The heat wave rolling over Tokyo is a godsend for Olympics bashers like former newscaster Hiroshi Kume. On his TBS radio show last week, he said that five years from now when the games are held here, they will “violate the Olympic charter,” which requires an environment where all athletes can demonstrate their abilities to the fullest.
The last time Tokyo was the host, the games were held in October, when it’s cooler, but American broadcasters, who call the shots, would never approve such a move nowadays because then the Olympics would overlap with the World Series as well as the American football and basketball seasons. Actually, Tokyo’s heat is no worse than Beijing’s or Athens’, but many athletes fainted at the Beijing Opening Ceremony and a substantial portion of the field for the women’s marathon in Athens dropped out during the race.
Olympics Minister Toshiaki Endo is reportedly working on countermeasures, such as pavement that reflects infrared rays, mist curtains for long-distance running sports and scheduling that slots outdoor events in the early morning or after dusk.
All this concern focuses on the well-being of foreign athletes. Locals don’t need these countermeasures, apparently, because suffering is an integral part of Japanese sports. The National High School Baseball Championship is always held during the hottest weeks of the year. Nobody has ever suggested it be played in a different month or at night in order to safeguard the health of adolescent boys, because showing what they can do under hellish conditions is part of the contest’s appeal.
The tournament is sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun, and last year the Global Energy Policy Research website, a propaganda organ for nuclear power interests, blasted Asahi for being hypocritical since the nominally left-wing newspaper supports the antinuclear cause and yet won’t change the dates. The writer of the piece claimed that electricity usage goes up significantly during the competition because people are watching at home, and TVs and air conditioners consume electricity in large amounts — this during the riskiest time of the year for power companies since, at the time, all nuclear reactors were offline.
He dug deeper, comparing the Osaka headquarters of the Asahi with the offices of Kansai Electric Power Co., which happen to be across the street from each other. While Asahi’s employees plot the ruination of Japan in climate-controlled comfort, Kepco workers sweat because the company won’t use air conditioning so as to set an example for responsible energy use. The writer admires Kepco’s forebearance, but these efforts can also be seen as a form of corporate passive-aggression — martyrdom in the name of nuclear revival.
Such a view is supported by the fact that for the past several summers there has been no danger of overtaxing the power grid. After the Great East Japan Earthquake took out the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and led to the shutdown of all reactors until safety measures were improved, power companies feared they might not have the capacity to supply enough electricity during the peak summer months and called on everyone to cut back for the good of the country.
They were all too successful. Normally, utilities are worried when usage tops 95 percent of capacity, but according to Asahi, during the current hot spell the sole utility that exceeded the limit was Chubu Electric Power in central Japan, and that was only momentarily on Aug. 1. Tokyo Electric Power Co. recorded only a few days over 90 percent, and that’s because consumers have reduced electricity usage by 10 percent since before the 2011 disaster, so all the thermal plants that replaced the idle nuclear reactors have no problem producing enough power. In fact, the only reason Chubu Electric demand breached 95 percent is that the utility underestimated usage for that day.
Of course, if they’re burning fossil fuels that’s a problem for the environment and one that needs to be addressed regardless of how many reactors go back online, but another reason capacity is abundant is the spread of solar panels, a matter the regional power companies, not to mention the mainstream media, neglects to mention. The amount of electricity generated by solar systems in Japan has increased tenfold since 2010. Solar energy remains relatively inefficient, but since it’s renewable, it’s not as if producers and users are wasting finite resources. As it stands, the amount of power being produced by solar is equivalent to the output of a dozen nuclear reactors.
Naysayers point out that solar is not stable enough for power generation because it only works when the sun is out, but it is exactly while the sun is shining in the summertime — when temperatures soar and people reach for the remote control — that supplemental solar power makes sense. The advantage of solar energy is that it can take care of the extra demand as that demand increases.
With the reboot of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear reactor last week, the solar solution takes on less urgency, but as the Tokyo Shimbun points out, the area serviced by the reactor has nine times the solar capacity it had when the reactor was turned off. Asahi quotes the chief of the 21st Century Political Policy Research Center as saying that nuclear power is needed to bring down electricity costs, but Kyushu Electric hasn’t said it will lower prices, only that it won’t raise them again. Its first responsibility is to stockholders, and last year all the regional utilities recorded hefty profits thanks to the drop in oil prices.
One reason for the high price of electricity is the lack of competition in the energy-supply field. The nuclear industry emphasizes the cost of other forms of energy in order to get reactors back online before next spring’s market liberalization, when consumers will be able to choose their suppliers and the Asahi Shimbun can blast its air conditioners without anyone complaining.