Government unqualified to deal with nuclear power

by Junpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, an advisory panel of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is discussing revising the nation’s basic energy plan. This plan calls for raising the proportion of all the power generated in Japan by nuclear power plants to 53 percent by the year 2030. Tetsunari Iida, 53, executive director of the Tokyo-based Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, is a member of the subcommittee. His non-profit organization has called for Japan to end its reliance on nuclear power. The Chugoku Shimbun talked with Iida, a native of Yamaguchi Prefecture, about his perspective on ending Japan’s reliance on nuclear power and what should be done about the nuclear power plants in the Chugoku Region. The following are excerpts from that interview.

◆Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies

Why does Japan need to end its reliance on nuclear energy?
Nuclear power is like thermal power in that once the fuel runs out, no power can be generated. It is not a sustainable form of energy. We must switch to sustainable natural sources of energy such as solar power. And the costs of nuclear power are high. It is unclear how nuclear waste will ultimately be disposed of, and the cost of covering unlimited liability for an accident at a nuclear power plant is prohibitive.

The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant made it clear that Japan is not qualified to deal with nuclear power. Hydrogen explosions, which the government said would not occur, did occur, and the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), which cost more than 10 billion to establish, was not used for evacuations. Nevertheless the government is trying to restart nuclear power plants without guaranteeing their safety. We may end up going back to the same structure we had prior to the accident.

Nearly 38 years have passed since the No. 1 reactor at the Chugoku Electric Company’s Shimane Nuclear Power Plant [in Matsue] started operations.
The government’s stated view that nuclear reactors must be decommissioned after 40 years is reasonable. Nuclear reactors are complex systems, and it is impossible to verify how they deteriorate as a result of neutrons. As long as there are unknown risks, reactors should be decommissioned after a specified time. And the Shimane No. 1 reactor is an early type of reactor like those at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. The notion of making an exception and allowing reactors to operate for 60 years is out of the question.

I suppose the electric power companies want to operate the nuclear power plants as long as possible, but we need a mechanism so that plants that have a high rate of problems can decommission their reactors before they reach the 40-year mark. For example, the government could collect contributions toward compensation from the power companies to be used in case of an accident. The more trouble the plants have, the more they would contribute. If it’s done that way, decisions on decommissioning could be made from a cost point of view.

What should be done about the start of construction on the new Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant [in Yamaguchi Prefecture] and the No. 3 reactor at the Shimane Nuclear Power Plant, which is nearly complete?
Fundamentally, all new nuclear power plant projects for which construction has not yet begun should be cancelled. The construction plans should be abandoned immediately. Compensation to local communities is a separate issue, but there is no need for the central government to pay compensation to Chugoku Electric. It is their responsibility.

On the other hand, the Shimane No. 3 reactor is a difficult problem. From Chugoku Electric’s standpoint, they have to recover their tremendous investment in the reactor’s construction, so it is an urgent matter for them. But even if they try to operate the reactor, if all the nuclear power plants in Japan are shut down at the end of April, the timing of the reactor’s start-up will be even less clear. If Chugoku Electric says they want to decommission the reactor without ever operating it, it may be acceptable to consider having the central government cover their losses.

In the Chugoku Region, the move to construct mega-solar power plants, primarily in the Setouchi area, where there is a lot of solar radiation, is picking up speed.
Just because there is a mega-solar plant doesn’t mean this will become a leading region for natural sources of energy. It will just be a “natural energy colony” set up by a major company in Tokyo in cooperation with a large bank in order to generate profits. What is needed is a mechanism by which local socially responsible companies play a principal role, and energy and funds circulate among local banks and citizens.

If businesses, such as plants for the manufacture of solar power generation machinery and parts as well as research institutions located in the Chugoku Region grow, then this can become a leading region in the field.

What do you expect of Hiroshima and what would like Hiroshima to consider?
Hiroshima has played a central role in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons, but perhaps because it has regarded nuclear power as a “peaceful use of the atom” and because it is the home of Chugoku Electric, it has not been very enthusiastic about the issue of nuclear power.

In the sense that its land was heavily contaminated by radiation, Fukushima is Japan’s third nuclear disaster area after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must advance to a movement that considers not only nuclear weapons and the atomic bombing but that also looks at the problems associated with nuclear power.

Tetsunari Iida
Born in 1959. Graduate of Tokuyama High School in Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Master’s degree in nuclear science studies from Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Engineering. After serving as a visiting researcher at Lund University in Sweden and in other posts, established the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in 2000. As a special adviser to the City of Osaka, the largest stockholder in Kansai Electric Power Company, prepared a proposal by which Mayor Toru Hashimoto will request that the utility reduce its reliance on nuclear power. Author of “Energy Evolution Theory” and other works.

Nuclear Plants in the Chugoku Region
There are two nuclear reactors in the Chugoku Region, both at the Shimane Plant operated by the Chugoku Electric Power Company. The power rating of the No. 1 reactor is 460 megawatts, while the No. 2 reactor is rated at 820 megawatts. The No. 1 reactor was shut down in March 2010 as the result of a faulty inspection procedure. The No. 2 reactor was shut down on January 27 of this year for a regular inspection, leaving no nuclear reactors in operation in the Chugoku Region. No start-up date has been set for the No. 3 reactor (rated at 1,373 megawatts), which is nearly complete. The Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture is in the planning stages. Chugoku Electric was looking to start up its No. 1 reactor in March of 2018 followed by the No. 2 reactor in 2022, but following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, the utility halted the reclamation of the sea at the plant site.

(Originally published on February 6, 2012)