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Koizumi says Japan must say ‘no’ to nuclear energy

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Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks about his zero nuclear power proposal during a Dec. 12 interview in Tokyo.
January 17, 2019
When he was prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi championed the use of atomic power to generate electricity.
Then the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster struck, triggering a crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
Koizumi, in office from 2001 to 2006, and widely regarded as one of Japan’s most popular postwar leaders, started reading up on the nuclear issue, and had a change of heart.
Koizumi, 76, published his first book by his own hand titled “Genpatsu Zero Yareba Dekiru” (We can abolish all nuclear plants if we try) in December. It is available from Ohta Publishing Co.
In it, he lambasts consumers for lacking a sense of crisis and simply believing a serious accident like the Fukushima disaster will never happen again in Japan during their lifetime.
In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Koizumi said it was “a lie” to claim that nuclear power is “safe, low-cost and clean,” although that is precisely what he espoused when he held the reins of power.
* * *
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Question: An opinion poll by The Asahi Shimbun in February 2018 showed that 61 percent of people oppose the restart of idle nuclear reactors, and yet, reactors are successively being brought back online. What is your view about this?
Koizumi: Many people still support the zero nuclear power generation policy. When I teamed up with Morihiro Hosokawa, (a former prime minister), who ran for the Tokyo governor’s election (in 2014), to call for abolition of nuclear power facilities, voters on the streets showed a positive reaction.
But now many people do not realize how dangerous nuclear reactors are. They probably believe a nuclear accident will never occur again while they live because of all the attention that has been paid to safety since the Fukushima crisis.
However, in the 2012 report compiled by the government’s panel to investigate causes of the disaster, the panel’s chair said, “Things that are possible happen. Things that are thought not possible also happen.”
In other words, there are no totally safe technologies.
Q: Many people seemingly believe that they have no choice but to accept nuclear power because it costs less than other types of electricity generation and electricity rates are cheaper. Do you agree?
A: The argument is doubtful. Nuclear power is relatively cheap just because the government covers part of the costs. Nuclear plants cannot be operated without assistance from the government. Private financial institutions would not extend loans to operators of nuclear facilities if the state did not provide guarantees.
Were it not for governmental support and taxpayers’ money, nuclear power would be more expensive than other kinds of energy.
Renewable energy (such as solar and wind power) currently accounts for 15 percent of total power production in Japan. The percentage is much higher than before the Fukushima crisis. Even if costs slightly increase, citizens would accept the zero nuclear policy.
Q: Is it really possible to replace all the nuclear reactors with other sorts of power plants?
A: No reactors were operated for two years after the Fukushima disaster. But no power shortages were reported during the period. That means Japan can do without nuclear plants. It is a fact.
Q: During your tenure as prime minister (between 2001 and 2006), it emerged in 2002 that Tokyo Electric Power Co. had concealed problems at its nuclear facilities. Didn’t that cause you to lose your trust in nuclear power even then?
A: No. Power supply is important and the risk of power failures could damage the economy. It was then said to be difficult to replace (nuclear plants that produced) 30 percent of the nation’s electricity needs with other power sources.
As there were few facilities to generate power based on renewables at the time, I believed nuclear reactors were essential. I simply trusted the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which said “nuclear energy is safe, low-cost and clean.”
But that was a big lie.
Although some people argued “nuclear plants are dangerous” even before the Fukushima crisis, I was deceived by the ministry and did not take their words seriously.
I did some soul-searching and decided I ought to spread the word that Japan can do without nuclear plants.
Q: You said “deceived.” Are you working to rectify your past mistake?
A: Yes. I am touring across Japan as I am keen to share my thoughts with many people.
Q: The issue of nuclear plants and their safety has hardly featured in recent national election campaigns. What’s your take on this?
A: The construction of a nuclear reactor is estimated at 1 trillion yen ($9.28 billion) now. Building reactors requires many materials, so many companies are involved in the nuclear power business.
Many tiny, small and midsize companies benefit from nuclear plants. Many of them insist that abolishing nuclear power would throw people out of work.
Some labor unions that support opposition parties are engaged in the nuclear power generation industry, though the (main opposition) Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan says it is in favor of the zero nuclear power policy.
Q: What do you think is important in realizing a nuclear-free society?
A: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insists nuclear plants are essential, so many lawmakers remain silent about the issue. But there are lawmakers even in the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party who support the zero nuclear power policy.
If Abe declares the state will abolish all nuclear plants, the situation will drastically change. Both ruling and opposition parties can cooperate over the issue.
Why hasn’t the government set dream-inspiring goals to promote solar, wind and geothermal power generation?
Q: Could you explain the words in your book that “it is regrettable and irritating that I was deceived”?
A: When meeting with Abe, I always tell him, “Be careful not to be deceived by the economy ministry.” But he just smiles a wry smile and does not argue back.
He should not miss the current political opportunity that he has the upper hand (to change the government’s conventional nuclear energy policy).
Q: Do you talk with your son and Lower House lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi about the issue of nuclear plants?
A: He knows my opinion all too well. He is still young, so he should do what he wants after gaining power.
(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun Staff Writer Takashi Arichika.)
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January 20, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Utilities reject shareholders’ calls for nuclear power phase-out

