As of April
9, there was only one nuclear reactor in operation in Japan.
The last one will be shut down for a checkup on May 5. As summer is
coming in three months, the Japanese government seems to be adamant
about restarting two of the halted nuclear reactors in the Kansai
region, which is KEPCO territory and includes Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara.
The problem is that it is really
difficult see what is going on and how the decision about the nuclear
policy is being worked out there. Unlike the previous administration,
the current administration is determined to restart some of the
halted nuclear plants. It is easy to blame Japan for restarting them
after such a big accident. But Japan does not seem to have any other
choice, unlike the US. The US has several options for energy. In the
worst case, it can suspend its policy of protecting the environment
and drill for oil and coal. Natural gas is plentiful and priced very
low compared with the world market. For example, natural gas costs
more than four times as much in Japan as in the US.
Japan imports virtually all of its
energy. Japan decided to adopt nuclear power because it:
Is relatively cost-effective
compared with other fuels.
Has no GHG emissions.
So it is understandable that Japan
would restart some of the halted reactors to get ready for summer,
especially in KEPCO territory, which has depended on nuclear energy
to meet 44% of its total power demand. However, the process and
transparency of how the restart is planned and carried out are
awfully flawed. Most Japanese people are very skeptical about
government announcements after having watched how the nuclear
disaster was handled. Most people believe that the government
withholds much information about the disaster and its aftermath. Many
people are afraid and worried about nuclear reactors. The government
does not seem to be able to wipe out their mistrust and suspicions.
On top of that, it does not seem to have a clear plan or the will to
carry out an energy policy.
Bypassing the regaining of trust and
not showing the safety of the nuclear reactors makes it appear that
the government plans to restart the plants without providing adequate
safety measures and processes. Some time ago, a stress test was a
condition for restarting the reactors, but it was not really
described to the public. The first phase of the test was a computer
simulation, and the second phase was to prepare for all possible
problems. Then a few days ago 13 interim safety measures for reactors
were announced and, thus, the conditions for restarting them. On
April 9, the government
issued three major conditions for the restart:
Mechanisms to guarantee power
supply in case all the internal and external domestic imported power
Readiness for earthquakes and
Several safety measures, including
satisfying the stress test.
The conditions keep changing and are
In addition, some key members of the
cabinet seem to have some reservations about restarting the reactors,
even if these conditions are met. Also, the central government cannot
move quickly because local governments and people are concerned about
restarting the reactors without clear evidence of their safety. The
way things are going, Japan will suffer from another power crunch
The best thing the government can do is
to release all the information, including power needs and
availability of other power sources, and convince people about what
needs to be done. It may take longer, but in the long run it is the
only way. If the central government forces a restart without any good
evidence of the reactors’ safety, the backlash could be enormous.