In All 3 Nuclear Reactors In Shikoku Suspended post, I warned about excessive optimism regarding the non-restart of idled nuclear power plants that we may feel when we consider that most are off-line and so will shortly be the remaining few. The post also digresses on the will of corporations such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Hitachi (actually joint ventures with American General Electric, Westinghouse where the Japanese counterpart are often on the subcontractor / order receiving side) to wait out the fickle public opposition.
Currently, Japanese citizen groups remain strong, well-informed and connected so there is little that any foreigner can do to help out except to show their sympathy and support. If about 0.05% of the Japanese population actively opposes nuclear power while the rest sleeps or support passively, it represents a 60 thousands people crowd – the same that protested in Tokyo. Yet, 0.05% of foreign English readers who resides in the Monitored Land amounts to a handful of individuals, most of whom I am acquainted with.
In a stressful situation, it is helpful to try and take control over one’s environment and act in favor of improving the situation, no matter the real leverage one might have. So it useful, if only for our own psychological balance, to keep on being active together with Japanese citizens – but it is also a self-deluding strategy. Arguably, every voice should count and participate in making a difference, yet the reality is that foreigners are not empowered – we cannot vote, except with our feet. This, many have done already and many more are getting prepared to do.
Time will only tell if Japanese citizens sustain their stand against nuclear power and if democracy may be briefly expressed by recognizing their voices and acting accordingly. It would be a big first in Japan and would imply that the country grew a spine against the US domination. Germany is another country with two cumbersome and belligerent neighbors; like Japan, it had to put up with a foreign army occupation and made it without developing weapons of mass destructions: Japan can go on surviving without nuclear technology and join the path of Germany, a much more successful exporting country and financially sound. Another prerequisite for ending nuclear power in Japan is kicking the yakuza out of this lucrative business and reducing the level of corruption – a tall order.
Mainichi Daily News – Nuke safety agency under fire for hasty approval of reactor reactivation
January 19, 2012
The green light that the nuclear power regulator has given to the reactivation of two reactors before the government issues a final report on the ongoing Fukushima crisis has sparked criticism from citizens’ organizations as well as experts.
Questions remain as to how the government will win understanding from local governments that host nuclear plants regarding the reactivation of reactors suspended for regular inspections. The government and power suppliers that own nuclear plants need to overcome a mountain of problems before summer, when demand for electric power will surge.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has approved the safety assessment that Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) conducted on the No. 3 and 4 reactors at its Oi Nuclear Power Plant, paving the way for the resumption of operations at these reactors.
During a hearing of the safety assessment, known as a “stress test,” citizens groups raised questions about, and bitterly criticized, the way NISA evaluated and approved KEPCO’s safety assessment.
“How can you assess the safety of the nuclear plant?” one asked.
“You should allow us to listen to discussions in the meeting room instead of setting up seats for the audience in a separate room,” another said.
Experts have raised questions as to the use of the results of the evaluation of the stress tests to deem whether operations at stopped nuclear reactors can be resumed.
“Stress tests are conducted to see how much stress reactors can endure during a severe accident, such as damage to their cores, and doesn’t guarantee their safety,” says Muneo Morokuzu, professor of nuclear legislation at the University of Tokyo.
The European Union (EU) has conducted stress tests on nuclear reactors since the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant triggered by the March 11 tsunami. However, it has failed to show clear standards for judging whether reactors are safe.
EU officials admit there is no choice but to let regulatory bodies in its respective member countries make judgment at their own discretion.
During deliberations on the results of KEPCO’s stress test on Oi’s No. 3 and 4 reactors, NISA said that new standards determine whether enough safety measures have been implemented to guarantee that an accident as serious as the Fukushima crisis never happens.
However, NISA-mandated emergency safety measures on reactors to guarantee safety were actually conducted by the electric power companies that own them, which is feared to effectively ensure that all of them will pass the stress tests.
In the meantime, NISA is required to examine power suppliers’ assumption of the scale of earthquakes and tsunami that could hit their nuclear power stations based on the current guidelines for the quake resistance of nuclear plants.
