Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
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The Japanese government and big
utilities were pushing to restart nuclear reactors for fear of power
shortages in the summer months. Specifically in the Kansai area
(Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara, served by KEPCO),
previous power generation by nuclear power was close to 50%.
Therefore, before summer, a severe power shortage was feared. Several
local governors and mayors, especially the Osaka mayor, opposed
restarting the nuclear reactors, because safety had not been
verified. But at the last moment, they withdrew their opposition
because there was no assurance that enough power for the summer could
In the US, Labor Day signifies the end
of summer, but in Japan it is still very hot, well over 90 degrees
during the day. However, no power shortage has materialized.
According to the Ministry
of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), power use during
July was the lowest since January 2005, as a result of lower
temperatures and power saving. An average household in Japan used
about 342 kWh in July, 7.3% less than in July 2011. There are many
factors to consider, such as temperature and humidity, to get that
number. One thing I can say about summer in Japan is that it is hot
and sticky and I avoid going there then. The US Energy Information
Administration (EIA) has a good
link to how much power an average US household
consumes monthly. Consumption varies among states. In 2010, the least
consumption was in Maine (521 kWh) and the most was in Alabama (1,384
Granted that houses are much smaller in
Japan, 342 kWh is very little. Believe me that during a typical
summer night, the temperature does not drop below the high 70s and
the humidity is unbearable. You cannot sleep without AC. So I think
this indicates very aggressive power saving by average citizens.
In the Kansai area, two restarted
nuclear reactors produce a total of 2,360 MW. During the month of
August, they had a 3,470 MW cushion between demand and supply. In
early July when reactors had not been restarted, the closest between
demand and supply was 2,120 MW. The rest of the utilities territories
(9 out of 10) reported the following summertime (the entire summer)
power usage decline, compared with the summer of 2010.
Source: TBS TV
Many people in the Kansai region, as
well as others, think the restarting of the nuclear reactors was not
necessary. There was not a single day when demand was so close to
supply to necessitate rolling blackouts. Almost 50% of power
generation capacity was lost, yet there was not a single blackout
during the months when the highest power consumption was expected.
This energized the anti-nuke movement.
In spite of that, the government and
utilities companies are planning to restart the remaining 48 nuclear
reactors. The sad reality is that they lack a convincing argument to
show that the nuclear reactors are safe, because some are suspected
to be on fault lines. The government surveyed public opinion about
what the energy mix in the year 2030 should be. It asked people to
select which percentage nuclear power should take, 0%, 15%, or
20–25%. The overwhelming majority selected the 0% option, and the
government is now leaning that way. But they have not yet shown how
it can be accomplished or which energy sources can take over from
This is still a fire on the other side
of the ocean for the US, but we should consider our energy mix while
we still have time. It is very hard to do so when you do not have
time, like Japan.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Friday, January 20, 2012
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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.
national energy policy
nulear power plant
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
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In scanning a massive number of tweets,
I came across one from Dominion Virginia Power (DVP) regarding its energy plan. That alone
did not attract my attention enough to dive into their press release. But DVP has a nuclear power plant in
the area where the recent magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit and a third
reactor in preparation, and I was interested in what they had to say
about that. I was also interested how the emergency there was handled
in comparison with that at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
According to Wikipedia, DVP's North Anna nuclear plant has a
generation capacity of 1.8 GW. Two reactors currently in operation
were built in 1978 and 1980, so the plant has been in operation for
more than 30 years. They are only 60 miles from Richmond and 90 miles
from Washington, D.C. My impression is that the reactors are pretty
close to large cities. What happens if a nuclear emergency takes
place so near major cities?
When the Fukushima plant first began to
emit radiation, the Japanese government initially set a 5-km-radius
evacuation zone, then gradually increased it to 10 km and then to 20
km. In the US, two zones are predefined for nuclear plant
emergencies. The first has a 16 km (10 mile) radius (direct
contamination) and the second has an 80 km (50 mile) radius (indirect
contamination). At the time of the Fukushima accident, the US embassy
in Tokyo warned all the US citizens in the Fukushima region to
evacuate outside the 80 km (50 mile) radius, in accordance with the
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s guideline. The embassy was
simply doing what was in the manual for nuclear disasters.
This confused many Japanese people in
the region because the Japanese government set a very narrow zone for
evacuation and gradually increased it. Some thought the severity of
the situation was much worse than what their own government said. But
many thought the Americans were exaggerating the incident. That might
be half true. Many non-Japanese in Tokyo, which is 135 miles away
from the plant, started to flee Japan. We now know that that was not
But the US government probably knew
what was going on, because the US force in Japan probably knew where
and how radiation was flowing in the region. It shared that
information with the Japanese government. The Japanese government
independently had information about where radiation was flowing but
did not share that information with people in Fukushima. The
radiation was flowing northwest from the plant, beyond 20 km. Many
evacuees incidentally followed the path along the flow of radiation.
