An article posted on Wired.co.uk titled Japan’s new government to ‘consider’ more nuclear power indicates that the author is almost surprised to hear that the recently elected Japanese government is considering the construction of new nuclear power plants.
While it may be understandable for the Japanese people to turn against nuclear power, there are several reasons that their government may not be so hasty to give up on it. Much like in the UK, Japan would struggle to adapt to other energy technologies like renewables fast enough to make up for the lost capacity from closing nuclear plants.
The subsequent report into the Fukushima disaster also found that it could have been prevented, with commission chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa stating that it was a “profoundly man-made disaster”. The general mood among the nuclear power industry, and the new government, is that the Fukushima disaster was not the fault of nuclear technology as much of a regulatory failure. It’s an argument that has done little to assuage the fears of the reportedly more than 80 percent of Japanese people who now consider themselves anti-nuclear power.
The only reason I am even close to finding it “understandable” that the Japanese people have turned away from nuclear energy is that I have some idea of how frequently they have been the target of ad supported media stories focused on spreading fear and uncertainty. I also have some inkling of the tendency towards self-sacrifice among older members of Japanese society; they do not seem to mind giving up comfort after they have been carefully convinced their conservation will make their children safer.
Based on my first-hand experience with living in a world that is completely supplied by nuclear energy, I cannot understand why anyone who comprehends its enormous benefits could be convinced to give them up.
I guess I answered my own question there; perhaps the real reason that the Japanese people have, so far, been willing to sacrifice the benefits that nuclear energy can provide is that they have not been directly exposed to enough of those benefits to gain a full understanding of how much better nuclear energy is than its competitors.
Because of the way that electricity prices are regulated, the enormous increase in the fuel costs associated with burning imported diesel fuel and liquified natural gas have been imposed rather slowly. Because most modern power plants do a pretty good job of filtering and chemically treating their visible emissions, average people have not noticed just how much more pollution those imported fuels are producing compared to the virtually emission-free reactors that used to provide 35% of their electricity.
Since Japanese firms are slow to resort to layoffs when they are under financial duress, the people have been isolated from the dramatic reduction in prosperity that has resulted from increasing fuel costs, unreliable power supplies, and forced factory shutdowns. Because Japanese people tend to trust their authority figures, few of them have asked hard questions about why the cows living outdoors and eating the grass in the evacuated area seem so healthy when they have been told that human beings cannot even spend the night in their former village homes.
I do not accept the conventional story line that the real problem was a failure of regulations or malfeasance by Tepco. I think both the Japanese regulators and the operating companies did a reasonably effective job of protecting public health and safety.
Tepco lost some valuable assets and will spend a lot of money cleaning up the site, but even after melting three nuclear reactor cores, the company only released a few tens of kilograms of radioactive isotopes to the environment. No one was injured by those releases. That needs to be repeated; no one was injured by radiation released from the Fukushima reactors. The defense in depth worked as designed. Honestly compare that result to any of several recent natural gas fires and explosions and you will understand why I am so adamant about sharing that information.
Of course there are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks in and outside of the nuclear industry that can come up with a whole list of things they would have done better than Tepco and its effectively trained work force. The fact remains that the event should be considered a ‘W’ for acceptably safe nuclear energy. It might have been a slightly ugly ‘W’ but that should not matter all that much in the overall competition between hydrocarbons and actinides as the future source of power for human society.
I hope you notice that I did not mention unreliables (sometimes called “renewables”) as part of that competition; they are a distraction and can never supply the quality and quantity of power required to provide prosperity to a reasonably large population of people. It is not a matter of how fast they can be deployed; they are incapable of doing the necessary job.
I left the following comment on the Wired article. It’s not yet visible there; I suspect that the included link will cause moderation problems, but I could not resist providing some support for my statement about the stubborn and healthy women of Chernobyl.
The area that the previous Japanese government forced to be evacuated is the home of some very healthy cows and a growing abundance of wildlife. It has a lot in common with the not really “dead zone” of forced human relocation near the Chernobyl reactor.
In that area, some stubborn babushkas refused to allow the government to force them to abandon their homes; they stayed and continued living off of the land. More than 25 years later, they remain healthy and reasonably happy, though they probably would have preferred if more of their neighbors had made the same decision to ignore government orders.
In my technically informed opinion, there is no reason to maintain the exclusion area outside of the gates of the Fukushima nuclear station. Radiation dose rates there are already lower than those found in many places where humans have been living healthy lives for many centuries. Those dose rates will continue to fall as the land is occupied and as natural processes wash the mildly radioactive earth.
Most of the often touted costs associated with the damaged plants is avoidable through the use of sound science that enables rational risk response. The people need to demand to be allowed to return to their homes and start rebuilding their lives.
Publisher, Atomic Insights