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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A Maverick former Japanese prime minister goes antinuclear — The New York Times

” TOKYO — William Zeller, a petty officer second class in the United States Navy, was one of hundreds of sailors who rushed to provide assistance to Japan after a giant earthquake and tsunami set off a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Not long after returning home, he began to feel sick.

Today, he has nerve damage and abnormal bone growths, and blames exposure to radiation during the humanitarian operation conducted by crew members of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Neither his doctors nor the United States government has endorsed his claim or those of about 400 other sailors who attribute ailments including leukemia and thyroid disease to Fukushima and are suing Tokyo Electric, the operator of the plant.

But one prominent figure is supporting the American sailors: Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi, 74, visited a group of the sailors, including Petty Officer Zeller, in San Diego in May, breaking down in tears at a news conference. Over the past several months, he has barnstormed Japan to raise money to help defray some of their medical costs.

The unusual campaign is just the latest example of Mr. Koizumi’s transformation in retirement into Japan’s most outspoken opponent of nuclear power. Though he supported nuclear power when he served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he is now dead set against it and calling for the permanent shutdown of all 54 of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster.

“I want to work hard toward my goal that there will be zero nuclear power generation,” Mr. Koizumi said in an interview in a Tokyo conference room.

The reversal means going up against his old colleagues in the governing Liberal Democratic Party as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who are pushing to get Japan, once dependent for about a third of its energy on nuclear plants, back into the nuclear power business.

That Mr. Koizumi would take a contrarian view is perhaps not surprising. He was once known as “the Destroyer” because he tangled with his own party to push through difficult policy proposals like privatization of the national postal service.

Mr. Koizumi first declared his about-face on nuclear power three years ago, calling for Japan to switch to renewable sources of energy like solar power and arguing that “there is nothing more costly than nuclear power.”

After spending the first few years of his retirement out of the public eye, in recent months Mr. Koizumi has become much more vocal about his shift, saying he was moved to do more by the emotional appeal of the sailors he met in San Diego.

Scientists are divided about whether radiation exposure contributed to the sailors’ illnesses. The Defense Department, in a report commissioned by Congress, concluded that it was “implausible” that the service members’ ailments were related to radiation exposure from Fukushima.

To many political observers, Mr. Koizumi’s cause in retirement is in keeping with his unorthodox approach in office, when he captivated Japanese and international audiences with his blunt talk, opposition to the entrenched bureaucracy and passion for Elvis Presley.

Some wonder how much traction he can get with his antinuclear campaign, given the Abe administration’s determination to restart the atomic plants and the Liberal Democratic Party’s commanding majority in Parliament.

Two reactors are already back online; to meet Mr. Abe’s goal of producing one-fifth of the country’s electricity from nuclear power within the next 15 years, about 30 of the existing 43 reactors would need to restart. (Eleven reactors have been permanently decommissioned.)

A year after the Fukushima disaster, antinuclear fervor led tens of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo near the prime minister’s residence to register their anger at the government’s decision to restart the Ohi power station in western Japan. Public activism has dissipated since then, though polls consistently show that about 60 percent of Japanese voters oppose restarting the plants.

“The average Japanese is not that interested in issues of energy,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, professor of political science at Northeastern University. “They are antinuclear, but they are not willing to vote the L.D.P. out of office because of its pronuclear stance.”

Sustained political protest is rare in Japan, but some analysts say that does not mean the antinuclear movement is doomed to wither.

“People have to carry on with their lives, so only so much direct action can take place,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Antinuclear activism “may look dormant from appearances, but it’s there, like magma,” he said. “It’s still brewing, and the next trigger might be another big protest or political change.”

Some recent signs suggest the movement has gone local. In October, Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor in Niigata, the prefecture in central Japan that is home to the world’s largest nuclear plant, after campaigning on a promise to fight efforts by Tokyo Electric to restart reactors there.

Like Mr. Koizumi, he is an example of how the antinuclear movement has blurred political allegiances in Japan. Before running for governor, Mr. Yoneyama had run as a Liberal Democratic candidate for Parliament.

Mr. Koizumi, a conservative and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, may have led the way.

“Originally, the nuclear issue was a point of dispute between conservatives and liberals,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and leading antinuclear activist. “But after Mr. Koizumi showed up and said he opposed nuclear power, other conservatives realized they could be against nuclear power.”

Since he visited the sailors in San Diego, Mr. Koizumi has traveled around Japan in hopes of raising about $1 million for a foundation he established with another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, an independent who has previously been backed by the opposition Democratic Party, to help pay some of the sailors’ medical costs.

Mr. Koizumi is not involved in the sailors’ lawsuit, now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Tokyo Electric is working to have the case moved to Japan.

