Monday, June 05, 2006


As a person who is not yet radioactive, I feel that the primary approach to resolving Japan's energy problems should involve lifestyle simplification and education, coupled with all-out support for research and development of alternative clean energy sources.

But then my thoughts are affected by the facts that the Japanese government, the world's longest single-party rule, is enthralled by nuclear power (a bottomless public works pork barrel), that tiny Japan has the third most nuclear power plants in the world (53, after the US and France [Addendum, July 2007: now second in the world, with 55]), that Japan is one of the most earthquake prone nations on earth and that of those 53 quietly seething nuclear facilities, 13 (and 2 in planning) are clustered together on the Japan Sea coast within a few dozen kilometers of my house. And immediately upwind of 30 million other people.

The extent to which the use of nuclear power in Japan depends on public ignorance and corporate-government callousness is apparent in these two articles:

"Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list.

When I asked ERC [Emergency Response Center] officials how they planned to evacuate millions of people from Shizuoka Prefecture and beyond after a Kobe-magnitude earthquake (Kobe is on the same subduction zone as Hamaoka) destroyed communication lines, roads, railroads, drinking-water supplies and sewage lines, they had no answer."


"It was clear that most Commission members were either pro-nuclear or felt that to encourage spirited discussion of basic issues like the necessity of nuclear power was not part of their mandate. After all, they had a five-year plan for Japan's nuclear power industry that they had to compile by late 2005, and since nuclear power was already providing about a third of the nation's electric power needs overall, what was the point in arguing with people who didn't want it? The result of the meeting was not a lighthearted farce, but something that looked as rigged as a pro wrestling match.

And so it was. Just a few weeks later, on November 12th, the Atomic Energy Commission released an interim report on nuclear fuel recycling and concluded that it should go forward. Virtually none of the facts presented by the anti-nuclear activists were acknowledged. But when it comes to Japan's nuclear power industry, inconvenient facts often do not matter."

Am I glowing yet?


Anonymous said...

One would think that in Japan of all places the memory of disaster by nuclear power would be profound.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Yes you're glowing Robert; but only in the most appealing way.

cnevint said...

I used to live in Tsuruga Iand may well return to live there again) on the Japan Sea coast, just over the mountain from Bob, where there are four nuclear facilities - two "fast breeder" reactors, and two conventional plants (each with two reactors).

It should come as no surprise to say that nuclear power has profoundly affected the region. First of all, nuclear power plants are responsible for a relatively high standard of living (and relatively high consumer price index - gasoline costs about 10% more a litre in Tsuruga) compared to other ruralities in Japan that don't host the same number of nuclear power plants (those 15 plants are dotted along 50 kilometers of coastline, all in Fukui). The median age of the population is lower than other ruralities - people continue to settle in the rural, and somewhat isolated, Wakasa region.

The nuclear power plants are cooled by seawater, and, since the plants first went online 30 years ago, seawater temperatures in Tsuruga Bay have increased by two degrees on average, and this has been a boon for squid fishermen and the aquaculture industry, although the two new plants that are being constructed will divert the coolant flow to the tip of the peninsula, and sea cage farming will end.

So, on the face of it, nuclear power plants are a good thing, providing jobs and much needed infrastructure.

But, there is also a sinister undercurrent. Two years ago, several workers were scaleded to death in a local plant after a steam pipe exploded. The pipe had never been repaired or replaced in thirty years.

Busloads of temporary workers are shipped in from the slums of Osaka and Kobe to perform "maintenance" - cleaning the highly radioactive areas of the plant. No one knows what happens to these day labourers once they return to the Kansai region.

Every school and every public building is equipped with some sort of radiation meter, a little box, the size of a small fridge, that usually stands in the entry hall of the building. There is no explanation as to what a safe number might be.

Every nuclear power plants stores tons and tons of plutonium and other sorts of nuclear waste - until the completion of Rokkasho in Aomori, there are no places in Japan to store this stuff.

Nuclear materials are transported around town and around Japan in unmarked trucks.

Nuclear accidents occur regularly, so regularly, in fact, that a "heavy water spill" elicits no reaction whatsoever.

Leukemia and other cancer rates are not tracked in Fukui Prefecture. This comes from a relative who has worked as an assistant to the governor of Fukui.

And, to return to Bob's original topic, that of earthquakes, the construction companies used shoddy techniques to build the plants 30 years ago, and the concrete and cement structures will probably crumble in the event of an earthquake.

That said, I would return to Fukui to live in a flash. Discounting the invisible threat of radioactive contamination, Fukui is one of the best places to live in Japan (second only to Shiga or Kanazawa!) Good hiking and good food, although I would avoid the squid and flatfish caught in the bay.

Joycelyn said...

The only comfort in all of this is seeing evidence that Americans are not the only people in the world who are afflicted with mass stupidity! Japan! Don't they remember Hiroshima? Of all the places on earth, surely Japan would have better sense than to build reactors in an earthquake zone using shoddy techniques! At all! At all, but especially using shoddy techniques!

Winston said...

Hmmmm... monkeys, aphids, no chocolate ice cream, and now fissionable neighborhoods... I sincerely hope the advantages of being there vs. US outweigh these hardships and downsides. There are risks and shortfalls everywhere. But, my god, NO CHOCOLATE...