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The End of Japan’s Nuclear Power Mirage? Tokyo’s Green Olympics in 2020 via Japan Focus

Andrew DeWit

The September 7 decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award the 2020 games to Tokyo is potentially of monumental importance. That significance is not merely due to the fraught geopolitics of the so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific or the collective angst of all those analysts waiting for Abenomics arrows.[1] Celebrating the IOC decision in Tokyo Rather, the big deal is energy. And energy is the biggest deal there is, composing roughly 10% of the USD 70 trillion global economy. This short article aims to assess the IOC decision from the perspective of its impact on the contest between centralized versus distributed energy.[2] The unsustainable, centralized energy paradigm illustrated by the nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, was the very audible elephant in the room during IOC decision-making. The upstart alternative, distributed power generation, is the route that many are now aiming at. Hence, the 2020 games could usher in a “new Japan,” a very different country from the one PM Abe Shinzo described in his book “Towards a New Country”[3] and has sought to realize via pressing for reactor restarts and overseas sales. Tokyo is on course to offer by 2020 a rapidly urbanizing and increasingly desperate world multiple models of sustainable, smart city technology. The only significant spoiler lurking in the wings is the degree to which the nuclear village can rally and close the door to green via nuclear power restarts.[4] But even as it angrily demands the Abe government write a nuclear target into the new basic energy plan,[5] the village may be in the midst of a political meltdown. Abe evidently felt subsidence shift the terrain of interests beneath his own feet: as of yesterday, he argues that Japan must lower its reliance on nuclear power and – over the next three years – accelerate the diffusion of renewable power and efficiency to the maximum.[6]
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This attention from overseas in turn bolsters the many forces within Japanese government circles, civil society, and the business community that had been trying to weaken the stranglehold of the nuclear village.[14] One of the most prominent actors in this effort to undermine the iron grip of the nuclear village is the governor of Tokyo, Inose Naoki. He has long been a proponent of a green Tokyo, being the green force within the Metropolitan Government (TMG) during the years of Ishihara Shintaro. Inose himself is not antinuclear per se, but he is deeply antimonopoly, which is the fuel of the nuclear village, and clearly understands the benefits of green growth. His antimonopoly initiatives are evident in the TMG decision to stop selling its hydropower to Tepco, to shift as many of its facilities’ contracts as possible from Tepco to emerging “new power” (PPS) firms, to invest in distributed power, and to undertake other deliberate efforts to ” blow a hole” in the monopoly’s business model.[15] Alongside TMG Governor Inose are the expanding antinuclear forces within the LDP itself, who were greatly invigorated on August 25 by former Prime Minister Koizumi’s public declaration of Abe’s need to make the decision to get out of nuclear. Koizumi’s determined stance followed an overseas fact-finding mission earlier in August, a mission composed of himself as well as four executives from the nuclear power technology sections of the Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. These are the top firms of the nuclear village’s power-unit construction. The informal mission inspected renewable projects in Germany as well as the planned repository for nuclear waste in Finland’s Onkalo. Throughout the trip, apparently, the executives implored Koizumi to side with them. But as Koizumi argues, the evidence points to nuclear being unsustainable. He also warns Abe that “[i]f no plan to get to zero nuclear power is produced now, eliminating atomic power will become all the more difficult in the future. All the opposition parties agree that Japan should abandon nuclear power. If the prime minister decided to do it, he could do it.”[16] More broadly, big capital and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly entering the power business as competitors to the nuclear-holding monopolies, with Japan’s ranks of new power producers likely to exceed 100 this year. One of the newest entrants, starting from this month, is the heavyweight Mitsui, which will be cooperating with Softbank on renewable and other projects.[17] Out beyond these forces gathered in the capital city are the subnational governments. A majority of Japan’s subnational governments not only want the growth offered by renewable and distributed generation, but are increasingly dubious about nuclear energy, particularly the restart of any reactor facilities in their districts. These governments’ willingness to oppose nuclear restarts has gained great impetus from developments at Fukushima. It will gain additional impetus through the ongoing expansion of awareness that renewable energy, efficiency, and its associated infrastructure (e.g. smart grids) offer the robust and sustainable growth that they and their voters desire.

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  1. norma field says

    This article presents the best outcome we can hope for from the IOC’s dubious decision to accept Tokyo’s bid. At the same time, the great devastation and suffering inflicted on so many goes unaccounted for. Isn’t it plausible that these promising, much-needed measures toward decentralized, renewable energy will go hand-in-hand with continued stonewalling of victims’claims, anodyne “decontamination,” and repression of protest? How can citizens maximize the possibilities of greening the Olympics and insist on government and Tepco accountability for the damage done and exercise their free speech rights?



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