Many of these people, including children, were certainly exposed to
radiation. After six months, we know that the Japanese government did
not have a solid plan for evacuation in case of a nuclear disaster.
What was the cause of this disaster?
Fukushima’s problem was the loss of power to cool reactors and
spent fuel pools. The reactors shut down automatically and did not
break because of earthquakes or the tsunami. The power grid was
knocked out, and emergency power was not available because the
basement where the diesel generators were was flooded. North Anna had
five available backup diesel generators with enough fuel for 30 days.
Grid power was restored on the same day, and backup power was working
well, according to
From this we know that cooling is
essential to maintain the safe operation of nuclear reactors.
Fukushima’s problem would not have escalated as it did if emergency
backup power had been operational. It is ironic that power generators
need other sources of power to cool themselves. Emergency backup
power is currently limited to diesel generators. Although disasters
at data centers are not life threatening like nuclear accidents, they
can make a huge impact on people’s lives and on society. I wonder
if we will get some alternative ways of securing power beyond diesel
generators anytime soon.
Japan still cannot decide what to do
with its energy policy. Public sentiment was to replace nuclear power
with power from renewable energy. But it will take many decades
before renewable energies can replace all the nuclear power plants.
As for DVP, they plan to go ahead and get approval for North Anna 3
(the third reactor) in 2013. I think we need to keep nuclear plants
and gradually replace them with other sources of energy, even though
it may take 10 to 30 years.
Nuclear power plant
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
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Newly elected Prime Minister Yoshihiko
Noda is Japan’s sixth in five years. How will he change the
country’s energy policy? The last prime minister, Naoto Kan, was
the first to declare "out of nukes” for Japan's energy. The
Democratic Party of Japan, including Kan, supported nukes as the
center of energy until the major earthquake in March damaged nuclear
reactors in Fukushima. Four prime ministers before him did not enjoy
a high approval rating, but Kan’s was down in the teens because
many people felt his handling of the nuclear disaster was very poor.
What Kan did confused many people and
stalled the progress of energy policy discussions. As the situation
with the damaged nuclear reactors worsened, public sentiment went
anti-nuke without suggesting any replacement energy sources. Kan rode
this trend and did the following:
He stopped one of the nuclear
power plants located at the shoreline and on a fault line. But he
did not touch any other plant that might be as dangerous as it.
When one of his ministers okayed
the restarting of a reactor that passed its checkup, he overrode
that decision by imposing another stress test that is yet to be
decided. The funny thing is that all the reactors currently in
operation can continue to run without the stress test, but those
undergoing a checkup must have an additional stress test.
Kan declared "out of nukes”
for Japan’s energy policy and forced a renewable energy promotion
draft, which is now a law mandating the buy-out of all the power
generated by renewable energy sources.
Japan is still in talks with
countries like Turkey and Vietnam for the sale of its nuclear
If you do not know Japanese politics,
you may think Japan has dumped nukes and dived into renewable
energies, like Germany and Italy. But it is not that simple. There
are still a lot of entities, including the Ministry of Economy,
Trade, and Industry and big businesses, that want to keep nukes
alive. There seem to be three kinds of people on the nuke issue:
Radical anti-nuke people who want
to stop all the nukes immediately.
People who want to keep nukes for
now but gradually phase them out.
People who want to keep nukes as
Right after the quake and when the
reactors were still emitting radiation, the first type of people were
everywhere. As the situation stabilizes, the second type is gaining
momentum. The third type has been quiet for fear of being bashed. The
problem with this discussion is that many people do not seem to
understand that in order to balance demand and supply, three kinds of
power sources are necessary: base load, middle load and peak load.
Base-load power is run all the time and generates minimally necessary
power constantly and reliably. In the US, nuclear and coal are used
for that. In Japan, nuclear and hydro are used.
The question is, if nukes are dumped,
can renewable energies replace them as the base-load power sources?
Solar and wind, major renewable energy sources, are variable in
nature and cannot provide power constantly and reliably without
support from energy storage and/or another energy source, such as
natural gas. Although energy storage technologies, such as batteries,
are making progress, they are not ready for utility-scale deployment
at a reasonable cost. Supporting wind or solar with something like
natural gas goes against the spirit of being totally renewable,
because natural gas is a fossil energy source and its combustion
produces CO2 and other harmful gases, even though it is better than coal or oil.
As this information spreads, the type-1
people seem to be losing power and the type-2 people are gaining
momentum. I guess many of the type-2 people do not understand that it
will be many years before renewable energies can overtake nuclear
power. With the advent of many ICT technologies, controlling the
degree of output by renewable energies is getting better. However, I
am not sure if we will ever reach the level of nuclear or coal.
This problem is not unique to Japan. As
I see nuclear plants shut down after the recent but rare earthquake
on the East Coast, the US may also need to consider replacing nukes
sometime in the future. I wonder when we can make renewable energies
as dependable as fossil energies?
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Friday, September 02, 2011
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It is almost six months since a major
earthquake shattered Japan on March 11. The devastation itself was
beyond belief, but the aftermath has been as bad as the destruction.
The damaged nuclear reactors have not been stabilized, and tens of
thousands of people evacuated from the disaster area because of the
fear of radiation have no idea if and when they can go back home.
Indirect impacts are being felt
elsewhere, including Tokyo, which has depended on power produced by
the nuclear reactors. TEPCO, Japan’s biggest utility company,
serves the Tokyo metropolitan and surrounding areas but runs nuclear
reactors far outside its territory. The government formerly pushed
nuclear power to solve the energy problem—Japan imports close to
100% of all its required energy, and nuclear power was seen as the
means to maintaining energy independence. When nuclear power plants
were planned, people in Tokyo did not want them in their
neighborhood. So the government offered villages that were suffering
from little or no business economic stimulus funds in exchange for
sites for nukes. That is why many nuclear plants were built in remote
The government declared a power
emergency at the beginning of summer and imposed 15% mandatory power
conservation on big businesses and factories. This is similar to
Emergency Alerts 1 and 2, currently enforced in Texas by ERCOT, as
There were some exceptions, such as
hospitals, trains, and data centers, but everyone, including average
consumers at home, was encouraged (but not ordered) to conserve
power. The total power consumption meter displaying real-time data
for the TEPCO territory was put where as many people as possible
could see it: in train stations, on buildings (these were giant
displays), on websites, on Twitter, and elsewhere. Except for a few
days, demand fell visibly, and no rolling blackouts took place. TEPCO
is canceling the power emergency as of September 9, two weeks ahead
of the planned date.
There are a few reasons for the
successful completion of the power emergency. I stayed most of July
in Japan and can comment on them firsthand.
The curtailment of power use by
large businesses and factories worked. Those entities shifted their
business hours and/or worked on weekends, with Thursdays and Fridays
Average people voluntarily tried
their best to conserve power.
The media encouraged people to
conserve power and showed many innovative ways to get cool other
than by turning on the air conditioning.
Before immigrating to the US, I was
born and brought up in Japan, so I can see why this worked fine. In
short, many Japanese have a tendency to endure hardships without
Factory workers needed to change their
shifts so that they could work during the night, when power demand
was low. Office workers needed to come to work one or two hours
earlier to save power. Many had a hard time adjusting their lives and
arranging day care for their kids and elderly relatives. Restaurants
had to adjust their business hours to accommodate the change as well.
Office workers needed to work when it was 86°F with 70% humidity. A
packed train at rush hour without air conditioning is intolerable; I
cannot recommend it, even just as an experience. Many people, several
times more than in an average year, were sent to hospital with heat
exhaustion because air conditioning was off to save power.
Now that their summer with power
conservation is over, winter will be another test for Japan. Nuclear
reactors are run for 13 months and stopped for checkups for three
months, by Japanese law. Many reactors, once stopped for checkup,
will not be restarted, because the government has no firm policy to
restart them. Cold weather may not demand as much power as hot, but
there will be less power. We will soon see what happens.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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My trip to Japan is coming to
a close soon. In my two weeks here, I have noticed something a
dramatic difference between American and Japanese reactions to a
disaster that might impact the foundations of a nation.
The power shortage is
becoming a critical problem, spreading from the Tokyo and Tohoku
regions to the entire nation. People here do not seem to be getting
to the root of the problem but are concentrating on power
conservation. Everyone seems to comply with the law (in the Tokyo and
Tohoku regions) and the advisory (in other regions) without question.
Businesses invent new ways to save power, and develop new products
that save and conserve power consumption. A few people have
questioned whether the halted nuclear reactors really have caused a
power shortage. Some claim that using all available power sources,
including dormant thermal power plants, could provide enough power
without any nuclear plants. Most people do not validate such claims
but instead go with power conservation.
TV and other media keep
broadcasting the household power consumption ratio. It is roughly 60%
AC and 20% lighting. Because of that, many households turn down or
completely shut down AC in the 94°F
weather. Older generations tend to comply with the power conservation
laws or advisory more, and many of them (fivefold more this year than
in an average year) are sent to the hospital with heat stroke.