hgjhlkmù.jpgAnti-nuclear demonstrators gather in front of the venue hosting Kansai Electric Power Co.’s annual meeting as shareholders of the company head to the site in Kobe’s Chuo Ward on June 28.

 

Japan’s eight major nuclear power plant operators rejected all proposals from their shareholders to abolish nuclear reactors at their annual meetings on June 28.

The heads of each utilities company emphasized the need for nuclear power generation as a vital energy source, citing the regional nuclear facilities which have gradually resumed operations after their shutdown in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in 2011.

At Kansai Electric Power Co.’s general meeting, the utility dismissed anti-nuclear proposals by major shareholders, including the Osaka and Kyoto city governments.

Kansai Electric brought its Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors in Fukui Prefecture back online in May and June.

Electric power distribution systems which aren’t dependent on nuclear energy should be established,” Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa urged.

But Kansai Electric President Shigeki Iwane shot back, “Nuclear power plants are essential in terms of environmental issues as well (as financial).”

We will reduce electric rates in August and raise our corporate value, too,” Iwane added.

Meanwhile, one of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s shareholders asked the company at its meeting whether it plans to pursue either nuclear energy or renewable energy.

A company executive shied away from answering directly and only replied: “Nuclear power generation is a vital electricity source. We would also like to consider renewable energy as a growing business.”

Utilities executives painted a positive picture at the other general shareholders’ meetings.

One from Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said, “As the deregulation of the electric power industry moves forward, it is necessary to resume operations of nuclear power plants as soon as possible to succeed in a competitive industry.”

A Chubu Electric Power Co. executive also said, “Even if safety measures incur costs, they can be recovered once nuclear power plants resume operations.”

Shareholders’ proposals to end nuclear power generation at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) were also rejected at its annual general shareholders’ meeting on June 23.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201706290042.html

July 5, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Could nuclear advocacy be Abe’s undoing?

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Nuclear foe: Ryuichi Yoneyama (center), a medical doctor who advocates anti-nuclear policies, raises his hands after he was assured of winning the gubernatorial election in Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 16.

Voters have elected anti-nuclear governors in Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures in recent months. These elections can be considered referenda on nuclear power because that issue was the main focus of debate in both campaigns. The results have put Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and his plans to rev up the country’s fleet of nuclear reactors — behind the eight ball of public opinion and prefectural politics.

There will be a slew of gubernatorial elections in 2017 that will focus on nuclear energy, an issue where the Liberal Democratic Party is vulnerable because it was in charge when all of Japan’s reactors were built and was arguably complicit in the culture of complacency and regulatory capture that compromised public safety. The LDP owns the Fukushima disaster and thus the shambolic cleanup further discredits Abe’s party.

