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Will Japan's New Government Restart the Nuclear Power Program? 177

An anonymous reader writes in with a story about speculation that Japan might restart its nuclear power program. "Japan's newly-elected Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a strong supporter of atomic energy use in the past, should restart plants shut after the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, said the CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd . The LDP, headed by Japan's next prime minister Shinzo Abe, won a landslide victory on Sunday, fueling speculation that the new coalition government would take a softer stance on nuclear power. Public opinion remains divided on the role of atomic energy after natural disasters last year triggered a radiation crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant."
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Will Japan's New Government Restart the Nuclear Power Program?

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  • Hopefully (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:15PM (#42316379)

    There are roughly 850 nuclear reactors in the world and so far only 3 have melted down. I don't see any reason for an overreaction because one plant turns to shit. It's a decent and clean way to power a nation in terms of pollutants and in terms of climate change (CO2).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:18PM (#42316401)

    Nuclear power doesn't have to be inherently unsafe - it's simply a question of improving the engineering until the requisite safety threshold is met. Even solar panels are capable of killing lots of bugs and birds, which are fooled by their shine into thinking they're landing on "water". Even wind turbines also kill birds. No technology is absolutely perfect, but nuclear power has more scope to improve through better engineering. The Fukushima plant was old, and wasn't built to modern standards. Others should not be deterred from moving towards nuclear power in the future, just because of the failures of older-generation technology, and we should keep trying to improve the engineering. Nuclear power will help us move out into space.

  • Anywhere else (Score:2, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:29PM (#42316489)

    If this were almost anywhere else in the world, it would be an unconditional "Yes." Germany and a few other countries have been lucky enough to have access to enough alternative energy sources (believe it or not, wind, unlike air, isn't plentiful everywhere) to be close to, if not having already completed, going nuclear free. But Japan is small and it's population density very high. There just isn't enough land for solar or wind. That leaves only two alternatives for base load plants: Coal and nuclear. Coal is not a resource Japan has natively. It would have to depend on imports. Uranium however, can be sucked out of ocean water, albeit not very practical especially in light of their relationship with the US and other countries with stockpiles of uranium.

    The only reason I think Japan might not return to nuclear power is because it's the only country to have been hit with nuclear weapons. It has left scars on the public's psyche that no other country really has to contend with. But yeah, any other country with such a high population density and limited land mass I don't see switching off their nuclear power plants no matter how unpopular they are. Those coal plants pump out way more radiation and smoke and other nastiness, and finding a place to locate it in such a densely populated region becomes very problematic.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kav2k ( 1545689 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:35PM (#42316521)

    Except when they DO melt down, it can be catastrophic in terms of consequences.

    Both Chernobyl and Fukushima resulted in an uninhabitable zone that will take decades to clean up, if that is at all possible, and long-lasting effects on the ecosystem.

    Japan has no territory to spare for exclusion zones.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:40PM (#42316569)

    Exactly. Not to mention this is one of Japan's only real options. They have one of the highest domestic consumptions of energy per capita in the world, and have no real domestic resources. Their options are nuclear power, with Uranium imported from Australia, or coal imported from either China or the US, or natural gas imported from the Middle East. Their oil is mostly imported from the Middle East (about 90%). As the world's third biggest economy and with a huge electricity and energy demand, between those options nuclear energy with Australian imports is the safest economically and politically.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:45PM (#42316619)

    Example: new 1600 MW power plant in France: latest estimated build cost: Euros (form original 3.3B). It should have been up and running by now, but they are nowhere near that, 2016 is an optimistic estimate.
    Due to the huge investment cost and long build times, there is substantial interest cost. Add to that the hight maintenance, and operational cost, and 10% downtime, and you are looking at more than 16 Bilion Euros total cost over any reasonable timeline. Euros / (1600.000 kW * 24 hour * 356.25 days * 4 cents) = 28.5 years (excluding build time!)
    So form the construction start, it takes about 40 years to break even. If cheap solar makes wholesale electricity prices drop an extra cent over the next decade, a nuclear power station may never break even at all. Even if you don't mind living next to one, would you invest in it?