However, NISA has only completed its deliberations on such an assumption regarding the No. 1, 5, 6 and 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility.
Lessons learned from the crisis at the Fukushima plant have not been reflected in NISA’s evaluations. Up to 15-meter-high tsunami waves hit the Fukushima nuclear plant, triggering the crisis, even though its operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. assumed that up to 5.7-meter-high tsunami could hit the plant.
Hiromitsu Ino, University of Tokyo professor emeritus on metal materials, expressed anger at NISA’s decision.
“It’s wrong to draw a conclusion on the safety assessment of nuclear reactors even without setting clear standards for safety. Priority should be placed on reassessing all reactors’ safety while taking into consideration lessons learned from the Fukushima crisis,” he said. “From the beginning, NISA had intended to give the green light to reactivation.”
Professor Morokuzu added, “Comprehensive safety assessment should be conducted, including whether equipment and workers can be mobilized in an appropriate manner in case of unexpected accidents.” (By Toshiyasu Kawachi, Tokyo Science and Environment News Department)
Interestingly enough, one has to turn to Reuters Africa to get some information about this particular nuclear plant in outback Japan (Ohi in the wire below is the same as Oi in Fukui), although it may be my inability to trace the information in Japanese news:
Reuters Africa -TABLE-Japan nuclear plant ops (Ohi No.2 enters turnaround)
Dec 16 (Reuters) – Kansai Electric Power Co said the 1,175-megawatt No.2 reactor at its Ohi nuclear plant entered planned maintenance on Friday afternoon, as scheduled. After the shutdown of the unit, only seven reactors will be online in Japan with a capacity of 6,804 MW, leaving just 13.9 percent of the nation’s total nuclear power capacity in use. Public fears about nuclear safety sparked by the Fukushima radiation crisis have prompted the nation’s nuclear watchdog to require utilities to conduct stress tests as a precondition for restarting reactors stopped for routine maintenance. But it is unclear when the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency or the government will approve the stress test reports or when approval will be given by local authorities for reactor restarts. Japan, the world’s third-biggest nuclear power user, has 54 reactors for commercial use, with a total generating capacity of 48,960 MW. In the table below, capacities are shown in megawatts. “P” represents a planned regular inspection shutdown and “U” an unplanned shutdown.
Company Plant Unit MW Current status Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 1 460 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 2 784 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 3 784 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 4 784 P from Nov. 30, 2010 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 5 784 P from Jan 3, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daiichi 6 1,100 P from Aug. 14, 2010 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daini 1 1,100 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daini 2 1,100 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daini 3 1,100 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Fukushima-Daini 4 1,100 U from Mar. 11, 2011 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 1 1,100 P from Aug. 6, 2011 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 2 1,100 U from July 16, 2007 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 3 1,100 P from Sept 19, 2007 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 4 1,100 P from Feb. 11, 2008 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 5 1,100 On line from Nov 18, 2010 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 6 1,356 On line from Jan. 23, 2011 Tokyo Electric Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 7 1,356 P from Aug. 23, 2011 Kansai Electric Mihama 1 340 P from Nov. 24, 2010 Kansai Electric Mihama 2 500 U from Dec. 8, 2011 Kansai Electric Mihama 3 826 P from May 14, 2011 Kansai Electric Ohi 1 1,175 U from July 16, 2011 Kansai Electric Ohi 2 1,175 P from Dec. 16, 2011 Kansai Electric Ohi 3 1,180 P from Mar 18, 2011 Kansai Electric Ohi 4 1,180 P from July 22, 2011 Kansai Electric Takahama 1 826 P from Jan. 10, 2011 Kansai Electric Takahama 2 826 P from Nov. 25, 2011 Kansai Electric Takahama 3 870 On line from Dec. 