“Nuclear-free Japan:” Figment of the Imagination

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter   www.testosteronepit.com

Nuclear power is galvanizing Japan, stirring up public discussions and outright dissent with demonstrations and all, a rare occurrence in Japan. It has divided the country in two: those who want nuclear power generation to resume so that a stranglehold can be lifted from the economy, and those who want a “nuclear-free” Japan.

Japan’s power nightmare wasn’t triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that resulted in the meltdowns at Fukushima Number One; power companies could have worked around the vacuum left behind by the four defunct reactors. But it was triggered by the Japanese people who finally had had enough. Nuclear contamination in unexpected areas, scandals of collusion between regulators and the omnipotent nuclear power industry, mounting evidence of negligence and even malfeasance, and a history of cover-ups have turned many Japanese against the nuclear power industry and its regulators. Read.... A Revolt, the Quiet Japanese Way.

As a result, each time one of the remaining 50 reactors was taken off line for scheduled maintenance, local opposition prevented power companies from bringing it back on line. Until March 11, 2011, nuclear power produced 30% of Japan’s electricity. By the evening of May 5 this year, it was zero. “Nuclear-free” Japan had arrived.

And so had an energy vacuum: during the demand peak this summer, Kansai, the Osaka area that is heavily dependent on nuclear power, is expected to be 15% short on electricity. Other service areas are impacted as well, but less so. The government issued “voluntary” power saving targets to cover the shortfalls. If insufficient, rolling blackouts will be the next step.

Companies are preparing. Power interruptions, rolling blackouts, and even “voluntary” power saving targets would strain resources and cause cascading problems in supply chains. Some companies are relocating production to less affected areas in Japan or to other countries. They will curtail the use of air conditioning while allowing Hawaiian shirts instead of the salaryman garb of suit and tie. Large manufacturers are increasing their own power generation capacity—at a price. TEPCO, the owner of Fukushima Number One, is being nationalized at taxpayer expense (the government may end up owning 76% of the voting rights), and it’s trying to push through a 17% rate hike for its corporate customers. As power generation has switched to natural gas, prices for imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), Japan’s only source, have jumped—causing nine out of Japan’s ten mega-utilities to spill red ink. This is going to be one heck of an expensive summer!

Under heavy pressure from the nuclear industry and Japan Inc. to get nuclear power back into the mix, the government has tried to overcome opposition with reactor “stress tests” and other shenanigans. And it has approved the restart of reactors number 3 and 4 of the nuclear plant in the city of Oi, Fukui Prefecture; they’d passed the “stress test” with flying colors.

But the people failed to bite. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a popular youngish politician, along with Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa, Oi Mayor Shinobu Tokioka, and a number of other municipal officials came out against restarting the reactors. And Hashimoto pronounced in the national media what so many had already lamented, that the central government had no way of guaranteeing the safety of the reactors; and he called for the creation of a nuclear regulatory agency that would be truly independent of government and industry alike.

The government, the nuclear industry, and Japan Inc. will continue to push their agenda to get the 50 still functional reactors back on line, one after the other, even if they sit on top of a major fault or are at the end of their design life. But those who strive for a “nuclear-free” Japan feel emboldened by their victory of sorts, and they’re unlikely to lie down. For a deeply cynical series of images, check out.... Nuclear Contamination as Seen by Japanese Humor.

Yet there cannot be a “nuclear-free” Japan. Not for a generation or two. Japan might succeed in weaning itself off nuclear power in record time, perhaps even this summer, through a mix of conservation, innovative technologies to wring power consumption out of production processes, and increased power generation from fossil fuels. And it might be able to add with record speed solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power generation to its energy portfolio. Given the confiscatory prices Japan has to pay for natural gas ($15 per million Btu and up), renewables are an economic option. But what Japan won’t be able to do quickly is to decommission and get rid of its nuclear power plants.

It will take decades and many billions of dollars to decommission each plant. During that time, the plant will not generate electricity but will turn into a bottomless, radioactive money pit. While smaller reactors have been decommissioned, no one has yet fully decommissioned a large commercial reactor. The strategy has been to renew the licenses when they expire. The easy way out. For a time. And even after reactors are decommissioned, they remain in the landscape as contaminated concrete hulks. Nuclear power is expensive even if only the first part of its lifecycle—construction and power generation—are included. No power company can afford at current electricity rates to decommission its reactors. So the plan is to hand these expenses to the next generation.

