Rally against nuclear power

Thousands of protesters took to the streets last Sunday, rallying in Tokyo’s Shiba and Meiji parks and marching to the Diet area to protest against nuclear power. The organizers of the rally claimed that 60,000 people ringed the Diet Building, though the Metropolitan Police Department put the number at 20,000 to 30,000.

Whatever the exact number, the rally was another expression of deep-seated opposition to nuclear power in Japan. The central government should recognize rallies like this as an important expression of political opinion.

Unfortunately the government appears not to be listening. Neither are they paying attention to the countless problems with the cleanup of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, whose meltdown is Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.

The disaster has displaced some 150,000 people and left others living in fear of exposure to radiation. Every day, a new problem is announced by Tokyo Electric Power Co., whether it’s rats eating electric lines or another tank leaking radioactive water. The proposed solutions, whether to expand the number of storage tanks or to make frozen walls in the soil to lessen leakage, show little progress and much desperation.

Power companies and the central government do not seem to be listening to scientists, either.

To take one example, the Nuclear Regulation Authority judged the fault running under reactor 2 at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga nuclear plant to be active and therefore extremely dangerous.

Objective data and scientific facts from geologists and specialists outside the nuclear power industry clearly point out the danger of operating nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone areas, which pretty much make up all of Japan.

Even former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, giving his first speech abroad since the 3/11 disasters, stated in California last week that the only way to contain the risk of nuclear accidents is to create a nuclear-free society.

After handling, or mishandling, the crisis in 2011 as prime minister, it is a healthy change for Mr. Kan to admit being ashamed of his previous role as an apologist for exporting Japanese nuclear technology to developing nations and to offer a reasonable evaluation of the issue. If only other former and current leaders would do the same, the issue might change for the better.

Instead, despite the clear public and scientific opinion against nuclear power, power companies and the central government continue to push for restarting the nuclear reactors whose operations were suspended after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

In the short run, safety procedures at power plants must be made more stringent and followed scrupulously. Energy-saving policies for individuals and businesses need to be developed and enforced. Alternatives to nuclear power plants that will not cause long-term environmental damage must be developed with sufficient funding from public and private sources.

Meanwhile, the cleanup at Fukushima No. 1 will continue for at least a lifetime, perhaps two.

Nuclear power plants cannot be sufficiently prepared to avoid all major disasters and the problems when disasters do strike have no good solution.

  • GRLCowan

    “Unfortunately the government appears not to be listening” — why would they listen when they wrote the script and hired the actors?

    They’re ahead billions a year on fossil fuel revenues.

    • Starviking

      Surely you mean billions in debt on fossil fuel purchases?

      • GRLCowan

        Japan had been importing uranium at $0.25/MMBTU, and by using the Fukushima meltdowns as an excuse to forbid nuclear power plants from restarting, Japanese government has been able to force its electricity producers to use natural gas instead. Imported as LNG, it cost $16/MMBTU.

        Royalty rates on natural gas are hard to find, but in the USA they are in the range 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent. Each gigawatt of nuclear capacity that was forbidden to restart meant 66 million MMBTU of additional natural gas demand annually. If the Japanese government enjoys the lower, one-eighth rate, this is a gain for them on the order of $133 million per blocked reactor per year. Since they have blocked 50, that would put them ahead ~$6.6 billion annually.

      • Masa Chekov

        I think your numbers mean the exact opposite of what you think they mean.

      • GRLCowan

        What do you think they mean?

      • Starviking

        If that is the case, then whilst the government might be up on revenues, the country as a whole is paying more – once for the nuclear fuel that is sitting unused, and again for the expensive fossil fuels that are taking their place in the market.

  • kyushuphil

    The people of Japan haven’t a chance against the government that rules them.

    The government rules for cronyism — for those in Japan who dutifully follow the rules of “seken” 世間 and for all those in American corporations who see mega profit in a Japan yet followling the same consumerism of automotive sprawl, TV advertising, shopping malls, and nuke power plants.