22, 2010 Kansai Electric Takahama 4 870 P from July 21, 2011 Chubu Electric Hamaoka 3 1,100 P from Nov. 29, 2010 Chubu Electric Hamaoka 4 1,137 U from May 13, 2011 Chubu Electric Hamaoka 5 1,380 U from May 14, 2011 Tohoku Electric Onagawa 1 524 P from Sept 10, 2011 Tohoku Electric Onagawa 2 825 U from March 11, 2011 Tohoku Electric Onagawa 3 825 P from Sept 10, 2011 Tohoku Electric Higashidori 1 1,100 P from Feb. 6, 2011 Kyushu Electric Genkai 1 559 P from Dec. 1, 2011 Kyushu Electric Genkai 2 559 P from Jan 29, 2011 Kyushu Electric Genkai 3 1,180 P from Dec. 11, 2010 Kyushu Electric Genkai 4 1,180 On line from Nov 1, 2011 Kyushu Electric Sendai 1 890 P from May 10, 2011 Kyushu Electric Sendai 2 890 P from Sept. 1, 2011 Chugoku Electric Shimane 1 460 P from Nov 8, 2010 Chugoku Electric Shimane 2 820 On line from Dec 2, 2010 Shikoku Electric Ikata 1 566 P from Sept. 4, 2011 Shikoku Electric Ikata 2 566 On line from Nov. 12, 2010 Shikoku Electric Ikata 3 890 P from April 29, 2011 Hokkaido Electric Tomari 1 579 P from April 22, 2011 Hokkaido Electric Tomari 2 579 P from Aug. 26, 2011 Hokkaido Electric Tomari 3 912 On line from March 7, 2011 Hokuriku Electric Shika 1 540 P from Oct. 8, 2011 Hokuriku Electric Shika 2 1,206 P from March 11, 2011 Japan Atomic Power Tokai Daini 1 1,100 P from May 21, 2011 Japan Atomic Power Tsuruga 1 357 P from Jan. 26, 2011 Japan Atomic Power Tsuruga 2 1,160 U from May 7, 2011
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Risa Maeda; Editing by Joseph Radford)
Read also about Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui and yakuza involvement:
Mainichi Daily News – 3 nabbed over fake contract for nuclear repair work in Fukui
FUKUOKA — Police have arrested three people for allegedly dispatching a worker to the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture under a falsified contract, sparking a police probe into the yakuza’s possible involvement in nuclear-related jobs, investigative sources say.
The Fukuoka and Fukui prefectural police forces on Jan. 12 announced the arrests of Hideo Ichise, 58, of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, Yoshimi Tomita, 59, of Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and Kanae Ikegami, 36, of Kitakyushu’s Wakamatsu Ward, on suspicion of violating the Employment Security Law.
Ichise is the Fukui business manager of Taihei Dengyo Kaisha Ltd., a Tokyo-based power plant construction and maintenance firm. He previously served as the firm’s Oi operation chief. Tomita is president of Takada Kiko, a pluming firm in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, and Ikegami is an executive of Dream, previously known as Soshin Kogyo, a pluming and housing equipment firm. Police have identified Ikegami as the wife of a gang leader with ties to the Kitakyushu-based crime syndicate Kudo-kai.
Police suspect Soshin Kogyo dispatched workers to nuclear power facilities, thereby providing the Kudo-kai with a source of funds, according to investigative sources. The case has sparked a rare police investigation into the alleged involvement of yakuza in nuclear-related employment in Japan.
According to police investigators, the three were implicated in an unlawful contract scheme in which a male employee of Soshin Kogyo was dispatched to Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant and forced to engage in repair work under the supervision of Taihei Dengyo from early March to late September in 2010. The three have admitted to the allegations, the sources say.
Fukuoka police and others with knowledge of the case say the fake contract was set up through deals between Soshin Kogyo and Takada Kiko, and between Takada Kiko and Taihei Dengyo. The Fukuoka and Fukui police forces believe the Soshin Kogyo employee served as a temporary worker in violation of the law, and suspect he may be just one of several temporary staffers sent to nuclear power facilities under bogus contract deals, investigative sources say.
Various temporary agencies have been suspected of siphoning off workers’ wages and crime syndicates are suspected of playing a part in dispatching such temporary workers.
The National Police Agency (NPA) has ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to cut off ties with crime syndicates in connection with work at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The NPA set up a council with 22 general contractors last July to fight the yakuza’s involvement in employment at the Fukushima plant.
