Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Saturday, January 12, 2013
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appointed US Ambassador to Japan by
President Obama about three and a half years ago,
has been a very effective ambassador. He was recently in town as part
of his western US tour to celebrate the strong ties
between the US and Japan. Direct flights between the two countries
link Tokyo and five US cities—Boston, Seattle, San Diego, Denver,
and San Jose. San Jose was the last to be connected with All
Nippon Airways as of January 11, 2013.
Actually, there was a direct flight between San Jose and Tokyo/Narita
by American Airlines, which stopped the service in 2006.
at the podium with Mayor Chuck Reed
Roos is no stranger to the Bay Area. He grew up in here
and graduated from Stanford Law School. Incidentally, Mayor Reed
revealed that he was his classmate at the law school.
Ambassador Roos was
CEO of Silicon
Valley–based law firm Wilson
Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati before he was
Reed has been in many clean tech meetings and emphasized the growth
of business with entrepreneurship in San Jose. For more details,
check with San
Jose Green Vision.
President and CEO of Silicon
Valley Leadership Group (SVLG),
gave a speech, as did the Japanese Consul General
in San Francisco, US embassy staff, and others.
have been involved in several of SVLG's activities. SVLG deals with
many issues to make Silicon Valley a better place to live and work
in. Certainly, the
new direct flight from San Jose to Tokyo welcomes an even closer tie
with Japan, the third largest economy in the world.
Guardino of SVLG
following is a summary of Ambassador Roos's speech, with my comments
(indicated by ZK).
ambassador began by saying how closely the US and Japan have aligned
in the area of security and economy. After all, with the US the
number 1 economy and Japan number 3, the close collaboration between
the two countries is good for the entire world. The close
collaboration is in effect at the government-to-government level, as
in the smart grid experiments in New
On the way is laboratory-to-laboratory collaboration, as with
Renewable Energy Laboratories.
Roos then talked about Japan's nuclear disaster. I have reported on
this disaster in several previous blogs. Roos
said that Japan had decided to increase its dependence on nuclear
power from 30% to 50% before the disaster. But after the disaster,
Party of Japan
(DPJ), the ruling party then but the loser of a general election last
December and no longer in power, decided to phase out reliance on
nuclear power by 2030 and increase the generation of
power by renewable
energies to as much as 30% of the total.
Renewables now generate 10% of Japan’s power, and hydro produces
80% of that; other sources, like solar and wind, account for less
than 2%. With this policy change, the DPJ projected the renewables
field may grow to be a $600B market by 2020.
Democratic Party (LDP),
returned to power with DPJ’s defeat, may reconsider this policy.
However, the FIT
is on for 20 years, regardless of who the administration is, and the
ambassador thinks the renewables market will grow in such areas as
solar and smart grid.
Jeff Miller, Energy Attaché
of the US Embassy in Tokyo, said that the new administration probably
would not release its policy on energy until summer. He did not say
reason is that the LDP now has a majority in the Lower House of the
Diet, which is similar to the US Congress, but does not have a
majority in the Upper House. And they probably would like to avoid
any controversial issues until an upcoming Upper House election in
ambassador then said that it was important to plan and conduct
business with Japan for the long haul. He also said that he saw a
strong new trend in entrepreneurship in Japan since
the disaster of March 11, 2011. At the time of the disaster, the US
deployed 24,000 soldiers to give a hand to disaster-stricken areas
and people. The operation, known as Operation
was a success, and people in the disaster area really appreciated the
Operation Tomodachi has become the Tomodachi
which attempts to more closely link young people in both countries
in the areas of education, culture, and entrepreneurship.
of the people who spoke after the ambassador was Hiroshi Inomata,
Japan’s General Consul in San Francisco.
Inomata, General Consul of Japan in San Francisco
echoed the ambassador's message of the close collaboration between
the two countries beyond clean tech issues. He said that Japan is
uniquely positioned in the APAC region and can be a launching pad
into the rest of the Asian markets because
innovation hub of new research and R&D
business platforms consisting of favorite business environments, a
safe society, and good transportation
rich domestic market
the rest of this blog,
I only report
some of the things I heard from other speakers. I am sure that I
missed some other worthy comments.
