The course of Japan’s energy policy


I meet quite a few Japanese people who actually say to me, “Japan is such a scary place these days. Why haven’t you returned to America?”

“Scary?” I say. “I find Japan to be very safe.” It definitely feels safe compared to America.

Of course, many Japanese feel that Japan is becoming less safe, but in general, most Japanese seem to feel that it’s safer than America. America, after all, is the place where according to Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara, there can’t be lots of soda machines. “People would loot them,” he explained once. “That’s why Japan went crazy with all the soda machines.”

But I digress. On everyone's mind these days is radiation.

Heck, I was born only two hours from Three Mile Island. I was just a kid then, but I remember how scared everyone one was. Yet, I’m alive.

I know it may seem like a type of scientific ignorance, but things I can’t feel, smell or touch don’t scary me personally as much as they should. I know they should freak me out, and I know that scientifically they exist, but for God's sake, you can’t go through life being scared of each and every little thing. Prioritize your worries. My biggest worry is getting hit by a truck while I tweet and bike on my power-assisted “mama chari.” Sometimes I eat "tebasaki" (grilled chicken wings) ... the bones; you get one stuck in your throat, it’ll do you in.

Of course, nuclear radiation is real. There’s nothing funny about it; there’s nothing funny about the young kids who have to get their thyroids checked the rest of their lives, and the farmers who’ve lost their entire career and livelihoods and communities destroyed perhaps forever.

Because of this, some people say we should abandon nuclear energy. The argument is that even if it is safe most of the time (which arguably it pretty much is), look at the disproportional devastation from one accident. This is undeniably true and it makes evident the fact that nuclear energy is no long-term solution for our need to stay lit up. And neither is oil nor coal.

A key point to understand is that abandoning one form of energy, which is unsafe in our backyard merely to import energies which poison other people in their own backyards or economically support and enable brutal regimes, is superficial eco/human consciousness. Japan, for example, imports a great deal of its fossil fuels from brutal Mideast regimes. (Iran is Japan’s third largest supplier of oil.)

Key factors shaping Japanese energy policy

Considering this, it is obvious that Japan needs to rethink how it stays powered up. Likewise, it's important to understand a key energy policy factor: Japan’s energy self-sufficiency ratio is only 20%, or 4% if uranium is considered an import. Japan takes this so seriously, it maintains a strategic 2-3 year energy reserve.

To deal with this problem, Japan’s key strategy is diversity: Accidents, wars, embargoes – any global instability (even competition) can make energy dependent Japan vulnerable. The current generation of Japanese political leadership are of the generation that all too well remember the oil shock of the ‘70s. That generation will never forget it and it was one of the factors that led to an increasing acceptance of nuclear energy (that and years of public manipulation.)

Taking all of this into account, Japan’s energy policy has been based on three key dynamics: economic growth, energy security and environmental protection. Energy source diversification has been the key to its implementation; however, while diversification offers a short term solution, there’s no doubt that the attainment of feasible cost-effective homegrown green energy would be ideal in helping Japan to meet its already established energy policy goals. For this reason, Japanese power companies, TEPCO included, have been experimenting with alternative energy technologies for many years, even well prior to 3/11.

One example is JAXA’s (Japan’s version of NASA) Space Powered Solar System (SSPS) which would capture solar rays in space and transport the energy to the ground and with a single unit generating enough energy to power up 500,000 homes. According to JAXA, it is aiming for practical use in the 2030s

Then there’s solar energy. According to the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association, the trade group that promotes Japanese solar energy, solar technologies are also under development, but practical implementation requires research into measures to deal with voltage & frequency fluctuations caused by PV power systems grid connections. Mikio Katayama, chairman of the JPEA, also envisions the year 2030 as a key target.

There is wind, too, but Klean Industries, an American company that works closely with Japanese companies and actively develops green technologies, points out a number of obstacles that might not make wind farm technology so practical for Japan. For example, typhoons, lightning and storms are commonplace, the water surrounding Japan is of too great a depth for off-shore wind-power generation technology, and locations that provide optimal wind generations are usually located in mountainous terrains, making the land formations in those areas difficult to plot. Despite this, the Japanese Wind Energy Association also has plans for the development of one possible solution: floating wind farms.

