Thursday, August 13, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #5: Nuclear Reactions

Japan is at an interesting crossroads at present, with regards to nuclear power.

Prior to 2011 Japan had 54 nuclear reactors providing approximately 1/3 of all the electricity to Japan. After the March 11th earthquake and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant all of those reactors were shut down. The shutdown of these plants became a means for the power companies in Japan to obtain hardship subsidies from the government but also increase rates. There have been regular rumors of power outages and conservation, with the power companies all threatening that without nuclear power they cannot meet the needs of the country.

The nuclear power issue has constantly popped up again and again as Japan, a nation which is strongly antinuclear in a sort of populist way, has a corporate that is eager to make money off of its nuclear power infrastructure. There have been pushes to restart these generators not just to begun feeding energy into the country again, but also as a necessary part of selling the technology to other nations such as India, Vietnam and Turkey. Part of the reason for this, is that although Japan has developed this nuclear technology, its current system is fairly old. 3 of its nuclear reactors are over 40 years old and 13 more are over 30 years old.

The antinuclear sentiment in many ways is something focused in older generations who remember the atomic bombings of World War II or who remember the antiwar and antinuclear protests of the postwar years. For younger generations that ideology was something beyond their immediate cognitive map. The Fukushima meltdown helped create new critical possibilities with new generations, by reminding them about the inherent and terrifying dangers of nuclear power.

For people that grow up near or around nuclear power plants the most significant problem that people consider is when the plant fails, and as we saw in Fukushima, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, terrible environmental damage takes place and turns hundreds of thousands into nuclear refugees. But this notion of nuclear power being a problem only if it breaks down misses the fact that nuclear power itself is a huge resource drain and incredibly wasteful. According to the website Ecowatch, "nuclear power is actually not an “alternative energy” source—it’s an incredibly fossil fuel intensive process."
We can start with how much cement is required to contain and protect the reactors and other sensitive parts of the plants. Cement and concrete are hugely greenhouse gas intensive to produce—and the only way we know how to protect our power plants is to use more concrete.
Beyond that—the size of the projects require tons of truckloads of materials being hauled in and away—adding to the toll of carbon costs. Even if we just look at the material inputs used in nuclear power—it is carbon intensive to mine uranium—it is carbon intensive to enrich the uranium—and we still don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste.
This past week there have been protests in Japan as the Kyushu Electric Power Company has restarted the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan. Although the Japanese government and the electric company are both arguing the plant is safe and everything is ok as the reactors have been improved to meet increased safety standards, the problems of Fukushima persist. More than 200,000 people live within a 30 kilometer radius from the newly restarted plant. The frequent earthquakes that Japan suffers make any nuclear facility an unimaginable bomb just waiting to explode. To make things even more frightening, the Sendai power plant is just 50 kilometers away from Sakurajima, one of many active volcanoes in the area.

According to Mamoru Sekiguchi, a member of Greenpeace Japan:
"The lengths to which safety issues have been ignored in the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s review process for the Sendai plant restart shows just how desperate the nuclear industry and their government allies are..."
“Rather than a nuclear renaissance, much of Japan’s ageing nuclear reactor fleet will never restart. Prime minister Abe and the nuclear regulator are risking Japan’s safety for an energy source that will likely fail to provide the electricity the nation will need in the years ahead.”

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