Friday, December 28, 2012

About those Japanese nuclear power plants

Well, that didn't take long.  On May 5, 2012, Japan turned off its last nuke.  With the election of Shinzo Abe, the zero-nuke policy is up for grabs again.

Actually, this doesn't surprise me one little bit.  Countries that have nuclear power generation take great pride in the notion that THEY are fully capable of understanding the risks and can manage them.  Even when confronted by a catastrophic failure such a Fukushima, the Japanese can say, "Well, just look at the natural disaster it required to bring down one of our plants?  You simply cannot tell me that ALL of our power plants are equally dangerous."

As so after a few months of looking at perfectly good power plants sitting idle while the nation scrambled to replace the electricity they generated, the pressure to restart a critical element of their infrastructure has become damn near overwhelming.

I think the interesting question now becomes, will Germany reconsider her zero-nuke stance?  She is under the same pressures as Japan (plus a few extras including neighbors like France who think they have gone crazy.)  The BIG difference is that Germany has a well-established Green Party that is in fact part of the current government.  There are Germans nearing retirement age who have been anti-nuke activists since they were teenagers.  As a result, reversing Germany's zero-nuke decision will encounter a great deal of organized resistance.  Even so, my Institutional Analysis is that the facts on the ground will lead to a modification of her zero-nuke policy as well.  It is just that the capitulation will be nowhere as easy or complete as in Japan.

New Japanese government to reconsider zero-nuclear policy

Published: 27 December, 2012

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s cabinet is set to unveil the new energy policy early next month by dismantling plans to eliminate nuclear power in the country by 2040. The pro-business Liberal Democratic Party-led government also plans to restart reactors.

Thus Japan’s new leaders intend to change plans of the previous cabinet regarding a post-Fukushima policy.

"We need to reconsider the previous administration's policy that aimed to make zero nuclear power operation possible during the 2030s," AFP quotes trade and industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi as saying. The minister is also in charge of supervising the nuclear industry.

However, Motegi also stressed he is ready to give the go-ahead to resuming generation at nuclear power plants "if they are confirmed safe," meaning shuttered power stations could start coming back online only upon authorization of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

The authority was established in September 2012 to ensure nuclear safety in the country following last year’s crisis at Fukushima, when meltdowns, which spewed radiation over a wide area of farmland, made hundreds of thousands of people homeless, as they had to be evacuated. It was triggered by a tsunami, which killed 19,000 people, and knocked out cooling systems.

On May 5, 2012 Japan turned off the country’s last operating nuclear reactor located in the north of the country, finishing an extraordinary response of the Japanese government to the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, leaving the Land of the Rising Sun without electricity generated by nuclear reactors for the first time since 1966.

In order to patch the energy hole, Japan had to increase by one-third imports of natural gas and oil compared to the previous year. A month later – in June – previous PM Yoshihiko Noda ordered to restart of reactors at Ohi amid fears of a summer power shortage, but he vowed ahead of the election to phase out nuclear power by 2040.

Despite anti-nuclear public protests calling for nuclear power to be abandoned in Japan, following the Fukushima disaster, parties opposing atomic energy made little impact in December 16 elections, while Abe's LDP won a confident victory, returning to power after a three-year break, meaning people made a choice in favor of nuclear energy.

For resource-poor Japan, which relied on atomic power for around a third of its electricity, nuclear energy has been a national strategic priority since 1973, as the country invested billions of dollars into its nuclear power engineering. But for now Ohi Units 3 and 4 are Japan's only operating nuclear power plants. more

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