The disastrous accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 forced Japan to drastically revise its basic energy plan. Following the accident, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared that his government would aim to break with nuclear power generation, but his successor government, led by Yoshihiko Noda, toned down the objective to “reduced dependence on nuclear power generation.”
The work to review the basic energy policy is underway in the midst of this situation. The basic policy drawn up by the Energy and Environment Council stated, “Japan will reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation as far as possible.” This sentence can, however, be interpreted in various ways.
After looking back on the discussions held during the past year by the committees to which I belong, I have selected several notable comments made by committee members who support nuclear power generation, and have then added my comments on them.
If the shut-down of nuclear power reactors continues, Japanese businesses will shift their operations overseas.
This comment is based on the following assumption.
Of all the 54 nuclear reactors in Japan, 52 are offline for regular inspection at present (as of February 20, 2012). If this situation continues for a long period of time, greater efforts for energy saving will be demanded this summer. Japanese businesses will then have to increase their budget for introducing home power generation systems or storage batteries, compel their workers to change their work shifts or force them to work on holidays. The higher costs would press the companies to transfer their operational bases overseas.
Yuka Matayoshi, vice president of Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co., Ltd. and a member of the New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, pointed out in a council meeting the negative impact on the economy of the exodus of companies from Japan. She stressed that nuclear power plants are indispensable for Japan and that operation of the reactors should be resumed soon. Masakazu Toyoda, Chairman and CEO of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, and former vice minister for International Affairs of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, expressed a similar view in a meeting of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy.
However, a survey on corporate measures for coping with the electricity supply-demand situation this summer, conducted by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) by sending out questionnaires, showed the following results. Asked about effective power-saving measures that can be implemented from now on, none of the respondent companies in the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors said the shift of operations overseas was an “effective” or “the most effective” energy-saving step. This means that no firms are planning to move their business overseas. We must therefore conclude that the views of the two committee members are oversimplistic.
Japan should contribute to the international community by using its advanced nuclear-power-generation technology
An increasing number of Asian nations are moving to construct nuclear power plants. This may be partly because Prime Minister Noda said in his address to the United Nations that Japan will try to build the safest nuclear power plants in the world. As a result, some experts say Japan will be surrounded by 100 nuclear reactors in the region sooner or later. Taking this situation into consideration, some business leaders insist that Japan should make the most of its 40-year experience in nuclear power generation when doing business in overseas markets, and in order to do this there is the need for Japan to continue operations of its nuclear power plants.
Their insistence seems to reflect a wish they had before the nuclear accident in Fukushima occurred, which was to make nuclear power plants one of Japan’s major export products. In a recent meeting of the New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, Masaharu Habu, Chairman of the Steering Committee on Nuclear Energy Systems of the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association expressed this view, and in the meeting of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, Shoei Utsuda, Chairman of Mitsui & Co., Ltd., expressed the same opinion.
Does Japan really have high nuclear power technology?
Admittedly some of the small-scale manufacturing factories in Japan have extremely high technology. Japan may thus have high technology for producing some parts and components of nuclear power plants. Yet it is doubtful that Japan has high-level technology in developing whole nuclear power generation systems.
In the case of the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju, which was designed and built using domestically developed technology, two major accidents have occurred in recent years due to simple design mistakes. One of them was a sodium coolant leak and a resultant fire, and the other was a 3.3-ton device for fuel exchange accidentally falling into the reactor. Toshiba Corp. was in charge of developing these two sections of the Monju system.
The technology of mixing highly radioactive liquid waste with raw glass material and vitrifying the byproducts into a more solid state is used in the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. But a series of glitches involving this vitrification process is causing a significant delay in the completion of the plant. IHI Corp. is in charge of developing this process.
The fact is that Japan has failed to put a domestically-produced nuclear reactor into commercial use, and withdrew from the project to do so in 1995. This indicates that Japan cannot boast an independent national nuclear power generation technology capability.