    Japanese schools might help the people, if the schools taught youth to ask questions, and to do so by widely-referenced arts of essay writing. It’s still a possibility, yes?

    • Sam Gilman

      What if they asked critical questions of the anti-nuclear movement? Such as demanding an arithmetic-based approach to energy, or an evidence-based approach to assessing the risks of different energy sources?

      You could have a million people demanding a course of action, but if it makes little or no economic, technical or environmental sense, then a democratically elected government’s duty to act with its conscience in the best interests of the country takes over.

      Let’s also not forget that we know from the recent election that people for whom immediately eliminating nuclear power is a priority are, despite their passion, a minority.

  • KAB

    Generally I support more reliance on nuclear power, but for areas prone to earthquakes like Japan I think more care should be taken about the decision to build a reactor.

  • Japan is welcome to shut down its nuclear fleet, but this will lead to increased CO2 emissions and electricity prices.

    An alternative to conventional unsafe Nuclear is a radically different Nuclear technology called Molten Salt Reactors – these have few of the downsides of existing Nuclear (safe, can’t melt down, produce a fraction of the waste) and have the potential to produce energy cheaper than coal. They are a *game changing* technology. Search for Thorium Remix 2011 on Youtube for more info.

    China has seen the potential and is developing one at their National Academy of Sciences. The project is so important to them it’s being headed up Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin. A prototype is planned before 2020.

    Remember not all nuclear is the same. Let science and reason guide you. As an Island country with small amounts of arable land, Japan needs energy and lots of it, and has a lot to lose from climate change as a result of CO2 emissions.

    • Masa Chekov

      It’d be nice to actually have Thorium reactors in production somewhere first before we start declaring them the savior of nuclear power generation.

  • Eric

    I agree with the article that energy saving policies must be implemented and enforced, and alternatives to Nuclear Power Plants, like the Mito New Town Megasolar Park need to be promoted. We don’t need nuclear power plants. Politicians and power companies just want them.

    • Sam Gilman

      You want to have solar power instead of nuclear,
      rather than alongside it? Have you done the maths on this?

      Here’s my maths. They could be missing something, but I believe they show the general problem. The Mito New Town Megasolar Park in Ibaraki will have a capacity of 40MW. Given the latitude it will have at best a capacity factor of about 13%, so for comparison purposes we can change 40MW into 5.4MW. Onagawa 2 nuclear power reactor has a capacity of 825 MW. Assuming the Japan average 70% capacity factor for NPPs, this translates into 577MW. I’m being generous in my assumptions to solar here.

      So we’d need 107 Mito New Town Megasolar Parks to replace one modernish nuclear reactor purely in terms of output. With Mito New Town Mega Solar Park taking up 50 hectares, that translates to 53 square kilometres of environment/nice stable flat land on a permanent basis to do the same work on average as a single reactor (there are three at Onagawa). And that’s before we look into other serious issues.

      The really big problem with solar is that it’s highly intermittent and unreliable. We’d need to re-build the grid to take output solar power on a large scale in order to cope with large fluctuations in supply. We’d also need to work out what to do when the sun goes down or when cloud forces solar output to a trickle. The problem is, we currently don’t have any feasible way to economically store energy on a large enough scale for long enough. In a temperate climate like Ibaraki’s, solar output also varies over the year quite dramatically. What will we do in winter?

      If you look closely at anti-nuclear “environmentalist” plans for
      renewables, there is a big gap between what renewables can do and what demand is, that needs to be filled by continuing to burn fossil fuels “until we work it out.” These “environmentalists” are not putting the planet first, and they’re not putting human health and safety first.

      What’s interesting for me is why solar gets so much hype from anti-nuclear people. While wind power has many similar problems to solar, they’re less severe: wind is a far better way to invest in renewables than solar at the latitude Japan is at (although it too would seriously struggle to replace stable electricity supply). For some reason it’s solar power that’s incredibly beguiling to people who don’t like nuclear.

