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

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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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South Korea’s president vows to end reliance on nuclear power — The Telegraph

” South Korea will abandon nuclear energy amid to concerns over a Fukushima-style disaster and instead focus on renewable energy sources, the country’s president said yesterday.

Moon Jae In announced he had scrapped plans to build more nuclear power plants, ending decades of reliance on the controversial energy source.

His decision marks the latest blow to the nuclear industry, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and follows through on Mr Moon’s campaign pledge to reduce usage of coal and nuclear power.

“We will abolish our nuclear-centred energy policy and move towards a nuclear-free era.” Mr Moon said at a ceremony marking the shutdown of the country’s oldest power plant, Kori 1, in Busan. “So far South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a backseat.”

“But it’s time for a change…The country’s economic situation has changed, and our awareness of the importance of the environment has changed. The conviction that the safety and lives of people are more important than anything else has become firmly established.”

He also announced plans to reduce the reliance on coal  by shutting down 10 coal plants.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace welcomed the announcement.

“People in South Korea have been demanding an energy transition for a long time in major cities and this is one reason why President Moon’s electoral pledge for a safe and clean energy policy was so popular during the presidential campaign,” said Daul Jang, a senior climate & energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

“We are living in a different world from the 1970s when nuclear power kicked-off in Korea. Incidents such as the Fukushima disaster, the magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Gyeongju 2016 and the worsening fine dust pollution in large cities all became critical turning points for people to realise that safety and health are of foremost value. Nuclear and coal are clearly two of the most unsafe and polluting energy resources,” said Jang.

“Wind and solar energy will account for over a third of the world’s power generation by 2040 so President Moon’s promise to prioritise renewables as a source of national growth provides great hope. We can only expect this to strengthen the competitiveness of the Korean industry, both nationally and internationally.”

South Korea has 25 nuclear reacts which supply roughly a third of the country’s electricity. But the country’s enthusiasm for the energy source quickly waned following the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns in its neighbor Japan.

In the following year, fake parts scandals prompted an investigation and spread fear over nuclear plants’ safety.

Recent earthquakes in southeastern South Korea also dented public support in the country that was long believed to be safe from earthquakes. South Korea is also searching for answers on how and where to store spent nuclear fuels permanently.

Mr Moon hopes to gradually replace nuclear power with renewable energy sources which should supply at least 20 per cent of all electricity by 2030, according to government targets. ”

by James Rothwell

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Fukushima Bill — Asia Times

” Six years after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident three global nuclear corporations are fighting for their very survival.

The bankruptcy filing by Westinghouse Electric Co. and its parent company Toshiba Corp. preparing to post losses of ¥1 trillion (US$9 billion), is a defining moment in the global decline of the nuclear power industry.

However, whereas the final financial meltdown of Westinghouse and Toshiba will likely be measured in a few tens of billions of dollars, those losses are but a fraction of what Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) is looking at as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

If the latest estimates for the cost of cleaning up the Fukushima plant prove accurate, Tepco faces the equivalent of a Toshiba meltdown every year until 2087.

In November 2016, the Japanese Government announced a revised estimate for the Fukushima nuclear accident (decommissioning, decontamination, waste management and compensation) of ¥21.5 trillion (US$193 billion) – a doubling of their estimate in 2013.

But the credibility of the government’s numbers have been questioned all along, given that the actual ‘decommissioning’ of the Fukushima plant and its three melted reactors is entering into an engineering unknown.

This questioning was borne out by the November doubling of cost estimates after only several years into the accident, when there is every prospect Tepco will be cleaning up Fukushima well into next century.

And sure enough, a new assessment published in early March from the Japan Institute for Economic Research, estimates that total costs for decommissioning, decontamination and compensation as a result of the Fukushima atomic disaster could range between ¥50-70 trillion (US$449-628 billion).

Rather than admit that the Fukushima accident is effectively the end of Tepco as a nuclear generating company, the outline of a restructuring plan was announced last week.

Tepco Holdings, the entity established to manage the destroyed nuclear site, and the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) are seeking ways to sustain the utility in the years ahead, confronted as they are with escalating Fukushima costs and electricity market reform.

The NDF, originally established by the Government in 2011 to oversee compensation payments and to secure electricity supply, had its scope broadened in 2014 to oversee decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant on the Pacific Ocean coast north of Tokyo.

The latest restructuring plan is intended to find a way forward for Tepco by securing a future for its nuclear, transmission and distribution businesses. If possible in combination with other energy companies in Japan.

But the plan, already received less than warmly by other utilities rightly concerned at being burdened with Tepco’s liabilities, is premised on Fukushima cost estimates of ¥21.5 trillion — not ¥50-70 trillion.

To date Tepco’s Fukushima costs have been covered by interest-free government loans, with ¥6 trillion (US$57 billion) already paid out. Since 2012 Tepco’s electricity ratepayers have paid ¥2.4 trillion to cover nuclear-related costs, including the Fukushima accident site.

That is nothing compared to the costs looming over future decades and beyond and it comes at a time when Tepco and other electric utilities are under commercial pressure as never before.

The commercial pressure comes from electricity market reform that since April 2016 allowed consumers to switch from the monopoly utilities to independent power providers.

Prior to the deregulation of the retail electricity market, Tepco had 22 million customers. As the Tepco president observed late last year “The number (of customers leaving Tepco) is changing every day as the liberalization continues … We will of course need to think of ways to counter that competition.”

