Friday, September 21, 2012

Japan's Decision on Nuclear Power:

A Good Sign?

Somewhat to the surprise of many, the Japanese government recently announced its decision on the future of nuclear power in Japan, and it wasn't the total phaseout by the 2030s that had previously been proposed.

Some view the turnaround as a capitulation to Japanese industry, which had been against the phaseout.  Others see the decision as still vague, leaving a climate of ongoing uncertainty.

Alternatively, the decision might be viewed as an example of what the late President John F. Kennedy dubbed "profiles in courage"--doing the politically unpopular thing out of a conviction that it is the right thing to do.

Others would say just the opposite.  Since the announcement was accompanied by ambiguous wording that the government would still take the phaseout goal "into consideration" in further deciding the energy future of the country, what might initially appear to be an act of political courage could actually be an attempt to straddle the fence and attempt to appease both sides.

We cannot know what the inner thinking is of the decision-makers, so it is hard to make a convincing argument about what motivated the Japanese government to make this decision, but they certainly were aware that a decision to shutter all nuclear power plants in the country was fraught with danger for Japan.

After all, many observers, both inside and outside Japan, predicted a rather dire future for a Japan without nuclear power.  Predictions are not facts, of course, but reasonable analyses of the cost and feasibility of replacement power, and the consequences of severe power shortages, present a compelling argument for, at a minimum, allowing a longer period for the possible operation of nuclear power plants and incorporating more flexibility in making decisions about Japan's energy future.

Thus, while some characterize the actions of the Japanese Cabinet as caving in to industry, it is encouraging that the Japanese Cabinet appeared to recognize all voices and perspectives in arriving at its decision, and at least for now, has balanced the emotional response of members of the public with the reasoned analyses of experts.

This is not to say that we can, at this point, predict how the rest of this saga will play out.  As has been pointed out many times, the tenures of recent Prime Ministers have been remarkably short.  Even absent that, there is a long road ahead for Japan.  The new Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs to establish new rules and needs to review each of the currently shut down plants before authorizing restarts.  The strong public sentiment will continue to be an issue.  All these signs point to continued uncertainty.

Nevertheless, the Japanese have at the very least put off making a decision that might have sent their economy into a strong downward spiral.  



  1. A great political speech is one where both sides of an argument think the speaker agrees with them.

    A failed political speech is one where boh sides of an argument think the speaker is not on their side. This can be a hairs-breadth from the great speech.

    Meanwhile the foolishness of the prolonged NPP shutdowns, originally supposed to be for a quick check and review during maintenance (remember, stage 1) and BEFORE full long-term safety upgrades, is completely wrecking Japan's economy for NO BENEFIT.

    1. I'm not sure there's no benefit, it just doesn't accrue to the Japanese.  Here we have the example of Japan looking to shut down its NPPs for an extended period (due to pressure from a public steeped in hysterical rhetoric about dangers with little or no basis in fact), Germany doing the same, while S. Korea and China and India and even Abu Dhabi are nuclearizing at what amounts to breakneck speed.  The relative results will become apparent in a few years.  Britain appears to be regretting its previous "free market" approach to electric generation, where the definition of "free" forced sources toward those with least capital cost rather than least total cost or security of supply.

      What happens if e.g. someone translates this slide to Japanese and it goes viral?  How would the Japanese react if they realized that they had been, essentially, terrorized over imaginary threats while real ones were not merely ignored but exacerbated?  Maybe some pro-nuclear folks in Japan can get to work on that little social experiment.