Post-Fukushima Japanese Nuclear Energy Policy (Hideyuki Ban, Citizens' Nuclear Information Center)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Fukushima second anniversary

Hideyuki Ban, Co-Director, Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), Tokyo.

Establishment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority
The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant led to reflection on the inadequacy of nuclear safety regulation. Both the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which was an external bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), as well as the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), which was under the Prime Minister's Office, were shut down and the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was established. Moreover, the NRA was put under the Ministry of the Environment (MoE). At long last, nuclear power regulation is an independent system separated from the promotion of nuclear power.


The NRA, which was founded in September 2012, has the authority to grant and withdraw permits and approvals related to nuclear power. Furthermore, the legislation establishing the NRA states that new scientific knowledge can be applied retrospectively to existing nuclear power stations.

As a response to the Fukushima accident, the NRA is in the process of deciding on new guidelines related to nuclear disaster prevention, new nuclear safety standards, and seismic safety standards. A decision on the new standards will be made by July 2013. Then, based on the new standards, each nuclear power plant will be investigated. After the investigations by the NRA are completed, and if approval from local governments is received, operation of the nuclear power plants can resume.

The NRA has focused on two points. One is whether or not as a counter-measure for severe accidents, a base-isolated building and a vent filter should be installed as a condition for the restart of the nuclear reactors. The power companies strongly demand that these conditions be omitted. With these conditions in place, the resumption of operation within the next three years would become impossible.

The other point is the problem of active faults. The Japanese government originally stated that there were no active faults within nuclear power plant sites. However, the evaluation regarding active faults changed in 2006. Whereas once it was sufficient to trace back 50,000 years, it was decided that the evaluation should go back 120,000 years. And now it has changed again to trace back 400,000 years in cases where a clear judgement cannot be made by tracing back 120,000 years.

At the same time, the government permitted active faults if they do not cross the important facilities of the nuclear power plant. If an active fault crosses a major facility, the NRA will not allow the nuclear power station to resume operation. At present, at several nuclear power plants (Ohi, Tsuruga, Shika, Monju Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, and Higashidori), it is being re-evaluated whether or not some major facilities cross an active fault. So far, investigations have been conducted at the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant and the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant. The experts in charge of the investigations acknowledge that there is the possibility of active faults crossing the plants. Despite strong opposition from the power companies, there is the possibility that due to the judgement on active faults several nuclear power plants will be decommissioned.

The attitude of local governments
In April 2012, TEPCO officially declared that it had permanently shut down the four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power involved in the accident. However, TEPCO still has not decided on the phase out of reactors 5 and 6 at the plant. In opposition to this, the local government and municipalities of Fukushima are demanding that all 10 nuclear power reactors in Fukushima, including the four at the Fukushima Daini plant, be decommissioned.

At the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant, in Shizuoka Prefecture, the mayor and council of the neighboring municipalities strongly oppose the resumption of operation of the reactors. The local government, Omaezaki City, welcomes a restart of operation − but since the opposition of neighbouring municipalities is continuing it is difficult for Chubu Electric Power Company to ignore these voices. Meanwhile, Murakami Tatsuya, Mayor of Tokai, declared that he will not approve the restart of the Tokai nuclear plant in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Tokai and Hamaoka both have great problems with emergency planning. The NRA decided to expand the evacuation area to 30 kms radius in the event of a serious accident. Thus Ibaraki governor, where the Tokai nuclear plant is located, has to make evacuation plans for 930,000 people, but the governor states that this is impossible. For Hamaoka an evacuation plan for 740,000 people has become necessary.

The failure of the Basic Energy Plan
The current Basic Energy Plan was worked out by the government in October 2010, half a year before the accident at Fukushima. The Plan was made obsolete by the 3/11 nuclear accident. The 2010 Plan was an outlook to 2030. It highlighted ''placing nuclear energy as a key resource and promoting the nuclear fuel cycle". The plan was to achieve Japan's international CO2 reduction commitment by promoting nuclear power as a key energy source.

This plan was due for revision in 2013, but because of the nuclear accident the revision process was started in 2011. Under the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Government, the Energy and Environment Council (EEC) was in charge of this. First, the EEC conducted a verification of the cost of nuclear power. Unlike previous calculations, the Council added costs such as accident treatment costs and research and development costs. Together, these amounted to 8.9 Yen/kWh. However, this number underestimates some costs.

In regard to the revision of the Basic Energy Plan, the EEC consulted with METI about the selection of energy alternatives and with the Japan Atomic Energy Commission about the selection of alternatives for a nuclear fuel cycle. The selected alternatives were the basis for a national debate.

Energy alternatives
The Fundamental Issues Subcommittee was established within METI and the 25 nominated members started to discuss the energy alternatives in October 2011. The author of this article was elected as a member and took part in the discussion within the Subcommittee. The question of how much electricity should be supplied by nuclear power became the centre of discussion.

After 27 meetings of the Subcommittee, three "Scenarios" were selected, based on the percentage of electricity generated by nuclear power by 2030: 0% (Zero-Scenario), 15% (15-Scenario) or 20-25% (20−25-Scenario). The percentage of renewable energy and thermal power was included in the Scenarios as well. The expectation was that economic growth will be 1% for the next 10 years and 0.8% for the following 10 years. It was assumed that electric power consumption in 2030 will be reduced by up to 10% from 2010. In the Zero-Scenario the ratio of renewable energy will rise to 35%, in the 15-Scenario to 30%, and in the 20−25-Scenario to 25−30% . The rest will be covered by thermal power generation.

National debate
The EEC, which received the report containing the three Scenarios from METI, presented the alternatives to the public and began a public comment program in June 2012. The national debate, which took place in July and August, included public comments, public hearings in 11 places throughout Japan hosted by the government, a deliberative poll, and participation of the government at meetings held by NGOs, industry groups, etc. Several mass media companies also conducted public opinion polls and these were taken into consideration as well.

The total number of public comments was 89,214. Of the comments received, 87% supported the Zero-Scenario and a total of 78% called for an immediate phase-out of nuclear power. At the public hearings, 68% of the participants supported the Zero-Scenario. Further, the result of the deliberative poll was that the more participants considered the issues the more they tended to support the Zero-Scenario. The opinion polls conducted several times by mass media companies showed that besides strong support for the Zero-Scenario, a lot of people also voted for the 15-Scenario.

As a result of the national debate, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which was the ruling party at this time, established the Energy and Environment Investigating Committee. On September 6, the DPJ officially announced its proposal, "Heading for a Nuclear Power Free Society", which became the formal policy of the DPJ. Based on this announcement, on September 14 the EEC released the Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment (New Strategy) in which it stated: "We will mobilise all policy resources, particularly for the "realisation of a green energy revolution," such a level as to even enable zero operation of nuclear power plants in the 2030's."

At a joint press conference on September 18, the three representative Japanese economic organisations − the Federation of Economic Organisations (Keidanren), the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the Japan Committee for Economic Development − strongly opposed the decision to phase out nuclear power. However, there are different corporate voices and views, such as the 400 entrepreneurs who established the Network of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs for a Sustainable Business and Energy Future in April 2012.

The confused nuclear fuel cycle
In the three Scenarios, only the Zero-Scenario called for an end to the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. In the other two Scenarios, both reprocessing and direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel are possible. However, discussion on the nuclear fuel cycle was lost in the debate on nuclear energy.

In the New Strategy concluded by the EEC, it says: "The Government will continue its present nuclear fuel cycle policy to engage in reprocessing projects, and will have discussions responsibly in communicating with related local governments including Aomori Prefecture and with the international community." In the New Strategy, decisions on the future of the Monju Fast Breeder and the start of research on direct disposal of nuclear waste were included.

Before the Fukushima accident, Japan's policy on spent nuclear fuel only focused on reprocessing and no research was conducted into direct disposal of spent fuel. However, this might have changed as a result of the discussions on nuclear fuel cycle alternatives. For example, in METI's budgetary request for 2013 the cost for research on direct disposal is included. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, in Aomori Prefecture, which is still not operating because of ongoing troubles, will be able to process the official capacity of 800 ton/year. The construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant to consume the surplus plutonium produced by reprocessing has just started. Consequently, even with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power, the trend from reprocessing to direct disposal of nuclear fuel will probably not change.

Japan Atomic Energy Commission
On October 31, 2012 the government established the Council for Revising the Atomic Energy Commission and the Council, in which the author of this article took part as a nominated member, started its investigation. At the sixth meeting on December 12, the work was summed up in a document called "Basic Point of View".

The debate showed that the AEC did not have authority. Practically, several ministries and government offices have jurisdiction over nuclear policy in Japan and the AEC just collects all the information. In the early days of nuclear power development the AEC had a leading role, but with the reorganisation of the central bureaucracy in 2001 this role fundamentally changed.

In the report it says that the function of the AEC is to guarantee the peaceful use of nuclear material. In a 2012 amendment to the Atomic Energy Basic Law, the purpose of nuclear energy was augmented to include the phrase "to contribute to national security". The DPJ government explained that this refers only to the physical protection of nuclear material, but due to the military implications of this wording the amendment was strongly criticised. There were concerns that the explanation given by the DPJ could change according to the political circumstances.

The report comments on the need for a revision of the Atomic Energy Basic Law. If we are heading for a nuclear phase out by the 2030s, it is necessary to eliminate the words "encouraging the research, development and utilisation of nuclear energy" from Article 1, which states the purpose of the law.

Change of Government
In the Lower House General Election in 2012, the DPJ suffered a crushing defeat and the LDP along with the New Komeito Party came into power. In the lead up to the election, many candidates and parties called for a nuclear phase out and nuclear power was one of the main issues. Anti-nuclear citizens' movements also set up a proposal for a basic law for a nuclear phase out. To some extent it was successful, but on the other hand, as the number of parties supporting a nuclear phase out grew, the votes were scattered between these parties.

After the election, the LDP announced that it will not follow the nuclear phase out policy. But given that the majority of the population still wants a nuclear-free society, the LDP-led government will not be able to ignore this completely.

The 10 reactors in Fukushima will be decommissioned, regardless of what TEPCO thinks. In Hamaoka and/or Tokai the opposition of surrounding local governments cannot be ignored. It will not be possible to forcibly restart the reactors just because there was a change of government. Further, there is the possibility that the outcome of the debate about active faults will lead to the decommissioning of more nuclear plants. Decommissioned plants cannot easily be replaced by new construction, as it is difficult to gain the acceptance of local governments for new plants after the Fukushima accident.

As a member of several committees, I felt that even after the Fukushima accident the influence of the so-called 'nuclear village' still exists. Therefore we who desire a nuclear phase out have to join together with different groups and people and continue to demand that those responsible for the accident be held accountable, and to make sure that the memories of the Fukushima accident do not fade away.

Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), Tokyo. Email cnic[@]