Saturday 12 May 2012

11 May 2012 - Update

My usual monthly update but not a lot to report. All quiet at the reactor. Off the news radar, even here. According to the Tepco website (it's in English too) some of the issues raised recently in the media are unfounded. The building over Reactor 4 is not going to collapse and a mere 60 cm of water in the containment vessel of Reactor 2 won't affect cooling.

There's been a lot of debate about how much electricity the country needs this summer and whether we can manage without nuclear. A few weeks ago it seemed that the PM was pushing for the Oi Plant in Fukui to be re-started to meet demand - and that may still happen - but the debate is more measured now. An independent inquiry was set up and has just concluded that IF it's a sweltering hot summer like the year before last, and IF people throughout the country economise like Tokyo did last year, and IF no nuclear plants are in action, then most of the country will have enough electricity except for Hokkaido and Kyushu which will be a bit short and the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto) which will be 15% short.

How to meet the shortfall? An appeal for energy conservation, planned power cuts and the re-opening of the Oi nuclear plant are on the cards.

Big companies are taking independent action. Our parent company Rengo which opened a  brand new factory in Sendai on 15 March to replace the one washed away by the tsunami has fitted over 2,500 solar panels which will provide 45,000 kW/year of electricity saving 200 tons of CO2. Lithium ion storage batteries have also been installed for emergency back up of server and phones and to store cheap night-time electricity to use during the early afternoon peak. But these measures are too expensive for small businesses and hospitals.

The debate about nuclear goes on. There's a groundswell of popular opinion against nuclear, some of it emotional. Setouchi Jakucho, novelist turned Buddhist nun and 90 year old national institution, went on hunger strike in protest. The electricity companies are being grilled and ways to meet the shortfall are being discussed. One interesting point that came out was that Kanden (short for Kansai Electricity) says  it can't abolish nuclear immediately as that would wipe half the assets off its balance sheet effectively bankrupting the company.

Tepco has produced a recovery plan. Asking for a 1 trillion yen  injection of government funds (I think that's 7.7 billion GBP but the figures are astronomical). The government would take a majority shareholding, thereby nationalising the company. Prices are to rise. Electricity for businesses in the Tokyo area has already gone up 17% and domestic bills are to go up 10% in July. The recovery plan is based on the premise that two reactors at the Kashiwazaki plant open next spring but this is controversial. The company aims to cut costs by 3.3 trillion yen over the next 10 years. The new chairman Mr Shimokobe has said he'll work for no pay and the new CEO is to be a Mr Hirose an internal promotion.

Nearer to home, the local authorities in the evacuated areas continue to wrestle with the thorny problems  regarding their future. They were dealt a heavy blow a few weeks ago when the government produced maps showing that even in five years time radiation levels would remain above 50 mSv/year in the four villages nearest to  Fukushima Daiichi. The government wants to get on and build an 'interim storage site' there for all the radioactive waste but the local authorities won't agree until compensation is properly sorted and so the wrangling goes on. Recently the four villages announced they want to set up temporary communities elsewhere and the government has promised to build houses and roads but no one's quite sure how this 'town within a town' would work. Who'd pay taxes to who? Which authority would collect the rubbish? Etc, etc.

Koriyama continues to prosper. The bars and hotels are full, the department store is doing well I hear. There seems to be a lot of money swishing around. Construction obviously. Those buildings that didn't survive the quake have been demolished and some rebuilt. Many people are having work done to strengthen their homes. (An old couple I know is having the traditional tiles removed from their roof and replaced with a lighter roof, not the kind of work you'd normally contemplate in your 80s.) And then a lot of compensation money ends up in the pachinko halls which continue to do good business. It's a mini-bubble. The funding for the big recovery projects isn't in place yet.

Another radiation measuring office opened on Station Road (Ekimae-dori) - they're taking over empty premises like charity shops on a UK high street. Levels still at 0.59 μSv/hr here in Koriyama but people are a lot less worried than they were. If you came here you wouldn't think anything was amiss.

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