The End Of Nuclear Energy In Japan?

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

“I’m calling for zero nuclear power,” said Junichiro Koizumi, the hugely popular former prime minister of Japan, on Tuesday at a lecture in Nagoya.

He’d served from 2001 to 2006. In 2005, he’d led the Liberal Democratic Party to win an extraordinarily large parliamentary majority. Then he groomed Shinzo Abe to become his successor. By September 2006, Abe was PM – only to get kicked out a year later. Now that Abe is PM again and is trying to restore the scandal-plagued nuclear industry to its former glory, Koizumi’s words ripped into his policies at the perfect moment.

Though retired from politics since 2009, Koizumi remains influential. He was pro-nuclear throughout his career. But on Tuesday, he said that the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and the subsequent nuclear fiasco in Fukushima should be used as an opportunity to build a resource-recycling society. And he called on his former protégé to abandon nuclear power.

It wasn’t the first time he’d slammed into Japan’s formerly sacred and omnipotent, but now hated industry. In a speech two month after the nuclear fiasco, he called for weaning the country off its dependence on nuclear power, the Asahi Shimbun reported. During the election last December, when he was speaking in support of an LDP candidate, he called for reducing the number of nuclear powerplants “to zero as much as possible.”

And on August 26, his words made it into the Mainichi Shimbun. If he were an active politician, he’d want “to convince lawmakers to move in the direction of zero nuclear plants,” he said. Now would be the ideal time to move that direction. All 50 nuclear reactors were off line. All opposition parties favored zero nuclear power. It could be done “as long as the prime minister made the decision” – putting the onus squarely on his former protégé. And nuclear politics in Japan haven’t been the same since.

The next blast came on September 24 at a forum in Tokyo. He talked about his trip to Finland in August. The purpose was to inspect the Onkalo spent-fuel repository. He was accompanied by engineers from the Japanese nuclear industry. They all went to look at this marvel, 400 meters underground. It was designed to hold and seal highly radioactive waste long enough for it to become harmless, namely 100,000 years.

“One cannot fathom a time of 100,000 years in the future,” he said.

It’s unknown if the facility can survive this long. How do you inform people this far in the future of the dangers that lurk beneath? And he wondered if such a facility, imperfect as it was, could ever be built in Japan, given the shifting ground and constant earthquakes. That lack of final repository was “the first reason,” he said, why Japan should have zero nuclear plants.

“Some people may say it is irresponsible to call for zero nuclear plants,” he said, “but I think it is even more irresponsible not to have a disposal site for the waste or even any prospect of constructing such a facility.”

He now doubted the claims by experts in the industry that nuclear energy was “safe, clean, and inexpensive” and wondered “if human beings can really control nuclear energy” [read... Fukushima: A Mistake Now Could Release 14,000 Times More Radiation than Hiroshima].

“The Japanese have never knuckled under to natural disasters but have always overcome them to further develop the nation,” he said. “We are now at a major turning point for creating a recyclable society through energy sources based on natural resources. Opportunity lies in a pinch. That is how we should be looking at the situation.”

But Koizumi hadn’t turned against his former protégé, a “source close to the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office” whispered to the Asahi Shimbun. Instead, his attacks on Abe’s pro-nuclear policies were efforts to protect Abe by nudging him on a track that would be politically successful, in a country with immense local opposition to nuclear power. Koizumi “does, after all, have an outstanding sense for how the political world operates,” the source said.

Koizumi remains influential. His son, Shinjiro Koizumi, is a member of the Lower House. And now the Abe administration, according to the source, is trying to figure out if Koizumi’s zero-nuclear position is becoming a broader movement within the LDP.

“The message Koizumi is sending is that moving too strongly in that direction could hurt the administration, even though it may have high support ratings now,” a source in the LDP told the paper. “The comments by Koizumi can also serve as a coastal levee of sorts for Abe who faces pressure from lawmakers with close ties to the electric power industry. I believe Abe understands what is happening.”

Koizumi has an accomplice: Abe’s wife. She has been whispering into her husband’s ear at night – and making anti-nuclear speeches during the day [read... Akie Abe, His “Anti-Nuclear” Wife].

So Abe responded. In September, he stunned reporters when he said that the country would “lower the ratio of nuclear energy” over the next three years and “make every effort to accelerate the spread of renewable energy sources and promote energy conservation.” For some, it was a sea change.