Established in 1947, Taihei Dengyo has capital of about 4 billion yen and is listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It has built and repaired nuclear power stations across Japan and has been taking part in the work to bring the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control. Its sales in the business year ending in March 2011 came to about 61.8 billion yen.
Further reading about Japan still betting on nuclear technology exports and domestic restart of nuclear power plants:
Wall Street Journal – Mitsubishi Heavy Predicts Restart for Japan Reactors
By Chester Dawson
TOKYO—The chief executive of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. said he expects Japan’s idled nuclear reactors to restart operations this spring despite widespread safety concerns among the Japanese public, and that the domestic backlash against nuclear technology won’t affect overseas demand.
Japan has idled all but five of its 54 commercial reactors, and has been conducting so-called stress tests to gauge nuclear plants’ resilience to natural disasters. So far, no Japanese reactor shut down for regular maintenance has been restarted amid the public’s safety concerns after the March tsunami that triggered an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
But Hideaki Omiya, Mitsubishi Heavy’s president and chief executive, said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he is confident the plants will resume operations soon, after they gain approvals from local officials nearby.
“My sense is that this process will be completed by spring, and from spring to summer this year there will be a resumption of operation at some power plants,” Mr. Omiya said.
The Japanese heavy-equipment manufacturer is one of Japan’s three major nuclear-plant-equipment makers, along with Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. Nuclear equipment accounts for about one-third of Mitsubishi Heavy’s nearly ¥1 trillion ($13 billion) in power-systems revenue, which itself makes up 34% of the company’s total revenue—the largest of its six core businesses.
The last of Japan’s reactors still in operation are slated to go offline by May, effectively eliminating the source of one-third of the country’s electricity supply.
The Japanese government has signaled its intent to persuade municipalities near nuclear plants to approve restarts before the traditional midsummer peak in demand for electricity.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has vowed to scrap plans for new plants as part of a policy designed to gradually reduce Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy as older reactors are decommissioned.
Still, Mitsubishi Heavy is optimistic about nuclear energy’s future outside its home market. “There’s been a severe backlash against nuclear-plant construction in Japan so we don’t expect to see a lot of new reactors here for some time,” Mr. Omiya said. “But globally, demand for nuclear power is not declining.”
While the company expects to see higher revenue from safety upgrades of existing nuclear plants in Japan and increased reactor decommissioning projects, the loss of new domestic orders has prompted it to curtail growth plans. The company abandoned a goal of doubling its annual nuclear revenue of ¥200 billion to ¥300 billion by 2014, Mr. Omiya said.
Mr. Omiya said he expects to see strong demand at home and abroad for power-generation equipment, especially natural-gas-fired plants.
Mitsubishi Heavy has been hurt by the sharp appreciation of Japan’s yen against the dollar and other currencies to record levels because it depends on foreign markets such as the U.S. and China for about 50% of its sales. A strong yen reduces the price competitiveness of exports and erodes the yen value of dollar-denominated profits.
Noting that Mitsubishi Heavy loses about ¥5 billion for every one yen appreciation in Japan’s currency against the dollar, Mr. Omiya said the company might shift more of its output overseas. “If the current yen strength continues…manufacturers like us will move more production offshore and spur the hollowing out of Japanese industry,” he said.
The European financial crisis is another headache for Mitsubishi Heavy and other Japanese exporters, even though their direct exposure to euro-denominated sales might be limited. “We’re worried about how the European crisis will affect the [overall] Japanese economy,” Mr. Omiya said. “The impact on the U.S., China and the rest of Asia is also a big concern.”
For the fiscal year ended on March 31, Mitsubishi Heavy said Europe accounted for 15% of its net sales, compared with 26% from Asia and 21% from the U.S.
Japan Today – Japan to let some nuclear plants operate after 40-year limit
By Mari Yamaguchi
TOKYO — Jan. 19
Japan’s planned 40-year cap on nuclear power plants could be extended up to 20 years, but exemptions will be rare, the government said Wednesday.
