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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Fukushima backlash hits Japan prime minister — CounterPunch

” Nuclear power may never recover its cachet as a clean energy source, irrespective of safety concerns, because of the ongoing saga of meltdown 3/11/11 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Over time, the story only grows more horrific, painful, deceitful. It’s a story that will continue for generations to come.

Here’s why it holds pertinence: As a result of total 100% meltdown, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) cannot locate or remove the radioactive molten core or corium from the reactors. Nobody knows where it is. It is missing. If it is missing from within the reactor structures, has it burrowed into the ground? There are no ready answers.

And, the destroyed nuclear plants are way too radioactive for humans to get close enough for inspection. And, robotic cameras get zapped! Corium is highly radioactive material, begging the question: If it has burrowed through the containment vessel, does it spread underground, contaminating farmland and water resources and if so, how far away? Nobody knows?

According to TEPCO, removing the melted cores from reactors 1,2 and 3 will take upwards of 20 years, or more, again who knows.

But still, Japan will hold Olympic events in Fukushima in 2020 whilst out-of-control radioactive masses of goo are nowhere to be found. TEPCO expects decades before the cleanup is complete, if ever. Fortunately, for Tokyo 2020 (the Olympic designation) radiation’s impact has a latency effect, i.e., it takes a few years to show up as cancer in the human body.

A week ago on September 7th, Former PM Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan’s most revered former prime ministers, lambasted the current Abe administration, as well as recovery efforts by TEPCO. At a news conference he said PM Shinzō Abe lied to the Olympic committee in 2013 in order to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

“That was a lie,” Mr Koizumi told reporters when asked about Mr Abe’s remark that Fukushima was “under control,” Abe Lied to IOC About Nuke Plant, ex-PM Says, The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2016. The former PM also went on to explain TEPCO, after 5 years of struggling, still has not been able to effectively control contaminated water at the plant.

According to The Straits Times article: “Speaking to the IOC in September 2013, before the Olympic vote, PM Abe acknowledged concerns but stressed there was no need to worry: “Let me assure you, the situation is under control.”

PM Abe’s irresponsible statement before the world community essentially puts a dagger into the heart of nuclear advocacy and former PM Koizumi deepens the insertion. After all, who can be truthfully trusted? Mr Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power while in office from 2001-2006, but he has since turned into a vocal opponent.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Mr Koizumi said: “The nuclear power industry says safety is their top priority, but profit is in fact what comes first… Japan can grow if the country relies on more renewable energy,” (Ayako Mie, staff writer, Despite Dwindling Momentum, Koizumi Pursues Anti-Nuclear Goals, The Japan Times, Sept. 7, 2016).

Mr Koizumi makes a good point. There have been no blackouts in Japan sans nuclear power. The country functioned well without nuclear.

Further to the point of nuclear versus nonnuclear, Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma, a city of 70,000 located 25 km north of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, at a news conference in Tokyo, said: “As a citizen and as a resident of an area affected by the nuclear power plant disaster, I must express great anger at this act… it is necessary for all of Japan to change its way of thinking, and its way of life too – to move to become a society like Germany, which is no longer reliant on nuclear power,” (Sarai Flores, Minamisoma Mayor Sees Future for Fukushima ‘Nonnuclear’ City in Energy Independence, The Japan Times, March 9, 2016).

In March of 2015, Minamisoma declared as a Nonnuclear City, turning to solar and wind power in tandem with energy-saving measures.

Meanwhile, at the insistence of the Abe administration, seven nuclear reactors could restart by the end of FY2016 followed by a total of 19 units over the next 12 months (Source: Japanese Institute Sees 19 Reactor Restarts by March 2018, World Nuclear News, July 28, 2016).

Greenpeace/Japan Discovers Widespread Radioactivity

One of the issues surrounding the Fukushima incident and the upcoming Olympics is whom to trust. Already TEPCO has admitted to misleading the public about reports on the status of the nuclear meltdown, and PM Abe has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, but even much worse, lying to a major international sports tribunal. His credibility is down the drain.

As such, maybe third party sources can be trusted to tell the truth. In that regard, Greenpeace/Japan, which does not have a vested interest in nuclear power, may be one of the only reliable sources, especially since it has boots on the ground, testing for radiation. Since 2011, Greenpeace has conducted over 25 extensive surveys for radiation throughout Fukushima Prefecture.

