July 14: Japan Update-Considering Phaseout

After four months of dealing with the still ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima-Daiichi facility, disaster stricken Japan is planning a future with less reliance on nuclear power. This week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced Japan should move toward a nuclear-free energy future. He explained,

“We should reduce our dependence in a planned and gradual way, and in the future we should aim to get by with no nuclear energy. When we think of the magnitude of the risks involved with nuclear power, the safety measures we previously conceived are inadequate.”

Currently two thirds, or 35 of Japan’s 54 reactors, are shut down, some from earthquake damage and others for scheduled maintenance. The future of many of these reactors will be decided by local governments who will determine whether to approve reactor restarts once a series of stress tests are completed. With only one-third of reactors currently operating, Japan is experiencing difficulties dealing with heat waves, among other issues. This situation is something to consider here in the southeastern U.S. as Japan has a similar electricity profile with a significant reliance on nuclear power.

The French public’s support of nuclear power has also taken a significant hit, with 75% supporting a full exit in the next 30-40 years. Although the government does not favor nuclear phase-out for France’s energy future, that option was included among a list for consideration. France, often considered the poster-child of the nuclear power industry, generates nearly 75% of its electricity from nuclear reactors yet is already looking to invest heavily in offshore wind, with plans underway to install 6,000 megawatts by 2020. This aligns with their plan for 23% renewable energy by 2020, which Energy Minister Eric Besson estimates will generate 10,000 jobs for the country.

In the United Kingdom, a recent Freedom of Information Act request revealed scores of emails between government officials and the nuclear industry that seem to indicate a heavy industry influence on the government’s public response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. A recent Guardian article reports:

“Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.”

Industry response in Japan was also criticized this week, after an employee at Kyushu Electric Power Company revealed that the utility had coordinated an email campaign to feign public support for nuclear power. It appears that the former Executive Vice President of the utility, Mamoru Dangami, sent emails to multiple offices instructing employees to pose as citizens in support of nuclear power for a television program. A probe is now underway.

In what appears to be a particularly egregious business move to take advantage of the tragic Fukushima-Daiichi disaster, Areva, France’s nuclear giant, reportedly lobbied the U.S. Congress in wake of the Japan nuclear accident to gain ground over other competitors vying for nuclear business here in the  U.S. According to The Mainichi Daily News:

“The leaflet sent shockwaves around Tokyo and Washington, as well as GE officials, who were busy responding to the nuclear crisis. Areva lobbyists stressed that the accident was peculiar to Japan when they handed out the leaflets, hinting that similar accidents would never occur with nuclear plant systems provided by Areva. It was obvious to the recipients of the brochures that they were part of Areva’s maneuvering to quash its competitors in the nuclear power business.

… The hypocrisy of using both smear attacks and support infuriated Japanese government officials. Nevertheless, France tried to curb any negative impact that the Fukushima accident could exert on its nuclear power business by stressing that the accident was peculiar to Japan, while taking the accident as a rare business opportunity to overturn the dominance of the U.S.-Japan alliance — namely the GE-Hitachi partnership and the Toshiba-Westinghouse consortium.”

As faith in the trustworthiness of the nuclear industry is clearly shaken around the globe, there appears to be overwhelming support for renewable energy resources such as solar and wind. According to a recent survey, only 38% of adults in the 24 countries surveyed support using nuclear power, while 97% support solar and 93% support wind. The only countries where a majority of the public support nuclear at present are India (61%), Poland (57%) and the United States (52%).

The will of the people appears to be moving away from reliance on nuclear power, in favor of less risky energy options. The question remains, however, whether the political will is here in the U.S. to do the same?

–Blog co-authored by SACE High Risk Energy Organizer, Mandy Hancock

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The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, must perform its main function of regulating the nuclear industry, it is to close to the nuclear industry and in some areas the NRC has not been forthcoming with the citizenry in the United States. The NRC has taken on the role of supporting the nuclear industry instead of regulating the industry.

