The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Many Fukushima mayors reluctant to take stand on nuke energy shift

The crippled No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant

March 4, 2023

Several mayors of the three prefectures hardest hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami showed a reluctance to voice an opinion about the government’s return to a reliance on nuclear power. 

The recent Asahi Shimbun poll showed the sensitivity of the issue particularly in areas that still have not completely recovered from the twin disasters.

In December, the government made a dramatic shift in nuclear energy policy that would allow for construction of new reactors and the extension of the operating life of those already built.

The Asahi Shimbun polled mayors of 37 municipalities along the Pacific coast in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures along with five others in Fukushima where evacuation orders were issued following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

In addition, mayors of three municipalities lying within a 30-kilometer radius of the Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture were also asked their views.

Of the 45 mayors, 19 were somewhat or totally opposed to a reversion to nuclear energy, while 14 were somewhat or totally in favor.

But the mayors of six municipalities that either host the Fukushima No. 1 plant or are in close proximity to the plant did not take a clear stand on any of the questions in the survey.

When the mayors were contacted individually, many said with so many residents still living as evacuees away from their municipalities, expressing a clear opinion on nuclear energy would only further divide those with differing views.

One mayor had in the past voiced clear stands on the central government’s reconstruction policy, but that led to letters sent to the municipal government criticizing those comments.

“I always feel internal turmoil about whether criticism directed at me and the municipal government will also not be turned on the evacuees” who live in various parts of Japan, the mayor said. 

Another mayor said, “I do not want residents to feel troubled by my comments about the central government’s nuclear energy policy.”

With part of the municipality still designated a “difficult-to-return zone” and the population and infrastructure nowhere close to the levels before the disasters, the mayor said, “Now is the time to put every effort into reconstruction.”

The mayor said taking a clear stand on nuclear energy issues might create division among local residents.

Toshiyuki Kanai, a professor of local public administration at the University of Tokyo, said it was understandable why the mayors were reluctant to take a clear stand because municipalities had to seek the cooperation of the central government for their reconstruction efforts.

“It is important that effects on local governments in such policy areas as reconstruction do not arise because of their opposition to nuclear energy policy,” Kanai said.

Eight Fukushima mayors did say they were either somewhat or totally opposed to returning to a reliance on nuclear energy.

The only Fukushima mayor who was somewhat in favor of nuclear energy was Ikuo Yamamoto of Tomioka.

But in response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, Yamamoto recalled the difficulties he faced with discussions about a final storage site for low-level radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear accident. 

“In my heart, I am opposed,” he said. 

But Yamamoto added that in general terms he understood that nuclear energy was effective in preventing global warming and was also instrumental at a time when fuel prices for thermal power generation were surging.

The mayors were also asked if they thought the Kishida administration had done an adequate job of explaining to the public why a move back toward nuclear energy was needed.

Thirty-one mayors said they felt either somewhat or totally negative about the government’s efforts. Even nine mayors who favored reverting back to nuclear energy felt the Kishida administration had done a poor job of explaining the reason for doing so.

(This article was written by Wataru Netsu, Shoko Rikimaru, Keitaro Fukuchi and Takemichi Nishibori.)


March 5, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , , , | 1 Comment

CNIC Statement: We Protest the Cabinet Decision on the Nuclear Power Promotion Bundle Bill

by Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center · February 28, 2023

Today the Kishida Cabinet made a cabinet decision to proceed with a bundle of bills (the GX Decarbonization Power Supply Bill), including legislation to extend the operational periods of nuclear power plants and to promote the use of nuclear power. We firmly protest this decision, which totally disregards the lessons of Fukushima.

What “careful explanation”?

The Government has repeatedly stated that it will make “careful explanations” to address the public’s concerns regarding the utilization of nuclear power plants since the GX policies were announced. However, this bill seeks to amend the Atomic Energy Basic Law, the Electricity Utilities Industry Law, the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law, the Reprocessing Law and the Renewable Energy Special Measures Law all at once. How can so many revisions with so many points of contention possibly be “carefully explained”? Even at the stage of deliberations leading up to the drafting of the bill, discussions were hasty to say the least. Why must nuclear policy be changed immediately? The situation in Ukraine and resource prices are cited as reasons, but these have nothing to do with extending the operational period or building new nuclear power stations, let alone restarting them. We can only assume that the government are trying to take advantage of the crisis to promote their nuclear policy.

Safety in the back seat

There are a number of problems with each of the bills. For example, the revision bill for the Atomic Energy Basic Act states that “safety first “ should be the approach for the use of nuclear energy and that the value of nuclear energy use, such as its contribution to stable supply and green transformation, will be clarified. We disagree that nuclear power is useful for stable supply and decarbonisation, but before that, there is a serious problem. The proposed revisions transfer the regulation of the operation period of nuclear power plants from the Reactor Regulation Act to the Electricity Business Act, and also changes the operation period from 40 years in principle, allowing a maximum of 20 years extension on a one-time basis of the operation period, which is supposed to adjust for shutdown periods.

While assuring “safety first”, the government is trying to transfer the operation period regulation, a safety regulation introduced based on the lessons learnt from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, from the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law, which is under the jurisdiction of the regulatory authority (the Nuclear Regulation Authority-NRA), to the Electricity Utilities Industry Law, which is under the jurisdiction of the utilizing authority (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry-METI). This in itself can only be described as a setback for nuclear safety regulation. Furthermore, METI’s Nuclear Energy Subcommittee’s summary also contemplates allowing further extensions in the future. Such discussions would not be possible if utilization did not take precedence over regulation.