In which case, the Japanese people should take heed because PM Abe is pushing hard to reopen nuclear plants and pushing hard to repopulate Fukushima, of course, well ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics since there will be events held in Fukushima Prefecture. After all, how can one expect Olympians to populate Fukushima if Japan’s own citizens do not? But, as of now to a certain extent citizens are pushing back. Maybe they instinctively do not trust their own government’s assurances.

But, more chilling yet, after extensive boots-on-the-ground analyses, Greenpeace issued the following statement in March 2016: “Unfortunately, the crux of the nuclear contamination issue – from Kyshtym to Chernobyl to Fukushima- is this: When a major radiological disaster happens and impacts vast tracts of land, it cannot be ‘cleaned up’ or ‘fixed’.” (Source: Hanis Maketab, Environmental Impacts of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Will Last ‘decades to centuries’ – Greenpeace, Asia Correspondent, March 4, 2016).

That is a blunt way of saying sayonara to habitation on radioactive contaminated land. That’s why Chernobyl is a permanently closed restricted zone for the past 30 years.

As far as “returning home” goes, if Greenpeace/Japan ran the show rather than PM Abe, it appears they would say ‘no’. Greenpeace does not believe it is safe. Greenpeace International issued a press release a little over one month ago with the headline: Radiation Along Fukushima Rivers up to 200 Times Higher Than Pacific Ocean Seabed – Greenpeace Press Release, July 21, 2016.

Here’s what they discovered: “The extremely high levels of radioactivity we found along the river systems highlights the enormity and longevity of both the environmental contamination and the public health risks resulting from the Fukushima disaster,” says Ai Kashiwagi, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

“These river samples were taken in areas where the Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe,” claims Kashiwagi.

“Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg” (Greenpeace).

The prescribed safe limit of radioactive cesium for drinking water is 200 Bq/kg. A Becquerel (“Bq”) is a gauge of strength of radioactivity in materials such as Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 (Source: Safe Limits for Consuming Radiation-Contaminated Food, Bloomberg, March 20, 2011).

“The lifting of evacuation orders in March 2017 for areas that remain highly contaminated is a looming human rights crisis and cannot be permitted to stand. The vast expanses of contaminated forests and freshwater systems will remain a perennial source of radioactivity for the foreseeable future, as these ecosystems cannot simply be decontaminated” (Greenpeace).

Still, the Abe administration is to be commended for its herculean effort to try to clean up radioactivity throughout Fukushima Prefecture, but at the end of the day, it may be for naught. A massive cleanup effort is impossible in the hills, in the mountains, in the valleys, in the vast forests, along riverbeds and lakes, across extensive meadows in the wild where radiation levels remain deadly dangerous. Over time, it leaches back into decontaminated areas.

And as significantly, if not more so, what happens to the out-of-control radioactive blobs of corium? Nobody knows where those are, or what to do about it. It’s kinda like the mystery surrounding black holes in outer space, but nobody dares go there.

Fukushima is a story for the ages because radiation doesn’t quit. Still, the Olympics must go on, but where? ”

by Robert Hunziker

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Monju fiasco, Fukushima plans point to a better energy source — The Asahi Shimbun

” We are perhaps witnessing a turning point in history regarding humankind and energy.

The total capacity of facilities in Japan that sell electricity generated from solar power under the feed-in tariff system exceeded 30 gigawatts by the end of last year, according to figures of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

Most of those facilities began generating power after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. Their total capacity is worth 30 nuclear reactors, although actual output depends on the time of day and the weather.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that solar power has grown so big despite the many barriers, such as regional utilities essentially setting upper limits on the amount of electricity generated with renewable energy sources that they purchase.

And solar power is turning out to be useful.

Through inquiries with nine regional utilities, The Asahi Shimbun learned that electricity generated with solar power accounted for about 10 percent of power supply at peak demand last summer.

In the service area of Kyushu Electric Power Co., the ratio was close to 25 percent.

The shift to renewable energies is more pronounced on the global scale.

For example, global wind power capacity topped 430 gigawatts in 2015, according to the Global Status Report released on June 1 by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), an international body.

Global nuclear power capacity is now 386 gigawatts, according to figures of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so wind turbines have outstripped nuclear reactors in terms of output capacity.

Solar power has a total capacity of 227 gigawatts, nearly 60 percent of that of nuclear power.

