Good or bad, Japan is mysterious. If I
had not been not born and brought up in Japan, I am sure I would
think so. You cannot tell what’s really happening with its stance
on nuclear energy. Germany, Switzerland, and Italy made it very clear
that they would get out of nukes. Japan? You would think it had
decided to do so, right? I am not so sure. Read on.
In less than two months, the
anniversary of the dreadful 3/11 earthquake and tsunami will arrive.
There is less and less news coverage of this tragedy in the US media,
and even in Japan. Unless you follow the Japanese media closely,
including TV, radio, and newspapers, you might think Japan was
already completely through with nukes.
The truth is that it is not certain.
With hundreds of thousands of people still evacuated from the
radiation-infected areas, the Japanese government seems to be
indecisive about what its policy should be on nuclear energy, and all
other energy for that matter. I monitor the news and opinions of
people and can tell you that pro-nuke and anti-nuke forces are not
having a fruitful discussion. It is probably safe to say that if
there were other sources of energy available to replace nukes right
away, the overwhelming majority of people would halt all 54 nukes and
use the other sources. Almost all the nuclear reactors, by the way,
are currently halted after their regularly scheduled checkups,
because of resistance from the people living around them and
indecision by local and national governments.
Pro-nuke forces emphasize that only
nuclear plants can afford to generate adequate clean power, but they
do not want to talk about a future energy policy. Anti-nuke forces
demand that nukes be stopped right away because, in their opinion,
Japan has enough power without them. They claim that if the same
amount of money spent on nukes were used for renewable energies,
renewable energies would very soon be able to take over for nuclear
energy. Some anti-nuke people are rational enough to say that nukes
should be phased out over time and not shut down right away, but
their voices seem to be in the minority. So the discussion does not
make sense because two extreme opinions have no common ground, which
would be the decision on a national energy policy based on cold facts
with hard data.
The national government is also to
blame. It does not seem to have made a clear decision about what to
do with nukes, or for that matter, the entire energy policy. Former
Prime Minister Kan was clear in banning nukes and encouraging solar
energy to replace them. But as most experts point out, solar energy
alone could not replace nukes now, and maybe not even in the future.
Kan was criticized for using get-out-of-nukes as his platform to
cling to his seat. The Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry
(METI) was worried about the power shortage resulting from halting
nuclear plants, which definitely affects business and manufacturing
in Japan. So with Kan’s blessing, Mr. Kaieda, Minister of METI,
went to see a governor whose territory had nukes to get his OK to
restart them. After just one day, Kan, in spite of his earlier OK,
overturned Kaieda’s request to restart the nukes. Instead, without
consulting with experts, Kan decided to bring in a new stress test,
similar to the one used in Europe, as one of the conditions for
The details of the stress test have not
been revealed, and the Japanese people, especially those living
around nukes, do not know how the results would be used to ensure
nuke safety. Current Prime Minister Noda seems to be more pro-nukes,
even though he does not say so in public. He seems to be of the
opinion that if passing the stress test shows the nukes are safe, he
would like to restart them. However, because no details have been
revealed, people and local governments around the plants are
skeptical about their safety, even if the national government
declares them safe. Meanwhile, Japan is still exporting nuclear
technologies to countries like Turkey and Vietnam. Also, Toshiba is
working at one of the US nuclear power plant construction sites, in
south Texas (South Texas project).
Although I speak and read Japanese and
can collect pretty detailed information about what’s happening in
Japan, I am not sure where Japan is going with its energy policy,
including what to do with nukes there. Another factor that may make
prediction difficult is that the current administration and the
ruling party (the president of the ruling party is usually elected
prime minister, similar to the UK system), may lose their power, as
the rumor of an imminent general election is spreading. The current
administration and the ruling party are both losing support. To win
the election, the ruling party may switch prime minsters. Or they may
lose the election and lose power altogether. If so, the new
administration might devise a completely different policy.
That is why I say Japan is mysterious.