Archives for : japan politics

The true cost of nuclear power

The photo shows pages of a 2001 report purportedly outlining a breakdown of the cost of nuclear power. It was provided by Kenichi Oshima, a

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government's cost analysis committee regarding  the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been blacked out. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power.

PHOTO shows documents relating to the calculations made in 2001 by the Japanese government’s cost analysis committee regarding the cost efficiency of nuclear power. Almost the entire document has been redacted. The figures, which were originally submitted to the committee by the Federation of Electric Utilities, simply show that nuclear power is cheap. Nonetheless, the committee approved the report as an official report about the cost of generating electricity by nuclear power. PHOTO COURTESY OF KENICHI OSHIMA

Ritsumeikan University professor of environmental economics, who was among lawmakers and researchers who had requested from the government a breakdown of how the cost of nuclear power had been calculated.

Clearly, even after being furnished with the report they would have been none the wiser. Oshima says that a similarly redacted dossier was released following the original assessment of the costs of various energy over 50 years ago. The popular PR slogan used in the early days was that nuclear power was “too cheap to meter,” perhaps because the meters, too, had been covered in black ink.

The Japanese government has always said that nuclear was the cheapest power, it was a method used to sell nuclear power right from the start,” Oshima told me. “But the figures submitted were accepted without question and were the subject of huge criticism. Nobody was allowed to access the actual data, not even Parliament members.”

According to Oshima, the figures submitted to the government’s cost analysis committee by the federation of electric utilities placed nuclear energy at ¥5.3 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with ¥13.6 per kWh for hydro; ¥10.2 per kWh for oil; ¥6.5 per kWh for coal; and ¥6.4 per kWh for LNG.

Following the Fukushima nuclear accident, however, the data was reappraised by a governmental “cost verification committee” that included Oshima among its expert analysts. The committee revealed that in addition to the much-publicized “safety myth” attached to nuclear power, there was a “cost myth” that had been covered up for decades, Oshima says.

The committee determined that nuclear power had two related costs: first, the cost incurred by generating electricity and back-end fuel cycle costs, such as costs incurred by the disposal of radioactive waste; and second, societal costs, such as research and development and accident costs.

They used a model power plant representing the Japanese average for nuclear power plants to calculate a new Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE). The results were revealing. When societal costs were included, nuclear rose to ¥9 (based on accident costs of ¥5 trillion) as opposed to coal (¥9.4); LNG (¥10.7) and hydro (¥10.6).

Oshima was still doubtful that this was a true reflection of the cost of nuclear power, especially as a far greater proportion of public expenditure, such as R&D, goes to nuclear. Indeed, according to some reports, nuclear receives 64 percent of Japan’s total energy R&D budget, compared to renewables’ 8 percent.

Oshima also believes that the final cost of the Fukushima accident could be upwards of ¥15 trillion. Taking those factors into account, his final calculations put nuclear at ¥12.5 per kWh, though he insists that other “invisible” societal costs, such as damage to the environment and loss of human dignity associated with loss of homes and jobs, if calculable, would up the unit price further.

Interestingly, other researchers and industry officials think even this figure is conservative. One of them is Masayoshi Son, CEO and founder of telecommunications giant SoftBank. Admittedly, Son’s company has invested heavily in solar power both in both Japan and India since the 2011 disasters, which may influence his perspective. But using Oshima’s data and other research undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies as a base, Son’s research led to the conclusion that the real cost of nuclear could be as high as ¥15 per kWh.

The cost of energies is covered in more detail in my book, “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe. Fukushima – March 2011.”

For more information visit www.yoshidas-dilemma.com

My book on the Fukushima nuclear crisis is now available

Following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in northern Japan I began researching a book. The focus was on the meltdowns and YOSHIDA COVERexplosions that had occurred at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant and in particular the people who had battled to ensure an even bigger catastrophe was averted.

That research culminated in a book titled “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear catastrophe – Fukushima, March 2011” and I am delighted to announce that on March 11, 2017 — exactly six years since the day of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, that book was published.

There is a website about the book here. It includes an overview of the book and an eight-page extract.

The book is now available through the publisher’s website here and also on Amazon here

It was never my intention to offer my own personal views on the important issue regarding nuclear power, only to try and find out what exactly had caused the triple meltdowns and to try and find an answer to a fundamental question: Should a country like Japan, which experiences one-tenth of the world’s biggest quakes, really be housing so many nuclear reactors.