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2012 @03:53PM (#42316683)
    Yes, Coal's constant spewing of fly ash, carbon dioxide, and various other assorted chemicals like mercury and thorium, into the atmosphere in which we breath is a much better alternative than having a relatively small exclusion zone from a disaster every forty years (Chernobyl was the only other one to require such an effort).

    And the newer reactors at Fukushima Daichi, the ones built with a few added safety features... not a single one of those failed. Just the old, poorly designed reactors 1, 2, and 3. 4, 5, and 6 shut down just fine. But that's a reason to condemn the newer, safer designs too. Because nobody learns anything from past failures.

    And let's totally ignore that not a single person died from the meltdown. Nevermind the ever increasing death toll from the pollution coal plants cause. We should totally shut down all nuclear plants.

    (For the sarcasm impaired, the previous was entirely sarcasm.)
  • Re:Hopefully (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:03PM (#42316805)

    Comparing Fukishima to Chernobyl is ridiculous. Chernobyl basically had no safety systems, was operated in the worst way possible, and the disaster and following cleanup were done in such a way that it would be hard to conceive of a worse outcome. The amount of radiation released in the 1st second of Chernobyls overload that lead to the eventual meltdown (and killed everyone operating it at the time) released more radiation by several orders of magnitude than the entire failure at Fukishima.

    And Modern reactors CAN NOT melt down. It's physically impossible. But we're not building those due to the lobbying efforts of environmental groups. What should be done is a thorough review of existing reactor designs, and the government should fund upgrades or replacements of these older, more dangerous reactors. We then need to move on to more stable, efficient and reliable reactors.

    Our next step is space based solar arrays. But those are at least 50 years off. So we need nuclear for now.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:04PM (#42316819)

    Exactly. Not to mention this is one of Japan's only real options. They have one of the highest domestic consumptions of energy per capita in the world, and have no real domestic resources. Their options are nuclear power, with Uranium imported from Australia, or coal imported from either China or the US, or natural gas imported from the Middle East. Their oil is mostly imported from the Middle East (about 90%). As the world's third biggest economy and with a huge electricity and energy demand, between those options nuclear energy with Australian imports is the safest economically and politically.

    At the end of the day this is exactly why Japan will be forced back to Nuclear power.

    They simply don't have the land mass for solar solar generation, and until every roof can be economically covered with solar panels its not going to fly.
    Wind power totaling over 2300 MW is currently installed, out of the national total of 282 GW of total installed electricity generating capacity.

    Still, Japan produces most of its power from Thermal/Fossil plants [].
    Since virtually every bit of this is imported, it represents a huge drain on the economy.

    I doubt Japan can afford to do anything but return to nuclear power, perhaps after significant re-engineering.

  • Re:huh? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:14PM (#42316961)

    This is all I could think about after reading your explanation:

    ARTHUR: Old woman!

    DENNIS: Man!

    ARTHUR: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?

    DENNIS: I'm thirty seven.

    ARTHUR: What?

    DENNIS: I'm thirty seven -- I'm not old!

    ARTHUR: Well, I can't just call you `Man'.

    DENNIS: Well, you could say `Dennis'.

    ARTHUR: Well, I didn't know you were called `Dennis.'

    DENNIS: Well, you didn't bother to find out, did you?

    ARTHUR: I did say sorry about the `old woman,' but from the behind you looked--

    DENNIS: What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior!

    ARTHUR: Well, I AM king...

    DENNIS: Oh king, eh, very nice. An' how'd you get that, eh? By exploitin' the workers -- by 'angin' on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic an' social differences in our society! ....If there's ever going to be any progress--

    WOMAN: Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here. Oh -- how d'you do?

    ARTHUR: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?

    WOMAN: King of the who?

    ARTHUR: The Britons.

    WOMAN: Who are the Britons?

    ARTHUR: Well, we all are. we're all Britons and I am your king.

    WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

    DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. ..... A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--

    WOMAN: Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.

