Fukushima II

As I posted earlier, I was able to spend a day in Fukushima on Wednesday. I was able to talk with a couple of the local Mayors as well as a number of locals known to the MP I was travelling with. It was illuminating and I’d like to record a few observations.

The first is at apparently unsurprising – there is a lot of opposition to nuclear power in Japan now, both in Fukushima and Tokyo (and apparently more broadly). But given the past assurances from authorities that nukes were totally safe, this is an interesting development.

Secondly, and correspondingly, people are very very interested in renewable energy options, of which Japan currently has very little. I spoke to a hastily organised forum at the Diet building about renewable energy and everywhere I went people wanted to know about renewables. Geothermal is an obvious option for Japan, as like NZ it sits near an active tectonic plate boundary.

Thirdly, there is a deep and growing skepticism towards authorities. The failure to ensure the safety of the Fukushima plant from tsunami in spite of warnings, followed by the bungling of the response, really does seem to have engendered a new and broadly held skepticism. These come on top of the ousting of the LDP Government which had been in power for half a century. This skepticism is good but also means the political system is quite unstable and leaves open the option of the rise of populist politicians like Hashimoto.

At a personal level I was surprised by the scale of the disaster. I shouldn’t have been, but it is really big. The restricted zone, in which no-one is allowed entry without permission, is a 25km radius semi-circle. This is a pretty big place, especially in crowded Japan. The empty villages and towns and fields were really quite disturbing. Outside of the restricted zone there is a further evacuation zone in which people can pass through but not live or harvest crops. This area is essentially the main radioactive fallout zone outside the 25kms. Outside these two zones there are many areas that have recorded high radioactivity readings.

There is now a debate about what is a safe level of radiation. When should people be able to move back? What to do about the food?

And of course the shakes are continuing. We had another last night which seemed to go for ages, it felt like a regular Wellington kind of shake up on the 9th floor of my hotel.

Anyway they intend to (re?)launch the Japanese Green Party in July.

12 thoughts on “Fukushima II

  1. Unfortunately renewable energy isn’t likely to meet much of Japan’s energy requirements. They simply have too many people for the renewables available. Of course they should make use of the renewables they do have, but they are always going to have to import energy or use nuclear power (and import the fuel for that) or both. The only way they can meet their energy needs with available renewables is to tap offshore renewable energy – effectively growing the country.

    The alternative is to reduce the population, but I don’t see that happening at any significant rate soon.

    Trevor.

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  2. You will ‘glow’ when you get back to NZ Russel. Get decontaminated please

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  3. Personally I get tired of these “my heart goes out to Japan” statements.
    Firstly, I get tired of the fake compassion; and secondly, where is the accountability?

    I say fuck them. They were bad reactors built in a bad zone. It was always a disguising and irresponsible risk. Those reactors never should have been built. The people should have aggressively opposed them, and as it appears they didn’t.

    Who knows how far THEIR fallout will go. Thanks Japan. Real nice.

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  4. While I don’t have much sympathy for the Japanese power companies or the Japanese government, the people of Japan did not deserve this fate. Most of them had no control over the choices made and were lied to by the governments and power companies who assured them that it was safe while not taking the required steps to ensure that the reactors were safe.

    Trevor.

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  5. “Secondly, and correspondingly, people are very very interested in renewable energy options, of which Japan currently has very little. I spoke to a hastily organised forum at the Diet building about renewable energy and everywhere I went people wanted to know about renewables. Geothermal is an obvious option for Japan, as like NZ it sits near an active tectonic plate boundary.”

    Protip: Japan has the world’s sixth largest geothermal power output.

    Source: http://geoheat.oit.edu/bulletin/bull28-2/art1.pdf.

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  6. Trevor,

    I think you’re right in general, but in particular it’s more complicated.

    Steven Lukes has a three dimensional theory of power:
    – power to force through the decision that someone wants
    – power to keep an item off the decision-making agenda
    – power to persuade people to be happy without asking for it to be put on the agenda

    I’m still trying to think through how it intersects with “The Enigma of Japanese Power” by Karol van Wolferen.

    If the Japanese Green Party breaks the processes described in that book, that will be *really* interesting.

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  7. Japan’s geothermal resource could allow them to generate another 14GW of electricity – according to one estimate. (Other estimates are 23.5GW and 80GW.) However this represents only a fraction of the 46GW output of their 54 nuclear power stations.

    It will also take a long time to install that much geothermal generation.

    Trevor.

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  8. NZ is extremely lucky. Unlike most other countries, we have a small enough population and enough sustainable energy capacity to be 100% sustainable, in electricity generation, for the foreseeable future.

    All it lacks is political will. Unfortunately selling off power companies will make it much more expensive and difficult.

    Other countries, like Germany, have a choice of brown coal, imported gas or nuclear!

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  9. Germany is of course investing in wind and solar power. However Germany could import electricity from solar photovoltaic and solar thermal systems set up in lower latitude countries with more sunshine – like Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. It would require some pretty expensive undersea HVDC cables, but it could be done.

    Given the political situation in some of those countries, floating offshore wind turbine arrays may be more reliable!

    Trevor.

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  10. New Zealand has resources which if harnessed could provide several times the renewable energy required to meet our energy needs, and we could easily become a net exporter of energy. Refined aluminium has a very high energy content, but we can also export energy in the form of nitrogen fertilizers (such as urea), ammonium compounds or nitrates, all of which use hydrogen as a precursor, and hydrogen can be made by electrolysing water with electricity from renewable energy sources.

    Trevor.

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  11. I’m looking to buy an imported Japanese car, is there any assurance that it wont be contaminated with radioactive material? Any airborne particles in a contaminated area could quite easily be “sucked” into the engine or air conditioning.

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