Japan’s nuclear dilemma is not unique. Germany already made the decision to exit nuclear power, but in a methodical fashion so that alternative power generation can be brought on line. All countries with nuclear power plants will eventually have to deal with the costs of decommissioning them. And if Japan gets on the forefront, it might develop unique technologies and become the leader, as it has done so often, in a nascent industry. Meanwhile, whether its nuclear plants are generating power or not, they will remain nuclear facilities with all inherent risks and future expenses.

Japanese still reminisce about the bubble that blew up in 1989 when the Nikkei almost hit 40,000 and when the sky-high prices of real estate could only go up further. The slide down to reality was brutal, and a lot of people lost their shirts. But there has been one investment that has worked out phenomenally well for the otherwise hapless Japanese investor: Gold. Until now. Read.... The Japanese Are Dumping Their Gold.

But maybe these housewives or whoever they were got the timing wrong, once again. Some investors think so. Read.... “This Is the Bottom for Gold”- John Hathaway.

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Walt D.'s picture

The Chernobyl Diaries will be out this weekend. That should scare everybody in Japan.

AchtungAffen's picture

Like the japanese care about all of this. Don't you know that AKB48's general election is taking place and Ooshima Yuuko is winning? ITS ALL THAT MATTERS to them.

JamesBond's picture

As I tried to tell 'George Wahington' on many occasions -

there will be more operational nuclear plants 25-years from now, not fewer.



Winston Smith 2009's picture

The known to be corrupt and incompetent Japanese power company operated those antique Mk1 reactors in a zone known for massive earthquakes and tsunamis with a seawall 1/3 the height recommended by US nuclear experts and, also against recommendations, stored their generator fuel underground.  Big freaking surprise that there was eventually a catastrophe.  The Japaneses people should understand this and realize that what they need is a nuclear regulatory agency that actually works to prevent the typical profit-seeking greed of corporations working with potentially very dangerous systems from producing a national catastrophe.

Stuck on Zero's picture

The fools need to wake up and make a few mods to their Nuclear installations before they turn them on again. They need to do the following before turning on the plants again:

1) Build passive cooling systems with huge reservoirs

2) Add gas venting systems to blow off gas buildup so that the plants don't explode.  These should go through fiilters.

3) Create central drainage storage and

4) Massive water recovery capabilities with enormous filtration systems

5) Build dry cask storage and eliminate the fuel pools

6) Stronger containment structures.

This amounts to about $500M per plant.  It would keep them going safely for 25 years during which time they could work out Thorium energy generation.




Element's picture

(1)  Not what you mean, but they sort of did, in a way.  The torus-chamber was filled with water to act as a sort of heat-sink to help thermally stabilise the building if any melted core fell into the foundation (as they appear to have done).  Can't help but wonder if such a water tank's passive feed plumbing would still work, and not leak profusely, after such an earthquake?

(2) The BWRs already had that, but the 'automatic' pressure release valves didn't work as advertised, or expected.  They weren't as automatic as the use of the word automatic would suggest.

(3)  This is a good idea.

(4) But this would be super expensive.  Economically prohibitive, I suspect. 

(5) They were beginning to do this.  However, you can't eliminate cooling ponds. You can move them underground though, so if they did volitilise they wouldn't go airborne around the planet, or all over your crops and homeland, an marine zones.  Only a liquid bath removes the heat quickly enough to prevent the spent rod-bundles overheating for the first 7 to 10 years after they're removed from the core.  The pH neutral clean water submergence also stalls and inhibits oxidation.

(6)  The reactor structures were already uprated and super-strong. The Japanese made their BWR structures stronger than the standard GE design specs required, presumably due to the known seismicity risks. 


LNG or even coal would be a LOT cheaper and faster, and also to decom, clean-up and mitigate.

Mercury's picture

The could just resolve to update their gear more often.  Fukishima was/is ancient tech. and maybe also in a location it shouldn't be.

Red Herring's picture

Australia is certainly profiting from this.  Japan is pumping 30+Billion into the LNG palnt near Darwin.  The "lucky country" is going to stay lucky for a bit longer, it seems.

Element's picture

Anyone not in the nuclear industry knows another major nuclear accident must not happen in Japan as it's been just 40 years, and now they already have appalling levels of radioactive pollution. 

Who wants to risk another 25 years of operation when you can't eat the rice, drink tea, eat seafood or even breath the air without serious health risk? 

It'll be another 5 years before it becomes clear how damaging to health this has been (so far).

