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Top>Opinion>Three Years After the Nuclear Accident


Shuhei Okuyama

Shuhei Okuyama [profile]

Three Years After the Nuclear Accident

Shuhei Okuyama
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: History of Technology, Modern Technology

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Significance of Hakodate’s legal action against Oma Nuclear Power Plant

On April 3, the city of Hakodate filed a suit against Electric Power Development (J-Power) and the Japanese government appealing for a freeze on the construction of the Oma Nuclear Power Plant in Aomori Prefecture. Hakodate falls within the 30km damage range in the event of a nuclear accident, but current nuclear installation agreement proceedings only include the local government and the prefecture in which the nuclear power plant lies and exclude other local governments in the surrounding area. This is a nationwide issue, as seen in the case of the local governments surrounding the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka Prefecture. This suggests that most measures called for by local governments such as evacuation plans in the event of an accident have not been taken. Even as to evacuation routes, to take just one example, many power stations are probably located where it is difficult to secure them. The lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster have not been applied at all.

Originally, in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority asked for an Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone (UPZ) with a radius of 30km to be set up around the power station in accordance with the international standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the zone remains unworkable. It means that Japan’s nuclear power station location policy still does not satisfy international standards. This is the situation in spite of the fact that the archipelago is, unlike other countries where nuclear plants have been installed, is a volcanic zone and an earthquake-prone zone.

Ballooning damage costs

The total financial damage is still unknown. Although more and more funds for additional support are being injected, support for victims is being stopped or reduced. In other words, damage costs seem to be expanding beyond initial forecasts. Damage costs at December 2011 were estimated to be 5.8 trillion yen for things such as compensation for residents, decontamination, and nuclear reactor cooling, but this figure seems rather low. NHK’s calculation this March came up with the figure of 11.16 trillion yen, which is largely made up of more than 2.5 trillion yen for decontamination, 1.1 trillion yen for interim storage facilities, 2 trillion yen for reactor decommissioning and contaminated water treatment, and over 5 trillion yen for compensation from TEPCO. Costs have swollen to about twice the original estimates. And they are bound to increase further as reactor decommissioning will take more than 30 years. If compensation is conducted in good faith, it is forecast they could reach as high as the annual tax revenue of the nation, which is estimated to be 43 trillion yen. The government’s Cost Verification Committee has reviewed the power generation cost per kWh for different power sources and concluded that, taking the damage costs to be 5 trillion yen, nuclear power is not cheap in comparison with other power sources. Taking into account ballooning damage costs, the Cost Verification Committee’s estimate seems still overly optimistic.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the number of disaster-related deaths, nearly 1700, has overtaken the number of deaths attributed directly to the earthquake and tsunami, 1603. This is a remarkable statistic compared with the other prefectures badly hit by the same disaster, Miyagi and Iwate. But it is easy to understand why, as the nuclear accident has forced many in Fukushima Prefecture to live long-term in evacuation accommodation. The mental damage that cannot be measured in terms of money is also serious.

Thoughts on resuming operations

Memories of the earthquake and tsunami are often said to have begun to fade, and yet public opinion calling for the cessation of nuclear power remains as high as before. If we add calls for future nuclear abandonment to calls for immediate nuclear abandonment, they form an overwhelming majority. On the other hand, there are strong calls for the immediate resumption of nuclear power generation, mostly from power companies. What has become clear over the last three years while there is hardly any nuclear power generation, is that the suspension of nuclear power poses a risk not to the power supply but to the power companies. Unlike other forms of power, nuclear power has exceptionally high maintenance costs. Since these costs do not vary much even during outages, power companies are pressing for the resumption of operations.

Japan’s energy related budget is in excess of 400 billion yen, of which 90% is injected into nuclear power. Research and development into natural energies takes up only a few percent. Nuclear power can only be sustained by such generous protection. The government will set out a future energy policy three years from now, but obtaining a safer, cheaper power supply is unlikely unless the future of renewable energy is established soon by promoting its research and development.

Some people also say that the cost of fuels such as natural gas will rise, but that needs to be looked at carefully too. TEPCO’s new Chairman Fumio Sudo is very critical about the current state of power companies, and has been quoted in the press as saying, “Their biggest problem is that they lack any sense of international competition.” He also states, “They have conducted no cost management. Their fuel purchasing power is inferior to that of other countries, so electricity charges have become more than twice those of South Korea or the United States,” and “With the hollowing out of on-site capabilities, it is now unclear who is responsible when accidents and problems occur.” Natural gas prices are eight times higher in Japan than the United States. The main reason is that it is imported as LNG, but another significant factor is that it is purchased at high prices. The price Japan pays to import LNG is 15% higher than South Korea, although the countries have similar conditions. The policy driven depreciation of the yen has also had an impact.

Three years after the accident, radioactive matter continues to leak into the environment. Stopping this is paramount. The issues that need to be addressed urgently are providing support and compensation to victims, and ensuring a road map for decommissioning and decontamination. When a malfunction is found in an aircraft, it is grounded until the cause is found, and the same standard should be applied to nuclear power stations. Promoting the simple resumption of operations without implementing such a standard is nothing but a return to how things were before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. And that will be the beginning of another new nuclear accident.

Shuhei Okuyama
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: History of Technology, Modern Technology
Professor Okuyama was born in Tokyo in 1948. He graduated from the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, at Chiba University before becoming a research student at the School of Engineering of Tokyo Institute of Technology. He served as a lecturer at Shibaura Institute of Technology’s College of Engineering from 1984 to 1993 and assistant professor, and then professor at Ritsumeikan University’s College of International Relations from 1993 to 1997 before taking up his current post in that year.
He is the cowriter of How the Atomic Bomb was Developed [Genbaku ha koshite Kaihatsu sareta] (Aoki Shoten, 1990), writer and editor of A General History of Electrical Technology [Denkigijutsushi Gairon] (Muisuri Shuppan, 1991), cowriter of Environment Seminar Volume 7: The Finite World and Human Activity [Chikyu Kankyo Semina 7: Yugen no Chikyu to Ningen Katsudo] (Ohmsha, 1993), and joint translator of The Genesis and Evolution of Time by J.T. Frasier (Kodansha, 1984).