In conclusion, the transition from dirty, dangerous and politically messy technologies is a vision of the future that Japan has no choice but to move toward. However, to do so, it will have to transcend a mere short term set back to a very large industry. The nuclear power industry survived Chernobyl, it survived Three Mile Island and I’m sure it’ll survive Fukushima. On the other hand, if people show patience, perseverance, and interest in as well as demand for the new technologies, their attainment is possible. Public will, however, will have to persist.

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I don't know, Eddie, I just don't know. First of all, you need to pay closer attention to your prose, and JT needs to do a better job of copy editing because your grammar and syntax leave a lot to be desired.

But on another level, I find it very taxing to read your pieces because they lack a disciplined coherence, and tend to meander this way and that . . . all over the place. The form is wobbly because many of your transitions are sloppy or weak, so the pieces lack a certain structural integrity.

Contest-wise, hard as I try, I'm unable to find anything original, interesting or compelling, and no real point of view. Essays differ from "reports" or newspaper articles in that they convey a distinct point of view, the result of the writer taking a clear-cut stand. A wishy-washy attitude ("well maybe this, but then again that . . .") just doesn't leave a satisfied taste in the reader's mouth.

Crisp, clear prose, structural integrity, and a distinct point of view . . . good luck with your next piece.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Japan Can survive without NPP's EASY. From 1965 to 1996 Japan had converted 130 incinerators to generate electricity of the some 2,000 incinerators in Japan, 130 were producing a total of 640 megawatts of power, or an oil equivalent of 232,000 kiloliters. So each incinerator outfitted to generate electricity is producing 4900+ kilowatts of electricity just by burning the trash it would normally burn anyway.

640 megawatts = 640 000 kilowatts.

Turning Trash Into Cash In Japan, high-tech furnaces are vaporizing toxins and generating clean electricity

Excerpt: There's another benefit to such micro-gasification units. Big cities such as Tokyo produce enough garbage to feed huge waste-to-energy incinerators that churn out electricity. But that's not possible in small communities. So engineers at the state-funded New Energy & Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) have developed a superefficient engine for use with gasifiers. "This will make it possible for towns to produce their own energy," says Mizuhiko Tanaka, a NEDO project coordinator.

I wish every Prefecture Official would visit Osaka's Beautiful Waste Power Plant and get the idea to add WTE (waste to energy ) Plants in all Prefectures just by converting their incinerators.

Excerpt: The incinerator heat is used to create enough electricity to run the entire plant's operation, with the leftover sold back to the city (32,000kw).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I praised some of Mr Landsbergs first articles, and I also praised JT at that point for finally making "JT experts" live up to it's name. This was because you were writing about subjects that you knew very well which is what an "expert" do.

Although you handle the energy and nuclear subjects as well as many journalists, it is clear that it is not your area of expertise. I would much rather see your "JT expert" articles return to subjects that you know and love.

And do what all we other "arm-chair experts do. Which is blog and post comments all over the net.


0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan has 54 nuclear reactors and prior to 3/11 another 12 were planned including another 2 at Daiichi plant which would have made it the world's largest nuclear power plant, which I think it was anyway?

Following the 3/11 disasters only 18 of those reactors were operational during the summer, and although at least in the Kanto area there were power supply problems, it did at least show there is no need for 54 reactors and certainly not a further 12.

Nuclear energy was only producing 29% of the total power generated prior to the disaster and 18% since, and at the current rate of shutdowns for maintenance, a further 11 are required to shut down.

Currently, geothermal power only generates about 1.5% of total power, but experts in that field have stated that could be increased to about 15%. That action alone would reduce the need for nuclear power to 15.5%.

I think the other forms of renewable energy could generate that 15.5%, and more so that eventually, like within 20 years, all nuclear reactors could be shut down along with all the fossil fuel burning plants. I don't think I'll still be around to see it happen?

New forms of energy are coming down the pipeline and it won't be many more years before hydrogen will be viable. At the moment it takes more energy to make hydrogen than the energy it could generate but scientists have been working hard on that one.

If there are going to be incinerators which burn waste then at least use the heat to boil a kettle. I've seen the one in Osaka.

The Monju fast breeder nuclear reactor as to date cost ¥1.7 trillion and only managed to generate a single hour of power.

The country would benefit greatly if there was a single unified power grid system and power supply was taken out of the hands of power generating companies. TEPCO have overcharged by something like ¥600 billion over the past 10 years? Will consumers get refunds, I don't think so?

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Eddie, you forgot to mention the bio-fuels as a potential solution. Currently many Japanese companies (Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsui, etc) are investing in Brazil to produce ethanol using sugar cane as feedstock.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Bio fuels raise the cost of food. Look at corn in America.

Tidal energy is the way to go for an island country. Moon ain't going anywhere.

But until all that happens, nuclear is good.

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Bio Fuels only raise the cost of food when you are using food sources (corn , sugar etc.). That is a type of bio fuel is intended for vehicles. Bio Energy, which is the direct combustion of bio mass can utilize bio mass which is not used for food and which can be grown on land not suitable for farming. If done this way (like in most intelligent countries) it does not affect the food prices.

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Well, Ben4short, I dont know what you are looking for but I really enjoy reading Eddies pieces and so do a lot of other people. I dont think he is going for any kind of international booker-style prize here.

Instead of running down other peoples efforts, why dont you try producing a few of your own? On second thoughts - please dont. I dont think I want to read anything from someone who pores over voluntarily-written (non-professional) articles in their free time looking for bad grammar, syntax, weak and sloppy transitions and structural integrity.

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A whole lot of hamsters on running wheels. That's the answer.

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Eddie, you forgot to mention the bio-fuels as a potential solution. Currently many Japanese companies (Itochu, Marubeni, Mitsui, etc) are investing in Brazil to produce ethanol using sugar cane as feedstock.

But also at the cost of reducing the size of the Amazon rain forrest and that it's also true with soya bean growing.

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Biofuels can be made from any plant material and food crops should not be used for producing ethanol.

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A whole lot of hamsters on running wheels. That's the answer.

No way, electric eels man. Genetically modified giant electric eels I tell you.

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There is a very interesting energy source which is currently researched for the future of air travel. There is species of algae which produce a liquid which has a higher energy density than kerosene. Please have a look at this article, if You're interested:,1518,706473,00.html.

This is indeed real biofuel, it doesn't directly affect food prices and methods like this will be of utmost importance for the future of transportation or to replace fossile fuels. You can also use it in a power plant of course.

But if Eddie's biggest worry is to be run over by a truck while he is not watching out - than he is indeed a very lucky man whose biggest worry can be avoided by common sense alone.

Focus on nuclear power without an exit strategy blocks development of sustainable energy sources. Old power plant are not safe, because they do not satisfy modern safety standards. Modern nuclear plants are not hardly as profitable as unsafe old plants. Offshore wind farms had (as far as I know) never any severe accident due to a storm. People who construct these renewable energy plants are smart because they know that the operation costs nearly nothing after construction is completed, they build these plants to be sturdy and to last over a long time.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well, Ben4short, I dont know what you are looking for but I really enjoy reading Eddies pieces and so do a lot of other people. I dont think he is going for any kind of international booker-style prize here.

Fair enough, Nicky Washida. You like lumpy mashed potatoes and Twit-talk, I prefer crispy fries and intelligent writing. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I'm sure there are lots of folks, too, who share my frustrations with the general quality of the writing on this site. If you don't care about language, that's fine. I'm not talking Booker-Schmooker either; just expecting the bare minimum in critical thinking and the correct words, one after another, to transport it.

Instead of running down other peoples efforts, why dont you try producing a few of your own? On second thoughts - please dont. I dont think I want to read anything from someone who pores over voluntarily-written (non-professional) articles in their free time looking for bad grammar, syntax, weak and sloppy transitions and structural integrity.

I write for a living, which means I get paid for it, so I would never submit to JT. And your comment unwittingly reinforces my point: freebies are the mother of mediocrity. I am as busy and have as full a life in Tokyo as the next guy, so it's not like I sit around "looking for bad grammar. . ." Any professional in any field (take your pick) just naturally notices sloppy work done by others in his field. And despite your low expectations and disdain for quality, I think Eddie and others actually appreciate my comments and take them to heart.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

I think Eddie and others actually appreciate my comments and take them to heart.

Yes, I am sure he will appreciate your likening his work to "lumpy mashed potatoes and twit-talk".

