The end of an era, or, the onset of Japan’s economic and energy collapse

On Saturday May 5, Tomari unit #3 will be shuttered for routine maintenance and inspection. When it is disconnected from the nation’s electric transmission system, there will no longer be any operating nukes in Japan. It will mark the first time in 42 years that fission power will not be contributing to Japan’s energy infrastructure. (News on Japan) It will also mark the low-point of former Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear energy which began soon after the tsunami/quake catastrophe of March 11, 2012. The complete cessation of nuclear-based electric generation has received mixed reactions from all over the country. Slightly more than half the people polled by two of Japan’s largest newspapers, the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbuns, do not want nuclear plants restarted until the new nuclear safety commission is in place and stronger regulations are enforced. The majority also wants to make Japan “nuclear free” as soon as possible. On the other hand, residents of the communities hosting the nukes want the currently-ready nukes restarted to avoid an energy short-fall this coming summer, as well as re-establish the local economic benefits of nuclear operation. The divergent debate is amplifying as time passes. With all nukes shuttered and the restart of perfectly safe, completely functional nukes like Oi units #3 & 4 hanging on a political trend that Tokyo seems too timid to quash, the angst-ridden majority will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Because clean, non-polluting nukes have been replaced by old, unreliable and pollution-spewing fossil fueled plants, they will also be breathing particulates and gasses that have been confirmed to shorten lives, induce cancer, and choke the systems of the most sensitive of the population. The proven, un-questioned negative health effects of burning fossil fuels should be seriously juxtaposed by the essentially assumed health effects of nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi’s three meltdowns.

But, such rational understanding is uncommon in Japan, at this point in time. Misconceptions about nuclear energy and radiation exposure are considered reality by most Japanese due to more than a 30-year dearth of public information and a complete lack of both subjects in the nation’s education system. Radiophobia has gripped the nation to such a degree that recovery from last year’s real disaster, the tsunami of March 11, has been moving at a virtual snail’s pace out of fear that the moldering debris might be radioactive. To make matters worse, the government has been more concerned about soothing fears than doing the right thing and restarting the nukes so badly needed. In fact, the situation may well become the world’s most significant example of political fear pacification resulting in national economic and energy collapse.

Undaunted, several aggressive governmental opportunists like Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui have exploited the national restart debate to the maximum to bolster their higher political ambitions. Both also want the emergency planning zones around nukes expanded more than 300% in order to include their fiefdoms, as well as bring extra money into their governments. Their arguments are predicated on the exploitation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). They understand that national ignorance of nuclear power plants and the biological effects of extremely low level radiation exposure have generated fear that infects the core of Japan’s population. They understand that it is very, very rare for nuclear experts and academics to say anything is impossible (even if it is), which allows them to evoke uncertainty sufficient to keep Japan’s nuclear-paranoic majority in a constant state of anxiety. They understand that the government’s arbitrary behaviors and less-than-transparent information sharing in March, 2011, have placed a severe state of doubt in the minds of more than 75% of the voting public. Exploitation of nuclear FUD is being tested by these opportunists, and if they are successful we might see a tsunamic wave of similar political actions sweep the island nation.

As long as the exploitation of FUD supersedes doing what is rational and realistic, Japan’s economy and energy infrastructure will continue to circle the drain.

Now, here’s the weekend updates…

  • Here is some new data on the above-limits Cesium found in food during April. Out of 13,867 food samples, 337 (2.4%) exceeded the 100 Becquerel/kg standard. By prefecture…Fukushima – 142, Tochigi – 69, Ibaraki – 41, Iwate – 35, Miyagi – 32, Chiba – 13, Yamagata and Gunma have 2 each, and one in Kanagawa. Mushrooms and other agricultural products in excess of the tougher limit were involved in 178 cases, while 156 concerned fish products. (Japan Times)
  • The Egyptian government plans to lift food restrictions on Japanese products at the end of May. It is anticipated the Japanese fish business will receive the most benefit because Egypt has historically been the largest importer of Japan’s mackerel. Japan exported about $38 million worth of mackerel to Egypt in 2010. Fish from 36 prefectures will be accepted if they have private-sector certificates showing they do not have harmful Cesium levels. In addition, all foods from the 36 prefectures will be able to be exported without any such certificates, while exports of foods from the other 11 prefectures would be accepted if additional conditions are met. Egypt has banned all imports of Japanese foods since the Fukushima accident because of radiation fears. (Japan Times)
  • Over the past five years, nuclear-operating companies have provided more than $375 million to local governments through donations, above and beyond required pay-outs like taxes. Such donations are not required to be made public, so this marks the first time that this practice has been revealed. The donations were given to 60 prefectural governments, prefectural capitals and municipalities that host nuclear power plants or are located near-by. The donations have been used to fund projects like the building and maintaining of Yume no Mori park in Niigata prefecture and a railway spur in Fukui prefecture linking Tsuruga with Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. Without these donations, such projects might not have occurred. (Japan Times)
  • A seismic fault has been discovered 9 kilometers from the Shiga nuclear power station. If it goes active, it could possibly cause an earthquake greater than the nuclear design criteria for the region. Although the fault has not caused an earthquake in more than 120,000 years, the Tokyo government advises The Horuriku Electric Company to review the Shiga station to see if it would survive this rare-but-not-impossible event. (Kyodo News) Comment – Historically, nuclear plants are built to greatly exceed the regional earthquake design criteria.
  • Recruitment for the Fukushima police force has taken a new, Fukushima-related turn. Their recruitment poster shows a policeman in anti-contamination clothing, standing in a tsunami-swept location with Fukushima unit #1 in the background. The attached text says, “There is work here only I can do.” The tactic has attracted some media interest because of its relative darkness. A police spokesperson confirmed they are seeking people with the “mettle” to handle working in the region around Fukushima Daiichi. In other words, the prefecture doesn’t want just anyone. They want officers who won’t shy away, but also won’t take the situation casually. (Japan Today)