PulauHantu29's picture

Nuclear Debri floating toward California Coast:



No wonder those Cali strawberries are now the size of grapefruit! Radiation does wonders.....

nowhereman's picture

All I can envision is the image of Tokyo after dark.  All that neon, all those large screen tv billboards, dazzling.  Power shortage?  Just turn off the lights in downtown Tokyo and the rest of the country will have no problem.

rsnoble's picture

Whose fucking idea was it to build these stupid things in the first place, plants all over the world and just one getting destroyed by something can wipe out massive amounts of people and we hundres of them? And no way to get rid of the stuff?  Fucking brilliant.  And we're still building more!

dwdollar's picture

Even more "brilliant" when you realize where they're built across the world. Earthquake zones, coastlines in earthquake zones, downstream of major dams in earthquake zones, rivers with a history of flooding, and last but not least... right in the middle of prime farmland and tornado ally.

rsnoble's picture

Heh let's all go visit the world's tallest tower that just opened in Tokyo and climb to the top and take a deep breath.  Just another example of gov't stupidity.  Whole country is getting radiated and they still got the big dick stick out trying to glorify themselves with some stupid ass tower.

CPL's picture

How is Japan doing for power.  That's easy.  Just as well as the rest of Asia Minor and Major.



Not enough diesel for all those awesome trains that ship food.  The bullet trains as well run on mag lev tech and require heavy electrical power feeding it to get it to move.  Now they are attempting to capture any joule of power in a battery to keep running "just a little longer". 

That's how stupid it's become now.



Power rationing is the "new" thing.  In North America we call it a rolling blackout.  Could you imagine getting stuck in one of those commuter trains if the power rolled away in the morning.  I'll be scanning the Japanese Obits for the body count when it's 130F in Tokyo.



Whole article about the 1% of Japan mystified that electricity makes lights stay on.  God the whole island is doomed with those clowns running the show.


old naughty's picture

God the whole island-nation is doomed with those clowns running the show [fixed]...

they aree clowns, they are not running the show, the PTB is, and have for decades.

oldgasII's picture

For some reason I don't think I'd bet on the Japanese populace to be univresally accetping of what the current regime is doing.  In their history they have exploded or gotten nasty.  Their was a lot of political assasinations done during the 1930's in part because of the effects of the depression of the times.  Mrs. Wanatabe could get pissed enough to shove the traditional umberalla strut into Noda's ear hole. A really cold winter could be deadly.  Just because something hasn't happened in the last 70 years doesn't mean it couldn't happen tommorow.  

ebworthen's picture

Unplug their Internets connections and they will change their tune.

I'm not a fan of nuclear energy, but for a landlocked in-debt country like Japan they have few other realistic choices.

Every country will face this dilemma as time grinds on and petroleum runs out.

Coal is dirty to mine and burn and limited, and if we turn to natural gas the cost of heating a home will be a mortgage payment.

Just sayin'

dondonsurvelo's picture

Eliminating nuclear power from the energy mix will only hasten Kyle Bass winning his bet on shorting the Japanese bonds.  As Japan runs a trade deficit because of importation of expensive fuel to power the electric plants and heavy industry relocates out of Japan, the already fragile economy will further weaken and the BOJ will continue to borrow until cows come home to Fukashima.

Nage42's picture

Alternatively, it could be just the polarization of the energy market to drive everyone all in to LNG, where Japan at least _has_ some infrastructure, which can't be said for the U.S.

If Australia really develops their LNG holdings, and really starts to crank out the shale-based product line, then there could be another cheap-energy (by LNG) Renaissance in the making...

Don't pretend the world is a simple state-machine that smothly "chunks" into specific well-known postures... it's analog, and there are assemtotes (sp?) where things go non-linear and transformative.



Cheduba's picture

asymptotes.  Only reason I know is I'm a big math nerd!

WmMcK's picture

Hyperbolic (not parabolic).

Nukular Freedum's picture

Personally I approve a nuclear free Japan, if only for the extra resonance it gives my handle.

lolmao500's picture

The Japanese people have not gone far enough. Start hanging the people in the government who colluded with the nuclear industry to make this happen... Same thing is happening in Europe and the US folks... the NRC is a fucking joke.

q99x2's picture

That Island will be uninhabitable before long. Won't have to worry about it then.

Doubleguns's picture

It will never be nuke free. Ask the folks who lived in Fukushima about the nuke radiation in thier previous homes and gardens. Its gonna be there a while, a long while.

AnAnonymous's picture

Europe looks like the one to be pushed under the train.

As such, their demise will release resources. A lot of.

Contrary to US citizens' whims, you do not solve an overconsumption issue by killing non consumers.

