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

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Japan circling back to nuclear power after Fukushima disaster — Forbes

” In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, Japan idled all 54 of its nuclear plants. Now, though, five of them are back online while many more may be on the way.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is pro-business and who realizes that without carbon-free nuclear power the country won’t meet its climate objectives, has said that reactors deemed safe by regulators would be restarted. To that end, the Japanese media is reporting that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) — the state-run utility that operated the Fukushima plant — is expected to get approval to rev up two units that resemble the design of the reactors that succumbed to the natural disaster in March 2011. 

“One consequence of the accident was a gradual shutdown of all nuclear power plants, which has led to a significant rise in fossil fuels use, increased fuel imports and rising carbon dioxide emissions. It has also brought electricity prices to unsustainable levels,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports. “The IEA encourages Japan to increase low-carbon sources of power supply.”

Meanwhile, another Japanese utility, Kansai Electric Power Co., recently started up two different reactors. While 43 other reactors remain offline, about 21 re-start applications are now pending with an estimated of 12 units to come back in service by 2025 and 18 by 2030, Japan Forward reports.  (The Fukushima accident took out four of the 54 nuclear units. Five of those are now back in service, leaving 43 idled.)

Right now, nuclear energy is providing 1.7% of Japan’s electricity, which is down from 30% before the 2011 accident. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says that if the country is to meet its obligations under the Paris climate accord, then nuclear energy needs to make up between 20-22% of the nation’s portfolio mix — a country with limited natural resources upon which it can rely. Under that agreement, Japan has committed to cut its CO2 emissions by 26% between 2013 and 2030. 

“We believe that energy policy is a core policy of a nation, and must be approached from a medium- to long-term standpoint … especially as Japan has few energy resources,” the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan chairman Makoto Yagi is quoted as saying by the World Nuclear News. 

One factor that has helped Japan is a nuclear watchdog that was created in September 2012: The Nuclear Regulation Authority has eliminated the cozy relationships that allowed utility employees to become nuclear regulators and it has stood up to political pressure to turn a blind eye to operational shortcuts. The agency has shown its willingness to exert its influence and to routinely give updates on the disabled Fukushima nuclear facility. 

As such, the country’s nuclear reactors are all going through rigorous stress tests to ensure that they can survive events similar to what happened in March 2011. The Federation of American Scientists has said that the accident at Fukushima was preventable and its findings are being used to enable the restarts of more nuclear units in Japan.  

The potential restart of Japan’s nuclear fleet is within grasp in large measure because the infrastructure is in place and dismantling it would take decades, all of which makes nuclear power a more plausible long term alternative than importing liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Besides the economics, nuclear energy — from a climate point of view — is better than natural gas. 

No doubt, Japan has turned more and more to renewable energy and energy efficiency, which have helped the country reduce both its electricity consumption and its fossil fuel usage — something that a a majority of the country’s citizens favor. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry suggests increasing its green energy mix from 9 percent today 22-24% by 2030. Major Japanese companies such as Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi are investing in wind, solar, and smart-grid technologies.

In combination with nuclear energy, low-carbon sources would amount to roughly 45% of the electricity portfolio mix by 2030 — if Japanese trade and energy officials’ plans come to fruition. Meantime, fossil fuels — coal, LNG and oil — would comprise 55% by then, which have been as much as 85% in recent years.

“The key in moving forward is how to implement the new energy mix that the government has set,” Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan chairman Yagi said. “The power companies will meet the (safety, energy security, economic efficiency and environmental conservation standards) and contribute to the energy policy of Japan by maintaining and establishing generation facilities as appropriate, fully in line with the government’s policies.” 

The Japanese people’s continued skepticism is natural and healthy. But their leadership asserts that the critics’ concerns have been addressed and that the nuclear energy sector has undergone a transformation — one that is safer and more transparent than it has ever been. If Japan is to expand its economy while reducing its CO2 emissions, officials there reason that nuclear energy is critical and thus, they must leverage their existing assets. “

contributions by Ken Silverstein

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High-priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful — The Mainichi

” A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.

Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.

In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”

The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.

Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness. An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.

TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.

Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.

At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.

Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.

Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.

Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”

In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.

In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.

Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.

The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented. “

by The Mainichi

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Excessive radiation detected in vehicles removed from Fukushima nuke plant — The Mainichi

” Radiation topping the government-set limit has been detected in about 190 vehicles removed from the premises of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, it has been learned.

Some of the cars were sold on the used-car market while two others remain unaccounted for, according to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

Approximately 1,700 vehicles were parked on the premises of the power station when the nuclear crisis broke out after it was hit by the powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, TEPCO officials said. Of those, about 600 were owned by employees of TEPCO or companies contracted by the utility. Over a 12-day period until radiation screenings began on March 23 of that year, people could drive the vehicles out of the premises of the plant without checks.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry instructed TEPCO in February 2012 to conduct a follow-up probe into the use of these vehicles for fear that next owners of those cars could be exposed to radiation without knowing that the vehicles were contaminated.

The power company conducted a survey on employees and contracted companies that parked their cars on the plant’s premises at the time of the accident, and confirmed that about 460 vehicles were brought out of the plant by April 2015. It was learned that radiation levels for around 190 of the vehicles exceeded government-set safety standards, and some of them were found contaminated with radiation nearly 10 times over the limit. All the vehicles whose radiation levels exceeded the limit were collected from their owners and are now stored on TEPCO’s premises situated in a Fukushima Prefecture area designated as a highly contaminated “difficult-to-return zone.”

TEPCO is considering how to dispose of these heavily contaminated vehicles, with an official saying, “We’d like to continue searching for two vehicles that remain unaccounted for and respond to the situation in an appropriate manner.” ”

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Minister opposes releasing treated water from Fukushima plant into sea — The Mainichi

According to The Georgia Straight, plans to dump tritium-contaminated waste water into the Pacific Ocean have been cancelled.

The Mainichi: ” TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister said Friday he is opposed to treated water from the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant being released into the sea, citing the possible repercussions for local fishermen.

Masayoshi Yoshino’s remarks came shortly after a top official from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said he is ready to see the tritium-containing water dumped into the sea.

A government panel is still debating how to deal with the water stored in tanks at the plant where three nuclear reactors melted down in the days after a huge earthquake and then tsunami struck the region in 2011.

Tritium is a radioactive substance considered relatively harmless to humans. It remains in the filtered water as it is difficult to separate even after passing through a treatment process. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water is routinely released into the sea after it is diluted.

Yoshino expressed at a news conference his concerns over the potential ramifications of releasing the treated water into the sea, saying there would “certainly be (perception) damage due to unfounded rumors.”

The minister urged those pushing for the release of the water “not to create fresh concerns for fishermen and those running fishing operations in Fukushima Prefecture.” He also asked them “not to drive (fishermen) further towards the edge.”

He was alluding to concerns among local fishermen about the effects on their livelihood if the public perceives fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima to be contaminated.

Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said in a recent interview that the decision to discharge the treated water “has already been made.”

After Kawamura’s remarks were widely reported, the utility was forced to make a clarification through a statement on Friday. Tepco said its chairman meant to say there is “no problem (with releasing water containing tritium) according to state guidelines based on scientific and technological standpoints,” and that the decision to release is not yet final.

While the plant operator and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry want to discharge the water, the local fishermen, backed by the minister, are opposed to it.

At the Fukushima plant, water becomes toxic when it is used to cool the damaged reactors. It is treated through a process said to be capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive material, except tritium.

Yoshino said Friday that while he is aware of some scientists’ opinion that the water should be released after it is diluted to permissible levels, he is not in favor of the idea.

“As I am also a native of Fukushima Prefecture, I fully understand the sentiment of the people,” Yoshino said. However, the minister has no authority to decide how the treated water will be disposed.

An ever-increasing amount of water containing tritium is collecting in tanks at the Fukushima plant. As of July 6, approximately 777,000 tons were stored in about 580 tanks.

On March 11, 2011, water inundated the six-reactor plant, located on ground 10 meters above sea level, and flooded power supply facilities. Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. “

by The Mainichi

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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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