Aimee L. Tsujimoto, a Japanese-American freelance journalist, and her husband, Brian Victoria, an American Buddhist priest now living in Kyoto, introduced Mr. Koizumi to the plaintiffs. Petty Officer Zeller, who said he took painkillers and had tried acupuncture and lymph node massages to treat his conditions, said the meeting with Mr. Koizumi was the first time that someone in power had listened to him.

“This is a man where I saw emotion in his face that I have not seen from my own doctors or staff that I work with, or from my own personal government,” said Petty Officer Zeller, who works at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. “Nobody has put the amount of attention that I saw in his eyes listening to each word, not just from me, but from the other sailors who have gone through such severe things healthwise.”

Mr. Koizumi, whose signature leonine hairstyle has gone white since his retirement, said that after meeting the sailors in San Diego, he had become convinced of a connection between their health problems and the radiation exposure.

“These sailors are supposed to be very healthy,” he said. “It’s not a normal situation. It is unbelievable that just in four or five years that these healthy sailors would become so sick.”

“I think that both the U.S. and Japanese government have something to hide,” he added.

Many engineers, who argue that Japan needs to reboot its nuclear power network to lower carbon emissions and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels, say Mr. Koizumi’s position is not based on science.

“He is a very dramatic person,” said Takao Kashiwagi, a professor at the International Research Center for Advanced Energy Systems for Sustainability at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He does not have so much basic knowledge about nuclear power, only feelings.”

That emotion is evident when Mr. Koizumi speaks about the sailors. Wearing a pale blue gabardine jacket despite Japan’s black-and-gray suit culture, he choked up as he recounted how they had told him that they loved Japan despite what they had gone through since leaving.

“They gave their utmost efforts to help the Japanese people,” he said, pausing to take a deep breath as tears filled his eyes. “I am no longer in government, but I couldn’t just let nothing be done.” “

by Motoko Rich

contributions from Makiko Inoue

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Japan business lobby says Abe govt can’t rely on nuclear energy — Reuters

” TOKYO, July 22 (Reuters) – Japan’s use of nuclear power is unlikely to meet a government target of returning to near pre-Fukushima levels and the world’s No.3 economy needs to get serious about boosting renewables, a senior executive at a top business lobby said.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s energy policies, nuclear is supposed to supply a fifth of energy generation by 2030, but Teruo Asada, vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said Japan was unlikely to get anywhere near this.

The influential business lobby has issued a proposal urging Tokyo to remove hurdles for renewable power amid the shaky outlook for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The move shows how business attitudes are now shifting as reactor restarts get held up by legal challenges, safety issues and public scepticism.

“We have a sense of crisis that Japan will become a laughing stock if we do not encourage renewable power,” said Asada, who is also chairman of trading house Marubeni Corp.

Long dependent on imported fossil fuels, Japan’s government and big business actively promoted nuclear energy despite widespread public opposition.

The government wants nuclear to make up 20-22 percent of electricity supply by 2030, down from 30 percent before Fukushima. So far, however, only two out of 42 operable reactors have started and the newly elected governor of the prefecture where they are located has pledged to shut them.

Renewables supplied 14.3 percent of power in the year to March 2016 and the government’s 2030 target is 22-24 pct.

“In the very long term, we have to lower our dependence on nuclear. Based on current progress, nuclear power reliance may not reach even 10 percent,” said Asada, adding the association wanted measures to encourage private investment in renewables and for public funding of infrastructure such as transmission lines.

The influential business lobby has a membership of about 1,400 executives from around 950 companies.

Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo focusing on energy issues, said the push signaled “a profound change in thinking among blue-chip business executives.”

“Many business leaders have clearly thrown in the towel on nuclear and are instead openly lobbying for Japan to vault to global leadership in renewables, efficiency and smart infrastructure.”

When asked about the association’s proposals, an industry ministry official said the government was maintaining its nuclear target.

“The Japanese government will aim for the maximum introduction of renewable energy but renewable energy has a cost issue,” said Yohei Ogino, a deputy director for energy policy.

But three sources familiar with official thinking told Reuters in May that Japan will cut reliance on nuclear power when it releases an updated energy plan as early as next year.

Following the nuclear reactor meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011, Japan has had some success in overcoming one of the world’s worst peacetime energy crises, partly due to lower oil prices and liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices.

Japan has also promoted renewables but most investment has been in solar and in recent years it has cut incentives.

“There are too many hurdles for other sources of renewable power,” Asada said. ”

by Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick; edited by Ed Davies

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Japan’s worst quake since 2011 seen delaying nuclear starts — Bloomberg

” Japan’s biggest earthquake in five years may slow a government plan to restart the country’s atomic fleet that was shuttered amid safety concerns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima.

A series of earthquakes, including a magnitude-7.3 tremor that struck about 119 kilometers (74 miles) from the Sendai nuclear facility on the southern island of Kyushu this month, destroyed hundreds of homes, snapped bridges and left at least 49 people dead. It has also revived an effort to halt the plants’ operations.