    DENNIS: That's what it's all about if only people would--

    ARTHUR: Please, please good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

    WOMAN: No one lives there.

    ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?

    WOMAN: We don't have a lord.

    ARTHUR: What?

    DENNIS: I told you. We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

    ARTHUR: Yes.

    DENNIS: But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.

    ARTHUR: Yes, I see.

    DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,--

    ARTHUR: Be quiet!

    DENNIS: --but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more--

    ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

    WOMAN: Order, eh -- who does he think he is?

    ARTHUR: I am your king!

    WOMAN: Well, I didn't vote for you.

    ARTHUR: You don't vote for kings.

    WOMAN: Well, 'ow did you become king then?

    ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake, [angels sing] her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!

    DENNIS: Listen -- strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

    ARTHUR: Be quiet!

    DENNIS: Well you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

    ARTHUR: Shut up!

    DENNIS: I mean, if I went around sayin' I was an empereror just because some moistened bink had lobbed a scimitar at me they'd put me away!

    ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up!

    DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

    ARTHUR: Shut up!

    DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! --- HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!

    ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!

    DENNIS: Oh, what a give away. Did you here that, did you here that, eh?.... That's what I'm on about -- did you see him repressing me, you saw it didn't you?

  • Well... depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:27PM (#42317121) Journal

    The LDP has indeed been in the driving seat for a LONG time. Both during the rise AND fall of Japan in fact. The reason they got kicked out was NOT because people really liked the alternative but because they were fucking sick of the LDP. Same as Labour with Blair got back after the Brits were totally fed up with Tory sleeze and to an extent even how Obama was elected because he was not Bush.

    And then it turned out the new guys couldn't fix a decade and longer of mis management and the honey moon ended. So... to punish the new guy for not instantly fixing the world, lets elect the old guys, that will show that new guy! Talk about cutting of your nose to spite your face.

    The LDP are the guys who created Fukushima, not the accident but the corruption surrounding it. This is the party that wants to take a though line over China, despite the fact that all the meaningless rhetoric is hurting the already fragile Japanese economy because the Chinese are no longer buying Japanese. This is the party that tried to spend its way out of the depression with endless borrowing and countless construction projects to nowhere. It is recognized by respectable economists that cutting all spending isn't a good way to fight a recession but uncontrolled spending doesn't work either.

    These guys made a mess of Japan, do you really think they learned their lesson? I doubt it. Japan should stop antagonizing an enemy that has good reason to hate their guts while reminding all other "western" asian countries they got a common enemy (South Korea doesn't like to reminded of WW2 Japan anymore then China does. Neither does India for that matter. Don't forget that where the Germans have spend their time since WW2 mostly apologizing (although not actually to the point of prosecuting their war criminals until they are likely to drop dead before the trial) the Japanese have not. Japan has no good will in the area, just a failing economy and US backing. They are tolerated, not loved. And nobody wants to see Japan get imperialistic ideas again.

    No, electing the LDP is a stupid move by the Japanese voter. These guys only know how to spend, create cartels and antagonize their far more powerful neighbours and stop them from buying Japanese exports.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:37PM (#42317287)

    But we're not building those due to the lobbying efforts of environmental groups.

    That's an interesting perspective. We're not building them because no one is even applying to build them, and the industry has made clear that it isn't interested in building or operating additional reactors without even more insulation from any responsibility for disasters than they already have. The lobbying effects of environmental groups are relevant insofar as environmental groups are sometimes among the groups opposing the increased socialized risk to support private profit that such additional liability shields involve.

  • Wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @04:55PM (#42317581) Journal
    Actually, it is cheap. The real problem is that these are built wrong. They continue to build on-site monsters with one-off software and equipment. Worse, they are doing LWRs, which require loads of active safety.

