Nuke to Thrill: Rekindling Japan's Fission Passion

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/08/2013 08:20:00 AM
The taste of love is sweet 
When hearts like ours meet 
I fell for you like a child  
Oh, but the fire went wild...

[The chart above is from Nuclear Tourist.] The return to the status quo ante of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership in Japan unsurprisingly means the comeback of any number of policies the nation has become accustomed to: healthy agricultural subsidies to key rural constituencies; budgetary and monetary largesse; and, for today's topic, a return to nuclear power. While the incidences at Fukushima power plant illustrated the hazards of operating nuclear plants in the earthquake-prone Pacific Ring of Fire to the rest of the world, bear in mind that there were no direct casualties as a result despite various projections of future fatalities due to radiation exposure. Still, the previous Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leadership bowed to public pressure in closing down any number of reactors in the wake of Fukushima. Alike several industrialized economies, Japan had taken to nuclear power in the aftermath of the 1973 and 1979 oil crises, and it took something drastic to shake its belief.

Speaking of a return to old habits that die hard, however, Japanese movers and shakers have experienced discomfort over the implications of doing away with fission. After a string of monthly trade deficits in the wake of the devastating Tohoku earthquake, mercantilist sentiment naturally awoke. What's more, the economic implications of a deficit-running Japan already overburdened with massive debt were difficult to contemplate. It was only natural that the traditionalists would return to what "worked" before once the LDP gained electoral victory. Here is commentary immediately after they won:
Japan's plans to phase out nuclear power and boost reliance on renewable energy are likely to be reversed with the victory of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in parliamentary elections. In voting on Sunday, LDP captured control of the legislature's lower, more powerful house from the Democratic Party of Japan. The Democratic Party, in office since 2009, had set a goal of phasing out nuclear power during the 2030s as part of a new energy policy developed in response to the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. All but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are now idled because of public worries about seismic resistance.
More recently, we too note that the LDP is set to pull off the ol' bait and switch of promising to curb its enthusiasm for nukes. You will not be surprised to note that the LDP is also quite close to the nuclear industry...
In its statement outlining its election pledges, the LDP conceded that its pro-nuclear energy policy had been flawed and apologised for causing the Fukushima nuclear accident. The LDP, which had talked in the past about raising Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy from nearly 30 per cent to as much as 50 per cent, pledged during the elections “to establish a social and economic structure that does not need to depend on nuclear power...”

But “since the Abe administration was formed, their rhetoric on nuclear power has changed quite rapidly”, says Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “It now looks like the LDP feels it is their duty to promote nuclear energy,” Mr Nakano says...

Given the LDP’s close ties to the nuclear industry and its history of promoting nuclear power, the Abe administration cannot afford to have the public realise that Japan can get along just fine without nuclear power, Mr Nakano says. “I think that is what they are most afraid of,” he adds.
Opinion polls indicate that a majority of the public have a negative opinion of nuclear power. Smart money says the LDP will not champion nuclear power so overtly, but that it will nonetheless roll back the DPJ's ambitions to wean the nation off fission. On the menu, then, are the construction of newer and purportedly safer designs. Not only do they assuage public discomfort to an extent, but they also generate new infrastructure spending that obviously will benefit traditional nuclear industry allies:
Shinzo Abe, who took over as prime minister last month, has given a clear indication that the government is looking to build new nuclear power plants...“The new nuclear power plants we will build will be completely different from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant which caused the accident, and those that were built 40 years ago,” Mr Abe said in a television appearance this week.

“We are likely to build new nuclear power plants on winning the public’s understanding,” he said. Mr Abe’s comments came after Toshimitsu Motegi, his economy, trade and industry minister, said he would re-evaluate the previous administration’s ban on building new nuclear reactors.
Don't be surprised either if they begin reactivating nuclear plants if they can get away with causing a public uproar. Time, after all, is on the LDP's side: public opposition tends to wane after the triggering event--Fukushima--recedes further and further into the past.