The events may delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of returning the country’s nuclear power plants to operation. About 60 percent of Japanese citizens oppose restarting reactors, according to a Nikkei newspaper poll from February, and the earthquake is intensifying pressure on the country’s nuclear regulator to vet safety rules.

“Nuclear is under a magnifying glass now, so even the smallest problem can create big delays,” Michael Jones, a Singapore-based gas and power analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said in an e-mail. “Fukushima has changed everything, and earthquakes and volcanoes are only making things worse.”

Transport Disruptions

Trains and highways were damaged in the Kyushu earthquake and if there is a nuclear accident from another earthquake or volcanic eruption, evacuations may be difficult, Datsugenpatsu Bengodan, a group of lawyers working to wean Japan off nuclear power said in an April 19 statement. The group said Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors, which were the first to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules last year, should be shut.

An e-mail to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority outside of normal business hours wasn’t immediately answered.

Evacuation Procedures

“Given this is the largest earthquake in over a century in Kyushu that has caused significant damage to infrastructure, it could slow down the pace of restarts,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Mathyos, a Tokyo-based energy consultant. “It may now be even more imperative that emergency evacuation procedures are thoroughly tested.”

A nuclear accident at Sendai would require the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the surrounding 5 kilometers and more than 200,000 would need to seek immediate shelter within a 5- to 30-kilometer radius, according to a local government simulation from 2014.

The NRA, Japan’s nuclear regulator, said on April 18 that it sees no need to shut the two Sendai reactors. A high court on April 6 upheld a ruling that the Sendai reactors can withstand seismic damage and don’t pose a risk to the surrounding area.

A local court issued an injunction in March preventing the operation of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, questioning whether evacuation plans and tsunami prevention measures — which had been endorsed by the government — were robust enough.

The earthquake near Japan’s only operating reactors “may boost the nation’s anti-nuclear sentiment,” Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an April 22 note. “Technical and political obstacles mean even those units approved for restart are returning at a snail’s pace.” ”

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*Editorial: 40-year rule for nuclear reactors on verge of being a dead letter — The Asahi Shimbun

” The 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors, established after the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, is now in danger of being watered down to irrelevance.

The rule requires the decommissioning of aging reactors, starting with the oldest, for a gradual, carefully controlled process of phasing out nuclear power generation in this country.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on April 20 formally decided that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which have been in service for over 40 years, meet new nuclear safety standards introduced after the devastating 2011 accident.

This is the first license renewal for a reactor that has been in operation for more than four decades under the new standards.

If they pass the remaining regulatory inspections concerning technical details by the July deadline, the reactors will likely continue to generate electricity for two more decades.

The 40-year lifespan provision was introduced through a revision to the law after the Fukushima disaster.

Just one service life extension of up to 20 years is allowed, but only as an “extremely exceptional” measure.

This exception was made to avoid a shortage of electricity. But concerns about any serious power crunch have virtually dissipated thanks to a marked rise in levels of power and energy conservation in society.

The NRA’s formal decision to extend the life of the two aging reactors came amid a series of earthquakes rocking central Kyushu around Kumamoto Prefecture which have been described by the Japan Meteorological Agency as “a deviation from the rules extracted from past experiences.”

Many Japanese are concerned that the quakes could affect Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear plant in neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture. The NRA’s decision to grant an exception to the rule so quickly could have the effect of relaxing the safety standards and deepening public distrust of the government’s nuclear regulation.

The Abe administration is leaving all licensing decisions on individual reactors entirely to the NRA. But it has mapped out a long-term energy supply plan based on the assumption that the service life of reactors will be extended.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who repeatedly pledged to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible, has been changing his stance little by little without announcing any clear policy shift.

The NRA’s mission is to enhance the safety of nuclear plants from a scientific viewpoint.

But the way the nuclear watchdog assessed the safety of the reactors at the Takahama plant has raised questions about its appropriateness. The NRA has, for instance, allowed Kansai Electric Power to delay required quake resistance tests.

If it has scheduled its assessment work in a way to ensure that the July deadline will be met, the agency has got its priorities completely wrong.

A troubling situation is now emerging where decisions on whether to decommission specific reactors are effectively left to the utilities that operate them. As a result, these decisions are being based primarily on whether extending the life of the reactors will pay.

Operating many nuclear reactors in Japan, a small country with a large population that is highly prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, inevitably entails a large risk.

This grim reality was the starting point for the reform of the nuclear power policy prompted by the Fukushima accident.

If the government sticks to the policy of maintaining nuclear power generation, the burden on society, including the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, could increase over the long term.

There is a clear global trend toward raising energy self-sufficiency through efforts to develop renewable energy sources.

A transition period may be necessary. But the only policy that makes sense is to shut down reactors steadily over a period of years.

The 40-year rule is one of the key principles of this policy. The government should remember this fact.

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 21 ”

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