The proposed revision to the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law will also legislate on the assessment of ageing nuclear power plants, which was previously a rule of the NRA. The Government and the NRA state that this will lead to stricter regulations, but that the substance of these stricter regulations will be discussed in the future. This in itself is a clear indication of the government’s attitude that nuclear power must be promoted according to their timetable and compared to this, nuclear safety is of secondary importance.

The NRA explains that the degradation status of a reactor can be assessed at any point in time. However, there are no nuclear power plants in the world that have been in operation for more than 60 years to begin with, and the older a reactor gets, the more its operating history will differ from the deterioration state of the reactor due to the characteristics of the materials. Even if an inspection is carried out, it is only an inspection at that point in time and cannot be said to prove safety in the future. In fact, on 30 January this year, Takahama Unit 4 automatically shut down due to a problem, but on 25 November last year, Kansai Electric Power Company had just announced that it had carried out an equipment integrity assessment (number of devices covered: approximately 4,200 devices/units) based on the assumption of a 20-year extension and ‘confirmed that there were no problems’.

Blurring the lines between operators and regulators

A major lesson of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was that the operators of nuclear power plants must be separated from those who regulate them. Twelve years after the accident, this separation is now in great danger. We believe that the right option is to move away from nuclear power, but strict regulation is a minimum requirement for both the operation and the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. However, the regulations which are supposed to be enforced by the NRA, are limited by the framework of promoting the use of nuclear energy. In recent times, very few suspension orders have been issued and no reactor licenses have ever been revoked. Remedies are also sought through “guidance and suggestions” from the reviewing authority. With such a form of regulation and the integration of regulation and promotion, is there any hope for strict regulation? Although it is said that deterioration can be assessed at any point in time, there are no clear boundaries in the deterioration of nuclear power plants. We can only make engineering decisions under great uncertainty. Under these conditions, can the regulations be trusted to always side with the safer option?

In the current nuclear policy changes, regulation and promotion have been shown to be one and the same. Several members of the NRA have expressed their discomfort that the discussions had to conform to a fixed schedule.

Before discussing the issue of extension of the operating period, it is the state of nuclear regulation that must be questioned. If the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is the starting point for nuclear policy, the GX Decarbonisation Power Supply Bill must be scrapped, and we must consider how to ensure that nuclear regulation and promotion are kept totally separate, and how strict regulation can be achieved. Without this, we can never put an end to the “safety myth” and it will be impossible to realize the most basic condition for the use of nuclear power.


March 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Credible nuclear regulation needs independence, transparency

Officials of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority meet reporters in Tokyo on Dec. 27 to explain about closed-door meetings of the secretariat and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy regarding extending the life span of aging nuclear reactors.

January 6, 2023

Nuclear regulation should place importance on “independent decision-making” and “ensure total disclosure of information,” including facts concerning the decision-making process.

This principle was established in line with the bitter lessons learned from the dreadful calamity that occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011. The pledge must not be taken lightly.

Recent revelations have raised serious questions about the nuclear regulator’s commitment to the principle.

The Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) held seven closed-door meetings with the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, an agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), over Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s initiative to extend the life span of aging nuclear reactors.

The two organizations also held dozens of telephone conversations over the matter.

After the Fukushima disaster, the jurisdiction of regulating nuclear power generation was transferred from the pro-industry METI to the newly created Nuclear Regulation Authority. The NRA is an external organ of the Environment Ministry.

In early October, the NRA instructed its secretariat to review regulations related to the proposal to extend the legal life of reactors. But the secretariat and the agency had begun holding talks over the matter at the end of July. The secretariat did not report these early meetings to the NRA or keep records of the sessions.

When these facts came to light in December, the secretariat categorically denied discussing, coordinating or adjusting nuclear safety regulations during these talks. It contended there was no problem with the “independence and transparency” of the NRA.

During these meetings, however, the energy agency told the NRA secretariat that revisions to laws including those under the NRA jurisdiction were being considered. The secretariat called for the deletion of certain provisions concerning nuclear safety regulations from the envisioned bill while beginning to consider its own bill.

It is difficult to believe that these meetings were not for advance policy coordination or discussions.

Generally speaking, exchanges of information between government organizations are necessary for smooth administrative functioning. But the NRA was separated from the METI, the leading champion of nuclear power generation, to ensure its independence.

It should not be viewed or treated similarly to other ministries and agencies.

NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka has argued that there is nothing wrong with staff members of the secretariat discussing related issues since the final decisions are made by the NRA.

But the NRA’s code of conduct, which stresses the importance of independence and transparency, states that the NRA performs its duties “together with” the NRA secretariat. The principle should also be applied to the secretariat.

The NRA’s failure to keep track of what was going on within the secretariat raises questions about its governance.

Especially serious is the secretariat’s disregard for the importance of information disclosure, which is vital for assessing and securing the independence of nuclear regulation.

The secretariat has said meetings and discussions with other ministries and agencies are not subject to the rules concerning record-keeping. But the NRA has told the secretariat to keep records of future meetings with other government departments related to nuclear power generation and make public the records.

But telephone conversations will not be covered by this rule. Is this sufficiently effective?