What would Americans do if
the same thing happened in the US? I think we would do the same for
the nation if we were convinced that the government’s claim were
true. But before jumping onto the conservation bandwagon, we would
investigate the claim and, if not convinced, demand information and
data so we could think for ourselves. If convinced, Americans would
unite under the flag. If we decide the government is not telling the
truth, we would rise up and show our disapproval by demonstrating, or
whatever it takes. This is what’s missing with Japanese people.
I want to point out that the
Japanese government is in disarray. The prime minister expressed his
resignation in early June (everyone but the prime minister thought he
declared his resignation) yet keeps introducing new policies,
contradicting what his cabinet members have promised local
governments. For example, one of his cabinet ministers asked a local
government to restart one of the halted nuclear reactors, and the
local government agreed to do so. Right after that, the prime
minister denied the start of the reactor by introducing yet another
test (a stress test) that imitates the one being run in Europe. The
minister lost face, and the local government now refuses to restart
The problem is that there is
no clear definition of such a stress test. The stress test is a
simulation with various conditions, such as shaking and tsunami-grade
pressure. But the test could be manipulated easily by those who run
it, and it will be run and verified by the government organizations
that lost the nation’s confidence by mismanaging the accident at
the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
To resolve the difference in
the conditions for restarting reactors, the prime minister talked
with his cabinet and declared yet another condition. The new plan
consists of two steps. The minister in charge of electricity and
industry thinks the reactor could restart with the first step, but
the prime minister and others require both steps to be cleared. The
local governments hosting nuclear power plants are confused. So are
most people in Japan.
Four months after the major
quake, more than 50,000 people are still housed in school gymnasiums,
70% of the debris has not been taken care of, evacuees of the
Fukushima nuclear reactor accidents have no clear information about
when they can return to their homes, and 80% of donations are stuck
in the pipeline and not reaching the victims. Yet, the prime minister
does not resolve those problems but produces new policies to prolong
his life as prime minister. His approval rate is a mere 15%, but
there are no citizen demonstrations or major public voicing of
complaints or demands for his resignation. The foreign media praise
the calm reactions of the Japanese people, but this is ridiculous,
even though I was born and brought up in Japan and am supposed to
know what it’s like.
I just wish the Japanese
people would wake up and do something to help themselves. With the
damage from the quake, less power consumption in sympathy with the
victims, the power shortage, and radiation fears within and outside
the country, Japan runs the risk of hitting a second disaster as big
as the quake. I only wish this would change soon for Japan.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Monday, July 11, 2011
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It has been a week since I arrived in
Before I flew, I checked the news and
information from friends here. I was expecting a real hell, but it is
not too bad, relatively speaking.
Lighting: Lighting is dimmed in
train stations, trains, some public places, and offices. In attending
several meetings, I noticed darker office areas. The situation is
quite different in the Nagoya and Osaka areas.
AC: Train stations are pretty
hot and humid, and very little AC is on. Trains are not too bad, and
some are well air-conditioned (I did not want to get off). Offices
are pretty bad. Their ACs are set to 86°F or higher. This is pretty
uncomfortable, and those who wear a jacket take it off when the
meeting starts. This is not so in the Nagoya and the Osaka areas.
Escalators and elevators: The
last time I was in Tokyo was May. At the time, some elevators were in
operation, but many escalators were halted. This time most escalators
are in operation.
Attire: Japan is a country of
formal attire. Before this power shortage, I would see people in dark
suits and neckties in the heat of summer. But no jacket and tie is
the way to go. I feel at home.
Power consumption forecast: The
forecast is given everywhere, including TV, newspapers, Twitter, and
public digital displays. In spite of 94°F and higher temperatures,
power consumption is well below available capacity. Businesses and
people are really working hard at reducing power consumption. Large
factories take Thursdays and Fridays off and operate during the
weekend to exploit the lower consumption then.
Victims: Because people tend to
trust and obey the government, some people try to contribute to power
conservation by not turning on their AC. More and more people are
being sent to the hospital with heat stroke.
Nuke controversy: The Japanese
government is not clear in their policy on nuclear power. They
abruptly applied pressure to stop a nuclear reactor (by law the
Japanese government does not have the authority to order a shutdown)
because of fear of an earthquake in its region. Several nuclear
reactors were supposed to be restarted after routine checkups (every
13 months by law). Right after the government declared one of the
nuclear reactors safe, the prime minister demanded more tests for
safety. This confused and angered state and local governments.
Moreover, the utility that wanted to restart the reactor tried to
manipulate the outcome of a public hearing by sending pro-nuke emails
purporting to come from average citizens with no connection to the
utility. This did not help people living close to the reactor. The
government is to issue its position on the operation of nukes, but if
it does not convince the citizens of Japan, it is likely that all the
nukes will be stopped by next spring. That will really bring on a
power shortage crisis.