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Japan Plans To Abandon Nuclear Power

By Countercurrents.org

17 September, 2012

In a major policy shift, Japan government has announced its plan to stop using nuclear power by the 2030s. The policy shift comes after last year's Fukushima disaster. The Fukushima plant meltdowns spewed radiation and forced some 160,000 people to flee. Earlier policy goal was to increase the share of atomic energy to more than half of electricity supply.

Based on a Tokyo datelined Reuters report The New York Times in a report on September 14, 2012 headlined “Japan Aims to Abandon Nuclear Power by 2030s” [1] said:

Japan joins countries such as Germany and Switzerland in turning away from nuclear power after last year's earthquake unleashed a tsunami that swamped the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan was the third-biggest user of atomic energy before the disaster.

In abandoning atomic power, Japan aims to triple the share of renewable power to 30 percent of its energy mix.

Prime minister Yoshihiko Noda's unpopular government, which could face an election this year, had faced intense lobbying from industries to maintain atomic energy and also concerns from its major ally, the United States, which supplied it with nuclear technology in the 1950s.

"This is a strategy to create a new future," a policy statement said. "It is not pie in the sky. It is a practical strategy."

All but two of Japan 's 50 nuclear reactors are idled for safety checks and the government plans to allow restarts of units taken off line after the disaster if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator.

Japan 's growing anti-nuclear movement, which wants an immediate end to the use of atomic power, is certain to oppose any such proposal to secure electricity supplies by restarting reactors.

By applying a strict 40-year limit on the lifetime of reactors, most will be shut down by the 2030s.

Tomoko Abe, an opposition lawmaker who heads a non-partisan group seeking to abandon atomic power, told Reuters the new strategy was lacking in key details.

The government's strategy calls for a push to reduce energy consumption through efficiency and other measures to at least 10 percent less than 2010 levels.

Japan 's powerful business lobbies argue that exiting nuclear energy in favor of fossil fuels and renewable sources such as solar and wind power will boost electricity prices, making industry uncompetitive and complicating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Anti-nuclear advocates counter that warnings of economic damage are exaggerated. They say the policy shift will create new openings for corporate profits in areas such as renewable energy that will spark innovation and give the economy a boost.

"A total exit from nuclear is positive for the economy, on balance," said Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University who studies energy policy.

Surveys show that a majority of voters favor exiting nuclear power sooner or later.

Forbes in an article titled “Nuclear Power's Long and Toxic Tail” [2] said:

Last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a similar commitment to shut down Germany 's nuclear power plants by 2022, a few months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster and devastated large swaths of land north of Tokyo .

Regardless of the success or failure of these ambitious anti-nuclear energy agendas, the age of atomic power is anything but over. On the contrary, the world will need to manage a massive stockpile of nuclear waste for generations to come.

Citing a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) the article said:

Ironically, the United States […] is perhaps the most exposed to the potentially catastrophic risks posed by a rapidly expanding and recklessly managed supply of lethally radioactive nuclear waste.

The GAO surveyed the status of and outlook for America 's accumulating supply of spent nuclear fuel, which it describes “as one of the most hazardous substances created by humans.”

The key risk of storing spent fuel at reactor sites is radiation exposure from spent fuel that has caught fire when it is stored in a pool. “If not properly contained or shielded, the intense radioactivity of spent fuel can cause immediate deaths and environmental contamination and, in lower doses, cause long term health hazards, such as cancer,” the GAO concluded.

The worst-case scenario is likely to be a self-sustaining fire in a spent fuel pool at a reactor site, which could spread to all assemblies in the pool and trigger the release of large quantities of radioactive materials, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.

Mitigating this risk will take decades in the best-case scenario because appropriate long-term storage or disposal facilities will require decades to develop. Still more decades will be needed to transfer the spent fuel from “temporary” on-site storage facilities to these long-term storage sites.

In other words, the atomic age isn't going anywhere anytime soon with or without operating nuclear power plants.

With the headline “Japan Pulls The Plug On Nuclear Power” [3] Beth Buczynski wrote in Care2 make a difference on Sept. 16, 2012 :
“Since the Fukushima fallout, the effects of the radiation leak have been widespread and varied, from mutant butterflies to […] Japanese youth are already showing signs of internal radiation exposure.”


[1] http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2012/09/14/world/asia/14reuters-japan-nuclear.html?_r=3

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Kentaro Hamada, Yuko Inoue and James Topham; Editing by Ed Davies, Miral Fahmy and Ron Popeski)

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2012/09/15/nuclear-powers-long-and-toxic-tail/

[3] http://www.care2.com/causes/japan-pulls-the-plug-on-nuclear-power.html





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