      • Eric

        Looking at it that way, why not just use nuclear power all the time them. Let’s keep the spent fuel in the school swimming pools, they only use them a few weeks a year in the summer anyway, and then we would have room to store lots more waste forever. When an area gets full or contaminated, we can just move everyone to the 53 square Km we saved from the solar farm. Thank goodness you have thought ahead and put aside that land for us.

        It is a good thing that we don’t have to continue to develop new technology in the renewables field, since nuclear will save us all.

        And of course, we should stop improving efficiency of our appliances, since nuclear power is so cheap and wonderful.

        The best way to promote research and development of sustainable renewable power is by building it and actively promoting it. Nuclear power plants would not have been possible without enormous subsidies during the development of the technology-and continuing today. Just because renewables are not 100% proven now does not mean that they can not be in the future.

        And I still think that nuclear is not the answer. Living between Fukushima 1 (80Km away) and Tokai mura (40Km away), both of which have had accidents, I am frankly not confident in the management of nuclear plants in Japan.

      • Sam Gilman

        So instead of addressing the current serious feasibility issues of large scale solar, you make things up about what I said. An interesting response.

        You claim I’m against renewables. Yet I stated clearly wind is a far better way to do renewables in Japan. At no point did I say we should be 100% nuclear either. You made that up. (Why, Eric?) I also didn’t say we shouldn’t be more fuel efficient. Why did you make that up?

        Here’s your problem. We need to cut CO2 emissions now. We are haemorrhaging money on fossil fuel imports now. We are worsening our air quality and making our environment more carcinogenic than Fukushima has done with the increased burning of fossil fuels now. By saying “we’ll invest and discover things in the future”, you’re sticking your head in the sand just like Greenpeace do about th environmental energy problems we face NOW.

        In the long run we need to move to renewable energy, but it looks to me like you’re shutting your eyes and ears to the fact that we don’t yet have the technology to do that, and that in any case it’s going to be a mammoth construction task with some serious environmental consequences. Promising ourselves we’ll solve our energy using Nicey-nice technology X, but not calculating whether Nicey-nice technology X can actually provide us with reliable enough power in the near future is irresponsible.

        The reason why governments and power companies are building both nuclear and renewables is that they sit down and do the numbers. It’s not some nasty conspiracy. Nuclear may not be the long-term answer, but a lot of analyses say it needs to be part of the medium-term answer if we want to meet our environmental goals.

        I appreciate your concerns living close to Fukushima daiichi. My own view is that we should move to close that generation of plants, as they are inherently less safe than more modern designs (such as Onagawa-2) Spare a thought for the people living next to the restarted coal plants. They’re at a higher risk of getting cancer than anyone from the evacuation zone. Spare a thought for the people lost due to fossil fuel accidents following the earthquake. It’s quite a large number.

        We have to make the choices we face, not the choices we’d like to face.

      • Eric

        I do get a bit snarky in the mornings.

        When I re-read my first post, I suppose it wasn’t clear that when I said “alternatives… like Mito…” I was not limiting the future to only solar power. I would love to see a broad mix of renewables.
        Globally wind power will overtake nuclear in around a decade, and as for solar- the Swanson effect – like Moore’s Law for transistors- has so far followed the track- a 20% reduction in cost per doubling of global manufacturing capacity. Which means while rooftop solar is still relatively expensive, large solar arrays are now cheaper to build than nuclear plants, and of course, are cheaper to run.

        I was not aware that any idled coal plants were restarted. Two new plants that were already on the boards- Hitachinaka 2 and Hirono came online. I thought only the idled oil plants were restarted. Well, that and the 75% increase in LNG that mostly offset the nuclear (Sydney Morning Herald, Wall Street Journal).

        Also, I am not sure that nuclear consumes significantly less fossil fuels than other plants. The embedded costs of the reactor plant itself, mining, refining, protection, dismantling, and above all, protecting and storing the waste for generations is quite a bill. (I have no facts to back that up though.)

        I think that the medium term costs of covering the gap with fossil fuels are worth leaving the nuclear plants offline, and hopefully- decommissioned.

      • ” Just because renewables are not 100% proven now does not mean that they can not be in the future.”

        True. But we need electricity NOW. This moment – the electricity being used by my computer as I write this was produced milliseconds before. That is exactly while solar, while a nice supplement, will never replace current methods of generating electricity by burning things. While my entire office could easily run on solar power generated by an array on our roof, what do we do the moment the sun goes down? Have a large battery pack out back? We might *just* be able to make that work, *maybe* – what is Tokyo going to do? You can’t make battery packs large enough to store enough power to run even a small town overnight.

        Wind? Slightly better, except for the increase in migratory bird deaths, the high maintenance costs (the highest of *any* electrical power generation option), the fact you can’t use the land under the windfarm for residences or livestock as the constant sound of the generators spinning has been found to cause all manner of sleep- and stress-related health issues. And oh yes, if a major storm blows through? The kind of situation where you *need* electricity? You have to lock the windmills down so they don’t get damaged.

        Japan, like the US, has already dammed every river capable of producing electrical power, so that option is out. Wave power seems attractive but the environmental costs are still an unknown, and the maintenance costs can’t be cheap – salt water and salt air are among the most corrosive natural substances known. They will break down *anything* exposed to them for any length of time.

        Geothermal is probably the best option, clean, constant power, not affected by weather, and proven. But even starting today, it will literally take decades to get all the needed plants built. What do we do until then?

      • Starviking

        Don’t forget that solar and wind, at least, have lifetimes of around 20 years until they have to be replaced because of degradation. Wave, who knows? Not a commercially proven tech yet, and as to lifetime – one project at Queen’s in Belfast was quite literally swept from the face of the earth, never to be seen again. The sea is a challenging environment.

        Geothermal in Japan has about 1GW easily accessible potential – though the hit an miss nature of drilling means any given field may be a bust. There’s 20GW+ that could be accessed, theoretically, if a tech breakthrough was made. See: “2010 Country Update for Japan,” by H. Sugino and T. Akeno

      • Eric

        As I pointed out above, we bridge the gap with fossils.
        Right now with only two reactors going there are no rolling blackouts, no enforced power reducing measures, and we have electricity. Most of that base load is LNG, replacing the nuclear plants.

        The idea I keep trying to get across is that every MW of renewable generated is a MW worth of fossil fuel or nuclear fuel saved. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So let’s get going.

        Negawatts- reducing the amount of power we use through more efficient devices and through legislation.

        Solar- some solar components are not green- true. But the related pollution is still less than the damage being done in mining and refining uranium, or mountain top removal coal mining. And the dangerous chemicals and greenhouse gasses used in producing the panels can and should be recaptured and recycled. Also, as the panels reach the end of their lives, they can be recycled, the rare earths re-used in a new generation of panels. Already researchers at Oxford University have found a way of replacing the indium in solar panels with zinc. It is not as efficient, but zinc is not rare.

        Wind- Dispersed wind generation- not every windmill will be in the path of a windstorm. “Wind Turbine Syndrome” has been debunked by numerous independent sources, such as the University of Sydney, Discover magazine, and the Massachussets Dept. of Public Health. Wind turbine maintenance costs have dropped 38% since 2008, due to improved technology and increased competition in the servicing industry. I love the idea of wind. On or offshore.

        I agree that large hydro is basically maxed out, and wave is not a very attractive option. But I do think it should be researched more.

        Geothermal- I assume you are talking about Hot Dry Rock geothermal? I agree that is the best option for a base load electric source at this time and should be started on as soon as possible.

