July 14: Japan Update-Considering Phaseout

This blog was co-authored by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Mandy Hancock, SACE's former High Risk Energy Organizer.

Guest Blog | July 14, 2011 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

After four months of dealing with the still ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima-Daiichi facility, disaster stricken Japan is planning a future with less reliance on nuclear power. This week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced Japan should move toward a nuclear-free energy future. He explained,

“We should reduce our dependence in a planned and gradual way, and in the future we should aim to get by with no nuclear energy. When we think of the magnitude of the risks involved with nuclear power, the safety measures we previously conceived are inadequate.”

Currently two thirds, or 35 of Japan’s 54 reactors, are shut down, some from earthquake damage and others for scheduled maintenance. The future of many of these reactors will be decided by local governments who will determine whether to approve reactor restarts once a series of stress tests are completed. With only one-third of reactors currently operating, Japan is experiencing difficulties dealing with heat waves, among other issues. This situation is something to consider here in the southeastern U.S. as Japan has a similar electricity profile with a significant reliance on nuclear power.

The French public’s support of nuclear power has also taken a significant hit, with 75% supporting a full exit in the next 30-40 years. Although the government does not favor nuclear phase-out for France’s energy future, that option was included among a list for consideration. France, often considered the poster-child of the nuclear power industry, generates nearly 75% of its electricity from nuclear reactors yet is already looking to invest heavily in offshore wind, with plans underway to install 6,000 megawatts by 2020. This aligns with their plan for 23% renewable energy by 2020, which Energy Minister Eric Besson estimates will generate 10,000 jobs for the country.

In the United Kingdom, a recent Freedom of Information Act request revealed scores of emails between government officials and the nuclear industry that seem to indicate a heavy industry influence on the government’s public response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan. A recent Guardian article reports:

“Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.”

Industry response in Japan was also criticized this week, after an employee at Kyushu Electric Power Company revealed that the utility had coordinated an email campaign to feign public support for nuclear power. It appears that the former Executive Vice President of the utility, Mamoru Dangami, sent emails to multiple offices instructing employees to pose as citizens in support of nuclear power for a television program. A probe is now underway.

In what appears to be a particularly egregious business move to take advantage of the tragic Fukushima-Daiichi disaster, Areva, France’s nuclear giant, reportedly lobbied the U.S. Congress in wake of the Japan nuclear accident to gain ground over other competitors vying for nuclear business here in the  U.S. According to The Mainichi Daily News:

“The leaflet sent shockwaves around Tokyo and Washington, as well as GE officials, who were busy responding to the nuclear crisis. Areva lobbyists stressed that the accident was peculiar to Japan when they handed out the leaflets, hinting that similar accidents would never occur with nuclear plant systems provided by Areva. It was obvious to the recipients of the brochures that they were part of Areva’s maneuvering to quash its competitors in the nuclear power business.

… The hypocrisy of using both smear attacks and support infuriated Japanese government officials. Nevertheless, France tried to curb any negative impact that the Fukushima accident could exert on its nuclear power business by stressing that the accident was peculiar to Japan, while taking the accident as a rare business opportunity to overturn the dominance of the U.S.-Japan alliance — namely the GE-Hitachi partnership and the Toshiba-Westinghouse consortium.”

As faith in the trustworthiness of the nuclear industry is clearly shaken around the globe, there appears to be overwhelming support for renewable energy resources such as solar and wind. According to a recent survey, only 38% of adults in the 24 countries surveyed support using nuclear power, while 97% support solar and 93% support wind. The only countries where a majority of the public support nuclear at present are India (61%), Poland (57%) and the United States (52%).

The will of the people appears to be moving away from reliance on nuclear power, in favor of less risky energy options. The question remains, however, whether the political will is here in the U.S. to do the same?

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