Japan’s adherence to nuclear power critical at home and overseas: MIT luminary


Staff Writer

Japan’s continued commitment to nuclear energy will be important in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions and also in improving nuclear safety on a global scale, the head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering said Saturday.

“Japan is still the third-largest economy in the world and is a major emitter, and of course a larger emitter (of carbon) today than it was four years ago,” professor Richard Lester told reporters in Tokyo.

Although the population is decreasing and the nation is trying to increase the use of renewable energies like solar and wind, “there is, in my judgment, almost no likelihood that Japan will be able to achieve the kinds of reductions in carbon emissions that the world will look to,” said Lester, who was in Japan to visit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Due to the Fukushima No. 1 disaster, all of the nation’s reactors are currently idled and utilities have boosted thermal power generation to cover the shortfall. As a result, the amount of Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions increased to around 1.39 billion tons in fiscal 2013 from roughly 1.25 billion tons in fiscal 2010.

The government’s energy policy drafted in light of the nuclear crisis says that it aims to increase the use of renewable energy sources and decrease nuclear power as much as possible. Public debate in Japan tends to focus on the choice between nuclear and renewable energy, but Lester stressed that both sources are essential.

“I think the central point that needs to be made here is that Japan and the U.S. and other societies will need much more of both, much more nuclear, much more renewables,” he said.

Lester also said Japan will play an important role in strengthening nuclear safety in the international community, and that, therefore, the government’s nuclear policy is important not only to the nation, but also to the rest of the world.

He said more countries will introduce nuclear energy in the next couple of decades and that there must be increased global efforts to ensure such nations manage atomic power plants safely, for instance by establishing stronger international safety organizations.

Regarding Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which he visited on Friday, Lester said before Tokyo Electric Power Co. can restart the plant, it must be determined whether technical and managerial changes have been effectively implemented and whether those changes have had a positive effect on the public’s trust.

He noted safety measures at the plant appear to have been beefed up in the wake of a major earthquake in 2007 and the Fukushima crisis in 2011.

Lester said that while he could not make a comprehensive assessment based on a one-day visit, he did get the impression that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa workers understand the importance of their work and morale there is high.

  • jenaardell

    “Improving nuclear safety on a global scale…” You’ve got to be kidding me. Let’s see the stats on how much carcinogenic radiation and nuclear waste Japan is dumping into the Pacific (and air) instead of the amount of greenhouse gases they are creating without nuclear power first. People need to use/waste less energy, instead of depending on nuclear power as a crutch.

    • dosdos

      “Arguing with an engineer is a lot like wrestling in the mud with a pig. After a couple of hours, you realize the pig enjoys it.”

    • Sam Gilman

      You’re writing as if no one is monitoring this, as we have no answers. That’s just wrong.

      The WHO and UNSCEAR reports on Fukushima are available for the health effects on land, and the Wood Holes Oceanographic Institute amongst others provides analysis of the marine situation.

      The burning of coal – which Japan has turned to now – is far more carcinogenic, as well as being far, far worse for global warming.

      • jenaardell

        Food, water supply, imports… there is not a sufficient monitoring system in place for radiation. The UNSCEAR and WHO reports are now two years old and “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is no longer conducting RadNet milk sampling.”

  • Richard Solomon

    It is understandable that Professor Lester is endorsing the use of nuclear power: he has spent his career researching it. Thus, he has a vested interest in suggesting that it is still an important, viable part of the ‘solutions’ to our energy needs. He fails to acknowledge that 100,000+ people are still living in temporary housing in and around Fukushima. He fails to acknowledge that Japan is still struggling to contain the radiation leaking into the ocean from ‘the accident’ at .Fukushima. He does not note that Japan, as well as other countries using nuclear power, still have no safe, long term ways to store the material once it is finished generating power. He fails to disclose that the extraction and processing of uranium to produce the material used in the plants is also energy intensive and thus creating greenhouse gases. Too bad the Japan Times gives him so much credibility and fails to quote experts who would mention these problematic aspects of nuclear power. Such one sided reporting is distressing, to say the least.

    • Starviking

      Ah, the old “vested interest” strategy, also known as “slinging mud”.

      As for your people living in temporary housing, I think you have exaggerated the figure. More are indeed in temporary housing in Miyagi and Iwate, but who cares about them?

      As for struggling to contain radiation leaking into the ocean – that’s strange considering that there has been little or no effect on the ocean since the initial release. Levels off Fukushima are low.

      As for storing the material – there are plenty of ways to do that, they just need approval. In any case, it is probably better to store the material in fuel storage pools or dry storage and then use the forthcoming 4th Gen plants to burn them.

      As for the uranium cycle being super energy intensive – that’s a myth. A study commissioned by the Greens showed that, but on closer examination the electricity use they were proposing was 20 times greater than the electricity production in the area.

      As for JT not giving your experts a chance to talk: Mycle Schneider, Chris Busby, Arnie Gunderson and others have opined in the JT.

    • Sam Gilman

      Richard, I know you almost never bother to reply to people, but I’d really like you to least read this message through.

      The argument you’ve put here about Professor Lester is precisely the same argument used by climate change deniers to discredit climate scientists. Precisely the same.

      I see from your Disqus feed that you have read Naomi Oreskes’ excellent book Merchants of Doubt. I suggest you read it rather more carefully, particularly her account of science denialism.

      Denialists don’t do science. Instead, they try to disrupt the public understanding of science, by trying to destroy the credibility of scientists. They do this with arguments like yours here. They do this with conspiracy theories. They bolster all this by putting up “sciencey” looking facades of “experts” for public consumption, rarely if ever for scientific community consumption.

      Here’s the bit I really want you to read. Ask yourself – just how many of the leading “experts” in the anti-nuclear movement are actually trained radiological specialists? How many of them actually publish in the peer reviewed literature? How many of them work in the science faculties of universities, and how many as actually the representatives of benign-sounding but agenda-driven institutes and think tanks, such as Physicians for Social Responsibility, or Green Audit? How many of them would lose a substantial chunk of their income (speaker fees, court fees, book royalties) if they changed their mind on the dangers of nuclear power? Be honest – have you heard amongst anti-nuclearists all these conspiracy theories about how the World Health Organisation – which is much like the IPCC of health – is controlled by the nuclear industry?

      Does this look familiar to you? It does to me.

      When the Fukushima crisis began, I knew next to nothing about the dangers of radiation and nuclear power. Fortunately, I had read a lot about climate denialism. When presented with the huge gulf between what mainstream publishing scientists were saying about the dangers and what anti-nuclear campaigners were saying, I could use what I had learnt from people like Naomi Oreskes to identify which of these two groups was the science, and which was anti-science.

      It’s not too late for you to change how you think.

  • stevek9

    Renewable energy is most certainly not ‘essential’, since all necessary energy could be provided by nuclear. It may be politically ‘essential’ but not in any other way.

  • Sooriamoorthy

    Does this apply to Iran too?

  • putaro

    According to the article you linked, that’s just sulphur emissions. Cars don’t put out much sulphur. CO2, etc. emissions from cars are much larger than shipping.