Below are some comments about the book. I hope they will inspire you to check it out.

“Rob Gilhooly has written what is probably the most comprehensive English-language account yet of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.  Gilhooly is among the best-informed foreign reporters on this issue in Japan, having travelled to Fukushima several dozen times since being one of the first journalists to arrive in the prefecture on a freezing night in March 2011.  He gives the story of Masao Yoshida, perhaps the key figure in the disaster, all the detail, sympathy and pathos it demands.  His remarkable pictures throughout the book are a bonus.  Highly recommended. “

— David McNeil, The Economist.

“A powerful synthesis of the technical and the personal, Gilhooly succeeds in conveying the events of March 2011, its aftermath and the dramatic impact on the people of Fukushima and wider Japan. Six years after the start of the accident, Yoshida’s Dilemma is a necessary reminder of how through the actions of heroic individuals and luck Japan avoided an even greater catastrophe.”  
— S. David  Freeman, former Tennessee Valley Authority chairman, engineer, energy expert and author of Energy: The New Era and Winning Our Energy Independence

“As one of the few journalists to have covered the Fukushima story from the very start, Rob Gilhooly is perfectly placed to discuss the disaster’s causes and aftermath, and its wider ramifications for the future of nuclear power. From the chaotic scenes as the plant went into triple meltdown, to the plight of evacuated residents and Japan’s long and troubled relationship with atomic energy, Gilhooly combines fine story-telling with journalistic integrity to produce a book that is admirably free of hyperbole.” 
— Justin McCurry, The Guardian.

6000 demonstrators voice disapproval of Japan state secrets bill

By Rob Gilhooly

Over 6,000 people gathered to form a human chain around Japan’s National Diet in Tokyo Wednesday to protest against the controversial state secrets protection bill that is expected to become law this Friday.

Despite the inevitability of the bill being rubber stamped before the 185th extraordinary session of the Diet comes to a close on Dec. 6, opponents continue to voice their concerns that the bill is being unnecessarily rushed through Parliament.

If passed, the bill could  impose hefty penalties on leaks of any information deemed sensitive, opponents say. It will also inhibit media coverage and be used to conceal official wrongdoings, they add.

If ratified the law would give ministries the freedom to declare as classified just about anything they want, said Upper House member Takashi Esaki.

The longer (the bill’s enactment) can be delayed, the bigger public opinion will grow and can be heard,” he said. “If that were allowed to happen, the bill could be repealed. (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe knows that, which is why he’s pushing the bill through so quickly.”

This has led some leading figures to question Abe’s true intentions, with a group of academics headed by Nobel Prize winners Toshihide Masakawa and Hideki Shirakawa stating that the issue was the “biggest threat to democracy since World War II.”

During Wednesday’s demonstrations, banners accused Abe of “steamrollering,” while chants from spirited demonstrators referred to the prime minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party secretary general Shigeru Ishiba as “terrorists” and “facists.”

Ishiba has incited vitriolic criticism since writing in his blog last Friday that citizens who demonstrate against the state secrets bill are committing “an act of terrorism”.

Even though the bill enactment is pretty much a done deal, I decided to come out here today to voice my objection, but also to take a look at what a terrorist looks like,” said Hiroshi Satomi. “What I have seen is ordinary people shouting and singing about something they are wholeheartedly against. The real terrorists are inside that building over there,” he added pointing at parliament across the road.

People like Ishiba are not interested in democracy, said another protestor, Toshiko Miwa. “They call their party the Liberal Democratic Party, but there is nothing liberal or democratic about Ishiba or Abe,” she said. “I have started to see posters and so on showing Abe’s face superimposed over those of Nazis. I think that’s absolutely true.”

Another protestor, Naoki Takahashi expressed fear of a bill that by its nature is given excessive leeway when it comes to transparency. “It seems almost unconstitutional that lawmakers should be able to rush through a secrecy bill that does not clearly define what constitutes sensitive state secrets or even what acts would be deemed punishable” under the bill, he said.

The bill also does not bode well for the media industry, said a Tokyo union organiser and journalist Chie Matsumoto during a separate rally held by around 600 Japan newspapers’ union members. “It could mean information is less easy to obtain and even information that is not even sensitive may not be given out by officials due to a fear that it might land them in trouble,” she said.

