Thursday 6 June 2013

Misplaced Political Will

The Indian Prime Minister, Monmohan Singh, was in Tokyo last Friday to discuss a civil nuclear energy deal with Japan. We in Fukushima find this hard to swallow. Exporting nuclear plants is not just about technology but about safety systems and governance. By all means build Shinkansen bullet trains in India and all over the world. Japan can be justifiably proud of this technology and has a proven safety record. But as you will know if you've been following the news in Japan and even reading this blog, the nuclear industry in this country has a history of complacency, accidents and cover ups.

Of course we here are biased but what if there were an accident in India? India has a population of 1.2 billion and is set to overtake China as the world's most populated nation. Nuclear power plants aren't built in populated areas. Think Dungeness, Torness in Britain, Fukui and Fukushima in Japan - for some strange reason Tepco (Tokyo Electric) doesn't build nuclear power stations in Tokyo Bay...

India urgently needs energy. Power cuts are commonplace. And in the interests of the greater good, the Indian Supreme Court last month gave the go-ahead to build a Russian-financed nuclear power plant in Koodankulam on the nation's southern-most tip despite years of peaceful protests and one million people living within 30 km of the plant. India is at the threshold of a new stage in its development and Japan has a chance to help explore safer forms of energy. Sadly economic interests come first and Japan doesn't want to miss out on selling to India's emerging market. Japan, India, nuclear power. It's a complex situation with far reaching implications not just for energy but for security in the region. But that's another story.

Back in Japan where only one nuclear power station out of the 50 usable ones is in operation, new safety standards will be announced next month and the electric companies are gearing up for re-opening. Six plants are likely to restart operations this year. The Democratic Party of Japan's decision in 2011 to aim for zero nuclear by 2030 is off the agenda and the ruling LDP seems to be slipping back into a steady return to nuclear power. The re-opening of a few nuclear plants would be palatable if it were part of an overall policy to reduce dependence on nuclear power but so far no news of that. Abe's national energy plan is to be announced later in the year. Fukushima has said no to nuclear power. The short term goal is to double the renewable supply (mainly solar) by 2015, increasing to 40% of requirements by 2020 and 100% by 2040. And up and down the country all sorts of local initiatives - megasolar, smart grid, and other green technologies - are being started at a rapid rate.

You can't help feeling the government is getting left behind. It doesn't have the political will to learn from Fukushima. The cause of the accident is still not clear, there's the problem of how to dispose of radioactive waste, not to mention the tragedy and cost of any accident. How it can make exporting nuclear technology a pillar of its growth strategy is incomprehensible to us.
Please excuse these occasional gripes!

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