On Tuesday in Nagoya, Koizumi laid out his case. “If the government and LDP now came out with a policy of zero nuclear plants, the nation could come together in the creation of a recyclable society unseen in the world,” he said. Tremors went through the nuclear industry and the bureaucrats that aid and abet it. 

It wasn’t about morals or the environment, but about economics. Nuclear plants were expensive to build, though their operational costs were relatively low. But then there were the costs of decommissioning the plants, which he said, would take “40 to 50 years,” the costs and issues associated with storing the nuclear waste in sealed-off facilities for 100,000 years, and the enormous costs and consequence of a nuclear accident. Simply put: “nuclear energy is the most expensive form of power generation,” he said.

Catastrophic nuclear accidents, like Chernobyl or Fukushima, are very rare, we’re told incessantly. But when they occur, they’re costly. So costly that the French government, when it came up with estimates, kept them secret. But the report was leaked: an accident at a single reactor in a thinly populated part of France could cost over three times France’s GDP. Read.... Potential Cost Of A Nuclear Accident? So High It’s A Secret!

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The Wedge's picture



I read several years ago that the Japanese had developed a way to render nuclear waste inert. That would be kinda handy for the world if it's actually true.                                                                                               

Nuclear energy....foreverrrrrrr apparently.

UncleFurker's picture

By the time Fukushima has finished vomiting plutonium all over the Northern Hemisphere, our only hope is that there really are aliens, and they're kind enough to give us all a lift to another planet and hopefully this time we won't fuck it up.



ebworthen's picture

Not that it's not a good idea - but what will they replace nuclear with (realistically)?

Gordon Freeman's picture

Oh, wind and solar, doncha know?  Those've worked out so swimmingly for the UK and Germany...

This article is a load of crap.

MeMadMax's picture

Godzilla will plug himself into the grid...


Oh, and China is prolly salivating over this whole deal right about now.... ^.^

Ocean22's picture

The smartest nations on earth will remove all traces of nuclear energy and adopt a extensive green solar/wind/wave grid.

The wave system would be ideal for Japan. Granted, it will take a few years to adapt to the lower capasity-even brown outs might occur- but life will carry on in a more relaxed and balanced manner.

Lives will change. Ways of life will change. But in the end, it will reap exponential future benefits for generations to come. There will never be again such a devistating destructive accident for mankind to deal with.

How many accidents must happen before we all wake up to the reality? How much more land must be poisoned? How many tears are enough?

Son of Loki's picture

He may want to end nuclear energy as a beneficial source in japan, but there  is no way anyone can end the Fuki leak at this point.

BTW, where is the builder of the Fuki nuclear plants?

UrbanBard's picture

This article is hysterical. Thanks, I needed a good laugh.

This story says that Japan is doomed, because it's public officials are deranged. All technologies are dangerous. Coal burning power plants put a thousand times as much radiation in the atmosphere as a nuclear power plant. This is from the Thorium in the fly ash. Trade-offs are a bitch.

Can Japan afford to not use nuclear? It has no fossil fuels, except for the possibility of Methane Hydrates off the coast of its northern Islands. Its existing Nuclear power plants are paid for and they already survived a major Tsunami. Not to use them is irrational. It plays into the hands of the anti-nuke fanatics.

Fukushima Dai-chi is an odd industrial accident which killed no one. Perhaps as many as a dozen children will get thyroid cancer from the meltdowns. Large numbers of people were forced to move away from their homes. But, Fukushima City has returned to its normal background radiation. All the short  half life elements have decayed.

Yet, we have this cottage industry which is trying to scare people to death. They prey on people's ignorance. I read the comments here and say, "What bozo's. They haven't a clue as  to what they are saying."

The ocean is in no danger from Fukushima. Each year, the radiation decreases, so people can safely live closer to the plant.

Unlike Chernobyl, there are only three radioactive elements near the power plants: Tritium, Cesium and Strontium. The first and last are about as harmless as radioactive elements can get. Both are beta emitters; their radiation can be stopped by tissue paper or even dead outer skin cells. Just don't drink either one.

The Cesium is nasty stuff, because that is a gamma emitter which is quite penetrating. TEPco has been removing the Cesium from the water filling the basements and reducing it to solid form. I haven't heard what they plan to do with it. A concrete lined mine could store it safely.

All the water you hear about leaking, has had the Cesium in it removed. Except for the politics involved, that water could be safely dumped into the sea.