Nuclear power generation contributes to Japan’s energy security
The use of nuclear power has two major significances for energy security. One of these is that nuclear power enables a stable energy supply over a long period of time. Although the uranium used in Japan is entirely imported from other countries, atomic power is considered to be a “semi-domestic” energy. As for oil, Japan's national oil reserve is currently 172 days supply. Uranium, on the other hand, is said to enable Japanese nuclear power plants to continue operations for about two years, even if the supply of uranium was halted. (The two-year period may vary depending on the timing of the halt in the uranium supply.) This means uranium will give the Japanese people more time to devise countermeasures.
The other significance for energy security is that nuclear power will contribute to the diversification of energy sources. Having various kinds of energy sources is believed to lead to a stable energy supply. This view was expressed by Professor Satoru Tanaka of the School of Engineering of the University of Tokyo, Professor Takao Kashiwagi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Integrated Research Institute, who graduated from the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering and Science of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Masakazu Toyoda.
In the background to this opinion is the obstinate belief that renewable energy cannot become the main energy source of Japan because it is difficult to secure renewable energy on a stable basis. Moreover, if you look deeper into their position, you will notice the intent of the nuclear power industry to contain rapid proliferation of the use of renewable energy in Japan. This intent is symbolized by the fact that the price at which utilities are required to purchase surplus electricity generated from solar power systems is likely to be set by a committee comprised of members who oppose the introduction of this renewable-energy purchasing system.
Although the committee members maintain that they are willing to actively use both nuclear power and renewable energy for the purpose of promoting diversification of energy sources, the truth is that they want to expand the use of nuclear power.
In Japan, the energy that is 100 percent domestically produced is renewable energy. We have four seasons, many mountains and rivers, volcanic zones which are among the world’s greatest, and the seas surrounding the Japanese archipelago. It is, therefore, possible for us to introduce various types of renewable energy in forms that are suitable for each region or district. Tetsunari Iida of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), Hiroshi Takahashi of the Fujitsu Research Institute, some other committee members and I are jointly demanding the introduction of renewable energy into various regions and districts. In view of this situation, it would not be preposterous to envisage that renewable energy will meet 100 percent of Japan’s energy consumption by the year 2050. (Energy-saving efforts will be another key factor for achieving this goal.)
Nuclear capabilities must be sustained as a deterrent
Cited by some committee members, this is the last major reason why nuclear capabilities should be maintained. If we possess nuclear technology, we can develop nuclear weapons. This will strengthen Japan’s position in political negotiations with other countries, and prevent attacks from other nations. Some members of the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, including Kenji Yamaji, director-general of the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, who graduated from the Nuclear Professional School, The University of Tokyo, and Professor Shin-ichi Kitaoka of the University of Tokyo Graduate Schools for Law and Politics, who graduated from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law, have expressed this opinion.
Even if we accept their claim that nuclear weapons’ capabilities should be maintained as a deterrent, we do not necessarily reach the conclusion that private companies must therefore continue nuclear power generation by forming an industry. Another member of the committee, Mr. Jitsuro Terashima, President of the Japan Research Institute Ltd., insists that there is a need to nationalize the nuclear power sector. He cites as the reason for this the fact that China and South Korea are continuing to promote an active nuclear power policy and that soon Japan will be surrounded by 80 nuclear reactors. He stated that it was therefore unrealistic for Japan alone to withdraw from nuclear power since it would mean a loss in diplomatic bargaining power.
The active move among the Asian countries to introduce nuclear power generation indicates that those countries will eventually obtain a nuclear deterrent. But it is hard to see how this makes it possible to presume that this is the right direction for Japan.
Despite the fact that recent public opinion polls show that 70 percent of Japanese citizens wish to see a discontinuation of nuclear power generation, the committee members are expressing different views as though the disastrous nuclear accident had never occurred. This is a deplorable situation.
Hideyuki Ban (CNIC Co-Director)
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