Former PM Naoto Kan says nuclear power makes little economic sense, must end


Staff Writer

Although the first reactor in Japan to be fired up in two years went online last month, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday that Japan needs to seek a nuclear-free path.

This is a lesson the country has learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, said Kan, who was prime minister when the Fukushima No. 1 plant was hit by a huge quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

“I’m absolutely sure that there will no longer be nuclear power by the end of this century. This is because it doesn’t make sense economically, and enough energy can be provided without it,” Kan said in a lecture to foreign residents in Tokyo.

While reactor 1 at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture was restarted in August, Japan has survived the past few summers without nuclear power, Kan said.

He added that although the current government is still promoting nuclear power, Japan has seen an increase of renewable energy since the Fukushima accident, especially from solar panels.

He said nuclear power was believed to be a cheap source of energy, but it is actually expensive, considering the cost of decommissioning and managing nuclear waste.

Kan also shared his experience of visiting Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, where a final nuclear waste repository is being constructed. There, he was told it would take 100,000 years for the radiation of nuclear waste to descend to the same level of the uranium that exists in the natural environment.

Using nuclear power, Kan said, means increasing the amount of dangerous waste that will trouble future generations, adding that this is why other former prime ministers such as Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa are also voicing their wish to end Japan’s dependence on it.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    I don’t see anything in the article about Kan calling reactors unsafe. I guess Kan is finding new reasons to oppose his old bugaboo. Are we finally moving on from simple scare tactics?

    Let’s back up a bit. I seem to remember Kan ordering perfectly functioning nuclear power plants to shut down after 3.11.11 for no reason whatsoever. And NOW he is saying that they are not commercially viable? Well, would they be commercially viable if everyone had not panicked and shut them down 4.5 years ago? We really don’t know. Would they be viable if utilities were not forced to add demonstrably needless but expensive new functions after 3.11? Again, we don’t know. I have not seen a single definitive examination of the accounting involved for a single nuclear power plant in Japan, and I bet Kan has not either. Are we so distrustful of utilities that we accept this failed politician as an authority on the management of electrical utilities?

    It looks to me as though Kan broke the system, and now he is criticizing the system because it is broken. I think he has found his new career.

    • Richard Solomon

      The Union of Concerned Scientists has published an account of Fukushima which includes various ways in which nuclear is of questionable validity economically. One of these is the issue of long term storage of used fuel. There are, as of yet, no viable, operating storage facilities which will manage the spent fuel for the thousands of years needed.

      I don’t think Kan ‘broke the system’ but he did fumble and stumble around in trying to manage the crisis. The events at Fukushima proved that the system was already severely, if not fatally flawed, because it is based on faulty assumptions about such things as earthquake intensity, the possibility of severe tsunamis, inadequate storage of spent fuel, etc.

      TEPCO was warned by some experts that Fukushima could not withstand a huge tsunami a few years before 3/11. It chose not to include this info in its annual report because it would have raised serious red flags of concern. Instead, it continued to pronounce that its plants were ‘clean and safe.’ There lies the rub: utilities and oversight agencies so invested in the status quo that they refuse to consider facts which will disturb their notions of reality. Some might call that delusional thinking.

      • Starviking

        There are viable methods for storing spent fuel, the only problem is people like Kan prevent such methods from being used.

        it is based on faulty assumptions about such things as earthquake intensity, the possibility of severe tsunamis, inadequate storage of spent fuel, etc.

        The only thing of note is the tsunamis, and the faulty assumption was at higher levels, and doomed over 20,000 people. Tsunamis are now a major focus in plant safety.

        TEPCO was warned by some experts that Fukushima could not withstand a huge tsunami a few years before 3/11.

        Many things could not withstand a huge tsunami, Aberdeen, for example. Should we build a seawall around Aderdeen?

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Hey Star.
        You know, this “TEPCO was warned” stuff keeps coming up, with various smoking guns here and there. I am glad to see you don’t tiptoe around that, but here is how I see it.

        I manage a company worth, let’s say, 100 billion dollars based on assets and cash flow. I have a few nuclear plants, a whole mess of other plants. About 20,000 employees. About 10 million customers, among them the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

        And one day, a guy tells one of my employees. “Um. We think that a large tsunami might have occurred here 1000 years ago.” And a paper comes out in an obscure scientific journal. And that is about it.

        Now to the average guy in the street, that is a smoking gun. But what am I as Mr. CEO really supposed to do? Well, Mr. TEPCO CEO did exactly what every other CEO in Tohoku did. He shrugged and went back to all of the other pressing and non-conjectural problems that needed to be done.

        If, in 2010, he had dropped everything and run to the shareholders and ratepayers and asked for a billion dollars for a seawall, he would not have gotten it. And if he had, it would not have been completed in time anyway. Should he have tried? Based on a single study? Probably not.

        I realize that is a long-winded refutation of the TEPCOblamers, but this represents a huge divide between people who can and can’t appreciate the real world.

        You know how I know I am right? To this very day, many communities along the Tohoku coast are choosing NOT to have protective seawalls because they are expensive and ruin the view. That is the real world. Humans continue to live with risk, but they continue to live.

      • Starviking

        And to add to that, TEPCO were investigating the Jogon Tsunami. If it had hit a few years later, things might have been different.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        “The Union of Concerned Scientists has p”

        I stopped reading right there. Thanks for letting me know early exactly where you are coming from.

        I went to their site the other day to look at a “first hand account” of a guy (“concerned scientist”) who went to Fukushima. In almost the first line, the guy writes that he took a bullet train from Tokyo to Iwaki.

        Uh. There is no bullet train to Iwaki. So cue the trombone music. To me the rest of the article is at about that level, with “facts” from “scientists” who kind of lack a certain level of curiosity that I like to see in scientists. Go have a look. Enjoy.

        You can find similar levels of care in MOST anti-nuclear rants. And there is more than a healthy share of “nuclear radiation is going to kill you” mixed into it. It is a real turn off. I understand that is the button that anti-nuclear people want to push, but once somebody becomes immune to that, what else has the anti-nuclear movement got?

        In short, stop trying to affect my reptile brain. I have been a higher primate for my whole life.

      • Starviking

        I similarly switch off when a report mentions that there are ancient tsunami markers all over the Pacific Coast of Tohoku. There aren’t: they are located only in the tsunami-prone Sanriku Coast, far from Daiichi.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        “I don’t think Kan ‘broke the system’ but he did fumble and stumble around in trying to manage the crisis.”

        yeah right. To people living in Tokyo, Kan rode to Tohoku to rescue those yokels from themselves. To people living in Tohoku, Kan is like that guy in AIRPLANE! who pops in to the cockpit and says, “Good luck. We are all counting on you.” Kan never tried to manage anything. He just did not want to be the bottom guy in the blame game. Own him as your team-mate.

        What I could not believe is his closure of a nuclear plant somewhere in southern Japan for just absolutely no reason whatsoever. I am pretty sure it was not even legal. He just decided to waste resources to make himself look good. He started this environment of “fear and sacrifice” instead of saying, “OK. We had a problem there, but let’s move on.” What a hero.

        You have a pretty weird definition of delusional thinking going. You believe that someone can manage a huge enterprise while ignoring facts and just being ghoulish… trading money for blood. I don’t think so. I think the agencies and TEPCO missed or chose to ignore a possible extremely-low-probability event in favor of taking care of higher probability events and daily business. Everybody does that. That is not delusional.

        Try this. There is a probability that Japan will need nuclear weapons to defend itself from attack and destruction as a nation. It is a very low probability, but why doesn’t Japan decide TODAY to build or purchase nuclear weapons? This is an existential matter. Why even debate it? Don’t even think about it, just do it!

        See what I mean? So is everyone in Japan “delusional” because they choose to be vulnerable to annihilation instead of defending themselves? Are they? Because it seems to me as though they weigh the pros and cons tacitly every morning when they wake up and go to work. Let the record show that Japanese people actually DO choose to remain vulnerable every day! Some people admire that dedication to peace. That is the real world.

        The people in Fukushima liked their jobs. People in Tokyo liked cheap power. Then something goes wrong on a really bad day and it is all somebody else’s fault because … reasons. It is delusional to think that things like this could never happen. It is delusional to think that they are likely to happen. Accepting the real world for what it is. That is a sane proposition. I recommend it.

    • junktex

      And then there’s Fukushima and the insanity of building nuclear plants in the most seismically active ring of fire

  • brwstacsj

    Using nuclear power is insane. It is too expensive and too unsafe. I live on the West Coast of California. We have been hit by Fukushima’s radiation, both in the air and the sea water. Radioactive water is still being dumped by TEPCO into the Pacific Ocean. I am scared. We humans have pushed this planet and the life on it to the breaking point with climate change. Is nuclear power to be the coup de gras in this horrific reality humans have created? Shut the plants down, everywhere and lets go with green power. Green power will downgrade our current lifestyle, but at least we’ll be living.

    • Troy Kokoszka

      “I live on the West Coast of California. We have been hit by Fukushima’s radiation”

      Ok, stopped reading right there. Instant loss of credibility. Nuclear power does have its issues, but in a world where people can actually say such ridiculous things and believe them, it’s impossible to have a reality-based discussion about those problems. Look at the actual change in radioactivity in the Pacific over the past few decades. By the numbers. In that context, Fukushima was pretty small for the vast majority of the ocean.

      The Fukushima exclusion zone is about 30 km in diameter. That’s all. If Chernobyl is any indication, even regions of that exclusion zone will have some strong ecosystems which will get along fairly well in the absence of humans. That’s it for the ecological cost. Meanwhile, global warming and ocean acidification threaten to severely damage the ecosystem on a global scale. As for economics, I think the massive bills from imported fossil fuels and resulting Japanese trade deficit speak for themselves. These already exceed the cost of the cleanup, and the health impacts of burning fossil fuels will also be larger than that of the meltdown.

      To be sure, nuclear power isn’t booming, and if major technological or political game-changers don’t occur, it may not play nearly as large of a role as solar or wind in the future energy mix. However, it clearly has its niche, and probably will for some time. There’s a reason the world energy supply is mixed. Diversification is necessary, and will probably be even more important once fossil fuels are gone.

    • Starviking

      Hi brwstacsj,

      I suggest you read Marine Chemist’s diary at Daily Kos: He’s a Canadian marine chemist who frequently presents research on the Fukushima accident.

    • EnviroEngineer

      I understand you are scared, but you need to back off from that and learn some facts about power generation and radioactivity. California has not been “hit by Fukushima’s radiation”, for starters. There is no risk to anyone in California from those releases. Really. Read up on the risk assessments.

      Now, what do you mean by “green power”? Name one power source that is “green” in the sense that there is no environmental impact. Solar is messy to manufacture, producing a good deal of hazardous waste in the process, and solar panels have a relatively short life span. Wind turbines are a problem for birds, and their manufacture consumes an astounding mass of rare earth elements like neodymium, the mining and refining of which also produces unpleasant wastes. But neither produce carbon during their generation time, and that’s great.

      The only alternative to nuclear for Japan (and Germany, and Sweden, and in fact nearly all of us), here, is the burning of fossil fuels, though. Solar and wind are nice, but they cannot provide base load power. Fossil fuels will be the death of us all, with their carbon dioxide generation.

      I’ll take the relatively minor problem of radioactive waste disposal over the massive generation of carbon dioxide (and, by the way, a good deal of radioactivity introduced into the environment by fossil fuels as well) any day over the burning of fossil fuels.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    You know, all snark aside, if Kan had come out a week after 3.11 and said that the business case for nuclear makes no sense, I could give him respect.
    Or if all of the Asahi/JT minion reporters had bothered to actually investigate the business case for nuclear the last 4.5 years instead of trying to panic everyone with an over the shoulder play by play of TEPCO in Fukushima, I could respect that.
    Or if all the people posting the InfoWars/Bizarro “radiation is going to kill you” and “utility managers are ghouls” could suck it up and just concentrate on the facts and find actual malfeasance, I could respect Kan and all the rest for speaking their conscience.

    But I don’t live in that world. In my world, I have a bunch of people who were sincerely fighting CO2 emissions before 3.11 and sincerely trying to make the best of a very bad situation after 3.11. And my lights are still on. And they saved my life by sticking with the stricken plant instead of pointing fingers from day one, as everyone else has.

    Sorry. I would really like to know more about the financial case against nuclear, but if all I am going to get is Kan and Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, then I know I won’t be getting the straight story. They shot their credibility over and over. And people will choose to ignore them.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    And finally, let me shed some light.
    After 3.11, while everyone else was scrambling to learn about radiation, I scrambled to learn about utilities. I feel pretty confident that I know more about them than Kan does, and it is not just because Kan is a goober.

    The fact is that nuclear in Japan as we know it is probably on its way out. Not because of costs, though, but because the utilities just don’t need new nuclear plants. They want to use what they have and not waste them. There are strong accounting-related reasons for doing so, not ideology. I am pretty sure that if all the anti-nuclear people sat down with all the utilities and government today and made an agreement to let the utilities finish up using the plants they have now without a lot of hassle, in exchange for huge investments in wind or something, well, that might be acceptable. It is the best deal anti-nuclear people are going to get right now… because….

