Behind the no-nuclear option via The Japan Times

The triple-meltdown crisis that began last year at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant jarred the public out of its complacent attitude toward nuclear power and every other assurance made by the government and Japan Inc.

Suddenly, thousands of people were fleeing their homes in the fallout zones, possibly never to return again, as everything from fish to meat to rice and water joined the list of contamination threats.

Overnight, the public developed a collective voice. Housewives, professors, students, salarymen, seniors from all walks of life stood up to demand an end to Japan’s dependence on atomic power, and its dangers.

What prompted this zero-nuclear goal?

Public opinion.

The government was initially reluctant to renounce atomic energy, which before Fukushima was the source of about 30 percent of the nation’s electricity, because of the difficulty of winding down its vast investment in it.

There is also strong resistance from the business community because of the extra costs associated with alternative energy and concerns that the shift would damage Japan Inc.’s competitiveness.

The business community and the government remain deeply invested in nuclear power.


If the government truly aims to end nuclear power, why is the atomic fuel-recycling program continuing?

This continuation cuts to the heart of the ambiguity, experts say. The new strategy clearly states that the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel will proceed.

The recycling extracts uranium and plutonium from spent fuel for reuse as a hybrid fuel in reactors. If all the reactors are done away with, Japan will have an large plutonium stockpile sitting around with nothing to do.

“It is a complete contradiction. If Japan is going to get rid of nuclear power, it doesn’t need to recycle spent fuel anymore,” Ban of CNIC said.

Other experts see the continuation of recycling as a way to placate the communities that host the facilities and who now worry that their government subsidy spigot will suddenly be shut off.

This is particularly true in regard to Aomori Prefecture, where communities hosting reprocessing facilities have lashed out at what they call an abrupt about-face by the government. They stand to lose vast state funds if the fuel cycle is terminated.
“The U.S. doesn’t want Japan to stop using atomic energy. If Japan withdraws, America’s export plans could fall through,” Ban said. “Japan’s new strategy could negatively affect the U.S.”

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