Upper House member Esaki said the bill is a flashback to a pre-war, Imperial times and undemocratic laws that gave authorities the right to arrest anyone who voiced disapproval of the government.

We are now a step closer to Abe’s ultimate plan, which is constitutional amendment and in particular an amendment to article 9 (which outlaws war as a means of settling international disputes involving the state),” the Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker said. “He is targeting the right of self defence … this is part of Abe’s life work, something that he started in his first stint as Prime Minister.

He is a politician who wants to return to the way things were before the war — a stronger nation, a nation that worships the emperor, a nation that above civilian rights to know demands a unified, national commitment. In other words, a country that is some distance away from being either liberal or democratic.”

 

 

Strong in the Rain

The cover of David McNeil and Lucy Birmingham's "Strong in the Rain"

 

One of my photos was used on the cover of a book (and several more inside) about the 2011 Tohoku disasters, authored by the Independent’s David McNeil and Lucy Birmingham of Time magazine. As part of a wider article, Ian Buruma takes a look at the book for the New York Review of Books here and an excerpt can be found here

The title of the book comes from a celebrated poem by early 20th century writer Kenji Miyazawa, who was, coincidentally, born in one of the affected cities In Iwate Prefecture.

The authors kindly sent me a copy of the book and I am looking forward to getting stuck into that very soon. Fingers crossed for both of them that it does well – David and Lucy are remarkable journalists so I’m sure it will.

Japan agrees to buy Senkaku islands

Reports this morning  including this one in the Yomiuri Shinbun about the Japanese government reaching a deal to buy Senkaku islands from the current owner, who lives in Saitama.

The agreement between the Saitama man and the government is reportedly worth 2.05 billion yen and will include three of the chain’s five main islands — Uotsuri-jima, Kitako-jima and Minamiko-jima islands.

The islands fall under the administration of Okinawa, but are part of an  ongoing territorial dispute with China.

In a desperate attempt to protect the islands, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had entered  a heated battle to buy the Senkaku Islands, which are located in the East China Sea between Okinawa and Taiwan, from the current landowner, who runs a real estate business and is now in his 70s.

The efforts to secure ownership of the islands has been stepped up in recent weeks following the landing on the island in August by a group of Pro-China activists from Hong Kong. The 14 activists were detained and later released, though not before a spate of anti-Japanese street protests broke out in China with regards to the islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan.

A group of Japanese nationalists has subsequently made an illegal landing on the island chain.

Tokyo Gov. Ishihara has met the landowner on a number of occasions over the past 9 months and has openly expressed his confidence that the islands will be sold to the metropolitan government, even though the landowner has turned down an application by Tokyo to land on the islands in late August.

The metro government has since conducted aerial surveys of the islands, a move that was criticized by China.

With reference to Ishihara’s attempts to buy the islands, the state-run Xinhua news agency said: “The Japanese government should not let a right-winger take hold of the reins.”

 

Municipality votes to close Hamaoka nuclear power plant

A man fishes from the beach in front of Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Omaezaki, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan (top). Photo of the plant from the viewing plant (bottom left), while woman entertains baby in a room allowing children try on plant worker's uniforms. Rob Gilhooly Photos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local news this evening reports that Makinohara City has voted to close indefinitely Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. The plant was temporarily shut down by the national government on May 6 due to estimates that a magnitude 8+ quake would strike the area where the plant is located over the next 30 years. The municipal level vote is the first to be held by the 4 cities under whose jurisdiction the plant falls. Makinohara City officials reportedly made the 11-4 vote on the grounds that “Without reliable guarantees of its future safety and security, the Hamaoka plant, which is built on the focal area of the (predicted) Tokai Earthquake, should be close indefinately.”

The Hamaoka plant lies directly over the subduction zone over 2 tectonic plates, though it was reportedly built to withstand  a quake in excess of magnitude 8.5. It was not affected directly by the March 11 earthquakes and tsunami. The photos above were taken a few years ago when I visited the plant. On my way down to the seafront I was stopped and questioned by local police for almost 2 hours. Apparently they had been put on alert for possible terrorist attacks. At the end I asked if they shouldn’t be more worried about the Tokai quake. They smiled.

