November 15, 2013

For several weeks, former Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi has proclaimed the antinuclear gospel across Japan. On Tuesday, another former PM, Morihiro Hosokawa, threw his hat into the same tumultuous ring. Both say that because more than half of the public favors the no-nukes policy, current PM Shinzo Abe should immediately turn away from atomic energy and plunge Japan into a full-speed-ahead development of renewables. The naivety of Koizumi and Hosokawa is monumental and disturbing. They are clearly chasing Unicorns.

Koizumi’s latest attack on Abe and the atom came at Wednesday’s National Press Club in Tokyo. He said his term as PM taught him to not turn away from public opinion. He feels continuing the move to restart idled nukes will eventually cost Abe his job, but the immediate adoption of a zero-nuclear policy can only benefit the incumbent. Koizumi said, “If the prime minister makes the decision, the opponents of a zero nuclear policy will shut up. A prime minister has the power to turn a difficult situation into a chance. It will be a waste if such an environment is not taken advantage of. I want Prime Minister Abe to use his huge power for a big project on which the public can cooperate.” In previous articles, Koizumi has said nukes should not be restarted until the nuclear waste issue is resolved, but immediately added that the issue is not solvable because the public refuses to allow repositories to be built near them. He said, “I think it is too optimistic and irresponsible to assume we can find a final radioactive waste storage site in Japan.”

In contrast to Koizumi’s attack, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba says, “There is no discrepancy between Koizumi’s remarks and our party’s policy. There is no change in the direction toward reducing our reliance on nuclear power.” However, the Press seems to be doing its best to promote Koizumi’s position. One Japan paper even included that “Koizumi’s remarks touch a sore spot with the government and are shaking it to its foundations.” The Press also wants to use Koizumi to try and “reinvigorate the anti-nuclear movement”.

Meanwhile, former PM Hosokawa also wants none of the currently idled nukes restarted. In a Tokyo newspaper interview on Tuesday, he said that nuclear waste issues should keep all nukes shut down, “I can’t understand why they want restarts of the nuclear plants when there is no place to discard the nuclear waste. It would be a crime against future generations for our generation to restart nuclear plants without resolving this issue.” Like Koizumi, Hosokawa now preaches the antinuclear gospel of needing to isolate spent fuel for 100,000 years, something he sees as impossible to preform safely.

In both cases, the former PMs both say energy efficiency and massive construction of renewables can more than offset the loss of nuclear energy. Two points to be made here. First, either neither are aware or otherwise neglect to mention that Japan has reduced its energy consumption mightily since 3/11/11. In fact, many industries have left Japan due to the cutbacks and continual energy shortage. In addition, the restarting of gas-fired generators, most brought directly out of mothballs, has destroyed Japan’s balance of trade due to huge increases in LNG imports. I guess both former PMs haven’t really considered the state of the economy, or else they are turning their backs on it. Either way, they are both “out to lunch”.

Second, it seems neither has clue about renewables. Hey, I’m as big a renewable supporter as there is, and have been for more than 3 decades. But, for renewables to replace Japan’s nukes a land area of about 900 square kilometers would have to be sacrificed to solar and wind farms, using state-of-the-art technology. The nation’s newest 70 Megawatt solar unit covers 1.27 km2 (Kagoshima). Japan is a largely mountainous country the size of California containing 127 million residents. There’s literally no place to build renewable facilities large enough to replace their nukes.

Plus, renewables are inherently intermittent. Solar is available but half the day, and only reaches peak power output for a few hours at mid-day when the sun’s ray are most direct. Further, Japan averages about 200 sunny days per year. Thus, solar units in Japan can only provide about 30% of their maximum output over the course of a full year (30% capacity factor). Wind is even less reliable. When the wind is below 8 miles per hour, there’s not enough energy to produce electricity. Peak output (which is always posted by the Press) occurs with wind speeds in excess of 20 mph. As a result, wind has a 27% capacity factor.

Thus, Japan would need roughly 3,000 km2 of solar and wind farms to replace their idled nukes, which is roughly the land area of the state of Rhode Island. In addition, a massive amount of electrical storage must be found in order to compensate for when the sun isn’t shining and/or when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough. No storage technology currently exists on such an enormous scale.

Koizumi and Hosokawa have thrown themselves into the same political arena as another former PM, Naoto Kan. Maybe they forget that Kan was summarily voted out of office earlier this year whist preaching the anti-nuclear gospel. Have they lost their minds or are they posturing to become, like Kan, darlings of the international anti-nuclear demographic? One thing is for sure… chasing Unicorns is not going to work, no matter how much Press they get in Japan.