      • Starviking

        “every MW of renewable generated is a MW worth of fossil fuel or nuclear fuel saved.”
        You lost me with that last bit. If renewables are supposed to combat climat change by cutting down on greenhouse gasses emitted to the atmosphere, why must they replace nuclear fuel? It is also low-carbon.

      • Eric

        Because they don’t create a dangerously radioactive waste that has to be stored, protected, and generally watched over for generations.

      • Starviking

        Dangerous is a relative term. Greenhouse gasses persist in the atmospher ont he order of a thousand years. The more we put up now, the more will be in the atmosphere in a thousand years, then more damage will be done to the climate. Radiactive waste, which can be stored for generations, does not approach that level of harm.
        In short, greenhouse gas emission is an existential threat – nuclear waste is a possible environmental threat.

      • Eric

        It is the storage of the waste that worries me. What country has experienced stability for the hundreds to thousands of years it would have to be stored? Not just geological stability. Economic and social upheaval are also a threat. And when nations and empires collapse, which is inevitable on a long enough timeline I believe- who will make sure the waste is safely contained?

        I know that in theory it can be re-used in a fast breeder reactor. And as long as Japan can afford to send it to France and the UK for reprocessing. But if it is so easy, why is the waste still piling up in “temporary” storage at almost every plant?

        Solving the waste problem realistically would go a long way to improving acceptance of nuclear power in Japan again.

        Personally I am installing PV on my roof and a battery bank. If I run out of juice on a cloudy day, I guess I’ll just have a candlelight dinner and conversation with the wife, instead of posting on message boards to people who have a different opinion. It is not like our discussions will change each other’s opinions or realistically affect the future. Unless we take citizenship and get into politics…

        So thanks everyone, Starviking, Sam, Gmain, it was frustrating, fun, and quite informative while it lasted. I learned a lot, and will definitely be more careful trolling in the future.

      • Sam Gilman

        “Bridge the gap with fossils”. So, basically, stay with a form of energy which on any count is more lethal, more damaging to the environment, (globally and locally), because…?

        (Nuclear from start to finish is far less carbon intensive than fossil fuels. Some anti-nuke campaigners have tried to spread the idea that it isn’t, but let’s try to keep the level of debate more honest than that.)

        How urgent would you say cutting CO2 is? From my understanding, it’s quite a pressing issue. I assume you go along with the mainstream consensus on global warming.

      • Eric

        “(Nuclear from start to finish is far less carbon intensive than fossil fuels. Some anti-nuke campaigners have tried to spread the idea that it isn’t, but let’s try to keep the level of debate more honest than that.)”

        Ok, let’s keep it honest.

        It is less carbon intensive. Far less than coal… Gas…. no. A 1.35GW nuclear plant produces about 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year over the lifetime of the plant. (Dr. Fritsche of the Öko Institut) However this is not taking building storage facilities, protecting, and caring for the waste indefinitely into account. Also as in any mining, extraction becomes more expensive and carbon intensive as the “easy” to remove ores are played out. Your numbers (oh, wait, you didn’t put up any numbers since your first post…) don’t add up.

        Our discussion has opened my eyes to some facts, thank you Mr. Gilman. But those facts are that it makes more sense to build gas fired plants with CSS that replace coal plants, reducing CO2 and bridging the gap while non-fossil fuel renewable sources work to close it.

      • Starviking

        First, what was the name of the paper Mr* Fritsche wrote?

        Second, what journal was it published in, and was it peer-reviewed?

        Third, is the Öko Institut neutral?

        Fourth, was the same degree of inquiry (mining, building, grid effects) leveled at the other energy technologies?

        Fifth, how come other peer-reviewed work, for example the IPCC Renewables Study, SRREN 2011, give the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear as on a par with renewables, and better than gas? That’s given in Figure 1.13 of the report, available on the net.

        Lastly, CSS is an unproven technology. It seems odd to me to be promoting its use before it has been shown to be technically and economically feasable. The best way to capture carbon is to leave it in the ground.