The media portrayed the victory of Ryuichi Yoneyama in Niigata over the “nuclear village” candidate, former construction ministry bureaucrat Tamio Mori as a major upset. Abe endorsed Mori, but his pro-nuclear advocacy proved his undoing. Mori toned down that message toward the end of his campaign but it was too late to fend off Yoneyama, who rode the wave of nuclear anxieties into office. He replaces another anti-nuclear governor who stymied Tepco’s plans to restart reactors in the prefecture in the aftermath of the Fukushima debacle and revelations of slack safety practices.

In 2007, the massive 8-gigawatt Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which consists of seven reactors, shut down after a strong earthquake struck Niigata. Local scientists had sued Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government for selecting a dangerous site for the world’s largest atomic power plant, arguing that it is built on an active fault line, but a judge dismissed their claims as baseless in 2005.

Mother Nature ruled otherwise. The reactors all shut down, but the land subsided, breaking water pipes so that fire-fighting was delayed. More importantly, the manager of the plant said during a subsequent NHK interview that first responders had been very lucky, explaining that he and his staff would have been helpless if anything had gone wrong, as they were all locked out of the command center where the reactor controls are located because the door to the room had jammed shut due to land subsidence. Improvising, they set up whiteboards in the parking lot and relied on their mobile phones, but they had absolutely no means to manage any reactor emergency if there had been one. This story is not forgotten in Niigata.

There is heightened concern among most Japanese about nuclear safety following the three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. Three major investigations into the nuclear disaster have pinpointed human error as the main cause of the meltdowns, highlighting cozy and collusive relations between Tepco and nuclear watchdogs that compromised safety because regulations were not strictly enforced and regulators averted their eyes from serious breaches. They are also mindful that back in 2002 a whistleblower alerted authorities to Tepco’s systematic falsification of repair and maintenance records for all 17 of its reactors. A coverup failed and the media subsequently revealed that all of the utilities operating nuclear reactors had engaged in similarly shoddy practices, cutting corners to save money.

Have the lessons of Fukushima been learned and led to appropriate countermeasures to upgrade safety? Apparently voters are not convinced by the PR machine that touts stricter safety regulations and hardware upgrades, and they have been finding support among judges who have issued injunctions blocking reactor restarts that have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The NRA is the reincarnation of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which lost all credibility following post-Fukushima meltdown revelations of slipshod oversight. Alas, the Homer Simpsons of NISA now constitute the majority of NRA employees, undermining the credibility of the new nuclear watchdog agency.

The government and utilities are supposed to consult local opinion, but in practice they limit this to communities hosting reactors because these people have a vested interest in rebooting nuclear plants. Nuclear power plants don’t generate revenue and subsidies if idle, while restarting a reactor opens the spigots of cash that these remote communities are dependent on. Now that the evacuation zones have been expanded to 30 kilometers, extending into adjoining towns that shoulder the same risks without the benefits, it would make sense to give these communities a say in restarts. However, the central government opposes that because it fears that locals who have not been co-opted wouldn’t be in favor of restarts, especially since evacuation drills have been chaotic, revealing that the government is advocating restarts before it is properly prepared to deal with a crisis.

Only two of Japan’s 42 reactors are operating and one of them is in Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, where another anti-nuclear governor won election. This reactor is not far from where the devastating Kumamoto earthquake struck in April, in a region that also features a number of active volcanoes spewing ash that could block roads and impede an emergency evacuation.

What are the chances of a simultaneous earthquake, typhoon, tsunami and volcanic eruption affecting a nuclear reactor? Probably not that high, but there was such a deadly combination of earthquakes, eruptions, landslide and tsunami with a 100-meter wave recorded in Kyushu in 1791 that killed 15,000 people. But no worries — that was on a different part of the island.