Japan has jumped on the band wagon.Switching off nuclear power, and consuming oil.

Which will comes from Europe' absent consumption.

It is the perfect moment for joining the market and consume.

And subsidize alternate but much less efficient energy means thanks to oil being still abundant.

Better now than later.

Obviously, Europe will have tough times to mimick the move on lesser and lesser oil.

Another consequence is that nuclear energy consumption is suspended in Japan temporarily. They favour oil right now because of the opportunity window, will use it to build secondary energy infrastructure and will put nuclear plants back online in a near future when the window has closed.

Bruin4's picture

ENOUGH OF THIS PROPAGANDA ....we all know that nukelar power is clean and cheap and carries no risks...my mommy Ann aka the krunt Coulter told me so! mmmmm plutonium, its whats's for dinner!

Red Herring's picture

In retrospect, nuclear power has caused a lot less death and destruction than hydrocarbons-based power.


<sarc> Power to the people! </sarc>

engineertheeconomy's picture

The entire world needs to cut the crap and stop playing with radiation already

Theres not enough electricty you say?

Fine, then, turn off your godamned TV.

anonnn's picture

Did u forget about Plutonium? Or did u not know?

Japan has already separated Plutonium and amassed perhaps a ton of it, ready for assembly into a weapon. [It has been long since I had the low-ball figures].

 Pu is made by neutron exposure of Uranium in reactor fuel. Thus, so-called Spent Fuel has about 8% Pu content. It is separated only by very difficult chemical and physical processes, but these are well known to Japan and they hve been doing it for 10's of years.

The available Pu just sitting there in Spent Fuel assemblies, available for processing, is perhaps 100+ tons.

Weapon assemply is only a matter of weeks or months.  Nuclear proliferation Treaty has been side-stepped. Deliberately. By guess who.

Their current leadership will never give it up. All IMO, of course. Just imaginary noise.

fuu's picture

Well except for the bits and chunks that were tossed around Fukushima Daiichi.

TradingTroll's picture

Correction-tossed around the world:


Live in San Francisco? You Inhaled 75 MILLION Plutonium Atoms In Just 4 days(based on EPA data, before they shut it down)




Please donate to more independent food testing:


ALERT! Radioactive Fallout Identified In and On US Ground Beef



and what the MSM wont tell you:


ALERT! Barium-140 Indications of Recriticality In Fukushima ALERT! Recent Radioactive Soot = Recent Radioactive Fire At Fukushima?



bankruptcylawyer's picture

you do realize the u.s. is currently occupying Japan and that they have no soveriegn military they can call their own. 


while this can change rapidly, and japan 'could' remilitarize in probably under 3 years given the right set of circumstances---they would only be allowed to militarize under the auspicese of nato policy. 


in other words, japan has no nukes in japan. america has nukes in japan, most likely tactical nukes and they are all pointed at china and any strategic targets in the area ( probably russia has a bunch of shit north of japan that the u.s. would like like nuked off in the case of conflict escalation ) . 

and the japanese will be held accountable if these nukes fly. 


so really, from the u.s. perspective. the japanese never were invaded in the end of world war ii. and if world war iii should start up again , the americans will use the japense islands for strategic purposes and then throw the japense to be devoured in the sino-ruso conflict.

the japense are old , without surplus power, without a navy to defend their shipping lanes. 


we launch our nukes from japan and then let the chinese and russians invade.


FINALLY giving a close to the end of world war ii by allowing things to finish as they were supposed to have finished. between the asian empires. 

china gets japan back as theyve wanted to for decades, perhaps after invading they conquer japan entirely, and then some other shit happens elsewhere and then china and america settle down to the table and talk at the end of world war iii. 

you gotta hand it to the american military ---they KNOW what they are doing when it comes to world dominance. we didn't get here by being dumb and strong. we're playing chess here. and we have the pacific and atlantic oceans to cover us in case things get hairy.


Vlad Tepid's picture

While you're right that the US "occupies" Japan and Japan uses US troops a paid mercenaries, the Japanese have a very respectable and very sovereign militaryof their own.  They rank 6th in the world in terms ofmilitary expenditures after all the UN Security Council members.

The US has no nuclear weapons in Japan by treaty.  Those are all in Guam, Diego Garcia or stateside.  

You have a very peculiar view of history, geopolitics and facts.  I would suggest reading books or the Internet.

Element's picture

Agreed Vlad, he could hardly be more mistaken about Japan's ability to defend itself. 

