On the Future of Nuclear Energy in Japan

Discussion in 'Indo Pacific & East Asia' started by Singh, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    After earthquake, Japan can’t agree on the future of nuclear power

    TOKYO — The hulking system that once guided Japan’s pro-nuclear-power stance worked just fine when everybody moved in lock step. But in the wake of a nuclear accident that changed the way this country thinks about energy, the system has proved ill-suited for resolving conflict. Its very size and complexity have become a problem.

    Nearly a year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi facility, Japanese decision-makers cannot agree on how to safeguard their reactors against future disasters, or even whether to operate them at all.

    Some experts say this indecision reflects the Japanese tendency to search for, and sometimes depend on, consensus — even when none is likely to emerge. The nation’s system for nuclear decision-making requires the agreement of thousands of officials. Most bureaucrats and politicians in Tokyo want Japan to recommit to nuclear power, but they have been thwarted by a powerful minority — reformists and regional governors.

    The stalemate comes with heavy consequences, especially as reactors are idled, leading to record financial losses for major power companies and economy-stunting electricity shortages in manufacturing hubs such as Tokyo and Osaka.

    Those shortages are likely to mount, as more reactors are shut down for required maintenance. After the shutdown Wednesday of Unit 5 at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in northwestern Japan, the country is now operating just four of its 54 reactors. By the end of April, those last reactors are due to be idled for testing, and Japan, once the world’s third-largest nuclear consumer, could be nuclear-free, if it is unable to win approval from local communities to restart the idled units.

    For decades, Japan’s nuclear policies received little public scrutiny and generated little opposition. The country established an elaborate network of hand-holding, with Tokyo passing subsidies to host communities and utility companies forming de facto partnerships with nuclear manufacturing firms such as Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

    Since the March 11 accident, just enough has changed to stall that cooperation. Two-thirds of Japanese oppose atomic power. Politicians in areas that host nuclear plants are rethinking the facilities; they hold veto power over any restart. A few vocal skeptics have emerged in the government, and in the aftermath of the accident, Japan has created at least a dozen commissions and task forces for energy-related issues.

    The broad attempt to seek opinion might sound like a welcome change, but according to some panel members, it leaves Japan with a system that impedes reform.

    “Oh, there are so many panels,” said Tatsuo Hatta, an economist who sits on three of them. “I’m sorry it’s so complicated.”

    A debate over safety

    The most immediate question is whether to restart the reactors, which once supplied almost a third of Japan’s power. The debate comes down to how, or whether, the country can guarantee their safety.

    As utility company executives lobby for a quick restart, Japan’s nuclear safety agency says “stress tests” — in which computers simulate a reactor’s response to earthquakes and tsunamis — will be enough to assess the risks. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said last month that stress tests were a key step in confirming the safety of the power stations.

    But some local governors, and some members of key nuclear panels in Tokyo, fear that the government is cutting corners, and they note its traditional coziness with the nuclear industry. They want a revised set of safety standards that will be determined later this summer, after the government finalizes a report about the cause of the Fukushima disaster.

    With their reactors largely idled, Japan’s nuclear companies, a collection of regional monopolies, have seen their values drop by as much as 50 percent. Some have been forced to fire up old thermal plants, raising the possibility of higher electricity bills. In addition, those companies have been unable to map out long-term strategies, uncertain whether to count on their nuclear reactors or push for alternatives, such as renewables or liquefied natural gas.

    By the end of the summer, a 25-person panel — composed of economists, professors and other outside experts — plans to draft Japan’s new “Basic Energy Plan.” But that plan must then be approved by a divided parliament that has struggled to cooperate on far less controversial issues, such as disaster reconstruction.

    Meanwhile, power company employees are racing to reassure Japanese that plants are safe and necessary. In recent weeks, officials from the Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco), Japan’s largest nuclear operator, have gone door to door in towns that host its nuclear plants, conducting polls and answering questions.

    The Kansai region is Japan’s second-largest industrial area, and in normal times, its most nuclear-reliant. Until last year, a band of 11 nuclear reactors — north of the major cities Osaka and Kyoto — supplied almost 50 percent of the region’s power. Now, only one of those reactors is running.

    Obstacles to a restart

    In this region, one gets a glimpse of the obstacles Kepco must overcome.

    The governor in the prefecture that is home to the company’s reactors says stress tests alone are not enough to prove their safety. The popular anti-nuclear mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, elected in November, wants to break up Kepco’s regional monopoly; his city is the firm’s largest shareholder, and Hashimoto is trying to rally support from other shareholders to pressure the company out of the nuclear power business.

    Anti-nuclear groups in Osaka have gathered tens of thousands of signatures, raising the possibility of a referendum on atomic power. And last week, a nuclear safety agency meeting to discuss a restart at two Kansai reactors — Units 3 and 4 at the Ohi plant — was delayed for more than 31/ 2 hours because of protesters. Once the meeting got underway, the agency approved stress tests, a key step in the government’s authorization to restart the reactors.

    Closer to the nuclear plants, some feel a growing urgency. In Mihama, a three-reactor plant hugs the craggy shoreline. Its final unit shut down for inspection in December, meaning that the facility, for the first time in four decades, is producing no power. Within several months, the town will feel the economic pinch, as fewer workers draw salaries from the plant, Mayor Jitaro Yamaguchi said.

    Yamaguchi faces a delicate balance. For economic reasons, his town needs the plant. But he also wants assurances that it is safe, and he hears from residents who say that stress tests alone won’t suffice.

    So late last week, Yamaguchi took a four-hour train ride to Tokyo for a meeting with nuclear officials in the cabinet. His message: Create some new safety measures, and please hurry.

    “They need to expedite the process,” Yamaguchi said. “They’ve been really slow. Really, really slow.”

    After earthquake, Japan can’t agree on the future of nuclear power — www.washingtonpost.com — Readability
  3. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Japan's 'man-made' nuclear fiasco

    A report released last week by the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission backs what many members of the public have long believed: The fiasco at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was "a profoundly man-made disaster — that could have and should have been foreseen and prevented."

    The findings of the 19-member commission were based on a six-month investigation that included 900 hours of hearings and interviews with 1,167 people as well as nine visits to the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and three other nuclear power plants. In an unprecedented and most welcome move, the panel sought maximum information disclosure by opening up all 19 of its commission meetings to the public and broadcast all but the first one on the Internet in Japanese and English. The commission also dispatched teams overseas to confer with experts in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and France.

    The Fukushima nuclear accident, concluded the panel, "was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation's right to be safe from nuclear accidents." The commission identified the root causes of the accident as "organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationale for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual."

    The commission asserted that the direct causes of the accident were foreseeable prior to the March 11, 2011, disaster. But Tepco, the regulatory bodies, and the trade and industry ministry promoting nuclear power failed to develop the most basic safety requirements, including assessing damage probability, preparing for collateral damage containment and developing evacuation plans. Both Tepco and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) were aware of the need for structural reinforcement at the Fukushima No. 1 plant to meet new guidelines, stated the commission, but rather than demand that it be done, NISA allowed Tepco to act "autonomously" and none of the required reinforcements were done by 3/11.

    The commission also found that although NISA and Tepco were aware of the risk of total electricity outages and reactor core damage from tsunamis since 2006, NISA failed to create new regulations and Tepco neglected to take any protective measures.

    The commission uncovered evidence showing that the regulatory agencies and Tepco colluded on decisions regarding the implementation of new regulations. It also found that the regulators had "a negative attitude" toward the import of advanced knowledge and technology from abroad, and concluded that if measures implemented in the United States following 9/11 had been put into place in Japan, the Fukushima disaster might have been prevented.

    In short, concluded the commission, "There were many opportunities for taking preventative measures prior to March 11. The accident occurred because Tepco did not take these measures, and NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) went along."

    The commission also rejected Tepco and the government's effort to portray the tsunami — a "black swan" event — as the sole cause of the nuclear accident in an effort to exclude the foreseeable earthquake. The panel stated there was a possibility that the earthquake "damaged equipment necessary for ensuring safety" and caused a small-scale loss-of-coolant accident in Unit 1.

    It identified the quake as the cause of the critical loss of off-site power to the plant, and noted "there was no diversity or independence in the quake-resistant external power systems and the Shin-Fukushima transformer station was not earthquake resistant."

    The commission identified "many problems with on-site operations during the accident" that hampered an effective response and blamed them on organizational problems within Tepco, stating that "events made it clear that if there are no response measures for a severe accident in place, the steps that can be taken on-site in the event of a station blackout are very limited."

    The commission also concluded that the situation continued to deteriorate because the crisis management system of the Prime Minister's Office, the regulators and other responsible agencies did not function correctly. It pointed out that direct instructions from the Prime Minister's Office to the Fukushima No. 1 plant caused confusion at the scene and that Prime Minister Naoto Kan's visit to the scene by helicopter caused a loss of precious time for the power plant to cope with the accident.

    The commission blamed the chaotic nature of the evacuation — which was plagued by information lags and resulted in some residents fleeing to areas with higher levels of radiation — on the negligence of the regulators who failed to implement adequate measures against a nuclear disaster and the failure of previous governments and regulators to focus on crisis management. Noting that residents in the affected areas continue to suffer from the disaster, the panel accused the government and regulators of failing to act to protect their health and restore their welfare, and called on the government to draw up measures to improve their lives.

    Accusing the regulators of failing to supervise nuclear safety, Tepco of exploiting its cozy relationship with the regulators to take the teeth out of regulations, and criticizing existing laws and regulations for lacking mechanisms to ensure that the latest technological findings from overseas are utilized, the commission stated that the safety of nuclear energy in Japan and of the public cannot be ensured unless the nuclear plant operators, the regulators and the laws and regulations undergo substantial reform.

    It must not be forgotten that the nuclear disaster festers on 16 months after it started and that some 160,000 people are still living away from their homes because of the accident. Japan's nuclear power establishment — the government, regulators and operators — must be forced to change its culture to one that places top priority on the public's safety. That the commission cited the earthquake as a possible contributing factor to the accident is hugely important in a country where earthquakes are commonplace and present a threat to nuclear power plants. In a welcome move, Tepco decided to disclose the video recordings of meetings between officials at its head office and officials on site at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. This will facilitate further investigation into this matter. The Atomic Energy Society of Japan should also lend its full support to the investigation.

    Efforts by the government and Tepco to reduce radiation levels in affected communities are hampered by an inflexible bureaucratic approach. Red tape must be slashed and local concerns heeded. Evacuees must be made fully aware of compensation options and receive enough data to make an informed decision on whether they should return home or resettle elsewhere.

    Both the government and the power industry should strive to address and eliminate the problems cited by the commission. The Diet should follow the panel's recommendation and establish a permanent committee to oversee the nuclear power industry and ensure the public's safety. In addition, the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be established this autumn should have the capability to give effective technical advice to personnel at nuclear power plants in the case of severe accidents.

    Japan's 'man-made' nuclear fiasco | The Japan Times Online
  4. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Japan nuclear reactor resumes full operation

    A nuclear reactor in western Japan began generating electricity at capacity today, becoming the first of the country's 50 commercial reactors to return to full service after all were taken offline in May in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, its operator said.

    The No 3 reactor at the Oi plant on the Sea of Japan coast in Fukui Prefecture started capacity generation at 1 am as planned, Kansai Electric Power Co said.

    After confirming that the reactor is running at capacity, the government said it will lower its power-saving target for the utility's service area, mainly in the Kansai region centering on Osaka, for this summer to 10 percent from the initially imposed 15 %.

    With the full operation of the reactor, the area's projected power shortfall will decline to 9.2 % from the initially estimated 14.9 %.

    The reaction of the public was divided. "We are relieved that the prospect of a rolling blackout has receded. We hope for steady power supply so that tourists will come to Kansai without any concerns about electricity shortages," said an official with the Kyoto branch of the Japan Hotel Association.

    Yoshitake Kimura, head of a local commerce chamber, said, "Nuclear power is an important pillar of industry that has supported our town. Our life will go back to normal when the No 4 reactor is reactivated."

    Kensaku Miyamoto, a livestock farmer who is an opponent of the restart, said, "No evacuation plans, levees or vent filters have been set in place. Anxiety felt by the local people has not been taken into consideration at all."

    "Kansai Electric has restarted the reactor without sufficiently proving its safety as it prioritized corporate interests," said Kiyoko Shimada, a leader of an anti-nuclear

    local civic group.

    "Kansai Electric has never changed its way, even after the Great East Japan Earthquake." The 1.18 million kilowatt reactor was restarted July 1 after being halted in March last year for periodic checks.

    The utility is also preparing to restart the plant's No 4 reactor with an eye to bringing it to full output on or after July 25, it added.

    Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said "I fully understand Japanese people have mixed feelings. But we have decided it's necessary to restart the Oi reactors after checking their safety. We have to give a full explanation about this to the people."

    Japan nuclear reactor resumes full operation - Indian Express

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