The top three positions at the NRA secretariat have been held by former METI officials since last summer. The NRA’s responses to the proposal to extend the life span of reactors since October have been criticized as “premature” actions even by some NRA members.

If the NRA fails to forthrightly address the suspicions raised by the latest revelations, the credibility of nuclear regulation will be undermined. The NRA should undertake a serious probe into what transpired and publish the findings.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Reviving Japan’s nuclear power industry will not be easy

People holding placards as they march on the street during a demonstration in downtown Tokyo to denounce the Japanese government’s plan to resume nuclear power use, in October 2012.

Jan 3, 2023

Japan is facing its most severe energy crisis in decades and wants to speed up the revival of its nuclear energy industry to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

But restarting more nuclear reactors remains controversial, more than a decade after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

What does the government want?

All the country’s reactors were shut down for safety checks after the Fukushima meltdown, and there are currently 33 considered operable.

By mid-December, nine were generating electricity, meeting a target set by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida this summer to help counter energy shortages and cover around 10% of Japan’s winter power consumption.

The national nuclear safety watchdog has approved the restart of seven other reactors in principle, but such moves often face fierce opposition from local communities.

In August, Kishida called for these seven reactors to come online by summer 2023 and said Japan should also consider building next-generation nuclear reactors.

He also said authorities would discuss extending the service life of existing reactors beyond the current 60-year limit if safety can be guaranteed.

Before the Fukushima disaster, nearly a third of Japan’s power generation came from nuclear energy, but in the fiscal year to March 2022, the figure stood at around 7%.

The government is aiming for nuclear power to account for between 20% and 22% of electricity production by 2030, part of efforts to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

What are the obstacles?

The success of these nuclear power ambitions lies with Japan’s independent Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which must give a green light to the plans before they go ahead.

“It will be a challenge” to get existing reactors going again, because some have been “stalled for quite a long time,” said Tom O’Sullivan, a Tokyo-based energy consultant at Mathyos Advisory.

Bringing nuclear plants online could also be complicated by “nervousness about anti-terrorism issues,” he added, pointing to concerns around plants caught in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Given what’s happening with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, I think the NRA is probably more sensitive nowadays to potential terrorist attacks.”

Surveys show that reticence among the Japanese public toward a nuclear power revival has eased since the war in Ukraine triggered a steep rise in energy prices last year.

But opposition from people living near the plants will remain a sticking point, while reports of security breaches at one large plant in recent years have added to public unease, said analyst Hiroe Yamamoto of Moody’s Japan.

How quickly the government’s nuclear power revival hopes can become reality depends on local authorities but also Kishida’s popularity this year, said Nobuo Tanaka, chair of the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum steering committee.

The prime minister is currently “in trouble,” with his approval ratings dragged down last year by scandals, Tanaka said at a recent news conference.

So “just saying we need (more reactors online) because of high energy prices — this kind of argument may not be sustainable,” and the government must also address issues such as waste disposal, he said.

January 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Nuclear plant hosts split over Japan’s reversed energy policy

An anti-nuclear rally is held near the prime minister’s office building in Tokyo on Dec. 16.

December 23, 2022

The government’s return to reliance on nuclear energy sparked both anger and joy among municipalities that host nuclear power plants.

The Fumio Kishida administration, in a sweeping reversal of the nation’s nuclear energy policy, says it intends to make “maximum use” of nuclear power to secure a stable energy supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are still struggling to rebuild our community,” said Hisato Iwamoto, a member of the Futaba town assembly. “The central government must have forgotten the Fukushima disaster.”

The town co-hosts the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Iwamoto’s family was forced to move from one place to another in the prefecture following the disaster.

In fact, all residents of Futaba were told to evacuate their homes.

As a member of the town assembly that had endorsed nuclear power, Iwamoto said he feels responsible.

“It had never occurred to us that an accident could happen at the plant because we constantly asked the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. to ensure the plant’s safety,” he said. “I now know there is no such thing as ‘absolutely safe’ no matter how advanced nuclear plants become in the future.”

Since the 2011 triple meltdown, Iwamoto has consistently sounded warnings that a serious accident could occur at any nuclear plant when he attended meetings of assembly members of municipalities hosting nuclear plants across the country.

But their reactions have been lukewarm, according to Iwamoto.

Iwamoto, 65, noted that politicians opposed to nuclear energy would have difficulty winning elections in areas whose economies rely largely on nuclear plants.

His father, Tadao, was a good example.

Tadao was first elected to the Fukushima prefectural assembly in 1971 and began activity opposing nuclear plants. That opposition resulted in three straight election losses since 1975.

Even in the 1979 election, which followed the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States in March that year, he gained the least number of votes among candidates.

After he switched his position and accepted nuclear power, he was elected Futaba mayor. He served five terms at the post.

Evacuees from Futaba were allowed to return to live in their hometown in August.

But Futaba is now a far cry from what it used to be, said Iwamoto, who still lives in evacuation in Iwaki in the prefecture.

“Community ties have never been restored,” he said.

Ritsuko Yanai, a 44-year-old mother who evacuated to Aizuwakamatsu in the prefecture, said she suspects the central government is “trying to wipe the slate clean.”

She is from Okuma, the other co-host of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

She fled the disaster with her 1-month-old son. Her parents’ home was dismantled to make space for and interim facility to store debris and waste from decontamination work.

There is no clue on when decommissioning of the plant will be completed. And the release into the sea of tons and tons of treated water stored at the plant is expected to begin in spring.

“The nuclear accident is not over yet,” Yanai said.

But in Mihama, a town hosting the Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, the central government’s decision on nuclear power was mostly welcomed.

The prefecture facing the Sea of Japan hosts 15 reactors, the most in the nation. Seven of them, including two prototype reactors and two reactors at the Mihama plant, are in the process of decommissioning.

“The central government finally took action,” said Jitaro Yamaguchi, a former mayor of the town. “Nothing can serve as an alternative to nuclear energy.”

Yamaguchi, who was Mihama mayor for 20 years until he stepped down in 2019, had lobbied Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the Mihama nuclear plant, to build more reactors in the town, with a population of about 9,000.

His pro-nuclear power stance remained unchanged even after the Fukushima disaster.

“We need nuclear plants when we think about environmental issues and power supply,” he said. “They have benefitted the local economy.”

The Mihama nuclear plant is called the “heart” of the local economy, sending “blood” to every corner of the town.

More than half of the town’s initial budget of 8.6 billion yen ($65 million) for fiscal 2022 is funded by revenues from nuclear facilities.

Since retiring as mayor, Yamaguchi, 79, has served as head of an organization promoting nuclear power.

He said he is pleased with the government’s new policy to replace retired reactors with new units. Previous governments had refused to commit to such projects following the Fukushima accident.

The town now has better prospects for construction of brand-new reactors–and more money.

“Nuclear power plants are an integral part of the local industry,” he said. “They should be built seamlessly.”

But the town is not without opponents of new reactors as well as advocates for a shift to renewables.

“A nuclear plant is akin to a drug addiction that you cannot break,” said Teruyuki Matsushita, a 74-year-old assemblyman. “Once a huge sum of money from a nuclear project is poured in the town, you are increasingly less likely to give serious thought on how to build the future of the town.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Keitaro Fukuchi, Nobuyuki Takiguchi and Tsunetaka Sato.)

January 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

VOX POPULI: Shame on you, prime minister, for your blatant about-face

JR Namie Station, upper right, in Fukushima Prefecture is surrounded by vacant land in March 2019, after homes and shops damaged by the 2011 nuclear disaster were demolished.

December 24, 2022

Mariko Sato of the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, said in March 2011: “Explosions at the nuclear power plant have forced me to evacuate twice already. What’s going to happen in the days ahead?”

“I’ve lived a bit too long. I saw something I didn’t want to see,” noted 102-year-old Fumio Okubo in April before he took his own life in front of his home in the village of Iitate.

One year later, 6-year-old Toya Matsuoka spoke of his dream: “I want to be rich when I grow up. I’m going to buy a big house that won’t be washed away by tsunami, so my entire family can live there.”

And Kunio Omori, 81, recalled his temporary return to his home in the town of Tomioka: “There were beautifully ripe, yellow fruits on apricot trees in my yard. But I couldn’t even pick them, let alone eat.”

Those are among comments by Fukushima residents who survived the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 that triggered a nuclear disaster to tell their stories to The Asahi Shimbun.

Trying to remember what kind of future our nation sought back then, I re-read the clippings, placed side by side on my desk with stories that ran in yesterday’s paper.

And I was overcome with shocked disbelief: How could anyone completely forget something of such magnitude after only 11 years?

The Kishida administration on Dec. 23 announced a new policy to make “maximum use” of nuclear power.

The government will proceed with the hitherto “unanticipated” reconstruction of old facilities, will consider building new facilities and extend the life span of reactors to beyond 60 years.

The about-face is so total, I feel cheated.

And yet, the language of the new policy is shamelessly replete with lofty “assurances” such as, “Fukushima’s reconstruction is the basis on which (the nation’s) energy policy is to be pursued” and “the sobering lessons we learned from the accident will never be forgotten, not even for a second.”

A guilty heart is said to turn one’s ears red. And that is why the kanji for “haji” (shame) is made up of two radicals that stand for “ear” and “heart,” according to kanji scholar Shizuka Shirakawa (1910-2006), the author of “Joyo Jikai” (translated into English as The Keys to the Chinese Characters).

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida boasts about his “ability to listen.” I wonder if his new energy policy has made his ears turn red, even if for just a second.

If not, it’s just too sad.

January 5, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2022, Fuk 2023 | , | Leave a comment

Japan’s changing nuclear energy policy

No matter the policy, public trust for nuclear energy is unlikely to be restored

Workers inspect storage tanks for radioactive water at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Nov 16, 2022

On Aug. 24, at the newly established GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council chaired by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the Japanese government announced a new nuclear energy policy.

The framework for this new policy consists of three key points: maximize the use of existing nuclear power plants through an accelerated restart and extension of their operation period; develop and build advanced next-generation reactors; and develop conditions suitable for the use of nuclear energy, including back-end support.

The most contentious of these is the second point: the development and construction of advanced next-generation reactors. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, previous Japanese government policy has made no mention of building new power plants, so it is being seen as a major policy change. What explains this policy change and is it really feasible?

The most significant influence on the new policy is surely the 2050 Carbon Neutral policy. At present, Japan has only nine nuclear reactors in operation. In fiscal 2020, nuclear power generation accounted for only around 7% of the country’s total power generation. According to an estimate by Hajime Matsukubo, secretary-general of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, achieving the government’s goal of raising this percentage to 20%-22% by fiscal 2030 will require around 26-33 operational nuclear reactors.