SOLAR FARM IN EMPTY TOWN

A symposium was held June 4 in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to commemorate the start of a large-scale solar farm project in the town of Tomioka, also in the prefecture. Tomioka remains entirely evacuated because of the nuclear disaster.

Under their own initiative, residents of the town plan to build a giant solar farm with an output capacity of 30 megawatts. Proceeds from the project will be used to help rebuild communities.

The plan is being led by Yoko Endo, a 66-year-old former music teacher, and her husband, Michihito, a 60-year-old former art teacher. The couple now live in evacuation in the city of Iwaki, also in Fukushima Prefecture.

The couple’s former home is in a government-designated “no-residence” zone, whereas Yoko’s family home nearby stands in a “difficult-to-return” zone.

Michihito’s 2 hectares of rice paddies have also been rendered unusable.

The couple said they thought they would still be able to produce something that would be good for Japan from their terrain, even if they could not return to Tomioka and no longer grow crops there.

They solicited cooperation from their “neighbors” in diaspora across the country for the solar farm project, and they obtained agreements from more than 30 landowners for the use of about 35 hectares of rice paddies.

The total cost of the project is 9.5 billion yen ($91 million), an exceptionally large figure for a project initiated by residents. Citizens’ investments will cover 1.3 billion yen of the expenses.

Proceeds from the project will be used to help elderly residents get to and from medical institutions and stores when they return to Tomioka. The money will also fund projects to help pass on farming technologies to younger generations when farming can resume in the town.

The couple plan to start building the solar farm this autumn and have it operational in March 2018.

“We hope to nurture the project so that people will look back and say that this solar farm project, led by the initiative of residents, was more bright and brilliant than any other project of the kind,” Yoko Endo said.

Other large-scale renewable energy projects are springing up in Fukushima Prefecture.

MONJU REACTOR IN DEADLOCK

“An energy source that relies on nuclear power is not suited to human needs,” Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor of philosophy with the University of Tokyo, said in his keynote lecture during the Koriyama symposium. “Once it runs amok, it hurts human livelihoods to an unrecoverable extent.”

Takahashi was born in Iwaki and spent his childhood in Tomioka. People from that area are now aspiring to create an energy source that is better suited to their needs.

As I listened to the professor talk, my thoughts went to Monju, the prototype fast-breeder reactor.

In 1956, shortly after Japan set out on its nuclear development program, the government said in its initial long-term plan that a fast-breeder reactor “best fits the circumstances of Japan.” At the time, the reactor appeared to represent the best solution.

In the following years, the fast-breeder reactor became the symbol of Japan’s nuclear development.

The government has spent 1 trillion yen on the construction of Monju, which began in earnest in 1985. But its development program was suspended after sodium leaked from the reactor in 1995.

Things got so bad that the Nuclear Regulation Authority recommended to science minister Hiroshi Hase last November that Monju should be brought under a different operating body.

“The first thing to do is to implement reliable maintenance in a state of suspended operation,” a study group set up by the science ministry said May 27 in a report about Monju’s operating body.

Something as basic as that is not being done properly.

A project once thought to symbolize national policy was, after all, not best suited to the people’s needs. ”

by Toshihide Ueda

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Japan wants Fukushima to be major hydrogen production center — Green Car Reports

” Japan’s Fukushima prefecture was the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in recent years, but the Japanese government has ambitious plans for the region.

Fukushima’s name is now associated with the nuclear power plant that suffered a major malfunction as a result of damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

Now the government wants Fukushima to become a major hydrogen production center.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes Fukushima can produce significant quantities of hydrogen for use in Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics, according to Bloomberg.

Abe announced that goal while visiting the prefecture in March, and the national government subsequently enacted a program to promote clean energy in Fukushima.

The program will rely heavily on public-private partnerships to develop new energy infrastructure, and will also investigate greater use of wind power in the area.

If Fukushima really does become a major center for hydrogen production, it will more or less bring Japan’s energy policy full circle.

The 2011 nuclear disaster is one of the main reasons Japan’s government has pursued hydrogen fuel cells so aggressively.

It’s hoped that hydrogen can provide a safer alternative to nuclear power, while allowing Japan to abstain from fossil fuels.

Japan must import the vast majority of its coal and oil, so fossil fuels are unattractive from an economic as well as an environmental perspective.

