will now scrap the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Ohi plant, some 86 kilometers (53 miles) from Osaka, western Japan, where the utility is based. Shut since 2011, the reactors have capacity of 1,175 megawatts each, began operations in 1979 and were near the end of their standard operating life of 40 years.

A Kansai Electric spokeswoman said that costs in meeting the new safety standards were not a factor behind the decision, but technical difficulties were.

“The containment vessels of these reactors are smaller than other reactors in Japan, and a need to beef up the walls to meet the standards would make the work zones even more cramped, making it difficult for prompt repairs in case of troubles,” the spokeswoman said.

The move means Japan is likely to soon be eclipsed by China as the third biggest nuclear power sector in the world – by reactor numbers – after the United States and France.

Japan now has 42 reactors, including the two to be decommissioned at Ohi, compared with 38 in China, which has nearly 20 more under construction, while the U.S. and France have 99 and 58 respectively, according to the International Energy Agency.

Kansai Electric was the most reliant on nuclear energy among Japan’s atomic operators, using reactors for nearly half of its electricity generation before the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, when reactors melted down following a giant earthquake and tsunami. Two other reactors at the Ohi site remain closed.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is keen to restore a power source that provided about a third of electricity supply before the Fukushima crisis, Japan’s public remains deeply skeptical over industry assurances on safety.

Anti-nuclear campaigners and residents are increasingly using courts to block restarts and push for plants to close.

A Japanese court last week ordered Shikoku Electric Power Co not to restart one of its reactors, overturning a lower court decision in the first instance of a higher court blocking the operation of nuclear plant.

Residents have lodged injunctions against most nuclear plants across Japan. ”

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell


Government and utilities shaken by high court challenge to public trust in Japan’s nuclear authority — The Japan Times

” Wednesday’s ruling by the Hiroshima High Court halting the planned restart of a nuclear reactor in Ehime Prefecture has cast doubt on the judgment of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority — which had approved the restart under stricter post-Fukushima guidelines — shocking the government and utilities across the nation.

The ruling deals a heavy blow to a plan by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to bring more reactors back online, and is sure to prompt the government and utilities to keep a closer eye on similar cases continuing across the country.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer representing local residents, called the ruling the “most important” since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, spurred by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

About 40 court cases — including those seeking injunctions — were filed in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown disaster. But while district courts have ordered some reactors stopped, each shutdown decision has been overturned by a high court.

“This is the first time (plaintiffs) have won at the high court level,” Kaido said at a news conference in Tokyo. He said the ruling may signal a turn of the tide.

Wednesday’s ruling was also noteworthy for touching on the risk of volcanic eruption.

“The possibility of heated rock and volcanic ash reaching the reactor cannot be evaluated as small. The location is not suitable” for a nuclear reactor, said presiding Judge Tomoyuki Nonoue in handing down the ruling. The reactor affected is the No. 3 unit at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant, which is located about 130 kilometers from the caldera of the volcanically active Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture.

“The effect that volcanic ash may have on reactors nationwide is underrated,” Kaido said.

Government officials were quick to attempt to play down the risk. “It’s just a court ruling. The government’s position to seek the restart for reactors approved by the (Nuclear Regulation Authority) remains unchanged,” said a senior trade ministry official.

The central government’s target for power generations calls for 20 percent to 22 percent of the nation’s supply to be contributed by nuclear reactors by 2030.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told a news conference that the high court decision would not influence its ongoing and future safety screenings of other reactors.

“We will just fulfill the role of a regulator,” Fuketa said.

But the reality is that utilities have been seeking to convince municipalities that reactors cleared by the watchdog under the tougher guidelines are safe.

“I’m worried that it could create negative momentum,” said an industry official.

For Shikoku Electric, the blocked restart will mean a spike in fuel costs as it will be forced to rely mainly on non-nuclear power generation.

“While the nuclear reactors are suspended, we will need to rely on thermal power, which means we will need to shoulder a ¥3.5 billion loss per month for fuel,” an executive of the utility said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Other utilities are facing similar constraints. Kyushu Electric Power Co. aims to restart two reactors at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, but local residents have filed an injunction seeking to halt the move. A Kyushu Electric executive said he was “surprised at the unexpected ruling” on the Ikata plant.

Meanwhile, the response of residents in Ehime Prefecture was mixed.

One man voiced concern over the ruling’s potential to damage the local economy. The man, who runs a lodging business, said the town accommodated several hundred nuclear power plant workers a year before the Fukushima disaster.

“Ikata is a town of nuclear power,” he said. “I feel that (the ruling) has left locals behind.”

Another resident, however, welcomed the move as a judicial “breakthrough.” ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times


Japan court bars restart of nuclear reactor shut after Fukushima — Bloomberg

” A Japanese court overturned a ruling that allowed a nuclear reactor in the country’s south to operate, frustrating the government’s push to bring online dozens of plants shut in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The decision by the Hiroshima High Court, which cited risks from nearby volcanoes, sides with local citizens and reverses a lower court’s ruling that had cleared the way for Shikoku Electric Power Co. to operate its Ikata No. 3 unit, according to an emailed statement Wednesday from the company. The reactor, which restarted last year under stricter safety regulations, has been shut for maintenance and was scheduled to restart on Jan. 20.

Shikoku Electric fell as much as 11 percent in Tokyo, the biggest decline in more than four years, before paring the drop to 8.3 percent.

The injunction issued by the court is a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of having nuclear power account for as much as 22 percent of the nation’s electricity mix by 2030. Public opposition through local courts and municipal governments has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles to that plan. Just four of Japan’s 42 operable nuclear reactors are currently online.

The ruling was the first time a high court in Japan has overturned a lower court on the issue of nuclear restarts since the Fukushima disaster. A district court in Hiroshima sided with the utility in March in deciding not to issue a temporary injunction.

Shikoku called Wednesday’s ruling “unacceptable” and said it will try to get it reversed. The injunction is effective through Sept. 30, 2018, according to court documents.

The Hiroshima High Court said risks from volcanoes weren’t being “rationally evaluated” by the Japan Nuclear Regulation Authority. The agency declined to comment because it wasn’t involved in the court case. ”

by Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg