Posted by Mark Halper

Going nuclear. The headquarters building of Japan – and the world’s – largest circulation newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, where an editorial calls for restarting Japan’s nuclear power.

Want more signs that the public is swinging to supporting nuclear in Japan, the country that shut down almost all of its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster two years ago, and where most of the population objected to nuclear less than a year ago?

First, for a quick review. You’ll recall that early last month, the supposedly anti-nuclear Japanese public overwhelmingly elected a Liberal Democratic Party government led by pro-nuclear politician Shinzo Abe.

Of course there were issues other than nuclear power in the election.

But a nuclear pendulum is in motion. Last March a poll showed 80 percent of Japanese people saying “no” to nuclear. Eight months later those folk were installing a nuclear advocate into the top office. Soon after taking office, Abe announced a review of the previous government’s intentions to completely phase out nuclear by 2040. The country is currently operating only 2 of its 54 reactors.

POWER OF THE PRESS

Now comes the latest indicator that the public stance is easing: Japan’s – and the world’s – largest circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, has published a long and strong editorial calling for a return to nuclear. You can read the whole thing on this link. Here’s how it begins:

“Revitalizing the Japanese economy will require a stable supply of electricity. This year will be important in that the energy and nuclear power policy, on which the nation’s fate rests, needs to be drastically reformulated.

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shown his intention to review the “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment” drawn up by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which set a target of having zero nuclear reactors operating by the end of the 2030s. Abe also expressed support for allowing the construction of new nuclear plants with enhanced safety features. We think his position on these issues is reasonable.

“The government should immediately craft a realistic energy strategy that includes the use of various sources of power generation–including nuclear energy.”

Japan is increasingly realizing as a nation that to stay economically competitive and environmentally sound, it will need nuclear power, which prior to the tragic Fukushima disaster supplied about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Since that time, and with its nuclear shutdowns, it has struggled to fill the energy gap. It has relied on usage cutbacks, efficiency measures (no bad thing) and on CO2-emitting fossil fuels that it imports at great expense (sometimes, as we’ve noted, with the ironic help of nuclear-powered icebreakers leading liquefied natural gas containers from Russia through the Arctic).

The hazardous reliance on fossil fuels came into the spotlight earlier this week when utility Tepco – the company that ran the improperly sited Fukushima reactors that melted down when a tsunami knocked out their cooling systems – announced long term plans to secure an energy supply with what would appear to be coal.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Political, business and thought leaders are growing more outspoken in their advocacy of nuclear for Japan. As we wrote here last month, Nobuo Tanaka, the former head of the International Energy Agency and a Japanese national, warned that a failure to embrace nuclear could lead to economic catastrophe for the nation.

Tanaka, who currently serves as a global associate for energy security and sustainability with Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics, is keen for his country to adopt alternative forms of nuclear other than conventional solid uranium, water cooled reactors. He’s particularly interested in fast  breeder reactors.

Japan has a number of other alternative nuclear ideas stirring that could provide more efficient and safer reactors compared to today’s reactors – designs such as the thorium fueled liquid molten salt reactor, for instance.

It has an abundance of expertise in these alternative areas, including  people like Moto-yasu Kinoshita of the University of Tokyo – who is also vice president of the International  Thorium Molten-Salt Forum – and Ritsuo Yoshioka, president of the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum.

Likewise, Takashi Kamei of Japan’s Research Institute for Applied Sciences, is formulating maverick ideas on how to co-manage thorium and the vital rare earth elements with which it typically occurs. Japanese utility Chubu Electric is even investigating the possibility of using a thorium reactor.

Keep an eye on the land of the re-rising nuclear reactor.

Photo: Wikimedia.

Comments

  1. Robert Hargraves says:

    If Japan is backing off its transition from nuclear to coal, perhaps so will Germany, now building more coal plants and using high-CO2-emitting brown coal.

    • Martin Kral says:

      There are many reasons why Germany should return to nuclear before it is to late. The most critical will be the drain on their intellectual base. These highly educated professionals are not going to just sit around, they are probably going to follow the technology. The US is a good example of a lost generation.

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