Japan Institute for National Fundamentals
http://jinf.jp/

Policy Proposals

2011.11.28 (Mon)

Japan Should Not Abandon Nuclear Power Generation

Japan Should Not Abandon Nuclear Power Generation

 

  The Great East Japan Earthquake has reminded us, as forcefully as the postwar devastation and the oil shocks, that a loss of stable supply of electricity and other energy causes immeasurable economic losses and disruptions to everyday life. As an emotional reaction to the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Japanese public is inclining toward abandoning nuclear power, and that could have a significant impact on Japan’s energy policy, which requires drastic revision.
  The accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been serious. The impact and damage caused by the accident should in no way be underestimated.
  Now is the time to recognize anew the importance of energy security, which refers to ensuring the supply of energy in an amount necessary for the people’s lives, social and economic activities, national defense and other essential activities at affordable prices and to reform the energy policy so as to place emphasis on national security.


【Proposals】
1. Continue nuclear power generation.
By improving the safety of nuclear power generation based on the lesson of the Fukushima accident, Japan can strengthen its energy security and fulfill its responsibility to the international community.

 

2. Restore public trust in nuclear power generation.
The government must first examine the cause of the accident thoroughly and then create new systems of safety management and operation by establishing an independent, highly transparent expert organization with strong power.

 

3. Do the utmost to develop and promote the use of renewable energy.
The government must present to the people specific plans and a roadmap for implementation.

 

 

【Specifics of the Proposals】

 

1. Continue nuclear power generation.
By improving the safety of nuclear power generation based on the lesson of the Fukushima accident, Japan can strengthen its energy security and fulfill its responsibility to the international community.

   As pursuing nuclear power generation as a key energy source is a global trend, Japan’s abandonment of nuclear power generation would not only represent the forsaking of its obligation to the international community but also undermine its energy security. By contributing to the improvement of the safety of nuclear power plants, Japan can fulfill its obligation to the international community and strengthen its energy security at the same time.
   Japan ranks No. 3 in the world in terms of the number of nuclear reactors and the volume of nuclear power generation (as of March 11, 2011). It has the world’s highest level of manufacturing technology for nuclear reactors. It is Japan’s obligation to maintain and further develop this key technology and use it to improve the safety of nuclear power plants in developed countries as well as in developing countries, where nuclear power generation continues to grow. By doing so, Japan can strengthen not only its energy security but also its national security.
   Stable supply of energy is indispensable to the prosperity of the global economy as well as the Japanese economy. By developing and exporting advanced nuclear power generation technology, Japan can contribute to the improvement of the safety of nuclear power plants around the world and the promotion of highly reliable nuclear power generation. The global population has surpassed 7 billion and is expected to reach around 9 billion by 2050. Energy, as well as foods, is essential for the well-being of people in both developed and developing countries. We are beginning to see limits to the supply of oil and other fossil fuels, so their prices may rise steeply. According to a survey conducted by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, nuclear power generation accounts for 15% of overall electricity used in 30 countries and regions around the world.
    As of 2010, 140 nuclear reactors for the electricity generation purpose were under construction or on the drawing board and 432 reactors were in operation. Even after the Fukushima accident, the number of reactors is certain to increase in not only developed countries that regard nuclear power as a key energy source, such as the United States and France, but also in emerging economies like China (which accounts for 40% of all planned reactors around the world) and India. It is necessary to develop new energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power, to be sure. However, we must strengthen future energy security without missing the fundamentals of the issue.
   Nuclear power is not only a major power source for Japan and the lifeblood of the Japanese economy but also an essential energy source for the entire world. When we discuss nuclear power generation, it is important to take account of various global circumstances. For Japan, a resource-poor country, it would not be pragmatic to jump to a decision to abandon nuclear power generation as an emotional reaction. Such a decision would accelerate Japanese companies’ moves to relocate their operations out of Japan, leading to increased stagnation of domestic industrial production and other economic activities. Moreover, it would jeopardize the international position of Japan in Asia and in the world.
   Japan’s energy security is not an issue that depends on the choice between nuclear power and new energy. It hinges on constant efforts to reduce various risks (risks arising from the low self-sufficiency rate as well as geopolitical factors and supply-demand factors) by making effective use of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, etc.), new energy, nuclear power and hydroelectric power.
   In the global energy market, crude oil prices have remained high amid the tightening of the supply-demand condition caused by an increase in oil demand due to the high growth of emerging economies and a decline in oil-producing countries’ excess production capacity as well as the growing geopolitical risks, such as the instability of the Middle East. Moreover, the fight against global warming has prompted a shift to natural gas, resulting in a rise in gas prices, and this situation is expected to continue for a long time. Crude oil production in the United States and the North Sea has already declined substantially, while resource nationalism is rising in the Middle East and Russia, leading to the imposition of restrictions on foreign companies’ participation in oil development projects. As a result, competition for resources is intensifying.
   Nuclear power is superior to fossil fuels from the perspective of energy security because nuclear power plants do not require frequent refilling of fuels. Nuclear power plants in Japan are legally required to undergo periodic inspection at an interval of 13 months, while some other countries permit continuous plant operation lasting as long as 24 months. Meanwhile, Japan has stockpiled crude oil reserves equivalent to 200 days’ worth of consumption (as of the end of February 2010), including public- and private-sector reserves. Compared with uranium, a small amount of which is sufficient to operate a nuclear reactor, fossil fuels are needed in larger amount at thermal power plants. This means not only that the costs of fossil fuels are high but also that those fuels involve risks in each stage of procurement, transportation and stockpiling. Thus, nuclear power has a significant advantage over fossil fuels from the viewpoint of stable fuel supply, which is the key element of energy security.
   Therefore, Japan needs to establish fully reliable systems of safety management and operation and continue nuclear power generation while developing and promoting the use of new energy based on a pragmatic scenario. However, given the long time necessary to expand the supply of new energy sufficiently to use it as a major power generation source, the pragmatic approach for the moment will be to pursue an energy policy that focuses on highly efficient thermal power generation using coal and natural gas, which involve least energy security risk.
    In recent years, trade in shale gas has increased rapidly. Shale gas is certain to become a stable energy source not only because of its advantage in terms of supply stability and price affordability but also because it is the most environment-friendly fossil fuel. Moreover, next January, Japan and the United States will start a joint experiment to develop technology to extract methane hydrate. In the seas off Japan, the presence of the world’s largest methane hydrate reserves (equivalent to natural gas reserves of 100 years’ worth at current consumption rate) has been confirmed. Under these circumstances, the importance of thermal power generation will grow in the future. For the near future, acquiring interests in shale gas development will be a critical energy security challenge, so Japan must consider effective measures to tackle the challenge.
   Even so, the importance of nuclear power generation remains unchanged from the medium- and long-term perspective. The most advanced nuclear power generation technology (“third generation plus”) is far superior in terms of safety to the technology used in the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station (“second generation”). By quickly making safety feature improvements to the second-generation technology and promoting upgrading to the most advanced technology at the same time, we can enhance the safety of nuclear power generation. It is essential to help better understand the importance of nuclear power generation from the perspective of energy security and promote the use of nuclear power by actively implementing measures to educate the public about the safety of nuclear technology.
   Proven recoverable reserves of uranium, expressed as the number of years of production at current rate, are said to be approximately 100 years. Therefore, in order to promote sustainable use of nuclear power generation, it is necessary to establish a nuclear fuel cycle centering on the use of plutonium. For the immediate future, Japan should expand the use of plutonium through the “pluthermal” program (the use of plutonium in thermal reactors), which has been implemented abroad and which has already started at some nuclear power plants in Japan, too. At the same time, Japan should steadily promote research and development on the fast breeder reactor technology.
   Moreover, if the government is to get the people to accept the continuation of nuclear power generation, it is essential to start the operation of a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, which is in the final stage of examination, and select the site for nuclear waste disposal at an early date. As a long-term task, Japan should actively engage in research and development on next-generation nuclear power such as thorium nuclear power and nuclear fusion, on which other major countries are working hard.