Human Guinea Pig

Nobuyoshi Ito, 67, tends to his rice fields in Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on 08 Sept. 2011. Despite being advised to evacuate his home due to high radiation levels, Ito has decided to become a human guinea-pig, testing himself and his crops for radiation levels. Photograph: Robert Gilhooly

 

Visited this chap during a (slightly too long) trip up north, during which I had various work with the London Times, the Manchester Guardian and the Telegraph, among others for the 6-month anniversary of the March 11 quake and tsunami. This man was really quite remarkable, very calm, very organized. He doesn’t trust any of the information that has been out out about the leaking nuclear power plant, just 32 km from his abode, and so decided not to leave — one of only 9 residents now left in the vast, but eerily quiet town.

I wrote up a story about Mr. Ito for the Japan Times and you can find an online version of that story here

Thaksin in Tokyo

Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, speaks during an interview in Tokyo, Japan on 23 Aug. 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Attended three different interviews with Thaksin during his recent visit to Japan. More photos here

Suicide in Tohoku

 

Story published in Japan Times about suicides resulting from the Tohoku disasters. Online version can be found here

This was a tough topic to cover. I found it particularly difficult because the so-called “kokoro no care” groups that are apparently providing counseling support for survivors simply refused to talk (I tried arranging interviews with groups from Osaka, Kita Kyushu, Akita and Aomori). At first I thought this was purely because of the delicate nature of the subject, but after talking with a psychiatrist back in Tokyo about this I was left with a different impression. The care groups simply have little to say because they are terribly underused, the doctor suggested.

The reason may be simple. Having spent my first few Japan years in the Tohoku region I am aware of the stoic (some, like Nobel novelist Natsume Soseki, even say stubborn) nature of  the people there, many of whom would not want to share their personal troubles with others — outsiders, especially. What’s more, I am told by Japanese doctors/psychiatrists and other experts that psychiatric care here is not as developed as in some countries in the West. “The national government pours millions into tackling Japan’s perennial suicide problem, but seems to fail to actually look at the roots of that problem,” said one.

Depression is a huge suicide trigger in Japan — the national police statistics show that. But there seems to be little effort made to tackle the issue at that level. So, instead of highly trained psychiatrists (of which there are few) we have money thrown at municipalities who spend it on “don’t do it” poster campaigns.

Another anecdote connected with this: For some years I have been documenting Japan’s notorious suicide forest (photos relating to this here), where dozens of Japanese go to kill themselves each year. Of the original measures considered to buck this trend, one of the more seriously considered ones was ….. to build a wall around the forest.

I think that just about sums it up really. Ok, so it didn’t come to fruition, but the message was pretty clear. Build a wall, and people won’t come to OUR prefecture to kill themselves. Fortunately we have some individuals who think differently than the powers in government. Hence the notices at the entrances to the forest asking people to think twice. And below a number to call to talk over your troubles.

The suicide issue here bothers me, not because the numbers are so high, but because nobody really seems to care. One suicide “expert” once asked me: “Don’t you think these people have a right to take there own life?” My answer: “Of course. But wouldn’t it be nice if they also had the right to choose to get help first?”

My six pen’orth for the day …

 

 

Black Cat delivery

A staffer for Kurineko (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  7 April 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A staffer for Yamato "Kuroneko" (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on 7 April 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Came back up to Iwate Prefecture last week, but have since struggled with finding accommodation, or reception for both cell

A man cycles past a cargo ship in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  4 April 20011.

Photo: Robert Gilhooly

phones and internet. Yet, despite all that, things seem to be moving along. In Kamishi I see electrical workers erecting utility poles, while nearby a man cycles through the driving snow past a massive cargo ship that has made  a rare foray on land. On that same day electricity was restored to several places along the coast.

Meanwhile, in Rikuzentakata, also in Iwate Prefecture, I come across a superbly kept shelter inside a junior high school. Inside on a notice board there is a plan of the shelter which includes among the pristine, wood-paneled classrooms a dentist, a room for washing clothes, another for drying them, a room for the elderly, a room for those suffering from influenza, a study room for elementary and junior high school children …

But perhaps the biggest sign of improvement came  at the end of a long and very dusty day, when in the far east of the city I saw a Kuroneko (Black Cat) delivery staffer hauling a large box of frozen goods on his shoulder, passing by the wreckage of a neighborhood and delivering the goods, which had been set from central Japan, to the “doorstep” of a refugee.

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