    BUT, by building small thorium reactors, these can be built SAFELY, and cheaply. And if we did these, I WOULD invest into them.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:15PM (#42317901)
    The problem isn't limited to Japan, nor is it limited to nuclear power. It's human nature to overemphasize large high-impact events, while overlooking small low-impact events. Even when cumulatively the low-impact events have a greater effect than the high-impact event. Wind power killed more people than nuclear power last year [] (mostly falling deaths of maintenance workers), despite generating about 1/10th the power of nuclear and the second-worst nuclear accident in history happening that year. The difference is that each wind-caused death only made the local news, while Fukushima made global news. (Don't even get me started on how many people are killed by the pollution spewing out of coal plants.)

    Same thing happens with a mass shooting. The average of over 30 homicides a day by guns in the U.S. is not enough to stoke a debate about gun control, but if 26 of them happen in one place it is. How does that make any sense? Or with plane crashes. About 100 people are killed per year in the U.S. in commercial airliner accidents, and after each crash we have criticism of how the system failed, and we have to make air travel safer. Yet 40,000 people are killed in car accidents a year in the U.S. and nobody questions automobile or traffic safety.

    It's just how we are wired, and we need to start recognizing and addressing this flaw in human nature. We have to stop making policy based on anecdotes and emotional response to large statistical outliers. We need to be making it based on averages and overall trends. (Or I guess you could just give up and exploit it, like states do with lotteries. Millions of people losing a few bucks is glossed over, while the though of being the one person who wins millions prevails and overrides our better judgement. So they've enshrined a system which is negative sum and thus destroys productivity into state law.)
  • Re:Hopefully (Score:1, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:35PM (#42318157) Homepage Journal

    Yes, Coal's constant spewing of fly ash, carbon dioxide, and various other assorted chemicals like mercury and thorium, into the atmosphere in which we breath

    I don't know where you live but that isn't allowed in western Europe. We require our coal plants to be reasonably clean and any new ones will have carbon capture built in.

    It seems odd that many on Slashdot seem to think that somehow we are capable of keeping all the dangerous radioactive stuff in and dispose of it safely, but are totally unable to control emissions from coal plants in the slightest.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:43PM (#42318277) Homepage Journal

    Right, because coal is the only alternative to nuclear. It's not like you can burn, oh I don't know, gas or something to produce electricity. And renewables, let's just dismiss those out of hand.

    Interestingly if you add up the total cost of property damage by energy production for all time nuclear still comes out at about 40%. If you want to argue about how terrible non-renewable energy is just remember that lives are not the only measure.

  • Re:Hopefully (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @05:45PM (#42318307)
    It's not just coal. Hydroelectric dams create a large reservoir behind them, making that land unusable. China had to permanently relocate 1.3 million people to build Three Gorges Dam. And ice throws from wind turbines [] are now recognized as a hazard, with a recommended setback distance of 1.5x(D+H), or about a quarter kilometer radius for a standard GE 1.5 MW turbine (80-100 meters high, 77-82.5 m diameter blades). Figure the exclusion zone front/back is one-fifth that (eyeballing the diagrams), for a total of 0.5*.05 = 0.025 km^2 per turbine. Nuclear's capacity factor is about 0.9, so the 4700 MW Fukushima plant generated on average 4230 MW. To match that with wind at a (optimistic) capacity factor of 0.25, you'd need 16920 MW nameplate capacity, or 11280 of the 1.5 MW turbines. That works out to 282 km^2 of unusable land (well you might be able to farm on it provided the insurance company was ok with the liability to the farmer). Yes Fukushima's evacuation zone is bigger, but that was only after an accident. The exclusion zone around a turbine in ice-prone climates would be unavoidable and permanent as long as the turbine is there.

    Everything has its drawbacks. The moment you start comparing assuming one of the choices has no drawbacks, you're doing it wrong.
  • Re:Hopefully (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday December 17, 2012 @08:45PM (#42320329) Homepage
    Nobody is bothering to apply because they know that enviros will make it their mission in life to make the project unfeasible - economically, socially, and if necessary at the homes of the officials involved. There is a religious fervor that exists, opposition to nuclear power has a long and storied history. There are people who would love to relive their youth and teach a new generation the joys of thwarting new technology.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford