Business lobby turning against nuclear, in favor of renewables
The Japan Association of Corporate Executives (JACE), with a membership of about 1,400 executives from around 950 companies, has issued a statement urging Tokyo to remove hurdles holding back the expansion of renewable power.1
JACE vice chair Teruo Asada said: "We have a sense of crisis that Japan will become a laughing stock if we do not encourage renewable power."
Japan has promoted renewables but most investment has been in solar and in recent years incentives have been cut. "There are too many hurdles for other sources of renewable power," Asada said.1
Renewables supplied 14.3% percent of power in Japan in the year to March 2016.1
The statement released by JACE ‒ titled 'Towards the World's Leading Zero-Emissions Society: Measures for an Increased Deployment of Renewable Energy' ‒ says: "Japan should be removing hurdles to renewables development beyond solar, by cutting environmental assessment periods, reducing land restrictions and clarifying the roles of stakeholders in development zones as well as invest in transmission lines. Municipal and central governments should streamline lengthy approval processes, which have led to delays in introducing renewables. Government should create a one-stop advisory body to deal with these issues and expand subsidies or financing through government lenders and other measures beyond the current feed-in-tariff program."2
The JACE statement calls for Japan to aim for "much more" than the current target of a 42-46% contribution from low-carbon power sources (20‒22% nuclear and 22‒24% renewables) by 2030. The statement notes that the outlook for nuclear is "uncertain" and that the 20‒22% target could not be met without an improbably high number of restarts of idled reactors along with numerous reactor lifespan extensions beyond 40 years.2
"In the very long term, we have to lower our dependence on nuclear. Based on current progress, nuclear power reliance may not reach even 10%," Asada said.1
Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, said the push signaled "a profound change in thinking among blue-chip business executives." DeWit added: "Many business leaders have clearly thrown in the towel on nuclear and are instead openly lobbying for Japan to vault to global leadership in renewables, efficiency and smart infrastructure."1
United Nations University report on the aftermath of Fukushima
The United Nations University (UNU) has released a detailed report on the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.3 The report is a product of the three-year Fukushima Global Communication Programme, funded by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority. The report summarizes research in three areas: disaster risk reduction, displacement and livelihoods, and risk communication and nuclear accidents.
On-site decontamination work at the Fukushima nuclear plant will continue for decades, and off-site clean-up work is a long way from being finished. Around 100,000 people remain displaced because of the nuclear disaster. And a bad situation is about to become worse due to government policies ‒ in particular, housing and employment policies.
The winding back of housing subsidies is putting many people in an impossible situation: returning to contaminated areas with limited services and employment opportunities, or abandoning any hope of returning to their homes and doing their best to survive elsewhere despite the looming termination of compensation payments including housing subsidies.
The UNU report states: "Five years have passed since the disaster, and the evacuees are finding themselves in increasingly diverse and rapidly changing situations. Given the persistent uncertainty and instability that characterised these years, many ended up resorting to living arrangements that fall somewhere between return, local integration and resettlement. In the context of policy reorientation that is taking place as the government is trying to shift gears from the immediate response to longer-term recovery, many are now facing the need to reconsider the viability of such makeshift arrangements. This also means that the challenge of livelihood recovery involves not only restoring or formulating an alternative strategy for making a living, but also navigating and integrating into a new environment. Such a challenge is also faced by those who opt to return to their community of origin, where the environment has inevitably changed in the years following the disaster."
The report states that "discussions with both mandatory and voluntary evacuees revealed that many feel trapped in uncertainty: being unable to plan their future in a context where communities have become dispersed and divided, livelihoods have been disrupted, and the prospects for regaining normality continue to dwindle. ... The affected people are not only facing challenges related to radiation, but also unemployment with declining occupational options; adjusting to an unfamiliar environment; disruption of family ties, social networks and community life; and uncertainty about the future."
The employment situation facing evacuees is bleak, all the more so due to the termination of job creation schemes. The report states:
"The 3.11 disasters have had a tremendous impact on livelihoods. The disasters negatively impacted 25.9% of jobs in Fukushima prefecture alone. In a survey conducted in February 2016, 25% of respondents from Fukushima stated that they had lost their jobs, while 67% reported a decrease or loss of income in the years following the disaster.
"The nuclear accident has devastated the reputation of agricultural and fisheries products from the entire prefecture of Fukushima, and prices and sales are yet to recover. The number of tourists visiting the prefecture has also dropped, leading to significant losses in the tourism industry and related service industries. Many businesses and public enterprises were forced to close, and only a few reopened, either in other locations or in their original locations following adjustments to the evacuation zones.
"Most of the emergency job creation schemes were initially planned for 3 years, and then extended several times in recognition of the long-lasting effect of the disaster on the labour market, but most of these schemes were terminated in April 2016."
The report argues that "evacuee situations, and especially their self-reliance capacity, have to be systematically assessed before terminating existing relief measures to avoid further socio-economic marginalisation."
The latest newsletter from the Citizens Nuclear Information Center details the housing situation facing Fukushima evacuees.4 Well over five years after the Fukushima disaster, some 100,000 people are still living as evacuees. In June 2015, the Japanese government announced plans to lift evacuation orders for the 'restricted residence areas' (23,000 people) and the 'zone under preparation for lifting the evacuation order' (31,800 people), by March 2017 at the latest. Authorities also plan to uniformly terminate compensation for psychological suffering to residents in these regions by March 2018.
However, these decisions have completely disregarded the will of evacuees. According to a survey conducted by the Reconstruction Agency, most residents in the evacuated regions have no intention to return or they have not yet decided whether to return or not. Younger people are the least likely to return. Reasons include concerns about the safety of the Fukushima nuclear plant and anxiety about radiation, concerns about the provision of health care, the living environment, and the decaying of homes.
Many evacuees are renting accommodation provided under the Disaster Relief Act. Under this system, local municipalities hosting evacuees provide government-funded housing through leasing blocks of private apartments. The majority of these funds (90% in this case) are provided by the central government, and the municipalities that the evacuee originally came from (in this case, Fukushima Prefecture) provide the remainder. Yet, Fukushima Prefecture announced plans to stop providing support for evacuees from outside the designated evacuation areas in March 2017.
According to a Fukushima Prefecture survey, 59.2% of all evacuees currently use this publicly leased housing. The attitude of prefectural authorities in terminating subsidies has been the focus of much criticism. Many evacuees and citizen groups organized petitions and submitted these demands to Fukushima Prefecture and the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for the leased housing program. However, neither Fukushima Prefecture nor the central government reversed its decision to terminate support.
In a small gesture, in August 2015 Fukushima Prefecture announced "support measures" for the voluntary evacuees after the free housing program is terminated in March 2017. For low income households, the prefecture will rank financial need and reduce housing assistance gradually, eventually terminating aid in 2019.
Controversy over reuse of contaminated waste
The Japanese government is pursuing controversial plans to recycle contaminated soil collected during off-site clean-up operations in Fukushima Prefecture.5 Soil and other wastes resulting from decontamination in the prefecture are estimated to amount to 22 million cubic meters (as of January 2015). The Japanese government plans to build an interim storage facility straddling the towns of Okuma and Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, with the waste to be relocated out of the prefecture to a final disposal site before May 2045. But establishing an interim storage facility is proving to be slow and complicated.
Thus the government wants to 'recycle' soil whose total cesium-134 and cesium-137 concentration is 8,000 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) or less. Proposals include use of soil for road construction, ground elevation, coastal windbreaks, seawalls, earth dikes, and land development.
The recycling proposal has sparked criticism as it runs counter to the safety standards of 100 Bq/kg or less for recycling metals generated from the decommissioning of nuclear reactors under the Act on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors.
The government says that if the recycled soil is covered and shielded, radioactivity will be controlled and cause no harm. However as Ryohei Kataoka from the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center points out, all sorts of things could go wrong. After the recent serious earthquake in Kumamoto and Oita in southwest Japan, roads collapsed and cracked at many locations. Coastal windbreaks and seawalls may be destroyed if a tsunami occurs, causing the soil to spread into inland areas and the sea.
The recycling of rubble generated by the March 2011 triple-disaster has already proved problematic. 230,000 tons of rubble of 3,000 Bq/kg or lower, gathered from the Fukushima Prefecture evacuation zones, has been used in a construction project along the seashores of the evacuation zone, to elevate the ground to create coastal windbreaks. But the government does not know how and where private construction companies have used the material, and it made no effort to ensure compliance with a requirement for a shield of at least 30 cm in thickness.
The Mainichi newspaper reported on 3 August 2016 that weakening standards for soil disposal vs. recycling ‒ from 100 Bq/kg to 8,000 Bq/kg ‒ could save over 1.5 trillion yen (US$14.7 billion; €13.3 billion). The estimated cost of 2.9 trillion yen could be reduced to 1.35 trillion yen.6
1. Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick, 22 July 2016, 'Japan business lobby says Abe government can't rely on nuclear energy', www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-energy-idUSKCN1020XH
2. Reuters, 22 July 2016, 'Factbox: Japan corporate lobby's proposals for energy policy', www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-energy-factbox-idUSKCN1020XK
3. Ana Mosneaga, Akiko Sato and Nicholas Turner, United Nations University, Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, 2016, 'Fukushima Global Communication Programme: Final Report', http://ias.unu.edu/en/news/news/research-findings-of-fukushima-project-p...
4. Kanna Mitsuta / FoE Japan, 2 Aug 2016, 'Fukushima Evacuees abandoned by the government', www.cnic.jp/english/?p=3486
5. Ryohei Kataoka / CNIC, 2 Aug 2016, 'Recycling 8,000-Bq/kg decontamination-generated soil wastes should not be permitted', www.cnic.jp/english/?p=3478
6. The Mainichi, 3 Aug 2016, 'Reuse of radioactive soil could cut costs by 1.5 trillion yen: ministry estimate', http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160803/p2a/00m/0na/014000c