Instead, we wait 60 years for the Tritium to decay. Or 140 to 150 years for the Strontium and Cesium. No new radioactive elements are being created, but elements are being leached out of the melted down cores, but not many. The transuranics and the plutonium are surrounded by U238 which is very insoluble to water.

Sorry guys, the hysteria won't work much longer. Each year, Fukushina gets safer. In about ten years, TEPco will dismantle the melted down cores. The radioactive materials will be moved off site. Where? I have no idea, but it will be at a place distant from people. There will be too few people for the anti-nuke fanatics to terrorize.

NukeDuke M's picture

"Coal burning power plants put a thousand times as much radiation in the atmosphere as a nuclear power plant. This is from the Thorium in the fly ash."
Except this form of Thorium is the stable one, not the gamma-emitting one.

"Can Japan afford to not use nuclear?"
It has been running with almost no nuclear (not more than 2 reactors out of the 50ish they have) since March 11 2011. None operating now, too. Electricity generated through nuclear power is a very small percentage of the overall raw energy consumption of Japan (or any country actually).

"Fukushima Dai-chi is an odd industrial accident which killed no one [...] Fukushima City has returned to its normal background radiation."
Background radiation level in Tokyo is twice as much as in 2011. Granted, it's less than in the 60s during the nuclear testing frenzy. Also, stating that the Fukushima dai-ichi incident killed no-one is a bit of an overstatement. At least the plant director died from cancer, several workers died from cardiac arrest with or without relationship to heat strokes, and so on. The only thing TEPCO does is to make sure they die off site, usually in the ambulance.

"The ocean is in no danger from Fukushima. Each year, the radiation decreases, so people can safely live closer to the plant."
The ocean is being polluted by Fukushima leaks. Of course, the ocean is big so the level might not increase a lot. This is the classical dilution excuse that plant operators use to spill millions of becquerels of iodine and co, into the air, every year. As for the effect on the ocean, a honest answer would be that we don't know about the effects, and that it might be a little early to say.

"there are only three radioactive elements near the power plants [...] Just don't drink either one."
There are more than three, but these three are the most common. Plutonium has been found off site already, a few kms south. Since part of the nuclear fuel has probably been vaporized, you might find countless of stuff around the plants. Co-60 to begin with, thanks to all the metal garbage that was blasted during the explosion. And about not drinking the stuff, well don't eat it either. Which becomes hard if the farmers around the plant are allowed to grow and sell rice, vegetables and fruits.

"TEPco has been removing the Cesium from the water filling the basements and reducing it to solid form"
Cesium is absolutely not reduced to solid form. It is either concentrated into highly radioactive sludge that is stored into tanks (that eventually will leak back to the soil) or absorbed by zeolite. The contaminated zeolite is then stored on site, for the moment, but will be quite problematic in the long run (in the same way as waste water, used fuel, corium, contaminated gear, etc...)

"All the water you hear about leaking, has had the Cesium in it removed"
Yes, for some part. But as said above, some of it is also concentrated contaminated water, which by the OP's own words is nasty stuff. Also, this water still has a shitload of tritium. No device currently removes tritium from water, because it is unstable hydrogen, which forms water itself. It's like trying to sort salt and sugar with a comb.

"Instead, we wait 60 years for the Tritium to decay. Or 140 to 150 years for the Strontium and Cesium. No new radioactive elements are being created, but elements are being leached out of the melted down cores, but not many. The transuranics and the plutonium are surrounded by U238 which is very insoluble to water."
OK, this part makes no sense at all. If you wait 150 years, you only divide the Cesium concentration by 64. People tend to use 10 half-life periods instead of five, so that concentration is divided by 1024. That would be 300 years. Remember what the USA did look like 300 years ago ? Also, it's impossible to build a tank that would last 150 years, just look at Hanford. The transuranics and plutonium are most probably inside the corium which is made of much more than U238. The behavior of a corium is mostly unknown because thankfully we didn't have to deal with much corium until now (TMI, Chernobyl and Saint-Laurent des Eaux mostly).

"Each year, Fukushina gets safer"
Mhmm. Fukushima is fixing itself. Let's stop worrying.

"In about ten years, TEPco will dismantle the melted down cores"
As soon as they find them, would be a better approximation. If they went through to the aquifer, I'd love to see what kind of Fishing rod they are going to use. Tepco will have disappeared before 10 years pass.

I know, don't feed the troll.
But I had this impression... that some people implied that the post must be true, because no one is able to address the bogus claims.