If the target ratio of nuclear power generation for fiscal 2050 is also set at around 20%, then around 37-50 operational reactors will be required. If new power plants are not constructed, by fiscal 2050 there will be three reactors with a 40-year service life and 23 reactors with a 60-year service life. If the Japanese government wants to keep the ratio of nuclear power generation at the stated level, then it will need around 20-40 new reactors.

Other factors cited as reasons for this shift in nuclear energy policy include soaring electric power prices due to the Ukrainian crisis and a desire to decrease dependency on fossil fuels. Whatever the reasons for the policy change may be, the government should explain them more clearly.

First, the policy mentions accelerating the restart and extending the operation period of existing nuclear power plants. However, the outlook for achieving this is unclear. Restarting nuclear power plants requires permission from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the agreement of local communities. Plants could also be forced to close due to legal actions such as injunctions, so there is still uncertainty.

With regard to operating period (service life), proposals — led primarily by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry — have been made for the abolishment of the 40-year operating period regulation. But even with this regulation removed, the safety of all plants must ultimately be reviewed by the NAC. If the government is to observe its policy of placing top priority on safety, then it cannot influence NRA safety inspections.

In terms of constructing of new reactors, construction costs for advanced light water reactors — seen as the most practical — are already skyrocketing in the United States and Europe. In the case of small modular reactors, the second most anticipated type, almost all overseas projects are facing setbacks, delays and they have yet to be successfully constructed.

Above all, the biggest questions are these. Can nuclear power maintain competitiveness in a deregulated market? And are any power companies willing to place orders despite the investment risks? The answers are unknown.

The global situation also leaves little cause for optimism. According to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2022, the global ratio of nuclear power generation peaked in 1996 at 17.5% and has since gradually declined, falling to below 10% for the first time in 40 years, at 9.8% in 2021. At the same time, the ratio of renewable energy (wind and solar power) reached 10.2% in 2021, exceeding the ratio of nuclear power generation for the first time in history. In terms of future growth, it is quite likely that nuclear power generation’s contribution to combating climate change will decrease. In addition, the recent Ukrainian crisis has also highlighted the risks posed by nuclear power plants in the event of war. The future of nuclear energy at the global level hardly seems bright.

There are also numerous issues to be resolved before we can even begin speaking about a shift in policy. While the decision has already been made to allow contaminated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to be released into the ocean, the agreement of local fishermen has yet to be obtained. There is also no prospect of removing the melted fuel debris from the reactor in the foreseeable future. Still today there are more than 30,000 refugees who are unable to return to their homes and many court cases for compensation are still ongoing. In short, the Fukushima nuclear disaster is not over yet.

Moreover, cleanup for the nuclear energy policy that the government has pursued over the past 50 years remains unresolved. Nuclear waste problems (including spent nuclear fuel) and the decommissioning of old reactors remain as issues, regardless of the future direction for nuclear power plants. A review of the nuclear fuel cycle policy that has left the country with massive amounts of plutonium is also necessary and inevitable.

Last but not least, there is the issue of public trust in nuclear energy — trust that was lost as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and has not been regained. Looking at this policy change, there is no trace of sufficient validation or discussion. Until a process is established for developing polices with a solid factual basis and then making policy decisions through dialogue with the public, public trust in nuclear energy policy is unlikely to be restored any time soon.

Tatsujiro Suzuki is a professor and vice director at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University. © 2022, The Diplomat

November 20, 2022 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

LDP candidates debate on nuke power must be based on realities

Storage tanks hold contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on April 12.

September 24, 2021

Japan’s nuclear power policy has emerged as one of the main issues for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race.

The four candidates for the party presidential election on Sept. 29 should face up to the lessons from the disaster that unfolded at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant a decade ago and offer specific policy proposals for ensuring in-depth debate on key questions.

Taro Kono, the minister of administrative reform who also served as foreign and defense minister in the past, is the only one among the contenders who has clearly argued for phasing out nuclear power generation.

Kono has stated that Japan should pull the plug on its nuclear fuel recycling program “as soon as possible” while promising to allow offline reactors to be restarted when they are officially endorsed as safe, for the time being.

The other three politicians seeking to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have committed themselves to maintaining the current policy of keeping nuclear reactors running. During a recent debate, they voiced skepticism about Kono’s vow to end the fuel recycling program.

Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister and LDP policy chief, questioned the consistency between Kono’s position on fuel recycling and his policy of allowing reactors to be brought on stream.

Seiko Noda, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP, ruled out any energy policy change that could cause a disruption in the stable supply of power. Sanae Takaichi, a former communications minister, stressed she would promote the development of small reactors and nuclear fusion reactor technology.

The nuclear fuel recycling process involves recovering plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for recycling back into new fuel.

But Japan’s original plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to obtain start-up plutonium for a new generation of plutonium “fast breeder” reactors fell through when its Monju prototype fast breeder reactor, which was supposed to be the core technology for the program, was shut down after a sodium leak and fire.

The government then shifted to a strategy of converting spent plutonium, formed in nuclear reactors as a by-product of burning uranium fuel, and uranium into a “mixed oxide” (MOX) that can be reused in existing reactors to produce more electricity.

But this approach has also hit a snag as the number of operating reactors has declined sharply since the Fukushima meltdowns.

Asahi Shimbun editorials have argued that the government should concede that the fuel recycling program is no longer viable and declare an end to it. To be sure, withdrawing from the program would mean spent nuclear fuel must be disposed of as waste. But Japan would only make the world uneasy if it keeps a massive stockpile of weapons-usable plutonium without any plan to use it.

Arguments concerning nuclear policy issues in general, not just fuel recycling, tend to overlook reality. The most important fact about the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima plant is that it caused tremendous damage to society.

Not much is known about the current conditions of the reactors whose cores melted down during the accident. There is no predicting when and how the process of decommissioning the plant will come to an end.

The LDP presidential candidates are divided over whether to build new nuclear plants or expand current ones. But it is obvious that winning the support of the public in general and the local communities involved for such plans would be next to impossible.

It is also unclear when the small reactor and the nuclear fusion reactor that are under development will enter commercial use.

A new estimate by the industry ministry on the future costs of power generation published in August predicts that solar power will eclipse nuclear energy in terms of costs as of 2030. It is hardly surprising that the government’s draft new Basic Energy Plan, unveiled in July, says promoting renewable energy sources should be the top energy policy priority.

Since the Fukushima disaster, the government has been seeking to restart offline reactors one by one while leaving the decisions up to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. But the government should not shy away from a sweeping review of its broken nuclear energy policy.

There are many sticky questions the LDP presidential hopefuls need to address. How would they try to change the country’s current energy mix in what ways and in what kind of time frames while maintaining a steady power supply? What would they do with the growing amount of spent nuclear fuel?

The LDP election requires them to clarify their approaches to tackling these tough challenges.

September 25, 2021 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Disputing colleague, new Japan minister calls no-nukes policy ‘unrealistic’

Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara attends a news conference at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019
September 12, 2019
TOKYO: Exiting nuclear power in Japan is unrealistic, the country’s new industry minister said on Thursday (Sep 12), in comments that reiterated the government’s line but are at odds with those made a day earlier by another newly installed cabinet member.
The conflicting comments by cabinet members appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday highlight the abiding sensitivities of nuclear power in Japan, more than eight years after the Fukushima catastrophe caused mass evacuations and Japan’s worst energy crisis in the modern era.
“There are risks and fears about nuclear power,” industry minister, Isshu Sugawara, told reporters a day after his appointment in a cabinet reshuffle.
“But ‘zero-nukes’ is, at the moment and in the future, not realistic,” he added.
The comments by Sugawara, himself once an anti-nuclear advocate, were at odds with those made by new environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, who said earlier that Japan should look at ways to exit nuclear power to avoid repeating the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.
“I would like to study how we will scrap them, not how to retain them,” Koizumi said at his first news conference late on Wednesday.
Japan’s nuclear regulator is overseen by Koizumi’s ministry, while energy policy is set by Sugawara’s ministry.
The comments by Koizumi, the son of former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, were out of step with government policy, which designates atomic power as an important element of the energy mix. The senior Koizumi became an anti-nuclear campaigner after Fukushima.
“The reality is that restarts have been not only delayed, but are increasingly difficult and many will be scrapped” said Martin Schulz, senior research fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute.
Shinjiro Koizumi’s comments were “a bit at odds with the government position – but not totally out of line,” Schultz said.
Three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi station run by Tokyo Electric Power melted down after being hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, spewing radiation.
Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which before Fukushima supplied about 30 per cent of the country’s electricity, are going through a re-licensing process under new safety standards imposed after the disaster highlighted regulatory and operational failings.
Japan has six reactors operating at present, a fraction of the 54 units before Fukushima. About 40 per cent of the pre-Fukushima fleet is set to be decommissioned after operators decided it would be too expensive to refit them to meet the new safety requirements.
The nuclear sector’s shutdown forced Japan to import record amounts of thermal coal and liquefied natural gas to replace the lost capacity, sending electricity bills for consumers and businesses higher. 

September 26, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Remembering Hitoshi Yoshioka, who fought gov’t nuclear policy from inside

March 12, 2018
“I feel sorry for the next generation that they must take on the burden of Fukushima. What we have been doing is something we must feel embarrassed about,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka at a symposium following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Those words still linger in me.
Yoshioka was a strong opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. At 43 years old he took a spot on the committee that decided the government’s nuclear policy. He was a unique presence in that he continued to criticize the government from the inside, raising questions over Japan’s policy of forging ahead with nuclear power. Perhaps his regret that he was unable to prevent the Fukushima disaster before it unfolded was behind his statement above.
Yoshioka passed away on Jan. 14, 2018, of a hepatic neuroendocrine tumor. He was 64. He studied physics at the University of Tokyo, but upon meeting Tetsu Hiroshige, a history of science expert known for his criticism of the sciences, Yoshioka shifted his focus to the history of science as well.
From the late 1980s, Yoshioka devoted himself to research on nuclear energy. He continued raining down scalding criticism of the civilian use of nuclear energy as a power source, saying that Japan’s system was “second-class at best and undeveloped” and that “what the government really wants (with nuclear power) is to maintain the structure of vested interests and the potential capabilities for nuclear weapons.” Yoshioka’s book “Genshiryoku no Shakaishi” (The social history of nuclear energy) remains as a sort of bible to those related to the industry.
“Public policies (like nuclear power) do not belong solely to politicians and bureaucrats,” Yoshioka would expound. “I would like everyone to do their own investigative research and participate in policy formation.” He hoped for the effort of every single citizen to reform government policies. Even when I, someone he barely knew, came to him asking for advice about wanting to summarize my experiences covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster into a dissertation three years ago, he readily provided me with guidance.
As the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, Yoshioka fought for the reconstruction of the lives of those in Fukushima affected by the disaster as the nation’s top priority. Also concerned about the global unrest surrounding nuclear weapons, Yoshioka said that nuclear power was just the outer moat, and the total elimination of nuclear arms was the castle keep.
Aiming for a future coexisting with science that could create a “fair society,” Yoshioka fought to the very end as an opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies.
(By Shinji Kanto, Saga Bureau)

March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Will People Power End Japan’s Nuclear Plans? The Niigata Effect



In Japan, energy policies may not go the way the government and the nuclear industry want, Pablo Figueroa writes.

There was a common concern in the mind of voters during the recent poll to elect a new governor in Japan’s Niigata prefecture: to be in favour of or against restarting nuclear reactors. The triumph of nuclear-cautious Ryuichi Yoneyama shows that people in that area of the country are distrustful of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the infamous electric utility that owns the Kashiwasaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant.

Currently shut down for inspections, Kashiwasaki-Kariwa is a massive seven-reactor power station and the largest nuclear complex in the world. Across Niigata prefecture, local residents are worried about the safety of the reactors looming in their backyard. And they should be. TEPCO is one of the main parties responsible for the 2011 nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi. The company’s systemic falsifying of safety checks, concealment of the true extent of earthquake damages and multiple nuclear incidents at their plants, as well as their proven ineptitude in dealing with the Fukushima crisis (which resulted in the worsening of the nuclear disaster) has been thoroughly documented. TEPCO recklessly put financial profit ahead of public safety, and people know it.

Yoneyama, endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, defeated Tamio Mori, a construction bureaucrat backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP’s pro-nuclear stance has been maintained with an almost blind stubbornness and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has done his utmost to restart the reactors that went offline for safety checks following the Fukushima debacle.

What shaped the Niigata election was the candidates’ attitudes toward Kashiwasaki-Kariwa: Mori remained ambiguous while Yoneyama pledged not to support restarts without a deeper investigation of the Fukushima disaster and the ability to protect prefectural residents. Most media in Japan portrayed Yoneyama as antinuclear but his stance would be better described as nuclear-cautious. His intention is to build dialogue with the nuclear industry and the central government, rather than spark a confrontation.

Losing the Niigata election is a blow for the LDP since not being able to secure control over the restarting of Kashiwasaki-Kariwa will have implications for the government’s energy policy. At the moment, only two of Japan’s forty-eight operational reactors are connected to the grid, one at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and one at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture. Previously, two more reactors had been restarted at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Oi Prefecture but were later shut down when a district court issued an injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Company to halt them. This outcome was perceived as a major victory against the nuclear industry’s unethical policies that dismiss people’s logical fears as unfounded.

Despite claims of improved safety standards, the reactors that are currently functioning still remain a huge public threat. When Unit 3 at the Ikata plant was restarted, the governor of Ehime stated that an accident similar to that in Fukushima will never happen. This claim is based on a safety myth and unnecessarily puts prefectural residents at risk. First, the plant sits just five kilometres off the Median Tectonic Line Fault Zone. This fault line, Japan’s longest, is active and projections estimate that a major quake will strike the island of Shikoku where the plant is located. Furthermore, the so-called emergency evacuation plans are largely smoke and mirrors. Nuclear energy operators make the common mistake – or adopt the typical strategy – of relying on best-case rather than worst-case scenarios. For instance, if a nuclear accident were to occur at Ikata, it is expected that people will flee by boat or car but this does not take into consideration potential bottlenecks, damage to roads, etc. A look at the access routes suggests that almost 5,000 people living on the peninsula west of the plant might become trapped. If that happens, they will be required to stay indoors where they would have no effective means of avoiding exposure to radioactive contamination. In addition, radiation-proof facilities in Ikata town are located underneath landslide-prone areas.

The situation of the Sendai Plant in Kagoshima is comparable. A major earthquake recently hit Kumamoto, an adjacent prefecture, and this was yet another red flag forcing many residents to consider how and where they would escape to should a major nuclear accident take place. The electric utility does not have a proper contingency plan. This severe flaw is a common pattern among nuclear companies and has been repeatedly denounced by groups opposing nuclear restarts.

Where is Japan going in terms of nuclear politics? The country’s leadership is in denial over the ongoing Fukushima catastrophe and the tragic situation of nuclear evacuees, the multiple issues surrounding radioactive contamination of vast expanses of land and the potential spikes in the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima. Abe’s claims that Fukushima is ‘under control’ were met with public criticism and widespread scepticism: polls showed that practically nobody believed him. This attitude goes in lockstep with the electric utilities’ assertions that, under more stringent safety regulations, it is ‘safe’ to restart some reactors. None of the arguments employed to convince people of the need for nuclear power hold true: as it is, nuclear power is neither a safe nor a cheap option.

However, the government keeps pushing for a nuclear renaissance, completely disregarding the important lessons that could have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.  But there might be a snag in the government’s plans. The ‘Niigata Effect’ may be repeated during prefectural elections next year in Onagawa, Tokai and Hamaoka, where utilities are trying to get reactors back online. The outcome of these elections might delay or impede such processes; municipalities’ might not grant the consent needed for restarts.

Without a proper consideration of the risks involved, transparency, citizen participation, and multiple stakeholder involvement, there is the danger of reproducing the institutional mindset that incubated the Fukushima catastrophe. Japan’s leadership would benefit greatly from addressing these issues rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. What is at stake goes beyond economic profit and political muscle. Irresponsible nuclear policies endanger the wellbeing of present and future generations in Japan and the wider world.

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Could nuclear advocacy be Abe’s undoing?


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.

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

The power of a vote can affect Japan’s nuclear energy policy

With brutal heat forecast for this summer, the government is not calling for power-saving efforts this year. This is a break from tradition that started in summer 2011 after the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., in March that year.

Only two nuclear reactors are currently running in Japan, both at the Sendai nuclear plant operated by Kyushu Electric Co. But the government determined that the nation’s power supply will not fall short this summer, largely because energy-saving practices have become well-established in private homes and businesses over the last five years, including the widespread use of energy-efficient LED lighting.

Japan appears to have become less dependent on nuclear power generation since the Fukushima disaster. Nowadays, the subject is debated less frequently, and anti-nuclear demonstrators have shrunk in number.

In the campaign for the July 10 Upper House election, too, the nation’s nuclear policy is hardly a hot topic of debate for the ruling and opposition parties.

But we need to re-examine whether the government is moving toward maintaining or abolishing its current nuclear policy.

Looking 20 to 30 years ahead, The Asahi Shimbun has consistently advocated a “zero nuclear power generation society” in its editorials. Our basic thinking is to approve the restart of offline reactors for the time being when urgent power needs exist. But at the same time, high-risk and antiquated reactors should be decommissioned, starting with the oldest and the most dangerous.

Abe administration’s piecemeal restart of reactors

Since the current Abe administration was inaugurated in December 2012, its track record has made the direction of its nuclear policy quite clear.

The administration initially stressed a “decrease in reliance on nuclear power generation.” But within less than six months, it put the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in the forefront to justify a switch to the policy of “restarting nuclear reactors once their safety has been confirmed.”

In the Basic Energy Plan of 2014, nuclear power is positioned as “an important base load power source.” One year later, the administration announced its decision to formulate a policy that would make nuclear energy account for 20 to 22 percent of the nation’s power supply in fiscal 2030. This target cannot be attained unless more than 30 nuclear reactors, out of the 54 that existed before the Fukushima disaster, are brought into operation.

In fact, starting with the Sendai reactors last summer, the government has been proceeding, bit by bit, with the restart of idle reactors. So far, four units have gone back on line. This month, the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co. is scheduled to resume operations. Twenty reactors are currently under inspection.

Furthermore, the NRA has approved the extension of operations of the 40-plus-year-old No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. Put plainly, even the “40-year rule,” set for averting disasters by decommissioning old reactors, is about to lose teeth.

Abe stresses nuclear power as “a low-cost and stable energy source.” But as deregulation in the power industry eliminates regional monopolies while electricity charges become less subject to rigid rate structures, nuclear power generation could actually become a burden to operators for the huge costs needed to maintain safety and dismantle old reactors.

For this reason, the government is coming up with what may be called new initiatives to protect the nuclear power industry.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is working on a policy under which the government will buy electricity generated at nuclear power stations at a set price to encourage sustained investment in nuclear power generation.

Another plan under consideration is to decrease the financial responsibility of nuclear power plant operators for accident compensation and increase the government’s responsibility instead. This goes in the opposite direction from industry deregulation.

Parties need to clarify positions on nuclear power

Many Upper House election candidates running on the ruling coalition ticket are keeping their opinions on nuclear power generation to themselves, leaving all policy decisions to the government. But some of the same candidates are also starting to call for the construction of new, safer reactors to counter the argument of people opposed to extended operations of old reactors.

Should the ruling coalition win the Upper House election, there is no doubt that it will add momentum to the Abe administration’s move to return to nuclear power generation.

The opposition camp, with some minor exceptions, is united in opposing nuclear power generation. The Democratic Party and three other parties share the policy of “realizing a society that does not depend on nuclear power generation.”

However, the parties differ in the method and speed with which they propose to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy. While the parties are sharply focused on issues related to Abenomics, the national security legislation and constitutional revision, nuclear power generation tends to remain less discussed.

Will Japan keep relying on nuclear power? Or does it aim to eventually end this reliance by switching aggressively to sustainable energy development?

Because the answer spells a fundamental difference in the future of the nation’s energy policy, every party owes it to the voting public to explain its position clearly and engage in serious debate.

In disaster-affected areas of Fukushima Prefecture, the government’s evacuation orders are being lifted one by one, but there is a long way to go before the affected citizens can rebuild their lives. For them, the March 2011 disaster is still a dire reality they must face very day.

Looking at the future

For voters not directly affected by the nuclear disaster, five years may be enough time for their interest to wane.

But electricity is indispensable to everyone’s daily life and work. An immediate and crucial political issue is how to secure the necessary infrastructure, and at what cost.

Since April, it has become possible for private households to choose their electricity supplier, giving people a greater chance to exercise their free will. Still, every ballot cast carries weight. The outcome of the Upper House election can either accelerate or put the brakes on the Abe administration’s nuclear energy policy.

We need to look at 10 years and 20 years down the road, not just today and tomorrow, when we think about the nation’s energy policy, especially regarding nuclear power.

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment