Nuclear & Energy policy in Japan: PM Kan, Masayoshi Son and Yoshito Hori. Who do you trust?
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The March 11 earthquake which unleashed the potent tsunami continues to cause problems for parts of Japan. However, these problems are multiple and this applies to housing, restructuring, helping orphans, and a host of other important areas. Therefore, the knee-jerk reaction to either dismantle nuclear power or to fundamentally change Japan’s energy policy needs to be considered much more deeply.
Softbank President Masayoshi Son clearly supports the “alternative energy” theory but given the reality that earthquakes are nothing new to Japan; then what were the policy statements of Masayoshi Son in the last twenty years about this issue?
This is a very important question because the Kobe earthquake killed thousands of people and clearly it was the tsunami which killed the overwhelming majority of people on March 11, 2011, and the following days. The death count from radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant is zero but the death total from the tsunami and earthquake totals around 25,000 people.
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich who is a PhD holder in nuclear engineering and is a retired nuclear safety specialist is rightly skeptical. Dr. Vojin Joksimovich in his article titled EU, US, & Japan: Dysfunctional Leaderships are Gambling with leading Capitalist Economies, comments in the area based on Japan that “In mid-July Kan stated: “Our nation should aim to become a society that can manage fine without nuclear power.” A leading contender to replace Kan, Seiji Maehara one of the most popular figures in the ruling Democratic Party, said that Japan should phase out nuclear power over the next two decades and that construction should “basically be stopped.” This policy would have far reaching implications for the energy sector providing one third of the nation’s electricity. Nuclear technology companies: Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries would be severely hurt while the existing prospects for international orders would all but disappear. Like Chancellor Merkel in Germany, PM Kan sees adoption of anti-nuclear policy as a way to rebuild his image as well as that of his party. It is understandable that triple reactor meltdowns after the reactor cooling systems were wiped out by tsunami had shaken the Japanese faith in nuclear safety. The Japanese nuclear establishment has overlooked the need to provide a need for adequate tsunami protection. San Onofre nuclear power plant in my neighborhood is protected by a 30 foot high tsunami wall. The Tohoku earthquake originated in a subduction zone and the tsunamis generated in a subduction zone are much larger than those resulting from earthquakes in a strike slip geologic fault systems such as faults near San Onofre.”
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich raises many important points and how is it that San Onofre is better protected than the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant? After all, the greater danger applies to the Fukushima coastal region but despite this the tsunami wall and other important areas were much more modern and prepared for the ravages of nature?
Therefore, the nuclear crisis was based on the failure of past Japanese governments, TEPCO and nuclear related agencies which allowed such folly in the first place.
The anti-nuclear lobby or business individuals who may see a fresh killing to be made by government subsidies are clearly lining up. However, while the anti-nuclear lobby will have been consistent, irrespective if rhetoric or not. Can the same be said about politicians and business individuals who see opportunism?
The founder and president of Globis Management School, Yoshito Hori, appears to be skeptical by the motives of elements within the government of Japan and he certainly does not follow the logic of Masayoshi Son.
Masayoshi Son is a very powerful business leader and all of a sudden it appears that he is a great follower of “alternative energy.” Others may point out that this issue is nothing new and why is he plugging for this now in such a bold way?
Also, given the reality of huge government subsidies behind the thinking of Masayoshi Son with regards to his projections and the power he holds within Japan; then is this based on sincerity, opportunism, half-baked thinking, manipulating de-regulation, easy source of government subsidies or does he truly believe in alternative energy?
It is also factual that government subsidies aided the nuclear sector in Japan. However, with the failure of one monolith then is it justified to create another subsidized monolith and all under the name of “a new way?”
Yoshito Hori comments that Masayoshi Son“is using his political connections to lead us in a direction that’s good for him but bad for Japan.” Yoshito Hori refers to a too-hasty policy in the energy sector and implies that change for the sake of change will further hinder the economy of Japan.
It must be stated that Yoshito Hori is not against alternative energy but he is concerned about the possible direction that it may take under the short-term Prime Minister Kan and the business savvy Masayoshi Son.
In the Sankei Shimbum it is clear that Yoshito Hori is alarmed by ongoing events and the possible “annihilating blow” towards the nuclear sector. On July 16 in the Sankei Shimbum and which was republished on Japan Today under the title Softbank’s Son, Globis’ Hori trade blows via Twitter; it states that “Hori stresses that he favors increasing reliance on alternative energy – “on two conditions,” he tells Sankei Shimbun. One: No subsidies. Two: If power companies are to be obliged to purchase surplus power generated by homes and businesses via renewable energy, as would be the case under a proposed law backed by Kan and Son, the price should be in accord with market standards and not imposed as what, in effect, would be a subsidy in disguise.”
Turning back to Dr. Vojin Joksimovich then he states that “Japan’s short-lived PMs, five in five years, compare with pre-Berlusconi Italy. Existing PM Naoto Kan has survived a Diet no-confidence vote at the price of a vague promise to resign. It is irresponsible that even after the largest disaster after the WWII, the Japanese political elite is more interested in squabbling over how long Kan should stay in the office as opposed to addressing the burning issues of reconstruction. The Diet has failed to approve new bond issues needed to fund government spending beyond a few months. Ryu Matsumoto, Kan’s long-awaited choice for the cabinet post leading to tsunami reconstruction resigned nine days into the job. With millions of tones of debris yet to be cleared and tens of thousands of residents still confined to the evacuation centers, the north-east coast residents deserve better treatment by their government. There is vast disconnect between the magnitude of the problems facing the third largest world economy and the political response.”
In the same article published on July 16 it states that “(Masayoshi) Son in May announced an 80 billion yen project to build 10 large-scale solar power plants, and in July enlisted the participation of 36 prefectural governors in a new council to promote alternative energy. Almost simultaneously, Prime Minister Naoto Kan made his dramatic declaration that “We should aim to be a society that does not depend on nuclear power.”
However, like Dr. Vojin Joksimovich comments it is clear that political infighting and petty point scoring remains part and parcel of Japanese politics. This reality, to an astute businessman, and the fact of so much disinformation by the mass media with regards to the nuclear issue, means that it is an opportunistic time for anyone with grand plans and who happens to have political and business muscle.
Yet, is the dismantling of the nuclear sector in the interest of Japan? Also, was the nuclear crisis because of nuclear power or because of past mistakes by political leaders in Japan, TEPCO, the designers who built the nuclear reactor and nuclear bodies in Japan?
If the current crisis in Fukushima can be completely blamed on nuclear power then Masayoshi Son will become vindicated. However, if the answer is negative, and with the past role of nuclear power helping the modernization of Japan; then Yoshito Hori will be vindicated because the dismantling of the nuclear sector in Japan will be based on falsehood and short-sighted policies which will eradicate a potent source of energy.
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich comments that “Nuclear power plays an important role in the world’s energy mix. It is clean, as the world seeks to reduce carbon emissions. It is steadier than renewables, such as solar and wind, which require a more expensive and sophisticated power grid. In addition, the solar and wind energy storage facilities still need to be developed. The nuclear power, like coal, provides inexpensive source of base power, while solar and wind are useful as supplementary energy sources. The third largest world economy cannot afford to abandon nuclear power. Japan in future could focus on building inherently safe high-temperature gas cooled reactors.”
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich also comments about the crisis in Fukushima and where the real blame belongs. In his article called Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Tsunami Induced but Man-Made Disaster many powerful comments are made. Dr. Vojin Joksimovich states that “Initially, severity of the accidents was not grasped and no adequate staff was provided to handle probably the most complex accident in the commercial history of nuclear power. TEPCO and NISA seem to have believed that such an accident scenario was not credible and thus no adequate precautions were in place. There was obviously a lack of emergency drills as several missteps took place. The response boiled down to hesitation, delays, and indecision. The coordination between TEPCO and NISA were inadequate. The Japanese law must be amended to address clearly a division of responsibility between the utility and the government agencies. The PM was mad at both of them and hired his own advisers. Some of these inadequacies were of course recognized as the public apologies were offered. The media in Japan has zoomed in on cozy regulator to utility culture, the culture of complicity or an amakudari system. An example was given that 68 former government bureaucrats assumed executive posts in utilities. In addition, the author wishes to point out a lack of safety culture as well as stifling Japanese top-down culture, which doesn’t empower lower levels to make decisions in these types of situations when timing of decision making is crucial. Management training courses including in particular responses to severe accidents, beyond the design basis should also be on the agenda. Once the damaged plants have been stabilized and brought to the safe shutdown level, an independent team of international and national experts should be assembled to provide a thorough accident assessment and propose applicable lessons learned. This should then be shared with operators of the remaining 442 power reactors operating in over 30 countries worldwide as well as 109 forthcoming. A due attention should be paid to multi-unit site in excess of, say, four units.”
In The Daily Mainichi News in the article called Softbank, 35 prefectures launch council to promote renewable energy it states that “With the backing from the 35 prefectures, Son wants to help Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) push for the enactment of a bill obliging utilities to buy power from green sources at fixed prices. In the longer term, Son also envisages building a smart grid next-generation electricity transmission and distribution system.”
“I had never thought of going into electricity business before the quake-triggered disasters,” Son said. But he said when he visited Fukushima in late March; he had the impression that local residents were not complaining because they were caught in the grips of government subsidies and jobs. Therefore, he said he came to think more strongly about the need to reduce dependence on nuclear energy.”
The same article also states that “…some people are concerned about the way Son has positioned the business. Son has sought changes to systems hampering the expansion of his business, involving politicians and public opinion in debates on such issues as the opening NTT Corp.’s fiber optic networks to third parties. “If a major company seeks special treatment on farmland regulations or start a new business with the help of local governments, it may disable fair competition with other companies,” said Toshinori Ito, a senior analyst at UBS Securities.
Therefore, it is apparent that Masayoshi Son “…had never thought of going into electricity business before the quake-triggered disasters” and this business applies to “the enactment of a bill obliging utilities to buy power from green sources at fixed prices.”
In a nutshell Masayoshi Son never really concerned himself about this business sector before and this implies that he was not overtly against nuclear energy. Also, getting involved in this new business is based on “obliging utilities to buy power from green sources at fixed prices” and issues related to “fair competition” and “seeking special treatment on farmland regulations” leads to a sour taste.
Therefore, Yoshito Hori is right to be skeptical and Dr. Vojin Joksimovich also raises serious doubt about the sincerity of PM Kan. Added to this is the fair comment made by Toshinori Ito.
It would appear that one monolith and a comfortable relationship with central and local government, to be replaced by a new comfortable relationship with central government and local government, happens to be dynamic to Masayoshi Son and others who follow the same logic.
However, is the dismantling of the nuclear sector in the interest of Japan and if so, then is the Masayoshi Son idea the right way or should more time be taken seriously in order to consider important questions related to the future of Japan?
Alternative energy can enhance the energy demands of Japan alongside a well maintained nuclear sector but the phasing out of nuclear energy appears to be over dramatic and ill-considered in such a short space of time.
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich : PhD in nuclear engineering and is a retired nuclear safety specialist. Also, an author of several highly acclaimed books and a specialist in many fields.