Exit polls from Niigata’s gubernatorial elections found that 73 percent of voters oppose restarting the Niigata plant and only 27 percent are in favor. A mid-October Asahi poll found that 57 percent of Japanese nationwide were opposed to nuclear restarts and only 29 percent were in favor. More importantly, the same poll found that 73 percent of Japanese favor a zero nuclear energy policy in the near future and just 22 percent are opposed to the idea.

What must worry Abe even more is that within the LDP, 45 percent of members oppose nuclear energy while just 42 percent support his nuclear advocacy. Thus former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may be right with his recent assertion that Abe has a nuclear Achilles’ heel that may lead to his downfall.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/10/29/commentary/nuclear-advocacy-abes-undoing/#.WBYLfiTia-d

October 30, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/japan-energy-idUKL4N19N1D4

 

July 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

As Japan re-embraces nuclear power, safety warnings persist

An aerial view shows the No.1 and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power's Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai

An aerial view shows the No.1 (L) and No.2 reactor buildings at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear power station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan, August 11, 2015, in this photo taken by Kyodo. REUTERS/Kyodo

Japan’s re-embrace of nuclear power, on display last week with the recertification of two aging reactors, is prompting some critics to warn that Tokyo is neglecting the lessons of Fukushima.

In the first such step since the 2011 disaster, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on June 20 approved Kansai Electric Power Co’s application to extend the life of two reactors beyond 40 years.

As it became clear the NRA was going to allow the extensions, a former commissioner broke a silence maintained since he left the agency in 2014 and said “a sense of crisis” over safety prompted him to go public and urge more attention to earthquake risk.

Kunihiko Shimazaki, who was a commissioner from 2012 to 2014, said a powerful quake in April that killed 69 on Kyushu island showed the risk to some of Japan’s 42 operable nuclear reactors was being underestimated.

“I cannot stand by without doing anything. We may have another tragedy and, if that happens, it could not be something that was ‘beyond expectations’,” he said, referring to a common description of the catastrophic chain of events after the earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima meltdowns.

The NRA has said it would take into account Shimazaki’s position in some of its assessments.

Separately when asked about the operating extensions of the reactors, a spokesman for the regulator referred Reuters to remarks by agency chairman, Shunichi Tanaka, on the day of the extensions, when he said: “It does not guarantee absolute safety but it means the reactors have cleared the safety standards.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, an industry body, early reactors were designed for a life of about 30 years, while newer plants can operate up to 60 years.

A 2012 Japanese law also limits the life of all reactors to 40 years, allowing for license extensions only in exceptional circumstances.

TOUGHER REGULATOR?

The meltdowns five years ago at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi plant after an earthquake and tsunami – the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 – were blamed in an official report on lax oversight and collusion between operators and regulators.

Kyushu Electric Power is the only utility that has been cleared to restart two reactors at its Sendai plant, while other utilities have been blocked so far by legal action from nearby residents. One more reactor may restart later this month.

After Fukushima, Japan revamped its regulator and tasked it with implementing new standards that the NRA chairman has repeatedly said are among the world’s toughest.

But an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) review this year made 26 suggestions and recommendations to address shortcomings – such as a lack of communication between departments and agencies, and failures on basic radiation standards – and cited only two examples of good practice.

Tokyo is revising the law to ensure there can be unscheduled inspections of nuclear sites, a standard practice in many countries, according to a NRA document, and the regulator is taking steps to improve its internal processes.

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Japanese regulator was still young and it would take time to build up a strong safety culture.

But opinion polls show that more than 50 percent of Japan’s population remain opposed to nuclear power following Fukushima, even if using other fuels boosts electricity prices.

The NRA faces accusations that it is caving into pressure to quickly restart an industry that used to supply a third of Japan’s electricity.

“The regulator is the guarantor for the population, not the manufacturers or the utilities, and it is failing,” said Mycle Schneider, an independent analyst and one of the authors of an annual report on the world nuclear industry.

“The first level where the NRA is failing is every single day in their oversight of Fukushima,” he said.

