Water, water everywhere: Incentives and options at Fukushima Daiichi and beyond via Japan Focus

Andrew DeWit

Japan’s ruined and radioactive reactor plant at Fukushima Daiichi has been an abiding source of concern among knowledgeable observers. There are a host of good reasons for this reemergence. As this Mainichi survey observes, it is now clear that several hundred tons of radiation-contaminated water is entering the ocean per day. Over the past week, it suddenly returned as an intense focus of concern in the Japanese1 and quality overseas press.2 There are a host of good reasons for this reemergence. As this useful summary of articles and expert statements reveals, it is now clear that several hundred tons of radiation-contaminated water is entering the ocean.

Reporters and Tokyo Electric Power Co workers during a tour of the Fukushima nuclear plant on June 12, 2013
The usual suspects, including Tepco as well as various talking heads, have been assuring anxious observers that nothing untoward is going on, that health risks are minimal, and so on. But at the same time, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was steadily ramping up its warnings to Tepco to be more pro-active and forthcoming on the crisis. And on top of that, Shinkawa Tatsuya, Director, Nuclear Accident Response Office at the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry’s (METI) Agency for Natural Resources and Energy is on record warning that the leaks may have been going on for two years and that there is a risk of the reactor buildings toppling.
What is unfolding at Fukushima and in Tokyo bears much resemblance to the post-bubble financial crisis that crippled the Japanese economy in the 1990s and into the 2000s.9 Just as in the 1990s, almost all the actors are dithering and pointing fingers. The public coffers are likely to dribble in just as much as PM Abe thinks the taxpayers will stomach. But just as with the bank bailouts of the past, which eventually cost at least YEN 100 trillion, the public is going to have to pick up the cost of this crisis as well, whether through higher power costs or taxation.
A full-on drive in the energy sphere was beyond the pale pre-Fukushima. But now the Japanese bureaucratic-political elite is very much in support of renewables and efficiency. For example, METI’s Natural Resources and Energy Agency Manager Kimura Youichi is calling for accelerated deployment of renewables via the FIT and other policies.17 This statement from Kimura follows a previous call for more renewables and efficiency from Yamamoto Taku, Chair of the LDP’s Natural Resources and Energy Commission.18 Arguments that pre-Fukushima – and even a year or so ago – were iffy or even beyond the pale are now becoming common sense. And the opposite is true as well: recall that on February 19 of 2009, the METI Vice-Minister declared the smart grid is not necessary in Japan.19 That statement was made only four years ago, and reflected conventional wisdom in his ministry at the time, due to the dominance of the monopoly utilities. But were the same argument to be enunciated now, the bureaucrat would be laughed off the stage.

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