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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Japan’s power industry at crossroads as Fukushima decommissioning costs rise – The Mainichi

” The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s plan to add the increased costs of decommissioning the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was scrapped before the end of the year due to a public backlash.

It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning the crippled power station would snowball from 2 trillion yen to 8 trillion yen. An internal document that the ministry had compiled by September last year stated that the costs of compensation payments as well as the decommissioning expenses should be added to power transmission fees that new power companies pay for the use of major utilities’ power grids.

If the decommissioning costs that are expected to increase by trillions of yen were regarded as TEPCO’s debts, the utility would fall into a state of capital deficit — in which the company’s debts surpass its assets. It could force TEPCO to delist its stock on stock markets and make it difficult for banks to continue loaning to the firm.

To avoid such a situation, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to change the accounting rules to allow TEPCO to book the decommissioning costs in separate years. To do so, however, it is necessary to guarantee that the costs can be recovered from TEPCO every year. Two plans surfaced to enable this.

One is to accumulate money to be saved through TEPCO’s cost-cutting measures and management reform at the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NFD), which would control the decommissioning costs. The other is to add part of the decommissioning costs to transmission fees.

In October, a senior ministry official told LDP legislators behind closed doors, “It’s safer to add the costs to the transmission fees than relying on TEPCO’s management reform.”

However, experts as well as the general public intensified their criticism of the plan to add decommissioning expenses to the transmission fees despite the earlier plan to make sure that TEPCO fully secured funds for decommissioning the plant.

In response, the ministry changed its policy. In a Nov. 8 document that the ministry released when briefing LDP members, it stated the two plans as ways to certainly secure enough funds for decommissioning the plant. However, in its Dec. 1 document, the plan to add the costs to transmission fees was dropped.

“We considered the use of transmission fees but we can’t implement it because of mounting criticism of the plan,” said a ministry official in charge of the matter.

On the other hand, major power suppliers besides TEPCO have footed the costs of paying compensation to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. An expert committee dealing with the matter proposed at the end of the year that the increase in the amount of compensation payments should be raised by adding the amount to transmissions fees.

Saying that power companies that own nuclear plants should have saved money to respond to nuclear accidents, the panel recommended that new power companies should shoulder part of the costs because their customers had previously benefited from nuclear power run by major utilities.

The committee also proposed that major power suppliers be obligated to supply less expensive electricity, such as power generated at nuclear plants, to new power companies. In other words, the panel attempted to take the carrot-and-stick approach to convince new market entrants.

In response to the recommendations, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will implement the proposals after soliciting public comments. As a result of the implementation of the plan, the monthly electric power bill for a standard household in Japan, excluding Okinawa Prefecture where there are no nuclear plants, would rise an average of 18 yen over a 40-year period from 2020.

The ministry patiently and carefully formed consensus among legislators over the plan. The committee’s conclusion was based on its explanatory document that the panel presented to the LDP shortly before.

House of Representatives member Taro Kono and a few other LDP legislators calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on atomic power voiced opposition, but they fell far short of a majority.

Minako Oishi, an adviser on consumer affairs who sits at the experts’ panel, repeatedly voiced opposition to adding compensation costs to transmission fees on the grounds that it would run counter to the purpose of liberalizing the power market. She also released a written statement to that effect. However, she was unable to overwhelm the firm alliance between politicians and bureaucrats.

“I have the impression that the conclusion had been drawn in advance. Such a serious matter as the additional financial burden of dealing with the Fukushima accident should’ve been discussed at the Diet,” Oishi said.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the ministry’s expert committee compiled its recommendations estimating that TEPCO needs to shoulder 16 trillion yen of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The recommendations urged TEPCO to merge each of its divisions, including nuclear power and power transmission, with those of other companies — effectively leading to a split of the utility — and advance into the global market.

On the same day, a message by TEPCO President Naomi Hirose was released through the company’s in-house computer network. “If we steadily continue our work without hesitation, we can open up new opportunities. This is something that only TEPCO can do,” the message said.

However, the message reflects Hirose’s anxiety. Hirose told TEPCO executives the following day at the headquarters, “I’m worried whether employees can maintain their morale. Please try not to make them feel weak.”

TEPCO failed to achieve its goal of getting out of state control as early as fiscal 2017 by improving its business performance — because there are no prospects that its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture can be reactivated in the foreseeable future.

TEPCO Director Keita Nishiyama sat at the news conference on July 28 with Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Hirose, and read a statement saying that “the government needs to clarify its policy” on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the nuclear crisis, which is expected to worsen. Nishiyama is a bureaucrat that the ministry loaned to TEPCO as a board member after placing the utility under state control.

His tough statement indirectly asks the government for assistance. A TEPCO executive said, “It’s not a type of statement written by a private company insider.”

At the news conference, the ministry suggested that it would take the opportunity of discussions on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis to embark on its long-cherished goal of restructuring the electric power and atomic energy industries.

About two months later, the ministry set up two expert panels — one on TEPCO reform and the other on the reform of the electric power system.

“In Japan, the demand for power has stagnated. In particular, regulations on the atomic energy business are stiff. Therefore, the power industry is a declining industry. There’s no time to lose in promoting business tie-ups and overseas expansion. Discussions shouldn’t be limited to TEPCO reform,” said a ministry official.

However, some TEPCO officials have expressed displeasure at the move. “Infrastructure companies like us are different from manufacturers. It’s important to ensure stable power supply. It’s not true that we should just increase our profits,” one of them said.

At the same time, executives of other major power companies reacted coolly to TEPCO.

“We don’t know how much of the costs of dealing with the Fukushima accident we’ll be required to shoulder,” one of them said.

“TEPCO’s arrogance that stood out in the industry is still fresh in our memory,” another commented.

The ministry and the expert panel on TEPCO reform share the view that TEPCO needs to carry out the largest-scale reforms since Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, the “king of the power industry” who established major power companies’ regional monopolies in order to ensure stable power supply.

However, Japanese semiconductor and liquid crystal manufacturers and other companies that were integrated on the initiative of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have not grown as the ministry had aimed.

As such, it remains to be seen whether TEPCO will join hands with other power companies and gain entry into the global market as the ministry envisages. “

by The Mainichi

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