    The brutal irony is that utilities will turn to coal and a little natural gas, but only if it is cheap. Germany did. And all the protests will start all over again. Everyone will be worse off. The world will be worse off. I am so sure of this that I predict that environmentalists will start promoting nuclear power soon. Not tomorrow, but soon. Greenpeace has gone silent on nuclear issues. Anyone notice that? I think I hear their funding drying up. Kan is almost always on the wrong side of important issues, so he is a good signal too.

    And that is why the utilities are sticking to their guns. They seem intransigent and unyielding, but they know the best outcome and the alternatives. Sounds elitist, but this is WHAT THEY DO. We are the amateurs, and they are the pros.

  • EnviroEngineer

    The most cost-effective path forward for energy generation in Japan is to get those shuttered nuclear power plants back on line as soon as possible. They are already built, so those infrastructure costs are already behind us. The last thing Japan should do (or Germany, or any of us) is burn fossil fuels. The writing is on the wall with global warming, and fossil fuels will only worsen the situation. Kan is being irresponsible, transparently pandering to a skittish public.

  • Brian Donovan

    He’s right. nuclear is 4 times the cost of solar or wind, out of fuel in 10 years, and deadly to millions using LNT.

    Solar and wind are now available cheaper than any other sources. Before gov breaks

    The IAEA says that we will have uranium shortages starting in 2025, then getting worse fast.
    “As we look to the future, presently known resources
    fall short of demand.”

  • GRLCowan

    Designers of the BWR intended it to fail safely, as explained by an informant of mine:

    BWRs use the water in the torus as a filtering mechanism for the vessel. The containment doesn’t have direct filters. The “mobile” fission products are those that are either gaseous, or water soluable. Gaseous are the noble gasses, Xenon and Krypton, etc. Noble means they don’t interact with things. So no real way to filter, but also not a biological hazard. Water soluable, Iodine and Cesium are the main ones. By blowing the reactor steam through the torus water, you quench the water and capture all of the water soluable isotopes.

    If “they” are the office of the Japanese prime minister of the time, their ruinous, and irresponsible, delay in allowing this venting prevented that capture, greatly increasing the release of radioactivity. The thing still failed safely — no leaf was made to fall by radiation, no worker got radiation sickness — but a lot less cleanly than it might have without Chief Engineer Kan’s help.

    And as a result of that help, he’s now flitting around, presumably not on just his pension, expressing antinuclear concern. And the civil service that remains, in his country, has had many billions of dollars in fossil fuel tax revenue windfall.

  • Brian Donovan

    The last thing Japan needs is another Fukushima: it would destroy Japan.
    The first reactor they tried to restart was hit with
    earthquakes, a huge storm, a volcano, and coolant piping leaks.

    Fukushima flooded again last week.

    There is no worse place on earth for nuclear power plants, than the Rim of Fire Japan.

    Stop wasting time, and money on restarting deadly,expensive, short of fuel in 10 years, nuclear power.

    Offshore wind can provide more energy than japan country uses. It’s predictable day to

    Solar PV on rooftops, parking lots, and road covering can supply more energy than Japan uses. It’s very predictable, and mostly coincides with summer peak,
    greatly reducing peak generator needs.

    That will drive Japan’s fossil use way down. Phase out any old inflexible baseload plants,
    and replace them with load following, gap filling diesels and turbines. If you insist on coal, gassify it and use it in flexible turbines or diesels.

    Turn your wastes into fuels. Not incineration, that’s too wasteful. Carbon neutral relatively
    cleaner hydrocarbons are what solar and wind need for long term backup and reserve. We will need hydrocarbon fuels for transportation, and chemical feedstock too.

    Once enough solar and wind cover most of the total energy demand in total, they will produce more peak power than demand and the excess electricity will find uses
    such as synthesizing fuels. This is the “battery” solar and wind
    need. We already have the tech and infrastructure for using
    hydrocarbon liquid and gas fuels.

    Hydrocarbons are not the problem, excess fossils hydrocarbons are. Waste to fuels is neutral, and with biochar can be massively carbon negative.

    Japan cannot afford to stay with fossil and nuclear, both are running short of fuels very soon, and that will lead to even more price shocks.

    Only renewables can provide the energy the world needs. Renewable is already available cheaper than fossil or nuclear. It has free infinite fuel forever, much
    cleaner, safer, carbon negative, needs zero land, water, rare earths,
    and is 100% recyclable and sustainable.