        * I write “Mr Fritsche” as there is nothing on the web that suggests he has a doctorate. His resume does not even say he has a degree. He is, however, a Reiki master.


      • Eric

        LOL that is funny. Reiki master and likes to ride trains.
        His paper:
        ‘THG-Emission Bio-Prozesse mit LUC’ by Dr Uwe R. Fritsche (Öko-Institut,) seems to indicate he is a Dr. though.

        At last! Real numbers and charts from you guys. Thank you! The IPCC study looks very interesting. I will definitely be reading it in more detail when I have some more time.

      • Sam Gilman

        If you want more sources, here’s a well-respected source. He uses IPCC figures too, but he also deals with the waste issue.


        Out of interest, why did you go with an obscure figure from an anti-nuclear institute as a source for the CO2 contribution of nuclear power? it looks like you searched until you found the result you wanted.

      • Starviking

        Prof. MacKay’s book is definitely one of the best, and most transparent energy books out there. He’s not afraid of showing readers how to use math to check the facts for themselves.

      • Eric

        His was the first number google found. I was tired of arguing, and didn’t have a lot of time to research. I never was a good poker player either.

      • Starviking

        Enjoy the IPCC study, thought be warned – it only considers renewables, and does not delve into nuclear much beyond some general graphs, and a Greenpeace study referenced in the renewables studies they highlighted (as it had the highest renewables percentage of all the studies looked at).

        As for Dr/Mr Fritsche, it looks like he is just a Mr. From this CV from an organisation he is associated with:


      • Eric

        It is one thing to dismiss someone due to flawed/biased research, but another to dismiss someone due to lack of an advanced degree. I assume the former in your case.

      • Starviking

        I’m not dismissing him at all – just pointing out that he does not have an advanced degree.

      • Sam Gilman

        With the exception of raptors (eagles etc.), the wind kills birds stuff turns out to be very overblown, as has the issue with noise (it’s psychosomatic: wind opponents experience it even when there aren’t any turbines near.) On the other hand, wave power, as far as I understand, is proving incredibly difficult to harness effectively (ie at scale efficiently) and may have bad environmental impacts.

      • You left one point out about solar: that while an installed solar panel produces no CO2 or other exhaust gasses, and is completely “clean”, production of a solar panel requires rare earths, the extraction of which is anything BUT clean. Immense amounts of soil are required to produce even a few grams of the rarer metals, and the extraction process releases huge amounts of toxic gasses such as fluorine and sulfer dioxide. The waste soil is often highly contaminated, as are the vast amounts of wastewater generated by the extraction process. China, the world’s leading producer of rare earths, has inflicted tremendous ecological damage on itself, contaminating its own soil, air and groundwater. Now, not all of that damage was done to produce solar arrays, true, but solar arrays cannot be manufactured without creating that damage on some level.

        But I guess as long as the mines are polluting someone else’s part of the planet, we can all sleep well in ours knowing that solar power is “green”.

      • Starviking

        Solar and Wind plants also need a large amount of concrete, on the order of a nuclear plant, to anchor them. Producing concrete emits a lot of CO2.

  • Starviking

    So we have this: “the Nuclear Regulation Authority judged the fault running under reactor 2 at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga nuclear plant to be active and therefore extremely dangerous.”
    i.e. the experts of the NRA say an NPP is dangerous.

    Then this: “Objective data and scientific facts from geologists and specialists outside the nuclear power industry clearly point out the danger of operating nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone areas, which pretty much make up all of Japan.”
    i.e. unnamed experts say all plants are dangerous. A very dangerous “appeal to authority” that. Is the Japan Times afraid of letting the NRA investigate every NPP is Japan, in case some pass muster?
    And as usual, I ask will the Japan Times be campaigning to remove dams from Japan, as they risk mass casualties in earthquake-prone areas, which pretty much make up all of Japan?