In this Emergency Preparedness information paper, link- http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/emerg-plan-prep-nuc-power-bg.html , the NRC down right lies to the American public on the issue of nuclear accidents in the United States. “Since commercial nuclear power plants began operating in the United States, there have been no physical injuries or fatalities from exposure to radiation from the plants among members of the U.S. public. Even the country’s worst nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island resulted in no identifiable health impacts.” That is an untruthful statement on several counts. There have been serious radiation injuries to the public, nuclear workers are part of the public; there have been deaths to nuclear fuel workers, they are also members of the public; children and infants suffer from leukemia living within 5 miles of nuclear power plants, they are also members of the public. The Three Mile Island accident resulted in an increase in infant mortality in the area immediately surrounding Three Mile Island after the accident. How can citizens trust a regulator who intentionally deceives the public in support of the nuclear industry’s bottom line instead of citizen health and safety.

Comment by Garry Morgan on July 14, 2011 5:32 pm

Living in Japan, I’ve often been concerned with how infrequently the Japanese people question the honesty of their media or their government. Admittedly, most Japanese tend to follow the traditional rule of separating honne and tatamae when speaking around foreigners. Tatamae refers to the behavior one is expected to display in public, and honne refers to what one actually feels (and often times conflicts completely with their public actions and conversations). While I have several close friends who rarely ever fall back into tatamae conversation with me, this issue is different. In terms of serious situations like this, Japanese people are generally encouraged to avoid starting any sort of conflict and never openly criticizing their government…for them, it’s just a way of trying to save face. So I suppose, in the case of Japan, it’s not necessarily about citizens actually trusting the word of their government and representatives: I think privately, they question every speech they hear and every news article they read. The problem, unfortunately, is convincing them that a situation has become so dire, that there is no other choice but to openly voice their concerns and risk their public images. But I think, especially now more than ever before, that it’s imperative to the future health and success of their country that they take action and get personally involved.

It’s been really encouraging lately to see so many Japanese citizens speaking out on the issue, and I think that’s had a serious impact on Kan’s recent decision to fade out of the nuclear arena. There was a lot of anger and finger pointing at the international community, when other countries first starting criticizing Japan and the Japanese government for its handling of this disaster. Now though, there’s internal dissent as well; only last week, the recently-appointed disaster reconstruction minister, Matsumoto Ryu, was pressured to vacate his post after openly criticizing the actions of Miyagi Prefecture and Iwate Prefecture’s governors (link: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110705004802.htm). By American political standards, his comments were not harsh in the least. In Japan, however, they were considered quite a scandal. But I think such a public slip really just highlights how much hushed up dissension there is over here, despite the government’s attempt to present a unified front.

Comment by Jeannie McKinney on July 15, 2011 2:17 am

(comment above continued)

Also, it’s even harder to ignore the discontent of a country’s private citizens, especially when they’re prominent members of the community, who’ve not only broken societal standards in Japan but who’ve also been heard on an international level. Just last month, author Murakami Haruki stunned people all over the world when he denounced Japan’s nuclear efforts during an award acceptance speech in Barcelona (link:http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110610x2.html). Similarly, the founder of the prominent cell phone company in Japan, Softbank, has thrown his voice into the arena as well and announced his stance against nuclear power, too. He’s even pledging to donate money and start a campaign for researching and investing in other energy resources (link: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110712i1.html). And in one of your updates just last month, you highlighted the enormous protest that was recently held in Tokyo; such gatherings themselves are a rare sight here in Japan, almost nonexistent. One of that scale was so extraordinary, the teachers in my staff room still talk about it in disbelieving tones.

There’s a lot of concern over why so many outsiders – individuals completely unaffiliated with the nuclear argument – are suddenly speaking out. I think the answer though, is a simple one, and one that Prime Minister Kan is slowly beginning to see: nuclear power in Japan and the future of energy resources affects every citizen in this country. And this issue is no longer just another thing that government representatives can settle behind closed doors, and expect their constituents to silently agree with as “the best solution for everyone concerned”. Instead, it’s one in which the Japanese public has been forced by recent events to take a keen interest, and I can only hope the Japanese people will continue to push their government and make their wishes known. Kan is taking steps in the right direction now – even postponing talks on international nuclear sales – but there’s a long way to go before he can convince most of his cabinet and the rest of the nuclear advocates that this is the only way Japan can move forward (link:http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/govt-to-suspend-nuclear-cooperation-talks-after-kans-nuclear-remarks).

Comment by Jeannie McKinney on July 15, 2011 2:18 am

We appreciate your perspective from Japan, Jeannie and your insightful remarks. I look forward to hearing more from you. Thank you-

Comment by Mandy Hancock on July 18, 2011 3:27 pm

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