The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


NIMBY rules for nuclear energy in East Asia post Fukushima?

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on April 17, 2012
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A year on after the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, managing Japan’s energy policies continues to be an uphill task. With critical immediate tasks of addressing an ailing economy, domestic demands to cease the use of nuclear energy, and spiked prices of energy imports, it is no wonder that revising of Japan’s nuclear energy structures and plans (let alone implementing it) remain a slow process.

The difficulty lies in juggling three main issues. First, anti-nuclear sentiments continue to gain ground in Japan as seen from the increasing numbers in mass protests, calls for local referenda to shut down nuclear power plants in their respective local vicinities, and efforts to provide ground-up alternative sources of information, given the perceived lack of transparency and mistrust towards top-down information. Such activities thus call for the need to diversify Japan’s energy mix.

Second, national plans to reform and strengthen Japan’s nuclear energy governance structures have been rather slow. Given that Japan’s nuclear energy governance had largely been under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, reform plans have included the need for more oversight from other governmental bodies such as the Ministry of Environment. This would culminate with the establishment of a new body – the Nuclear Regulatory Agency – which will play a central role in strengthening Japan’s domestic nuclear security measures. However, the NRA to date has yet to be formed. Moreover, a revision of Japan’s Energy Basic Plan is still being deliberated with four possible scenarios of nuclear energy taking up to 30% of Japan’s energy mix till 2030.

Third, developments at the international level create further complications for Japan to fully adhere to these domestic demands in the short term. The price of importing energy resources, particularly liquified natural gas (LNG), to substitute the short fall of energy from decommissioned nuclear power plants, increased sharply in the 2nd half of 2011. This greatly exacerbated the third issue – Japan’s already ailing economy, where experts speculate that the Japanese Yen is likely to depreciate further in the months to come while still recovering from the March 2011 tsunami.

That said, one of the economic lifelines for Japan is the development of nuclear technology elsewhere. While the use of nuclear energy is shunned domestically, the demand for Japanese nuclear technology and training to other countries developing their own nuclear energy facilities (such as Vietnam, Russia and Indonesia) remains a small but important source of income for Japan’s financial recovery. Ironically, this is despite the fact that Prime Minister Noda admitted that training for on-site workers at Fukushima had been “insufficient”.

Nevertheless, it is possible that as far as officials in the Ministry of Trade and Industry are concerned, such inflows of cash are desirable and necessary for Japan given the slump in other trade sectors such as agricultural/food exports and tourism.  As such, while the anti-nuclear bloc in Japan may have the upper hand domestically, it is likely to create greater challenges for anti-nuclear groups in the wider East Asian region.

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