US embassy attaché
listed some promising areas of clean tech that Japan may want to
(ZK: Because Japan is an island nation surrounded by oceans, there
is good potential for this type of generation. However, it is still
many years before it can be
put into production, and it will cost a lot of money to implement. I
am skeptical about whether this is suitable for a private company to
tackle with without the backing of large companies and/or the US
two frequency areas. (ZK: As the attaché
pointed out, there are two major power grids serving the eastern
(Tokyo and Yokohama) and western (Osaka and Nagoya) parts of Japan.
The AC power in the eastern part is 50 Hz (as in most of Europe),
whereas the western part uses 60 Hz (as does the US). Because of
this separation, excess power in one grid cannot be utilized for
another. See my old blog for the Japanese
power grid infrastructure.
One such solution can be the application of the technology used at
to unite three major power grids in the US. The
three grids all run AC power in 60 Hz but are not synchronized and
cannot be connected directly. So at Tres Amigas, each AC is first
converted to DC then reconverted to AC and connected to the other
grids with synchronization.
vendor in the smart meter segment asked for advice about what they
can do to grow their software sales in Japan. He was saying that
utilities like TEPCO
tend to purchase software from Japanese vendors over foreign vendors.
Wearing my second hat, I assist US companies to enter the Japanese
market, and I encounter this problem constantly. Think of it
this way. If you were a US utility company and needed to purchase
software, would you prefer to buy it from a US vendor or a foreign
one? The answer is very straightforward. In order to sell in Japan,
you need to overcome name recognition, marketing and technology
documents in Japanese, technical support in Japanese, contracts and
other agreements in Japanese, in addition to the Japanese language,
business etiquette, and other things. Even in the world of IT, it is
often hard to penetrate into the market. As in the US, utilities are
very conservative in Japan and do not want to run the risk of
adopting a technology from a foreign no-name vendor. There is a
solution for that, but it is beyond the scope of this blog.
San Jose City
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 11, 2012
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I read Elisabeth
on the Nuclear
Energy Insider website
with interest. The title of the article was USA:
are natural gas and liberalised energy markets challenging nuclear’s
This is my summary of her points:
Nuclear energy cannot compete in price with gas. The only element
that might make nuclear shine is its lack of GHG emissions. It is
still too early to dismiss any energy source at this time, because it
is hard to predict so far in the future.
article is well researched and interesting by itself, it is not earth
shattering; other media and researchers have reported similar
stories. But it was interesting enough to inspire me to write a blog
to compare the US and Japan in terms of their future energy mix. The
US is often compared with European and other countries like Japan,
and it is said that the US is behind the curve in many areas, like
education and sustainability. Because I understand what's going on in
both the US and Japan at the native level, an ironic grin comes to me
when I read such comparisons. It is so funny to see that people in
both countries blame their own country by saying how advanced the
other country is. If you read both sides of the story, you would
wonder which of the two is better than the other. You know far more
about your own country's problems than another’s.
(Well, Japan is
not mentioned much when the future energy mix is discussed, partly
because not enough information is published in ENGLISH. Wait. Even if
you read Japanese. I often get confused about what is really going
When we discuss
the future energy mix in the US, we talk as though we were facing a
unique problem with energy sources and were the only country
suffering so. Nuclear power is a wonder of energy and there is no
question about it. Until the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors accident, we
did not pay much attention to potential safety problems but enjoyed
the power the reactors produced. Although there are many angles to
nuclear power in the US, I think these are the main drawbacks:
construction and operating costs
nuclear waste disposal sites
Yes, safety is
also mentioned often, especially in surrounding communities and by
activists. But I do not see much discussion of it in the media now.
Don't get me wrong. I do not intend to marginalize the Three Mile
Island accident and the suffering it caused people. Construction cost
is increasing because of more regulatory pressure and more safety
feature checking procedures and oversight with explanations and
opinions of the people in surrounding communities. As a new nuclear
power plant needs to go through several phases, it may take as long
as ten years to complete construction. On top of that, there is no
guarantee the construction will ever reach the final stage, because
at each phase, more fixes and modifications may be ordered, with no
guarantee of passing each check.
In addition to
this, cheap gas, thanks to shale gas, is becoming a more and more
attractive alternative to other energy sources. Although gas is gas
and does not eliminate GHG emissions completely, as nuclear power
does, it is cheap and cleaner than oil or coal. Unless GHG emissions
control becomes very strict, this trend will continue.
The second element
is the lack of permanent disposal sites. Yucca
Mountain was to be the federal nuclear waste
deposit site, but no longer is. Diablo
Canyon and San
Onofre, two nuclear power plants in California,
are being operated with a special provision. California does not
allow the operation of nuclear reactors without permanent nuclear
waste deposit sites. The two are being operated as exceptions because
without them, a severe power shortage would become a reality,
especially in southern California. There was speculation about a
California-wide referendum to negate that exception in the upcoming
election. When I received an election packet, I looked for it but
could not find it. The referendum was not officially entered because
it missed the filing deadline.
Onofre is currently not in operation and will
not be restarted until 2013 at the earliest, according to
NBCDFW.com. It was feared that southern
California could face blackouts if the referendum passed. The power
supply seems to be fine without San Onofre for now. What if we stop
Diablo Canyon, too?
I’ve written a
lot about what's going on in Japan and do not want to repeat it here.
Those who are interested in what I said before can take a look at old
Japan Really Getting Out of Nukes?(January
Next with Japan's Nuclear Power?
Japan Restart Any of Its Nuclear Reactors?
09, 2012 )
on Japan's Nuclear Reactors
to Fight Peak Power Demand in Japan
Restarts Two Nuclear Reactors (May 31, 2012)
imports about 96% of its energy, found nuclear power to be suitable.
It does not emit GHG and its fuel can be recycled. Before March 11,
2011, Japan was one of the biggest proponents of controlling GHG
emissions and declared that it would cut them by 25%. But since the
disaster, GHG emissions are seldom discussed. These are the current
major points about nuclear power facing Japan:
availability without it
arguments against nuclear power in Japan are subsiding a little
compared with the year 2011, but they are still pretty loud and
powerful in public opinion. Those who oppose nuclear power claim that
power based on renewable energies, such as solar and wind, could
easily replace existing nuclear power overnight. But as in the US,
that may not happen for quite some time. If I talk to people in Japan
who are in business and technical industries like ICT, they say it is
not possible to get rid of nuclear power altogether without securing
an alternative energy source. It is interesting that their voice,
coming from a technical and operational understanding of energy, is
far less powerful than that of the anti-nuke crowds.
The current, very
unpopular administration flip-flopped its stance. It was initially
going to restart all of the stalled nukes, but after strong public
opinion it tried to change to a stance of shutting down all nukes by
2030. It then tried to make it official but changed its position
again to neutral after the business community's opposition and
speculated pressure (not confirmed, though) by the US for security
reasons. So it is not clear what the Japanese government’s position
is. The big difference between Japan and the US is that the US will
be fine without nukes because it has ample and cheap natural gas,
while Japan needs to import more energy without nukes. We cannot just
look at this as if it were a fire on the other side of the ocean,
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Monday, October 01, 2012
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There has been a lot of discussion
about whether power generation by nuclear energy will stay in Japan’s
energy mix in the next 20 years. Immediately after the earthquake and
the tsunami disaster, antinuclear sentiment seemed unstoppable.
However, the pronuclear power camp, including some politicians,
utilities companies, and local governments that host nuclear power
plants, pushed back this trend a little bit. With that, the Japanese
government restarted two of the fifty reactors that had not been
restarted as usual after being stopped for their annual checkup.
However, without a formal process, these two of the nuclear reactors
were restarted in spite of a lot of opposition in July. This sparked
weekly demonstrations against nuclear energy everywhere, but the one
that attracted the most attention was the one in front of the prime
minister's office (similar to the White House).
As the current administration loses
support, it tries to regain popularity. It has reversed the old
policy of keeping nuclear power in the energy mix for 2030. If that
were all, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, the government just
gave the OK to restart construction of a plant that was put on hold
after the disaster. It will probably be another 10 years before this
plant will be available for power generation, but if nuclear power is
excluded from the energy mix, its life is only 10 years or so.
There are a lot of factors involved in
the exclusion of nuclear energy, including pressure from business
groups and the US and those who stand to gain a lot in continuing
nuclear energy. I think banning nuclear energy completely from the
mix is a mistake. What the Japanese government should do is to make
all the data and discussions open and make the decision process fair.
The government used to have two agencies under the same minister. One
was to promote the nuclear industry and the other was to control and
guarantee the safety of nuclear reactors. So it has decided to make
agency, known as the Nuclear
Regulation Authority, independent like the
Regulatory Commission in the US. Japan has a
long way to go before it finally can decide on the energy mix that is
right for it.
Nuclear regulatory commision
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Sunday, July 08, 2012
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As of July 1, Japan implemented the
full-amount purchase system, consisting of mandatory full purchase of
power generated by renewable energies (with some exceptions) and its
version of a feed-in tariff (FIT). Note that this applies only to
newly developed power generation plants. The FIT was proposed and
promoted by former Prime Minister Kan back in 2011 and put into
practice now. Like other FIT programs in the world, Japan's new
system is intended to promote renewable energies, i.e., solar, wind,
biomass, hydro, and geothermal energies.
Among those energy types, solar is
given the top priority and the price is set at 42 yen ($1 is roughtly
80 yen) per kWh, when the average price for power purchased from
utilities is 21.7 yen . Before this program, there was another to let
utilities purchase power from residential (up to 10 kW) customers at
42 yen per kWh and from nonresidential (between 10 kW and 500 kW)
customers at 24 yen per kWh. There was a cap at 500 kW, and no one
with more than 500 kW in capacity could participate in the program.
But the program only allowed producers to sell what remained of their
produced power after consuming what they needed for themselves.
The new system allows all except
residential customers to sell all the power they produce, even if
it’s more than 500 kWh, for the next 20 years. The program for
residential customers remains the same at 42 yen per kWh, but the
price will go down in time.
As for other energy types, wind over 20
kW is set at 23.1 yen per kWh for 20 years, geothermal over 15,000 kW
and less than 15,000 kW are set at 27.3 and 42 yen per KWh,
respectively for 15 years. In addition, hydro is divided into three
classes: less than 200 kW, between 200 kW and 1,000 kW, and over
1,000 kW. They are set at 35.7, 30.45, and 25.20 yen per kW,
respectively, for 20 years. Biomass is divided into five classes,
ranging from 13.65 to 40.95 yen per kW for 20 years. Those initial
prices will decline as more power by renewable sources increases.
With the passing of this law, renewable
bubbles are everywhere and growing rapidly. But not all the news is
good. Some solar generating sites did not plan ahead to connect to a
nearby utility substation. Although utilities cannot refuse such a
connection, it’s necessary to lay a cable to connect a new
generator to a substation, and that takes a lot of money and time.
Also, because transmission capacity is limited, not all the generated
power can be transmitted. Utilities may not share their transmission
capacity ahead of time and do so only when a connection request is
made, which may be too late. Some installations began construction
before checking these requirements.
As this law took effect, two nuclear
reactors were restarted. As of this writing, no firm energy policy
has been set in Japan. Some of the utilities companies in Japan are
planning rolling blackouts, just in case. I certainly hope that no
major blackouts will take place this summer in Japan.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Friday, June 22, 2012
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I have covered this subject for some time
and will reference some earlier blogs in this one. As two of Japan’s 50 currently
stopped reactors will be restarted shortly, it may make sense to write an
overview to put this matter into perspective. Before the four reactors at the
Fukushima Daiichi (by the way, "daiichi” means number 1; number 2 is nearby)
nuclear plant got destroyed, there were 54 reactors in Japan. The US has 104
reactors, and Japan has more than half that number in its tiny territory (one twenty-sixth
that of the US).
After the enormous jolt, all four of the Fukushima
Daiichi reactors were automatically shut down but were standing without major
damage to the cores. Hitting all the coastal areas near the epicenter, the
tsunami reached the plant shortly after the earthquake. The tsunami did some
damage to the compound and surrounding areas but did not critically damage the
reactors. However, seawater flooded backup generators that were housed
underground. The decision to house them underground copied US emergency measures
for avoiding damage from tornadoes. Backup power is necessary, when power from
the grid is lost, to cool fuel rods because they get very hot even when reactors
are not in operation. The lack of backup led to hydrogen explosions and the
rest is history.
At the time of the crisis, TEPCO (the utilities company serving
Tokyo and surrounding areas) and the government did not communicate well, and
chaos ruled the entire country. Rumors of radiation reaching Tokyo made people
very nervous. On top of that, rolling blackouts were conducted to save the
collapse of the entire grid, handicapping train service and stranding millions
of people. Adding insult to injury, aftershocks of various scales were felt
very often during that time, making people sleepless and scared.
Now it is revealed that the Japanese
government and the US forces in Japan had accurate information on radiation
cloud flow at the time. However, that information was not shared with people
close to the damaged reactors. Some people were evacuated along the very route
of the radiation cloud flow and received some dose of radiation. One thing I
was surprised by was that there were no clear emergency evacuation guidelines about
which agency of the government should do what or who should evacuate. In the
US, NRC has clear guidelines and plans for
emergency evacuation. For example, the 5-mile radius is considered within
direct threat of radiation, and 50 miles is considered the possible reach of indirect
contamination via food and drink.
Many Japanese people felt that foreigners,
including Americans, overreacted and became hysterical, exaggerating the
disaster as if the entire country were destroyed or blanketed with radiation.
The US embassy in Tokyo issued an advisory to US citizens in Japan to evacuate
beyond the 50-mile radius of the damaged reactors. The embassy simply followed
the NRC guidelines and also had more accurate data about radiation than the average
Japanese population. Yes, there were some overreactions on the part of non-Japanese,
but the Japanese government did not release pertinent information in time, much
less in other languages, making those people worried about the worst.
During the following dozen months, antinuke
sentiment was in full bloom, and everyone (Japanese and people outside of
Japan) believed Japan would abandon nuclear power. Any other opinions were shut
out because it was the right thing to do. But how did that change and why is
Japan restarting some reactors? Time is usually a healer and also contributes
to fading bad memories. People started to forget how bad it was. However, a power
shortage was on everyone's mind. See my earlier postings on this.
Prime Minister (PM) Kan, who was in office
at the time of the disaster, was adamant about getting rid of nuclear plants
and promoting renewable energies instead. He was very unpopular for other
reasons and tried to use this slogan to survive a no-confidence vote. He
delayed restarting all the reactors that were halted for annual checkups by
introducing a new requirement as a condition for a restart. While this was
going on, operational reactors were not stopped for this new requirement.
Finally, he made a deal to step down in exchange for passing a feed-in-tariff
that was subsequently passed and will be in effect on July 1.
His successor is PM Noda, who has not made
his position clear on what to do with the disabled reactors and other reactors.
One by one, reactors were shut down for their annual checkup. But none of them
were restarted even after the successful checkup. And at the end of April this
year, all the reactors were shut down and there were no reactors in operation
to supply power to the grid.
However, towards his first anniversary in
office, PM Noda made a move. He may have been motivated by the coming summer power
crunch, expected especially in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara).
Their reliance on nuclear power was close to 50%, and none of the reactors were
in operation. Long story short, he abruptly formed a committee to decide
security and safety measures for nuclear reactor operation. Even though it had
been more than a year, nothing had been done up to that point. Surprisingly,
his committee came up with the measures in a matter of a few days. The security
and safety measures were not shared with the general public, and I am not sure
if experts in the field contributed to them. The measures were approved, and
the stage has been set to restart two (at the Ooi plant) of the halted reactors
in the Kansai area.
||The Ooi plant is located at A
Governors and mayors close to the Ooi plant
opposed restarting the reactors without well-thought-out safety and security
measures. But in the end, they were forced to accept the restart. With no more
formidable opposition, the government gave the go-ahead to KEPCO, which serves
the Kansai area. The restart of the two reactors is imminent.
This oversimplified journal gives you the
story on what has happened in the pursuit of restarting nuclear reactors in Japan
since the quake. I am not against the restart of the reactors as long as real
safety and security measures are discussed with scientists but not by
politicians. My prediction is that a good number of the remaining 48 reactors
will be restarted soon. There is no longer a barrier to restarting them.
The year's election in California includes
a referendum to halt two nuclear power plants in the state until permanent
nuclear fuel process plants are built. After Japan's disaster, public sentiment
in the US moved against nuclear power. But as time goes by, people forget. The
US and other countries are building more nuclear power plants. See A
US Nuclear Power Renaissance? (February 12, 2012).
Interested readers may want to refer to my
blogs on Japan's nuclear power:
Nuclear reactor restart
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Thursday, May 31, 2012
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A controversy continues regarding the
future energy mix in Japan. It was Tokyo that was hard hit by a power
shortage last summer. It is Osaka's turn to expect a power shortage
in the coming summer. TEPCO, which serves the Tokyo area, lost four
nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the big quake and immediately
initiated rolling blackouts. However, TEPCO pulled through last
summer by imposing strict power usage controls. It also threw in as
many thermal plants as possible, whether they were online or offline
(due to their age), to compensate for the lack of the nuclear
KEPCO, which serves the Osaka area, did
not prepare another source of power as TEPCO did, and has been
warning that the Osaka area will suffer from a power shortage this
summer. There are several players in this game:
Governor and assembly where the
nuclear reactors reside
Local government that hosts the
nuclear power plants
Governors and assemblies of
Public at large
It was clear from the beginning that
the central government and KEPCO would like to restart the nuclear
reactors. Recently, the local government (both the village master and
the assembly) indicated that they approved the restart. The biggest
opposition to the restart was a group of governors of the surrounding
prefectures (a prefecture is similar to a state in the US).
KEPCO and the governors of the
surrounding area have been in discussions for some time. As summer
comes closer, the deadline for restarting the two reactors is within
days. It takes three weeks to restart one reactor. Because two
reactors share some structure, they cannot be restarted at the same
time. So it will take six weeks to get full power. If the restart
takes place next week, it would be around July 15 when full power is
restored. Setting the deadline seems to have worked: the governors
have compromised, although they still insist the restart is temporary
and only for the summer.
With the compromise, Prime Minister
Noda indicated that he would call the shot as early as next week.
This writer is puzzled. In spite of these discussions and heated
debates, there was no involvement from the technical experts on the
security of the reactors. PM Noda said he would take all the
responsibility for the restart, but he is not an expert. How can he
take responsibility in case of a disaster? If the restart was used to
revitalize the nuclear business, what was the significance of the
Fukushima disaster? The four reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power
plants still need time and care to get them fully decommissioned for
the next 50 years or so.
Personally, I think the restart is
necessary to cope with the power shortage. But the process of
restarting and the discussion of it seem flawed. It seems like more
reactors will be restarted before long.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
| Comments (0)
Smart grid has been proposed to provide
more stable power and reduce transmission loss, from generation all
the way to consumers. The imbalance between the ever-increasing
demand and the lack of resources in transmission lines and generation
as a result of environmental concerns, coupled with high fuel costs,
makes us wonder whether we have and will have enough power for our
needs in the US. We have already seen that some data centers, which
are notorious for consuming a lot of power, could not expand, because
they could not source more power for the expansion. But overall we
have been lucky in the US. We have, more or less, enough power for
our everyday lives.
What would happen to the US if 30%–50%
of generation sources disappear? It is hard to imagine. We will see
something like that in the industrialized country of Japan this
summer. I have repeatedly written about it. On May 5, the last
operating nuclear reactor was stopped for an annual checkup without a
firm restart date. This was celebrated as a victory by some groups of
people who are against nuclear power. But other people are worried.
Now all 50 nuclear reactors in Japan
are halted without any firm restart dates. Each reactor was stopped
for a routine checkup but never restarted. About 30% of Japan’s
entire power generation came from nuclear plants, so the country is
now running its power grid with a 70% power supply capacity. This
still works now, in spring, when demand is relatively low. But come
summer, with the increased use of air conditioners, power demand may
surpass power supply. The Tokyo area, which is served by TEPCO
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html, went through a power shortage
last summer with intensive conservation, and TEPCO managed power
demand without rolling blackouts. With four reactors decommissioned
in Fukushima and seven reactors (a total of 8,212 MW of generation
capacity) halted in another plant, TEPCO will have to do some
maneuvering to get through this summer without any blackouts. TEPCO
has announced it would implement time-of-use pricing to curtail power
usage during peak hours. (Note that PG&E indicated time-of-use
service will start in 2014.) So far, TEPCO has installed about 1
million smart meters, but the total number of households is 28
million. Does this work? Twenty-seven million meters cannot
distinguish time-of-day pricing, and their owners have no incentive
to conserve. Moreover, I am sure TEPCO charges extra for the meters
and their installation and adds the cost on top of the power price
for every consumer to share. Some people think they receive free
meters and free installation and are very happy without knowing the
utility’s pricing structure.
This is bad enough, but the KEPCO
territory—Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe—will suffer from an even
worse power shortage because of their heavy dependence on nuclear
power (some 50%). Currently, the central government and KEPCO are
playing tug-of-war with local governments. They want to restart two
of the reactors, while the local governments question the safety of
those reactors because neither the central government nor KEPCO has
provided reliable information about their safety or actual power
capacity. The central government and KEPCO have been using scare
tactics, saying that not reactivating the reactors means rolling
blackouts. Their most recent figures on power capacity are as
2 nuclear reactors
Total of additional capacity
- 4,450 MW
+ 10 MW
Without nuclear power or additional
pump-up generation, KEPCO projects a power shortage of 4,450MW
in the coming summer. With the reactivated nuclear reactors (an
additional 2,360 MW) and pump-up generation (2,100 MW), it can
guarantee a reliable supply of power.
People are skeptical about these
Additional power and expected
shortage almost (conveniently) balance, with a positive 10 MW.
KEPCO stated that power produced
by pump-up generation was much less before.
Of course, I have no intimate knowledge
regarding these figures, but I have a suspicion like everyone else
that the numbers are cooked to justify restarting the nuclear
I wonder what would be the reaction of
an American if the same thing happened in the US? I am not sure
Americans would be as receptive as the Japanese to this explanation.
In any event, it looks like it is going to be a very hot summer in
Time of use
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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A few days ago, the four reactors that
were badly damaged at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were
officially decommissioned. That makes the official nuclear reactor
count in Japan 50, down from 54. Out of those 50 reactors, only one
is currently in operation. A big, ongoing controversy is the issue of
restarting some of the reactors that were halted after a checkup.
The Japanese government is now clearly
pushing for restarting nuclear reactors to secure enough power for
the country. The very two reactors in question now are in the KEPCO
territory, which includes the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and
Nara. The government performed stress tests on those reactors and
abruptly concluded them safe. They did it by creating a safety
checklist for the nuclear reactors in a few days. Then they held a
meeting to conclude that the reactors were safe because they
satisfied all the items in the list.
This did not convince the local people.
It appeared that the government had already decided to restart the
reactors no matter what and held a meeting to make it official. The
surrounding communities and local governors are very much against
this decision, and the government has yet to move this matter to the
next stage. The Fukui prefecture (similar to a state in the US) is a
small and not very populous one, and its industries and employment
opportunities are limited. With the nuclear industry in their
prefecture, they received a large sum of money in grants from the
government, and employment opportunities opened up. They need workers
at the reactors, and the surrounding restaurants and inns benefit
from the people pouring into their community. The local people are in
a dilemma. They are worried and afraid of potential disasters. But
with the reactors halted, the local economy is also halted, and they
cannot sustain their lives as before.
The Asahi Shimbun, one of the leading
newspapers, published a nationwide survey of the government decision
to restart the reactors. Only 28% supported the restart, while 55%
opposed it. As for whether people believed the government’s
assurance of safety, only 17% trust the government assurance, while
70% do not. Also, only 18% believe the government's power-shortage
data, while 66% do not. As for whose consent is necessary for the
restart, 88% answered that the local community needs to approve it,
while 8% said the government could decide by itself. Finally, people
who were surveyed felt that the government was not moving away from
using nuclear reactors (61% vs. 19%).