2. Restore public trust in nuclear power generation.
The government must first examine the cause of the accident thoroughly and then create new systems of safety management and operation by establishing an independent, highly transparent expert organization with strong power.

   We may say that the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was caused mainly by human factors – insufficient preparation against tsunami, an inadequate organization for disaster control and inappropriate management of the organization ― rather than problems inherent in nuclear power generation technology. It is imperative to thoroughly examine problems related to the human factors and rebuild highly reliable systems of safety management and operation.
   The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) was unable to issue relevant instructions to Tokyo Electric Power Company in dealing with the Fukushima nuclear accident largely because its role had not been clearly defined and the power granted to it was insufficient and vague. Another important problem was that NISA lacked expert management capability regarding the operation of nuclear reactors, particularly operation at the time of an accident. Organizational reform that resolves such fundamental problems must be carried out. To that end, it is essential to establish an organization which has independence and expert knowledge combined with strong power.
   The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of the United States, L'Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN) of France and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) of the United Kingdom are all independent organizations which have the power to approve the construction and operation of nuclear power plants and conduct safety inspection and which fulfill their responsibility for ensuring the safety of nuclear power in a scientific and objective manner.
   In comparison, a reform plan proposed by the Democratic Party of Japan, under which a “Nuclear Safety Agency” would be created under the Ministry of Environment through the integration of NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission under the Cabinet Office, is not only insufficient but also inappropriate. To make the new nuclear safety agency an effective organization, it is necessary to give it independence and strong power and create a system that ensures appropriate information disclosure and transparency. Moreover, given that nuclear power development is closely related to national security, the new agency must be of such a nature as to play a role in ensuring national security.

3. Do the utmost to develop and promote the use of renewable energy.
The government must present to the people specific plans and a roadmap for implementation.

   Challenges that must be overcome for the introduction and promotion of renewable energy are wide-ranging, from technological and cost problems to environmental problems. Unless a specific roadmap with a timetable for overcoming challenges is presented, it is impossible to choose one energy resource from nuclear power, fossil fuels and renewable energy. In particular, as concrete and objective data have not been fully examined, the ongoing energy policy debate has become detached from reality.
    In the absence of concrete and objective data, we must avoid making a hasty decision to introduce new energy by following the lead of such countries as Germany, Denmark and Spain. It is not appropriate to discuss the case of Japan in the same way as the case of Europe, where an extensive power transmission network has been developed in an integrated energy market, enabling mutual supply of electricity between countries.
    In particular, before introducing new energy, we need to overcome plenty of challenges, including technological constraints (physical constraints related to technology development, availability of land, environmental preservation, etc.), economic constraints (high cost commensurate with the level of technology) and policy constraints (fiscal burdens that must be shouldered to promote the use of new energy, such as expenditures related to the feed-in tariff system).
    By overcoming those challenges, Japan should play a leading role in establishing an energy system that will serve mankind in the latter half of the 21st century.

(END)