Bearwagon's picture

You didn't feed the troll - you clarified things for those who don't know better. That's necessary, and it's important - although there are at least a few people, like "Element", who are always "able to address the bogus claims", we need everyone to answer such drivel, who's able to, including you. Each reinforcement on the scientific front is very welcome! :)

Bearwagon's picture

"All the short life elements have decayed" - now, that's not true. Short lived elements do not necessarily decay into harmless stuff. Have a look at the "Decay Chain": ([...] radioactive elements do not decay directly to a stable state, but rather undergo a series of decays until eventually a stable isotope is reached.)

"Each year the radiation decreases" - that's also not true. Look again at the decay chains. Daughter isotopes can be much more active than their parent isotope.

"There are only three radioactive elements" - again: Look at the decay chain. There must be more than three radioactive elements, because the three you mention decay into them. Simple logic, ain't it?

"Tritium, Cesium and Strontium. The first and last are about as harmless as radioactive elements can get" - now, that's a dangerous lie. Strontium accumulates in bones and causes ionisation. Further it decays into Yttrium 90, a beta emitter about four times as powerful as the original Strontium, and very hazardous. And Tritium is a beta emitter which can even be built into your DNA, where it can cause harm.

"No new radioactive elements are being created" - that presumes that all chain reactions and spontaneous fissions and all further decays have stopped - which would not be the case even in a completely functional reactor. Your statement is plain false.

"U238 which is very insoluble to water" - well, if we are talking metallic uranium (which is not used in this reactor design), that would be true. But the rod's we have here are filled with Uranium dioxide, and you know all to well how soluble that is, don't you?

Sorry, paid shill, your disinformation will not stand. But keep on, maybe someone can learn something worthwhile from our conversation.

SilverTech's picture

Well written comment! And it appeared so quickly. Almost like it was written by a paid troll.

There's a great article on Zero Hedge entitled: Disinformation: How it works

The following paragraph specifically describes the post by UrbanBard:

4. Prewritten Responses: Many trolls are supplied with a list or database with pre-planned talking points designed as generalized and deceptive responses to honest arguments. When they post, their words feel strangely plastic and well rehearsed.

befuddled's picture

Hmm..lots of 'really earnest' statements made by people who are 'certain' but have no facts -- if you can't answer the messenger, shoot him instead, i.e., use leftist-loon tactics from way back, ancient, bewhiskered and D-U-L-L.


As for the shrill and very gay panting elsewhere about vomiting plutonium in the face of Gaia, etc. ....OMG, how many times have we tripped over these turds. No one who claims to be objective would pass up any viable form of alternative energy -- but the reward for asking questions is to  be raved at by damaged and very bent bigots who do best in landfill. Many ways to put heat in the hearth, girls. Don't homosexuals burn well?

scraping_by's picture

Yes; the sell is the confident tone of factuality when, of course, some are statements are facts and some are factoids.

For instance, the statement that solid cesium can be stored in concrete mines is strange. Cesium is incredibly reactive with water, so it would have to be a perfectly dry mine.

Or a mine filled with mineral oil, which is how these are usually stored in labs. Either way, not good long term.

"Perhaps as many as a dozen children will get thyroid cancer from the meltdowns" Linky poos?

No one killed? Has there been independent follow up for the temp workers sent in right after the explosions?

The closing of 'safe in ten years' is bizarre. It's also effective, when you consider it's in the future and therefore unknowable. Since the loss of containment's worse than Chernobyl, which is our only analagous experience, and that part of the Ukraine is still unihabitable, it's doubtful.

In any case, the article's about people living on the front lines and their reaction. While the nuclear industry may think of themselves as adults and call any contradiction of their officail story hysteria (good tone; intimidates people) it's time insiders quit setting policy according to their interests.

I'm certain this fellow's on the job. It would be too galling to think someone would spread nuclear industry propaganda for free.

Manthong's picture

I’ve said this before.. even those old GE reactors can be operated with perfect safety if you pay attention to the plumbing and don’t do stupid things put the emergency power next to the sea and below sea level.

In the US putting one in a flood hazard area is stupid… OK, it needs a lot of water…hell.. it’s a freaking nuke plant… put it uphill and use some of the energy to run big pumps.

