Japan’s Nuclear Program; Rearranging Deck Chairs On The Titanic

Japan announced last week a vague plan to end nuclear power in the 2030’s that was retracted within days after protest from the US and Japan business groups.

The head of Japan’s power companies the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan complained that the energy policy shift would cause the government to “lose the confidence of nuclear-hosting communities”. The complaint is more likely due to issues like KEPCO losing 125 billion yen over the summer as they were forced to keep all but 2 nuclear plants offline.

The Keidanran business association continued to hammer the current government, demanding they draw up a “responsible” energy policy.

The US government also announced this week they would station a new missile defense radar system in Japan to help protect the country. The US doesn’t come out and admit that the gift of the new system was done as an enticement to Japan to not end their nuclear program but the timing is quite convenient. The US had made a major issue of Japan’s nuclear phase out announcement last week.

In a recent Guardian article the government pins the blame on the business lobby for the change even though 90% of those in the public comment process want an end to Japan’s use of nuclear power.

The public and many of Japan’s environmental and no-nuclear groups are also protesting the appointment of a new nuclear agency. The new agency has been called purely cosmetic. The new agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) is staffed by the same people as NISA, the previous agency. Nothing has been done to change the culture or structure of the agency. The regulatory capture issue with NISA appears to still be very much alive in the new agency. While the new agency is under the environment ministry all the changes made do not do anything to fundamentally change the process. The problem cited with NISA was that they were not enforcing safety rules, this doesn’t seem to have changed under the new name.

Meanwhile Japan’s new reprocessing plant for nuclear fuel faces more delays in construction and testing.

At least one company in Japan has decided to evolve to stay ahead of the changing landscape. Komatsu heavy equipment announced they will make major changes in their power consumption that would save them several 100 million dollars a year. Through efficiency, use of solar and geothermal power and new inefficiencies in the production process the company will cut their power consumption in half by 2015.  Economists in Japan are urging companies to see the need to cut back on power use and also for the government to promote spending on these kinds of upgrades with both the business sector and residential power use.

There is a clear divide in Japan between the people and forward thinking companies vs. the old business establishment and the nuclear industry.

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