Japan’s Nuclear Recovery – Economy and Ecology

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Humanity is currently facing multiple crises, ranging from the current Covid-19 pandemic to the growing challenge posed by climate change. The recovery from the pandemic-induced economic recession has led to a sharp rise in energy prices and, before the eyes of the world, Russia has launched a military invasion of Ukraine. The subsequent economic sanctions against Russia by the United States and the European Union, as well as the reduction of gas imports, have intensified the energy crisis.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took advantage of the public concern fueled by these crises to announce a return to nuclear power. Although it is still unclear what this would entail, there has been no widespread criticism of his policies among the general public. However, in view of the controversies linked to nuclear power in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, it is difficult to believe that the country would return to nuclear power.

The positive example of Germany

On August 24, Prime Minister Kishida made a statement at the second session of the GX Green Transformation Conference, an event he personally organized, during which he explained that in addition to the resumption of the ‘operating existing nuclear power plants, ‘all options are on the table’. This would include the idea of ​​developing state-of-the-art reactors – a proposal that was not in the original Sixth strategic energy plan from October 2021.

Lemke pointed out that “it’s irresponsible to treat high-risk nuclear power plants like coffee pots that you fill with water, replace with new coffee beans and filters, and turn back on.”

On the contrary, Germany, faced with an energy crisis due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has stayed the course on abandoning nuclear power. German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke held a speech on September 22 in the German parliament where she presented three reasons why Germany will not stop the withdrawal of nuclear power plants. First, their use is risky and Chernobyl, Fukushima and other disasters have demonstrated the dangers involved; second, nuclear power plants are expensive and produce a highly toxic legacy for future generations; and third, they can become targets of war, as Russia has proven in Ukraine. Lemke pointed out that “it’s irresponsible to treat high-risk nuclear power plants like coffee pots that you fill with water, replace with new coffee beans and filters, and turn back on,” warning those wavering in the face of the energy crisis. consequences of a return to nuclear power.

Japan, which suffered one of the worst nuclear accidents in world history, now seems to be returning to a pro-nuclear and remorseless stance. While Germany, on the other hand, decided, on the basis of an ethical assessment, to abolish nuclear power plants in view of past accidents. The country is steadily pursuing the decommissioning of said plants and leading the world in a major transition to renewable energy.

Invest in batteries rather than power plants

There is no rational reason to support nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are not immune to earthquakes and tsunamis; they put residents at risk; and there are currently no plans to safely store existing nuclear waste – let alone the waste that will be produced if the reactors are not quickly decommissioned but rather restarted.

More importantly, nuclear power plants do not solve the oft-cited power shortages. Electricity shortages are problems related to excess or shortage of supply and demand during peak periods of maximum demand – so restarting basic nuclear power plants will not help. By simply lowering or shifting peak demand by 0.5% in one year, peak demand could drop by about 10% (5 million kW in the service area of ​​Tokyo Power Electric Company, TEPCO).

Japan’s nuclear power plants are already quite old and will face massive dismantling in the near future.

The most effective way to achieve this is to take energy saving measures and use storage batteries. The government should accelerate the expansion of demand response systems and demand-side storage batteries.

Countermeasures to climate change must be medium to long term or permanent, so the right course of action is to shift to energy conservation and renewable energy. Japan’s nuclear power plants are already quite old and will face massive dismantling in the near future. And even if new nuclear power plants are to be built (as the situation on the ground in Europe and the United States shows), the high costs and construction delays will make it almost impossible to rely on them to supply us with energy. .

In addition, nuclear power plants are themselves vulnerable to climate change. High temperatures, storms and flood debris can force them to stop unexpectedly for long periods of time, as is currently the case in France.

A non-nuclear future is possible

Currently, small modular reactors (SMRs) and next-generation reactors are generating a lot of excitement around the world. However, this enthusiasm is unfounded. While even large existing nuclear power plants that have been commissioned are suffering from high costs and construction delays in the UK, France, Finland and other countries, SMRs and next-generation reactors will cause even higher costs. Since the types of reactors are different and there is little demand for them, cost reductions due to mass production cannot be expected. Furthermore, they also generate nuclear waste, which is an integral part of nuclear power generation – and one of its most fundamental problems. Since a large number of SMRs would have to be positioned in one place, there is the possibility of a chain reaction meltdown like that of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, with its four reactors. In other words, small nuclear power plants are clearly wasteful investments and their development must be stopped immediately.

In the short term, energy saving and electricity conservation as well as peak shifting through the use of storage batteries are effective measures to deal with electricity.

Especially since last July, when scientists reached the consensus that it is economically feasible to achieve 100% of the world’s energy consumption from renewables by 2050. Although this goal has traditionally been viewed as long-term, there is scientific consensus that it can be reached unexpectedly, quickly and at a reasonable price. good cost. That should be the goal rather than building new nuclear power plants. In the short term, energy saving and electricity conservation as well as peak shifting through the use of storage batteries, the cost of which is rapidly decreasing, are effective measures to cope with electricity.

Finally, if solar energy – which is inexhaustible and abundant and emits neither greenhouse gases nor radioactivity – can be produced locally and domestically for consumption, then it is no longer necessary to develop new nuclear power stations, and even less to restart the existing ones. Japan, too, should make every effort to achieve 100% renewable energy in the near future.

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