Countering that competition shouldn’t mean rigging the market, yet Tepco and the other utilities intend to try and retain their decades long dominance of electricity by retaining control over access to the grid. This is a concerted push back against the growth of renewable energy.

Current plans to open the grid to competition in 2020, so called legal unbundling, are essential to wrest control from the big utilities.

The message of unbundling and independence, however, doesn’t seem to have reached the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that oversees the electricity industry.

Current plans would allow Tepco to establish separate legal entities: Tepco Fuel & Power (thermal power generation), Tepco Energy Partner (power distribution) and Tepco Power Grid (power transmission).

Tepco Holdings will retain their stock and control their management, meaning the same monopoly will retain control of the grid. Where Tepco leads, the other nine electric utilities are aiming to follow.

Leaving the grid effectively still under the control of the traditional utilities will throw up a major obstacle to large scale expansion of renewable energy sources from new companies.

Such businesses will be ‘curtailed’ or stopped from supplying electricity to the grid when the large utilities decide it’s necessary, justified for example to maintain the stability of the grid.

The fact that ‘curtailment’ will be permitted in many regions without financial compensation piles further pain onto new entrants to the electricity market, and by extension consumers.

Further, METI plans to spread the escalating costs of Fukushima so that other utilities and new power companies pay a proportion of compensation costs. METI’s justification for charging customers of new energy companies is that they benefited from nuclear power before the market opened up.

The need to find someone else to pay for Tepco’s mess is underscored by the breakdown of the Fukushima disaster cost estimate in November.

When put at ¥22 trillion estimate, ¥16 trillion is supposed to be covered by Tepco. The Ministry of Finance is to offer ¥2 trillion for decontamination, and the remaining ¥4 trillion is to be provided by other power companies and new electricity providers.

The question is how does Tepco cover its share of the costs when it’s losing customers and its only remaining nuclear plant in Japan, Kashiwazaki Kariwa (the worlds largest), has no prospect of restarting operation due to local opposition?

What happens when Fukushima costs rise to the levels projected of ¥50-70 trillion?

The policy measures being put in place by Tepco, other utilities and the government suggests that they know what is coming and their solution for paying for the world’s most costly industrial accident will be sticking both hands into the public purse. ”

by Shaun Burnie, Asia Times

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Radioactive Fukushima wood becomes power in German machine — Bloomberg

” Japan is turning to a small German company to generate power from timber irradiated by the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear meltdowns.

Closely held Entrade Energiesysteme AG will sell electricity from 400 of its container-sized biomass-to-power machines set up in Fukushima Prefecture, said the Dusseldorf-based company’s Chief Executive Officer Julien Uhlig. The devices will generate 20 megawatts of power by next year and function like a “biological battery” that kicks in when the sun descends on the the region’s solar panels, he said.

Selling green power with Entrade’s mobile units could support Japanese attempts to repopulate a region that’s struggled to restore normality after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed 18,000 people while also triggering the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that dislocated 160,000 others. The prefecture aims to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2040.

Entrade’s so-called E4 plants, four of which fit inside a 40-foot (12-meter) container, can reduce the mass of lightly irradiated wood waste by 99.5 percent, according to Uhlig. Shrinking the volume of waste could help Japanese authorities who need to reduce the volume of contaminated materials. Workers around Fukushima have been cleaning by scraping up soil, moss and leaves from contaminated surfaces and sealing them in containers.

“Burning won’t destroy radiation but we can shrink detritus to ash and create a lot of clean power at the same time,” said Uhlig, a former German government employee, in a phone call from Tokyo on Oct. 21. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project but I also detected a high degree of reluctance in Fukushima to talk about radiation.”

Ballooning Costs

The decommissioning of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s stricken plant is set to take as long as four decades and the government estimates environmental clean-up costs may balloon to $3.3 trillion yen ($31.5 billion) through March 2018.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in March that Japan cannot forgo nuclear power. His government wants about a fifth of Japan’s power generated by nuclear by 2030, compared with almost 30 percent before three reactors melted down at the Fukushima plant.

Currently, just two of the nation’s 42 operable nuclear reactors are running, which has translated into higher costs for imported fossil fuels as well as more greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection declined to comment on the process of burning radioactive waste in Fukushima. Entrade’s biomass units will be located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Tepco reactors, said Uhlig.

Like Muesli

Entrade’s biomass plants, which rely partly on technology developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, are “compactors” of lightly irradiated waste, said Uhlig. The “all in the box” technology is attractive to environmentally-conscious clients who have a steady stream of bio waste but don’t want to invest in a plant, he said.

Uhlig’s company is cooperating with London’s Gatwick Airport to turn food waste from airlines into power. Royal Bank of Scotland financed another project supplying power from 200 units to an industrial estate near Liverpool, U.K.

Entrade has experimented with 130 types of biofuel since beginning operation in 2009. The company claims its plants convert biomass to power with 85 percent efficiency.

“It’s a bit like mixing muesli, taking what’s available from clients or the locality and blending it,” said Uhlig.

Entrade is moving its headquarters to Los Angeles to generate investment capital and help meet demand in the U.S. and Caribbean, he said. The company has 250 units in California and can hardly keep up with demand, Uhlig said. ”

by Brian Parkin

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