Japan’s Old Nuclear Program Is New Again

Nuclear restarts in Japan have taken a political turn. Japan’s industry minister revived previous administration’s claims that Japan “needs” nuclear power, citing claims of energy independence. Japan has no domestic uranium resources so even their nuclear program is dependent on importing nuclear fuel materials. The country has long tried to make a fuel reprocessing program work but has run into the reality of costs and viability. The minister also brought back the nuclear safety myth, insisting that the new regulator that has recently seen some of its key members replaced with industry friendly appointees has “the world’s strictest safety guidelines”

Meanwhile PM Abe was out touting the nuclear safety myth at the UN, claiming safety to be “100% restored” as he pushed for reactor restarts in Japan.

Japanese politicians pushed for new nuclear reactors to be built. The concept they were touting is something that is a concept that hasn’t even been operated or tested yet. This new design only exists as concept. The politicians touted the SMR reactor as being installed underground as if this is a solution to Japan’s quake and tsunami risks. They apparently missed the memo about the extensive flooding and damage done to Fukushima Daiichi’s lower levels. In the US where the idea for these new reactor designs began, efforts to fund them has slowed to a trickle. At least one major proponent of the new design has all but shut down that division. Westinghouse and Fluor have also backed off of similar programs, citing concerns about commercial viability and a lack of investors. Japan’s politicians are trying to sell this concept as a solution to all of Japan’s problems.

Two fairly weak new responses came out of the Japanese government in another attempt to try to re-sell the Japanese public on nuclear power. First was an announcement that the existing Labor Ministry office would step up efforts to deal with the systemic labor violations going on at Fukushima Daiichi. They didn’t give any concrete steps that would be taken. The central government also set up an office to help local governments come up with evacuation plans required of all communities within the region of a nuclear power plant. These evacuation plans include nearby towns and also further away locations that would receive the flood of evacuees. Nothing was mentioned about any actual funding to help communities actually fund evacuation planning. Currently communities are expected to come up with their own funds for potential evacuations and supply stockpiles needed. The majority of impacted communities have not developed any evacuation plan.

PM Abe also announced that Japan would be signing a nuclear liability pact with the US and a couple of other countries. This would absolve US nuclear companies from liability if they participated in efforts to deal with Fukushima Daiichi. It could also remove liability for some of Japan’s nuclear companies as they try to export Japan’s nuclear power technology overseas.

All of these coordinated political maneuverings have made one thing clear. Japan’s old nuclear program is back. Even if nobody wants it.

image credit | allhailtheblackmarket.com

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