Bearwagon's picture

Hmm ... theoretically you could be right ... BUT ... it has always been human error which caused accidents. Sellafield - "Wigner effect" not considered: Human failure. Three Mile Island: PORV stuck open, but operators mislead by false display. Automated systems started low pressure core injection as well as high pressure core injection, which would have prevented meltdown - if not the operators would have shut the systems down, baffled by their false readings. Chernobyl - automated system would have delayed start-up of the reactor until xenon would have been purged from the system, thereby preventing prompt criticality. The system was overridden by human operators - failure. You see, if there is one thing that is indeed infinite - it's human dumbness. Don't entrust them with such hazardous machinery!

TradingTroll's picture

" even those old GE reactors can be operated with perfect safety if you don't let any humans, especially bribe-seeking politicians and landowners, and cost-cutting subcontractors and technology owners, near them"


fixd it for ya

scraping_by's picture

In the realm of possibility and ideal conditions, I suppose nuclear reactors can be run safely. As the premise of a sci-fi story, perhaps. There's no way in the real world, but one can give the dreamers their dreams.

But you'd have to cook the books to get one run economically. The whole industry's based on externalized costs, and always will be.

Make it a Heinlein story and there'll be a lot of women hot for techies who are heroes and not geeks.

Totentänzerlied's picture

LOL. Tiny islands with next-to-no resources and literally no energy. There's a damn good reason those nuke plants were built when they were. Shutting down its nuke plants now brings all the costs of decomissioning forward by some decades, meanwhile Japan's energy import costs haven't been higher since the earliest days of its industrialization, and will simply continue to grow, but unlike then, production will not be growing along with it. It is a self-inflicted economic gunshot wound to the leg.

This is probably the strongest and perhaps only direct evidence  in support of Kunstler's Japanese voluntary deindustrialization hypothesis, which was both more and less credible before Fukushima, which predictably put immense wind in the wings of the NIMBY crowd, but at the same time reiterated Japan's total lack of energy security. You can't have it both ways, not when you have no other means of powering and affording industrial civilization.

Until Japanese per-capita energy consumption (and industrial production) starts to fall in earnest, the no-nuke move just shifts the eventual costs of nuclear power into immediate costs for other energy imports to pick up the slack PLUS the cost of decomissioning.

This is not a pro-nuke or anti-nuke argument. It's a question about the preferences and values of Japanese society, which so far have conformed to the path of least resistance - having the cake and eating it too. None of these people in the anti-nuke crowd are being honest about the ramifications of their goal, which tells me they are perfectly aware that no one wants to hear about those ramifications, which tells me as a society they are not yet ready to begin the much overdo adult conversation, and they continue to play along and waiting for a miracle. There's plenty of shame and collective insanity in Japan continuing to use nuclear power after Fukushima, but the question they don't seem to be addressing is, if the lights are to be kept on, what are the other options? At what price modern industrial civilization? Powering down the nuke plants without powering down everything else is rather insane, the denial cannot continue for more than a couple more decades at best; which set of values will prevail? The point is simply this: shutting down all the nuke-plants is a half-measure which betrays a lack of direction and resolve, particularly in the absence of some major Manhattan Project-scale program to transform Japan's energy infrastructure on a scale and to a degree the world has never seen.

And before I'm accused of rabid anti-nipponese bigotry: I think the probability of the adult conversation taking place in Japanese society is fairly high, just not quite yet, and very much higher than that of nearly any other country (the Scandinavian people's republics are the runners-up).

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Nuclear sex or anti nuclear sex?

mickeyman's picture

At least sushi will be on sale.

Goldbugger's picture




apberusdisvet's picture

Still nothing from the MSM on the effects already felt from Fukushima in Hawaii and the west coast and on the Pacific Ocean sea life and the dire readings you can already get off California  produce.  Do the elite psychos have a cure for radiation poisoning and  deep underground bunkers.  Folks, this could mean the end of the planet, and we hear nothing but crickets?   WTF!!!!!!

Uber Vandal's picture

The sea food is a concern indeed, but what is the 2.5+ years of radiation doing to the ocean's plankton / algae?

It is estimated that marine plants produce between 70 and 80 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Nearly all marine plants are single celled, photosynthetic algae.



Ocean22's picture

The silence is deafening. It proves that something very bad is happening.

Kobe Beef's picture

So Japan is using volatile, extremely toxic elements to essentially boil water. With all the natural hot springs on the islands, it seems boiling water could be made considerably safer if they took a geothermal approach.

Sadly, they may not get the chance.

halfawake's picture

Yeah - nice sentiment, but a few decades late and a trillion yen short.

Hedgetard55's picture

Correction: Quadrillion yen short.

NotApplicable's picture

With that fine head of hair, how can Koizumi NOT be popular?