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Long-term planning is important, but if your renewable targets are based on things happening in 2030 after all the people involved in spending money on them have retired, that's a good sign you're not taking the thing seriously.

Unbundle production and distribution and let solar producers get power to customers? No.

Multi-decade boondoggles to PUT SOLAR PANELS IN SPACE? Of course.

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The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex has obviously spurred debate on the future use of nuclear energy.

For advanced societies that require large amounts of energy to remain advanced, the only viable sources of energy for the foreseeable future are nuclear power and fossil fuels. A sound energy policy would make use of both of these sources of energy to provide diversity and energy security. But clearly we should strive to make improvements in both nuclear technology and safety.

Several advanced reactor concepts are being evaluated throughout the world for the next generation of nuclear energy. The modular high temperature gas-cooled reactor (MHR) can survive a complete loss-of-coolant accident without reliance on any emergency systems. As the reactor heats up, natural processes will shut it down. General Atomics, with partners from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, has recently completed the conceptual design of a demonstration plant.

Japan has the high temperature engineering test reactor (HTTR), which is an operational, engineering-scale prototype of the MHR. It has been used to demonstrate the intrinsic safety characteristics of the MHR. Perhaps the events in Japan can lay the foundation for developing, demonstrating, and commercializing a next generation of nuclear power with intrinsic safety. International collaboration among the U.S., Japan, and other nations on the MHR would provide a relatively quick path for achieving this goal.

More information about the HTTR can be obtained from:

More information about the NGNP project can be obtained from:

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I honestly thought this was a translation of one of those wishy-washy Japanese "editorials" where the person merely strings together a jumble of received views in a polite manner.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Exactly my reaction, too, badmigraine. I'm afraid, though, that those of us who care about language and well thought out prose are in the minority in Japan. Mediocrity rules here, even within the foreign community.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

@ben4short Ben, your obnoxious comments are all over this site. We're all adults here. If you don't have anything to contribute to the topic can you please take it elsewhere. In addition, we would all love to see examples of your superior writing. Please post a link. In the meantime, stay on topic.

The article explains why Japanese energy policy probably won't change for 20 years and argues people want it to but lack of viable technologies and Japanese security concerns make it unlikely. At the same time the author argues that the course away from Nuclear and fossil have been set; however, when the environment of fear subsides and people become nonchalant like him, there is danger of an industry rebound. Argue the thesis... Do you agree or disagree... Or are you incapable of discussing an actual topic? Most other posters do.

I never even knew about the JPEA or SSPS until I read this article.

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I still do not see why 1 soda machine is needed for every 20 people.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Briefly, Johnnyboy, I hardly think having a 30-year love affair with the English language, demanding excellence in what I write and hoping to find it in the writing of others qualifies as "obnoxious." Sorry to see you've bought into the Culture of Mediocrity.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Back on topic please.

Thursday, October 6, 2011 : Ministry of Education's Radiation Map for Tokyo and Kanagawa

Excerpt: They did Tokyo and Kanagawa from September 14 to 18, using one helicopter that flew 10 times over the area. The radiation detection device on board the helicopter measured gamma radiation from the radioactive materials deposited on the ground from 150 to 300 meters off the ground. The measurement of about 300 to 600 meters radius below the helicopter is then averaged out. Here's the report by the Ministry (PDF).

As far as I know, there is no plan for the national government to conduct the ground-level measurement outside Fukushima Prefecture.

Heads Up Everybody!!

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one wonders, Ben4short, given your self-professed obvious superiority linguistically and disdain for JT and anyone on it who disagrees with you, why you are lowering yourself to be here at all? You maybe a fabulous writer, I have no idea. But if you are, then one can only assume that the tone of your posts as rude, obnoxious and dismissive as "mediocre" of any writer not as "superior" as yourself and any reader that disagrees with you is intentional.

I am also a published writer, and have contributed many aritcles for free and for payment to various newspapers, magazines and websites around the world. Do I need to improve? Yes, absolutely. Would I deride someone elses work publically? Never. I am confident enough in myself and my skills not to have to make myself feel better by putting down other peoples work.

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Readers, please keep the discussion civil and focus your comments on the topic and not at each other. That ends discussion on ths point.

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