This week a power failure at the Fukushima site knocked out radiation monitoring and the freezing of a so-called ice wall to isolate the damaged reactors. Cooling and water circulation to keep the reactors in a safe state were not affected.

A NRA spokesman said it had not issued instructions to Tokyo Electric or released a media statement because no law was broken.

The government is not pressuring the NRA to approve restarts or interfering in its operations, said Yohei Ogino, a deputy director for energy policy in the industry ministry.

But he said the government will encourage operators “to voluntarily beef up safety, as the country has lost faith in nuclear power.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-nuclear-regulation-idUSKCN0ZH4B3

July 4, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Utilities asked by shareholders to abandon nuclear energy

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Protesters including shareholders hold up signs criticizing Tokyo Electric Power Co. executives in front of the Yoyogi First Gymnasium where the utility held its annual shareholders’ meeting on June 28.

Shareholders call on utilities to abandon nuclear energy

Japan’s nine major electric power companies faced renewed calls to end their dependence on nuclear energy at their annual shareholders’ meetings on June 28.

However, as such proposals require approval by a two-thirds majority of shareholders with voting rights for passage, all were expected to be rejected.

A total of 73 motions from shareholders were submitted at the meetings of the nine utilities. Many called on the companies to leave nuclear power generation.

But executives again stressed the need for nuclear plants to turn a profit.

At the shareholders’ meeting held by Kyushu Electric Power Co., President Michiaki Uriu said: “We have been able to secure a profit due to the resumption of operations at nuclear plants and a large decrease in fuel costs. We will work toward an early resumption of operations at the Genkai nuclear plant (in Saga Prefecture).”

Kyushu Electric Power resumed operations last year at two reactors of the Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, in southern Kyushu.

Kansai Electric Power Co. also resumed operations at two reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture in central Japan this year, but the Otsu District Court issued a temporary injunction to halt them.

“We will make every effort to gain the understanding of society, starting with local residents,” President Makoto Yagi said at the Kansai Electric Power shareholders’ meeting on June 28. “Nuclear plants are an important energy source from the standpoint of economics and environmental issues. We will implement a cut in electricity rates as soon as possible through an early resumption of operations.”

At the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. meeting, President Naomi Hirose said: “We will proceed with measures to allow us to work on the important corporate issue of resuming operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant (in Niigata Prefecture).”

Hirose also apologized for a delay in announcing that meltdowns had occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck in March 2011.

Members of the Nuclear Phase-Out TEPCO Shareholder’s Movement handed out fliers in front of the venue for the TEPCO meeting.

Yui Kimura, 63, a leading member of the group, criticized the revelation about covering up the meltdown at the Fukushima plant.

“TEPCO is trying to resume operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant without taking responsibility for the accident,” Kimura said.

Another shareholder, Fusako Iwata, 66, from Gifu Prefecture, said: “At that time, the public believed without question what the central government and TEPCO said. We will not be deceived again.”

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201606280064.html

Utilities reject shareholders’ call to abandon nuclear power

Japan’s nine major electric power companies shot down renewed proposals calling for them to end their dependence on nuclear energy at their annual shareholders’ meetings on June 28.

The top executives of each utility again stressed the importance of nuclear power and indicated that they plan to resume such operations at their plants as soon as possible.

At the Tokyo Electric Power Co. shareholders’ meeting, President Naomi Hirose apologized for his predecessor’s instruction to employees to avoid using the term “meltdown” during the early phases of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

I sincerely apologize for causing concerns,” Hirose said in responding to a question from a shareholder. “I promise that we will never impose silence on our employees under any circumstances.”

TEPCO described the condition of the Fukushima reactors as suffering less serious “core damage” for two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant.

Seventy-three motions from shareholders were submitted at the meetings of the nine utilities. Many called on the companies to end nuclear power generation.

However, since proposals require approval by a two-thirds majority of the voting rights of participating shareholders for passage, all were rejected.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201606290039.html

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment