New York Times: “Japan Will Try to Halt Nuclear Power by the End of the 2030s”

Published: September 14, 2012

TOKYO — In its first comprehensive energy review since the Fukushima disaster, Japan said on Friday that it would seek to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s — but only after a longer-than-expected transition that would give power companies decades to recoup their investments and brace for a nonnuclear future.

The energy strategy, which would call for a 40-year life span for reactors and limit the construction of nuclear plants, reflects a historic shift away from nuclear power since the accident last year.

In announcing the plan, however, Motohisa Furukawa, the minister of state for national policy, seemed to suggest that the measures were loose guidelines open to revision and discussion. For example, he said the government would leave to future discussion whether five reactors that would be younger than 40 years by the end of the 2030s would be forced to close — leaving open the possibility that some reactors will remain running into the 2040s and beyond.

Mr. Furukawa also cast doubt on the ability of the central government to enforce the strategy’s terms. He said that while it represented the government’s position on Japan’s energy future, the authorities would bow to decisions on specific policies made by a newly appointed panel of experts overseeing nuclear power. The government also has little legal recourse to force a nuclear plant to close.

And he said there was no change to the government’s quest to restart reactors for now, most of which remain idle following the Fukushima accident, despite nationwide rallies protesting those restarts. “We have set the general direction of policy,” Mr. Furukawa said. “But we must also remain flexible, because this is a long-term policy.”

On top of the vagueness of its terms, the new policy is fraught with uncertainties. The unpopular prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, and his governing Democratic Party are likely to lose the next national election, calling into question whether any long-term policy he sets will stick.

Critics blasted the strategy as too vague and long term to have meaning.

“It’s trickery with words and numbers,” said Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, a research group based in Tokyo. “The zero number might be symbolic politically, but in reality, it holds little meaning.”

“How is the government going to push through reactor restarts when there’s still so much opposition? It has no clue what to do next month, never mind by the 2030s,” he said.

The vagueness of the plan, as well as the drawn-out time frame, is seen as an effort to strike a compromise with Japan’s big business lobby, which has vehemently opposed the zero-nuclear goal as one that will wreck the economy with higher energy costs and an unreliable power supply.

The plan is unlikely to alleviate those concerns, however. The lobby has backed options that would shrink the nuclear program but not eliminate it.

Nor is the new strategy likely to appease the burgeoning antinuclear movement, which calls for an immediate end to nuclear power in Japan. The government had been discussing energy policy to the year 2030, and there was anger and confusion at antinuclear rallies Friday night over why the time frame had been pushed back.

“They’re ignoring the terror that many of us feel toward nuclear power,” said Kumi Tomiyasu, an employee at a Tokyo-based printing company who attended a rally in front of Mr. Noda’s office on Friday. “By sticking with nuclear for so long, the government has put the interests of power companies and big business above those of the Japanese people.”

The Friday announcement ends — for now — weeks of wrangling over the first comprehensive energy plan revision since the accident last year at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Multiple meltdowns at the plant caused large-scale radiation leaks, prompted the government to order mass evacuations and rendered swaths of land in the region uninhabitable for decades.

Before the accident, Japan depended on its reactors for about 30 percent of its electricity needs. It had planned to raise that share to more than 50 percent by 2030.

Mr. Noda’s predecessor, Naoto Kan, ended that policy last year, saying Japan should eventually phase out nuclear power. Mr. Noda, who took office last September, had appeared to back away from that commitment and pushed to restart the reactors.

Mr. Noda was forced to reconsider, however, after public hearings suggested strong support for ending nuclear power.

The protesters, who stage weekly mass rallies in front of the prime minister’s office, vehemently oppose any moves to restart the 50 remaining reactors, all but two of which remain idle. But the new policy would allow reactors to restart, pending checks by a new nuclear regulatory body.

Whether the government can actually push through the restarts remains highly uncertain. Opinion polls show that the public remains wary of nuclear safety and the government’s ability to oversee the operators of the nuclear plants.

The government has sought to regain the public’s trust by scrapping its former nuclear regulator and appointing a new one. But that regulator is overseen by a committee headed by Shunichi Tanaka, who helped lead a former government commission tasked with crafting the country’s nuclear policy — raising accusations that the new regulator will be much like the old.

The plan also postpones any decisions on the country’s troubled fuel cycle project, a contentious undertaking that seeks to reprocess spent uranium-based fuel and make Japan self-sufficient in nuclear energy. By some measures, Japan has already poured $127.8 billion into a series of facilities to store and reprocess nuclear fuel, as well as into an experimental “fast breeder” reactor able to create ever more of the reprocessed uranium and plutonium on which it will run.Adopting a plan to phase out nuclear power would seemingly make the entire recycling program defunct. But the government faces strong opposition to abandoning the program, particularly from communities that host the fuel recycling facilities and Britain and France, which reprocess spent nuclear fuel on contract from Japanese power companies.

The village of Rokkasho, which hosts a reprocessing facility and has already accepted about 3,000 tons of spent fuel for eventual reprocessing, has reacted angrily to any signs that the reprocessing project would be abandoned. If the government indeed decided to decommission the reprocessing facility, Rokkasho has warned that it will return the spent fuel it now stocks to nuclear power plants across the country — a move that could overwhelm the plants’ storage capacities and make reopening them impossible.

And Japan’s sole fast-breeder reactor, the Monju reactor in western Japan, has been mostly closed since 1995, after a fire. A vast nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, in northern Japan, has yet to open 19 years after construction began because of a series of accidents and leaks.

The energy plan also underscores the challenges Japan faces in extricating itself from nuclear energy.

The government is unlikely to agree to any swift shutdown of the 50 remaining reactors. If those reactors were permanently closed this year, power companies would be hit with losses totaling $55.9 billion, rendering at least four of them insolvent, according to calculations this summer by the government’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

The 2039 time frame, on the other hand, would allow most of those reactors to live out their 40-year life span, heading off costly losses for their operators. Japanese utilities are also saddled with the huge costs of buying oil and natural gas to meet the nuclear shortfall, a burden that would be alleviated once their reactors are restarted.

The Keidenren, a lobby that represents big businesses in Japan, has also warned of higher energy costs and energy shortages if Japan moves away from nuclear power, whether in the short term or longer.

With almost no reactors online, Japan struggled through a sweltering summer after parts of the country were asked to reduce electricity use by as much as 15 percent, the second year such requests have been made. Power companies fired up old gas- and oil-powered stations, imported expensive emergency generators and scrambled to secure imported fossil fuels.

Despite fears of widespread blackouts, however, none materialized, strengthening the argument of nuclear critics that Japan could do without nuclear energy.

But the Keidanren and others have insisted that the higher energy cost of coping with no nuclear power is crippling the country’s economy. Tokyo Electric, Japan’s largest utility and the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has increased rates for both homes and businesses.

The higher costs will prompt more companies to move their operations overseas, businesses warn. And the costly fossil fuel imports have already weighed heavily on Japan’s terms of trade and made the nation dangerously dependent on Middle Eastern oil, as well as natural gas from its volatile neighbor Russia.

The United States, meanwhile, is wary of the weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles Japan has built up. Stopping the nuclear fuel cycle would leave Japan sitting atop 40 tons of plutonium — enough to make 5,000 nuclear warheads.

Whatever its choices, Japan is set to significantly increase its investment in clean energy sources. In previous government estimates through 2030, eliminating nuclear power would require investment of $548 billion in solar, wind and other types of renewable energy and $66 billion on power grid technology.

As Japan redrafts its energy policy, it also risks enlarging its carbon footprint. In its policy document, the government said Japan would need to lower its target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 5 percentage points over the three decades through 2020, to 20 percent. Under the new goal, Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 would be 5 percent to 9 percent less than levels in 1990, the documents said.

Environmentalists say a more aggressive push to develop clean energy can further reduce Japanese emissions.

“The government must use its new energy strategy as a starting point for a far more ambitious renewable policy, greater energy efficiency measures, and increasingly bold strides toward the sustainable green economy that will secure Japan’s future prosperity,” Greenpeace said in a statement. “A nuclear-free future is not a choice, it’s an inevitability.”

end quote.

It can be seen that nuclear power continues to pretend that it is a fully formed technology. It is not. Japan’s fuel cycle does not work. Monju does not work. Rokkasho does not work. All reactors vent fission product, particularly at refueling. Where is Japan to store its long term high level waste?

Toshiba has stated the industry could make a profit even if a Fukushima event happened once every thirty years.

Oh, well, OK Toshiba, fine and dandy. But only because nuclear industry is protected by government sponsored limited liability. It could not exist without hand outs.

Every promise made by nuclear industry – to provide non emitting power, to solve the waste problem, to provide power from plants that do not suffer cooling failures and core breaches, not form corrupt associations with government and organized crime, to plan and run plants properly and openly, to prepare for disaster – and more – have been broken.

In March 2011 Australian experts hailed Japan’s nuclear industry as the best in the world. I believe that. They maintain that they, and only they, know enough to comment with authority.

Not very good, eh?

One Response to “New York Times: “Japan Will Try to Halt Nuclear Power by the End of the 2030s””

  1. CaptD Says:

    This describes why the Japanese date of 2030 is just so much Nuclear Baloney* (NB) and the Japanese people know it!

    Bye Bye PM Noda at the next election!

    Japanese People, almost all your Leaders are in Nuclear Denial* and unless they keep your reactors shut down you may have ONE OR MORE Trillion Dollar Eco-DisasterFukushima’s because Fukushima proved that Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365!

    A year and a half exactly after Fukushima’s Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster Japan is the poster “boy” for Control by the Nuclear Industry and Utility Gangs:

    The Nuclear Mafia Derails Democracy In Japan

    This is one of the most well written articles on this Debacle…
    BTW It contains a great number of links to back up all points…


    The illogical belief that Nature cannot destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7/365!

    Notice how ever more MSM do nat allow comments on their Stories about anything Nuclear?

    Many are also now requiring a FaceBook account to post comments as the Media gets taken over Globally

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