Japan currently does not have a limit on the operational lifespan of reactors, and the government had hinted when it announced the cap that extensions were a possibility. The proposed legislation requiring plants to shutter after 40 years is part of the government’s campaign to improve safety following the nuclear crisis set off by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Concern about aging reactors has grown because three of those at the tsunami-hit plant were built starting in the late 1960s and many more of Japan’s 54 reactors will reach the 40-year mark in coming years.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government still plans to stick to the 40-year cap in principle. He said exemptions would be rare, with each reactor only allowed a maximum of one. He said to qualify a reactor would have to meet strict safety requirements.
The Cabinet is set to approve the proposed bill by end of January before submitting legislation to parliament for further debate, he said.
The proposed legislation is similar to regulations in the U.S., which grant 40-year licenses and allow for 20-year extensions. Such renewals have been granted to 66 of 104 U.S. nuclear reactors. That process has been so routine that many in the industry are already planning for extensions that could push the plants to operate for decades longer.
If the 40-year-rule is applied, 36 reactors would have to close by 2030, the Asahi newspaper reported.
Since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Japan has ordered reactors across the country to undergo new “stress tests” and get community approval before they can be restarted.
On Wednesday, Japan’s nuclear officials moved a step closer to restart two of more than 40 nuclear reactors that are offline – most of them for regular inspections.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency presented a preliminary ruling on two nuclear reactors at the Oi power plant in western Japan, telling a panel of experts that operator Kansai Electric Power Co had properly carried out stress tests. It was still unclear if the community would approve.
The operator said the tests found the two reactors had a safety margin of 1.8 times the strength of an anticipated quake, and four times the height of an anticipated tsunami.
The meeting was delayed for several hours as activists stormed into a conference room demanding they be allowed to observe the proceedings in the same room, not on a TV monitor downstairs.
The stress tests are similar to those used in France and other European countries, where they conduct a simulation designed to assess if the plants could weather extreme events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, storms and other disasters.
Some experts and concerned residents in Japan say the tests have no clear criteria, rendering them meaningless. They also say disasters often occur in a string of events, and evaluation by computer simulation on a single event is not realistic.
University of Tokyo metallic material scientist Hiromitsu Ino, who is on the panel, said the way stress tests are designed is not adequate even though an attempt to find vulnerable spots to improve safety is good.
“The problem is that stress tests are not comprehensive. They only look at certain areas, and it’s not appropriate to determine safety based on an evaluation on limited areas.”
Japan is currently reviewing its future energy policy and plans to announce one this summer. Fujimura also said that Japan is trying to be less reliant to nuclear energy.
“If you limit an operational lifespan at 40 years, obviously the number of nuclear power plants would decrease,” he said. “We are still aiming to reduce reliance on nuclear energy, but it’s a goal that we cannot be achieved overnight.”
Mainichi Daily News -Editorial: Japan needs more discussion before exporting atomic energy technology
December 10, 2011
The Diet’s approval of atomic energy agreements, which the government has signed with Jordan, Vietnam, Russia and South Korea, has opened the way for exports of nuclear power plants to these countries, but the decision came too hasty and has not been thought through.
The pacts are expected to come into force as early as January. However, the crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has not been brought under control and the cause of the accident needs to be clarified. The Diet has endorsed the accords without in-depth discussions on how to ensure safety of nuclear power stations.
Atomic energy agreements are aimed at preventing exported atomic-energy-related technology and materials from being diverted to military use, and are a prerequisite for exporting nuclear plants. Japan has already signed such accords with seven countries including the United States, France and China as well as the European Atomic Energy Community.
Under the agreements, Japan is expected to construct nuclear power plants in Jordan and Vietnam and commission Russia to enrich uranium while exporting parts for nuclear reactors to South Korea.
During Diet deliberation on the pacts, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, “If we receive requests for cooperation despite Japan’s current situation based on lessons learned from the crisis, we should do whatever we can to contribute to international efforts to enhance the safety of atomic energy.”
However, one cannot help but wonder how Japan can prove its nuclear technology can contribute to global safety. True, the Japanese nuclear power industry is quite advanced, but it alone cannot ensure the safety of operations at nuclear power stations.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, is highly unlikely to participate in such an international deal even though it had been expected before the crisis to play a leading role in operations at these nuclear power stations abroad. Moreover, even if Japan emphasizes that its nuclear technology is safe without clarifying the cause of the crisis, it cannot win confidence from the international community.