The strong argument from the government
is that, without nuclear energy, Japan will not have enough power.
But the majority of people do not believe that. It appears this
standoff will continue into summer, which requires the most power
during the year. With the current administration's approval rate at
25% and still sinking, a general election may take place sometime
soon. The discussion about energy policy and power supply may be
delayed substantially. It is too late to take action when power
cannot be supplied adequately when needed.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Monday, April 09, 2012
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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.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Sunday, March 25, 2012
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As of March 25 (Japan time), the 53rd
nuclear reactor has been halted for a checkup. That reactor was in
the TEPCO territory. The 54th and last remaining operational reactor
is in Hokkaido, in the Hokkaido Electric Power Co. (HEPCO)
territory, and it is due to be halted on May 5th (Japan time) for a
checkup. So as of early May, no nuclear reactors will be running to
provide power in Japan. The hot summer usually starts in mid-July,
and Japan must go through another summer with an inadequate power
supply. Remember that TEPCO suffered the most last summer because of
the loss of the power generated by the four reactors of the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant.
To recap, the reason for stopping the
nuclear reactors is not out of fear that they aren’t safe but
because utilities companies do not want to restart them, even though
they were deemed to be fine after their checkups. The former
administration required a stress test to make sure the existing
nuclear reactors can withstand more severe earthquakes and tsunamis
before they can be restarted. The details of the stress test have not
been publicly available, but bits and pieces of information from the
media reveal the following.
The first level of the stress test is
to simulate even more severe earthquakes and tsunami, to see whether
the current infrastructure holds. That is the first level. It is only
simulation. The second level is to enumerate all the possible ways
for the nuclear reactors to get into trouble and provide remedies for
These conditions are rather silly
The halted nuclear reactors are
not safer than the running reactors, because reactor cores require
constant cooling. Until this problem of supplying power for cooling
when there are major quakes or tsunamis is solved, nuclear reactors
will not be safe.
It was OK not to test operational
reactors, while the halted reactors were tested. In spite of #1,
operational reactors are possibly more dangerous than halted
The first level of the stress test
does not test physically to see whether the outer containment can
really withstand severe quakes. Therefore, passing the test does not
guarantee any real physical integrity. If we take the condition for
the second level literally, we can’t restart any reactors.
Instead, we need some kind of rating system to decide whether each
nuclear reactor can be restarted.
Right now, KEPCO, which serves Osaka,
Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, is trying to restart two out of eleven
reactors as early as April. Up to now, the central government and
local governments that host nuclear plants were ducking the issue of
nuclear power plants for fear of a public outcry. The current
administration seems to have decided to restart nuclear reactors no
matter what. When you look at my three reasons that the conditions
are silly, # 2 does not apply, because every reactor will be halted
soon. But #1 and #3 still hold. KEPCO got a clearance on level one of
the stress test in an open meeting of the Nuclear Safety Commission.
It took only five minutes to certify level one, in spite of questions
and opposition. They are now at level two and likely to pass it some
time soon, so that two reactors can be restarted as early as April.
Under the guidance of Toru Hashimoto,
maverick mayor of Osaka, the City of Osaka will suggest getting rid
of nuclear reactors in an upcoming KEPCO shareholder meeting. The
City of Osaka, along with the Cities of Kyoto and Kobe, holds about
13% of KEPCO's stock. KEPCO reported that the district it serves
would be short of power this summer without nuclear power. What they
want is to restart their nuclear reactors to remedy this. The stock
owned by the Cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe does not constitute a
majority but is big enough. Their demand is that all the nuclear
power plants be abandoned.
I wish they had had a rational
discussion of this. KEPCO should publish detailed information about
its power supply and demand. How much does it lack at the peak times,
as opposed to non–peak times? If peak times are the only problem,
there are a lot of ways to avoid that. Some people wonder whether
last summer’s power shortage in the TEPCO territory was real. Some
people are skeptical that KEPCO really has a power shortage problem
without nuclear power.
If there is a reasonably priced way not
to use nuclear reactors without hurting individuals and businesses,
it should be considered. But one thing remains to be addressed.
Simply halting nuclear reactors does not guarantee safety, because
fuel rods need constant cooling, which requires power.