Energy – Politics, Power and Predicaments: Important Choices for Japan

Lady Barbara Judge, CBE, Deputy Chairman, Tepco Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee, shares her experiences shaping the global nuclear energy debate, and how the lessons learned from Fukushima are being applied around the world.

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Energy – Politics, Power and Predicaments Important Choices for Japan

Lady Barbara Judge
CBE, Deputy Chairman, Tepco Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee

Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Time: 19:00 - 21:00
Venue: GLOBIS Tokyo Campus
Language: English

Japan has always been important in the world in advancing its technology and industrialization. At this time, however, Japan needs to attain energy stability, enough to maintain its huge economy and its world-class manufacturing. Japan should at this point never give up what it worked so hard and effectively to get. There is no one energy source that could lead Japan to attain energy self-sufficiency. The optimum choice is to have a good balance of all energy sources available to the country. Japan needs all sources of energy, oil, gas, coal, renewables and nuclear.

Questions to be answered: Energy security, energy independence, and climate change

In a seminar conducted February 3, 2015, Lady Judge talked about the factors that every country should consider in deciding whether or not to pursue nuclear energy. In crafting the energy policy of any country, questions about energy security, energy independence, and climate change need to be considered. Nuclear energy seems to positively answer all these concerns. Unlike solar and wind energy, where its production is intermittent and depends on the availability of the natural resources, nuclear energy has proven to be a reliable source of baseload generation. A country with a nuclear power plant can be energy independent without having to rely on the resources of other countries. In addition, nuclear power production does not emit carbon which also makes its impact on climate change less of a concern.

Why is nuclear a hotly debated issue?

If this is truly the case, why then has nuclear energy remained a hotly debated issue? There is no one answer to this question, rather, a combination of both controllable and uncontrollable factors which can be summarized in three major points:

1. Pursuing Nuclear is a decision made by a Country, not by an individual
The final decision to develop nuclear energy is dependent on the government’s political will to make it happen. Nuclear plants have long gestation which means they will have to go through the political process every time a new government is elected. The will of the government to promote nuclear energy should also be complemented with the appropriate regulation. One of the identified issues in the operation of Nuclear energy in Japan prior to Fukushima incident was the close relationship and lack of independence, of the regulator and the operator. This issue was, later on, addressed through the creation of the Nuclear Regulations Authority (NRA) which ensures strong regulation and checks and balances in the industry.

2. Nuclear requires a thorough project planning
Building a nuclear power plant requires a significant amount of investment. The capital requirement became even higher after the Fukushima incident as stricter safety measures are now required to be built in into the power plant equipment. Some power plants are built to last beyond 40 years and with the stable energy prices, developers can expect steady cashflow after their huge investment is recovered. However, due to the slowdown of nuclear in the recent years, a shortage of nuclear engineer experts has emerged. The demand for these experts has been low so the nuclear experts have had to build their expertise in other engineering and business fields. In addition, effective planning is also an important factor in the success of the project. This includes siting the plant in the right place so that it can withstand seismic difficulties.

3. Nuclear has to overcome negative publicity through educating the public
Nuclear energy has to tolerate negative publicity. For instance, after the Fukushima accident in 2011 the media hardly ever mentioned that no one had actually died as a direct result of radiation. Actually, the Three Mile Island incident was in fact a success rather than a failure, because the power plant closed down effectively at the time of accident, causing neither death nor injury. Sadly people in the nuclear industry have not responded well enough to defend their position in the past, something that subject matter experts have learned better today. More than the press, it is the buy-in of the general public that really matters. The public deserves to know not only the risks, but also the many benefits that can be provided such as job creation and a steady supply of baseload energy. Educating the public by actually reaching out to them is important, as there is no short-cut for winning their support.

Moving forward with Nuclear Energy

Japan has been a leader in technology in different fields including nuclear energy for many years. It has helped numerous nations to build their respective nuclear projects. Japan has developed tremendous knowledge in handling nuclear, which is important for it to continue to grow economically. Contrary to popular belief, there have been many cases outside Japan where local communities had been grateful to have a nuclear power plant in their community. The nuclear projects brought jobs, additional schools and even revitalized the local culture. Lady Judge pointed out that all energy sources have its own inherent risks and there is no one source that is absolutely, 100% safe. The best way to prevent the risks is to understand the complexities of each source of energy. Today, an array of safety measures have been developed and can be applied to prevent the consequences of these risks.

In addition, pursuing nuclear energy is a collaborative effort. Nuclear energy requires the involvement of strong independent groups of citizens to understand and discuss nuclear facts. People from medical field can use their expertise to educate people about radiation. Business leaders can influence the people within their sphere to reiterate the importance of energy stability, security and independence. Government should also continue to take the strong lead in educating people. Lady Judge further reiterated that “We need people to talk about the facts because at the end of the day, it is the facts that we hope people will listen to.”

Lady Judge and her role in TEPCO

Lady Judge believed that joining TEPCO was a good opportunity to help a whole nation. She thought that if TEPCO was not able to resolve its own problems, then it would not be able to restart its nuclear energy plants and deliver the additional energy capacity that Japan needs. By helping Japan, she hoped that the positive impact would reverberate around the World. The Fukushima incident has echoed all over the globe and has fuelled people’s many misconceptions about nuclear energy. Lady Judge believes that her role in TEPCO will give her a chance to help the world as confidence grows with respect to nuclear energy, once again. Outside Japan, there are still many countries where people do not have access to electricity, nor to education, to enable them to even meet their basic human needs. Accordingly she believes that nuclear energy should be part of this solution. She believes in using her knowledge and position to speak up for what she believes in. Lady Judge said “If you do not stand up for what you believe, then I don’t think you are doing the best you can for the world.”

An industrial nation like Japan needs to achieve energy independence and energy self-sufficiency. As Lady Barbara Judge convincingly puts it, “I am not saying that nuclear energy is the answer. We need oil, we need gas, we need renewables, we need coal, and we need nuclear. I believe that, until every child has a light by which to learn to read and heat so as not to freeze, how can we, any of us, throw any source of energy off the table? It is our responsibility to provide light and heat and help to grow our economy.”

By Robe Ann Paccial, GLOBIS University student