At the same time, the prime minister also emphasized that it is Japan’s responsibility to share its experiences learned from the nuclear crisis with the international community. While this is correct, Japan should put greater emphasis on sharing with the world its knowledge on how to prevent nuclear accidents based on its thorough investigation into the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The Diet had only 10 days to deliberate on the atomic energy pacts. It failed to carry out thorough discussions on safety measures even though Jordan is an earthquake-prone country and it is reportedly difficult to secure the massive amount of water needed to cool down reactors that are expected to be built in inland areas of the country.
It has been pointed out by some critics that the government was desperate to ensure the pacts clear the Diet within this year so that Japanese companies will not be put in a disadvantageous position amid international competition for contracts on the construction of nuclear power stations. However, some members of the ruling coalition voted against the pacts. Deliberations that fail to convince even some ruling coalition legislators can never win confidence from the Japanese public and the international community.
The government is currently negotiating atomic energy agreements with India, South Africa and Turkey. In particular, Japan should exercise prudence in its negotiations with India, which is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty even though it possesses nuclear arms.
To prevent Japan from exporting danger and anxiety to the world while decreasing its reliance on nuclear energy, the executive and legislative branches of the government are urged to hold more in-depth discussions on nuclear energy safety based on its verification of the cause of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
New York Times – Japan Courts the Money in Reactors
By Hiroko Tabuchi
October 10, 2011
TOKYO — Even as Japan plans to phase out nuclear power as too risky for domestic use, the government is supporting a new push by Japanese industry to sell nuclear power technology to other countries.
Japanese industrial conglomerates, with the cooperation of the government in Tokyo, are renewing their pursuit of multibillion-dollar projects, particularly in smaller energy-hungry countries like Vietnam and Turkey. The effort comes despite criticism within Japan by environmental groups and opposition politicians.
It may seem a stretch for Japan to acclaim its nuclear technology overseas while struggling at home to contain the nuclear meltdowns that displaced more than 100,000 people. But Japan argues that its latest technology includes safeguards not present at the decades-old reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, which continues to leak radiation.
While Fukushima Daiichi could not withstand the magnitude 9 quake and the tsunami that ravaged much of Japan’s northeast coast in March, Japanese officials argue, their nation has learned valuable lessons — and has good nuclear track record withstanding most earlier earthquakes.
“Many countries of the world are seriously exploring the use of nuclear power, and we have assisted them in improving nuclear safety,” Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said at an address at the United Nations General Assembly recently. “We will continue to answer to the interest of those countries.”
Mr. Noda’s government considers foreign reactor projects a way to help stimulate Japan’s export-led economy, which had been struggling even before March’s natural and nuclear disasters. Tokyo’s backing— including financial assistance to the customer countries — has become critical in negotiating deals, especially as global confidence in nuclear safety has faltered in Fukushima’s wake.
The World Nuclear Association, a trade industry group, says the world’s stock of 443 nuclear reactors could more than double in the next 15 years, but analysts say that expansion will require strong support from the governments on both sides of any deal.
In early September, after a six-month hiatus following the earthquake, the Japanese government restarted talks with Vietnamese officials on a 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) project to build two reactors in southern Vietnam. The terms include possible Japanese financial aid.
The project would involve a new government-supported company whose largest shareholder is Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. The industrial conglomerates Toshiba and Hitachi, which supplied reactors to the Fukushima plant, are also investors. Ichiro Takekuro, a former executive of Tokyo Electric, is the president of the new company, called International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan.
The Vietnam project, if it proceeds, would join a roster of about two dozen other nuclear plant projects that Japanese makers are bidding or working on in countries including the United States, China, Turkey and Lithuania.
Japan’s nuclear drive is a contrast to the recent announcement by Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate, that it would stop building nuclear power plants. Siemens, with headquarters in Munich, is responding to Germany’s decision this year to phase out nuclear power — largely in reaction to Japan’s calamity.
