Japan nuke safety expert sees no viable alternative to nuclear power
Singapore (Platts)--8Mar2012/427 am EST/927 GMT
A year after Fukushima, a majority of the people in Japan have turned
against the continued use of nuclear energy and there are no strongly
pro-nuclear political voices, but zero nuclear power generation is not an
option, a Japanese nuclear expert said Thursday.
Renewables such as wind and solar energy are far costlier than nuclear
power, and the resource-starved country cannot increase its reliance on
fossil fuels, Shojiro Matsuura, chairman of Japan's Nuclear Safety Research
Association, said in Singapore.
"Japanese people should choose some fraction of nuclear energy for
the future," he added, but stayed away from being more specific.
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission is currently deliberating a new
policy for future utilization of nuclear energy and is expected to come up
with a strategy by June or July, Matsuura said.
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Nuclear energy accounted for around 20% of the country's installed power
generation before the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011,
knocked out some facilities and forced the pre-emptive shutdown of others.
The government had planned to increase the share of nuclear power to 50%
before the March 11 events triggered a meltdown and radiation leak from the
Fukushima Daiichi plant on the east coast and brought safety concerns to the
Asked if Japan could live without nuclear energy, Matsuura said the only
way it could do so would be to cut back on its industrial activities and
reduce its population.
Nuclear power cost about Yen 6/kWh (7.42 cents/kWh ) before the
Fukushima disaster, and that figure has now doubled, after factoring in the
costs of the accident. But that is still lower than the estimated Yen 14/kWh
cost of wind energy and Yen 40/kWh for solar energy, Matsuura pointed out.
Given the cost constraints, Japan has started looking at
high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors that use helium and are
considered safer than light water reactors, the kind the country currently
has, and has begun testing the technology at a small, 30 MW plant.
Technological advances are increasing the energy efficiency and
decreasing the cost of the gas-cooled reactors, Matsuura said.
Public opinion remains a major hurdle. Recent media polls showed 60% of
Japanese were opposed to nuclear power generation, while 30% favored it and
the rest were neutral, Matsuura said. The business community in general
supports nuclear energy.
Local media is split down the middle, with a couple of major newspapers
taking a stand against nuclear power, a few being in favor, and a prominent
economic and industrial newspaper being "somewhere in the middle," Matsuura
While there was a growing "irrational nuclear phobia" in Japan -- young
mothers, for instance, want "no chance of any possibility to have such a
radioactive accident" -- the opinions and concerns of the anti-nuclear lobby
were valid, he said.
Experts from the US who investigated the Fukushima incident had
pinpointed "insufficiencies and inconsistencies in Japanese methods and
systems of regulation and m
anagement," Matsuura said, adding that he mostly
accepted the comment.
It was not easy to change Japanese management styles, but a gradual
improvement had begun, he said. All factors considered, it would take some 40
years to completely "rehabilitate" Japan's nuclear power sector, he added.
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