Powering ahead on nuke technology

Rapidly growing energy needs in the world coupled with a warm winter season, attributed to global warming, have boosted Japan’s nuclear power sector especially the export of nuclear technology to other countries, say experts here.

“Yes, there is no denying that environmental concerns and a new energy crisis have dealt a deadly blow to movements against nuclear power and they support safer renewable energy sources.” said Prof. Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear scientist and researcher at the prestigious Kyoto University. “But this is a wrong solution.” Koide says his research has illustrated that nuclear power will not contribute to long-term reduction in greenhouse gases (GHGs) as claimed.

“There is a need to balance the merits of nuclear power. While nuclear energy does not discharge such gases as carbon dioxide, the downside is that pollution is caused by the construction of facilities. Also the running of nuclear reactors and waste storage rely on electricity from other sources such as coal. Moreover, if there is a nuclear accident, the destruction of the environment will be extremely serious. These aspects must be considered when examining plans to increase this dangerous power,” he said. Still, signs in Japan indicate that the government is pushing ahead with the expansion of nuclear power at a time when the public is worried about climate change and the rising prices of oil.

Indeed, this winter has raised the profile of nuclear energy given the warm temperatures that has led to a scarcity of snow affecting the businesses of hotels and ski facilities now faced with reservation cancellations and a drop in visitors. “Snow started falling just a few weeks ago and this year the pile-up has only reached 7 cm compared to 88 cm last year. Something must be done quickly to reverse the situation,” said Keiko

Azumi, an inn owner in Aomori prefecture, northern Japan. Electronic goods manufacturers and department stories are reporting 60 per cent drop in sales of heating products and winter clothes as a result of warmer weather.

“Developing nuclear power is an important means of protection against global warming. Japan’s 40-year experience in developing nuclear power technology and its good record of safety has given it a role to expand the energy for the sake of the environment,” said Shinichi Mizumoto, an official at the economy, trade and industry ministry that spearheads the Japanese nuclear power industry.

This month, the government also managed to steer around the sticky position of India not being a member of the NPT by recognising a United States law signed last month to allow the sale of nuclear fuel and reactors to India. This will enable the Japanese companies to participate in expansion of nuclear plants to India, according to Yomiuri newspaper. Miname Suzuki, energy consultant at Greenpeace, Japan, believes that economic interests and national pride rather than public safety are at the heart of the government’s nuclear power


He points to the fact that only six per cent of the energy budget is spent on safe renewable power compared to over 30 per cent for nuclear energy. “Nuclear power is yet another tool for Japan in its growing strategy to play an active global role. Public opposition must be heeded,” she said. — IPS