The Japanese have a very well-equipped and highly-trained Navy that is technically on par with the US and NATO, and one of the largest in the world.

Japanese Navy in 2012:



Serious regional bluewater capabilities.

Plus Japan built their own F-16 F2 and F-15J/DJ fighter variants by the hundreds creating a very well-equipped and highly-trained airforce with AEW via E2 Hawkeyes: 




Plus very capable fully armoured and surprisingly mobile ground forces:



Nage42's picture

There was an interesting kerfuffle a few years back, where the U.S. said to Japan: "Hey, it costs us too much to have all this standing army defending you guys... could you please look after yourself?!?"

Japan basically said: "Nope.  We don't have remote-shore landing capabilities, nor do we want them.  We signed an agreement with you post WW2 wherein we promised not to be mobilized on the grounds that you would protect us... stick to your g'damn promisses bub."

Having said all this, Japan DOES technically have the largest standing army in the world.  The small print for Japanese police is that they can be instantly transformed from public servant to active military duty overnight... meaning that the quarter million cops are suddenly active-duty army.  What good is that when there's no remote-shore capabilities?  Not much... but that's the idea... they're supposed to only be self-defence own-shore army.



Nage42's picture

Doubt it.  Generally the Japanese will tow the line and basically ignore politicians/officials as being useless to them.  However, one of the very few things that would get individuals up and out of their seats would be to learn that Japan was actively participating in weapons creation.

I don't buy it for a second, there's NO way that Japan could keep that secret, there would be whistle-blowers a plenty.


Almost 90% sure that all the enrichment and processing of the fuel (expecially the MOX, which Japan doesn't have the tech for), is all done by France.


The real question in my mind is:  "so Reactor #3 that had all that spent MOX in a cooling tank on the roof (ya, the roof that blew the fsck up!), where'd those hundreds of tons of rods get to?  Did they vaporize^H^H^H^Hcorzinize?!?  Did they get launched into the ocean?  Did they get dispersed over an X km radius around the reactor?  You'd think you could track extremely radioactive material... cause it's like spewing out energy... don't US satilites have the ability to track these items, as basically they are near weapons-grade? We've seen sat pics of N. Korea where peeps are saying: 'nope, dey don't gotem, we're confident, check out our pics, no hot-spots' which more than suggests that there are adequate sensors to detect emissions hot-spots on demand."

Enquiring minds want to know.

Maybe Japan has a gun to the US's head?  "Don't tell the world about who farted in the hottub or we'll sell ALL our USTs overnight!!11!!one!"


Element's picture


"... as basically they are near weapons-grade?..."

No, nowhere near weapon-grade.  Typical weapon-grade Pu239 or uranium U235 concentration ranges between 87.5 to 92.5% purity.

The reactor#3 MOX fuel contained a mixture of Pu239 and low-enriched uranium U235, at about a 3% equivalent enrichment concentration.

A SCRAM shutdown of a MOX fuelled core required about double the amount of water-flow capacity to keep it cool, compared to the standard uranium fuelled core (which itself was estimated to take as little as ~20 minutes to melt within a dry 'exposed' BWR core).

Basically it heats up faster, so you can sustain the rapid extraction of a much larger quantity of steam, from the same size pressure vessel, thus creating a lot more electricity via turbines, but without the mammoth expense of having to build another completely new U235 reactor.

A bit like putting a V8-Supercar engine into a family station wagon.

Walt D.'s picture

Ban Nuclear Power - Let the Bastards Freeze in the Dark.

Pinto Currency's picture


after fukushima and with ramped-up liquid natural gas (lng) electricity generation, japan now spends usd 6 billion per month on total lng imports ( 95 percent of their nat gas consumption. )

that will surely wipe them out.

is some research required before writing articles?



cossack55's picture

No. Its the CNBC methodology.

Pinto Currency's picture
from the perspecive of a cataclysmic meltdown, these plants can be de-risked by cold shut down, putting the fuel in dry cask storage and switching to lng. the story then becomes one of decommissioning, but the inherent risks of an operating nuclear power plant are nullified.
TradingTroll's picture

Except Kan said "the plants are in cold shutdown EQUIVALENT"


meaning the corium has melted out of the building, is nowhere to be found, thus all the meters show cold readings.

Pinto Currency's picture


The principle danger to Japan and the northern hemisphere right now is a fuel fire of the spent fuel rods in the fuel pools and, perhaps, unsecured and undeclared plutonium on site for Japan's quasi-secret nuclear weapons program.


The melted fuel from the reactor cores will have to be dealt with in time.