But makers of nuclear reactors from other countries, including Areva of France, General Electric of the United States, Russia’s state-owned Rostacom and several government-backed Chinese conglomerates like China National Nuclear, are pursuing new contracts. Within Japan, Tokyo’s effort has already drawn protest from nuclear opponents.
“The Japanese government’s promotion of nuclear exports is clearly a double standard and a mistake,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth Japan, said in September.
The opposition Liberal Democratic Party has also called for more debate on the nuclear export initiative by Mr. Noda and the ruling Democratic Party, although opinion in both parties remains divided.
“Some people are asking: Why is Japan trying to export something it rejected at home?” said Itsunori Onodera, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker and director of a parliamentary foreign policy panel charged with approving bilateral nuclear agreements. “Even if Japan ultimately does decide to continue nuclear exports, there needs to be more debate on the issue.”
But analysts say Japan’s top three nuclear engineering companies — Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba — which had combined profit in their energy and infrastructure businesses of about 242 billion yen ($3.14 billion) in the latest fiscal year, are keener than ever to look overseas.
Only about one in five of Japan’s 54 reactors — which previously met about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity needs — is still in service. The rest were damaged by the tsunami, are still being put through routine tests, or have not been restarted after such tests because of local opposition.
It is unclear when any will restart. Adding to the uncertainty, on Oct. 4 a reactor in Genkai, in southern Japan, went into automatic shutdown because of problems with its cooling system. And because the government has said it will be difficult for new reactors to be built, a gradual phase-out of nuclear power is inevitable, as old reactors are retired.
But Japan is still intent on keeping industrial exports afloat at a time when the country’s export-led economy faces strong headwinds: a strong yen that makes Japanese goods and services expensive on world markets, post-Fukushima energy shortfalls and stiffening competition from Asian industrial rivals.
Expensive projects like new reactors, often accompanied by ancillary business for utilities in fuel operations and maintenance, remain particularly attractive to Japanese commerce officials.
Last year, Japan’s nuclear exports totaled 15 billion yen. The ruling Democratic Party had made the expansion of nuclear exports a centerpiece of its economic growth strategy before March. A trip by the former prime minister, Naoto Kan, to Vietnam last October, which gave the country a leg-up in negotiations, was seen as an early triumph.
And when Mr. Kan himself tried to shut down efforts to continue nuclear exports in July, many within his own party urged him to reconsider. If anything, Mr. Kan’s successor and fellow Democrat, Mr. Noda, is more actively promoting nuclear exports than Mr. Kan did. The trade minister under Mr. Noda, Yukio Edano, who now oversees Japan’s nuclear policy, had been a vocal supporter of continued nuclear exports.
Vietnam says it is happy that the deal is back on the table. Vietnam’s ambassador to Japan, Nguyen Phu Binh, told the Mainichi newspaper in late August that he wanted to see construction proceed and believed Japan would “use the Fukushima crisis to learn important lessons.”
Still, some Japanese companies have been forced to withdraw their nuclear bids in the wake of Fukushima.
Toshiba and Tokyo Electric withdrew from a proposed effort to expand the nuclear South Texas Project south of Houston, after the operator NRG Energy said it would scuttle the plan in light of the Fukushima crisis.
The Toshiba-Tokyo Electric team also abandoned a bid to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant after the Turkish government indicated that it was interested in a different kind of technology than the boiling water reactors that are Toshiba’s specialty. Older versions of boiling water reactors were in use at Fukushima.
But that could benefit yet another Japanese company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which specializes in so-called pressurized water reactors, a technology in which Turkey has shown interest. Mitsubishi has already won contracts to build three nuclear reactors in the United States, two in Texas and one in Virginia.
Japanese politicians, however, have stalled some potential overseas nuclear projects. Parliament recently postponed the approval of a nuclear agreement with Jordan that could allow Japan to bid on a planned nuclear power plant there.
One reason: the proposed site is far away from any large body of water, giving the plant no reliable way to cool its reactors to prevent a meltdown in the case of an emergency.
“After Fukushima,” Mr. Onodera said, “we felt that could be a problem.”