Prime Minister Abe has discussed a “hydrogen society,” where fuel cells powered by renewably generated hydrogen are used to power buildings as well as vehicles.

The government plans to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to jump-start that vision.

Just as the 1964 Tokyo games were used to promote Japan’s now-famous “bullet trains,” hydrogen fuel-cell technology will be showcased in the Japanese capital four years from now.

That is expected to include large-scale deployment of both hydrogen fuel-cell cars, and larger vehicles like buses.

However, that plan assumes adequate numbers of vehicles can be built in time, and that there is adequate fueling infrastructure to support them.

The government has already mandated that Japan’s three largest carmakers—Honda, Nissan, and Toyota—help fund hydrogen fueling stations.

Yet Nissan has no actual plans to put a fuel-cell car on sale, preferring to stick with battery-electrics.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance is far ahead of both General Motors and Tesla in total numbers of plug-in cars sold since 2010, at more than 300,000 vehicles.

Meanwhile, Honda and Toyota both have production fuel-cell cars, but neither maker expects to sell them in large numbers.

Toyota only plans to sell 3,000 Mirai sedans by 2017, while Honda hasn’t committed to a production goal. ”

by Stephen Edelstein

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Fukushima recovery means developing offshore wind power — Windpower Engineering & Development

” Editor’s note: Japan and Marubeni, a company based there, plan to make offshore wind power the country’s next-generation energy source. The company reports that several Japanese companies have form a consortium and tackleFukushima Recovery and Floating Offshore Wind Farm Experimental Project sponsored by METI, a world-first technology project through which Japan intends to develop and commercialize large-scale floating,offshorewindpower generation plants. “

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Nuclear remains cheapest power source despite Fukushima meltdowns: government — The Japan Times

” A panel of nuclear experts on Monday largely approved a government report saying that atomic power remains the cheapest source of electricity despite the rising safety costs triggered by the 2011 Fukushima core meltdowns.

Despite an expected glut in solar power, the government is looking to make nuclear power account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030, underscoring its policy of sticking with atomic power even though the majority of the public remains opposed to restarting its idled reactors.

According to the latest estimate of power generation costs by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, atomic power would cost at least ¥10.3 per kilowatt-hour in 2030 — cheaper than power derived from fossil fuels, natural gas, wind and solar energy.

That’s higher than the ¥8.9 projected in 2011 and is based on a projection that costs for plant decommissioning and compensation from a severe accident would jump to ¥9.1 trillion from the ¥5.8 trillion estimated in 2011, reflecting the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

METI also said additional safety measures required to run a nuclear reactor would cost an average of ¥60.1 billion.

But the increase in overall generation costs is limited because the probability of a nuclear accident would decrease after utilities complete their safety measures, it said.

In the report, the ministry also estimates that coal-fired power will cost ¥12.9 per kwh and liquefied natural gas ¥13.4 per kwh, compared with earlier projections of ¥10.3 and ¥10.9, respectively.

Wind power would cost up to ¥34.7, solar power up to ¥16.4, geothermal power ¥16.8, and hydropower up to ¥27.1 per kwh, the report said.

In its national energy policy adopted last year, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power and promote renewable energy as much as possible, while standing by nuclear as a key power source, citing the importance of a stable electricity supply to economic growth.

Japan is expecting a glut in solar power because utilities refuse to upgrade their power grids to purchase all the energy as mandated under the feed-in tariff system. A study has found that seven of the nation’s utilities lack the transmission network capacity to accept all of the solar power energy that suppliers plan to generate, METI says.

Combined, they can only accept 58 percent of the total, METI said. METI began looking into their transmission capacities after five utilities decided to cap their clean energy intake, revolting against the government’s plan to increase generation of renewable energy in light of the Fukushima disaster.

Under the feed-in tariff system, utilities are obliged to purchase all electricity generated from such sources as solar, wind and geothermal power at fixed rates for a set period.

But the system ran into a roadblock after new suppliers flooded the solar power business, prompting the utilities to suspend signing power-purchasing contracts in September amid fears that overcapacity could cause blackouts.

Currently, all of Japan’s commercial nuclear reactors remain offline to pass a beefed-up safety screenings based on new, more stringent regulations drafted after the Fukushima meltdowns. The government is planning to restart reactors that have met the post-Fukushima safety requirements. ”

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