Nuclear Power in Japan; Prescient Voices From the Past Catch Up With the Present

I thought I’d reference some older snippets from articles that I found with background and warnings about nuclear reactors and power companies in Japan, some of them eerily prescient …

An LA Times article from 1988 explains how government intervention has incentivized the production of nuclear energy in Japan:

Strong financial resources, combined with government-set rate structures that guarantee a “fair return” of 7.2% on capital investment, largely insulate the nine major power companies from the economic woes that have bogged down nuclear plant construction in the United States.

Furthermore …

Hirose maintains that numerous minor accidents and operational problems over the past several years have gone largely unreported in the mainstream news media. Though shutdowns are rare, he believes these incidents belie the industry’s safety claims and foreshadow an eventual disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania.

Tamai, the industry federation official, rejects such criticism. Japanese nuclear plants have the best safety record in the world, he contends, with fewer than one-tenth the number of shutdowns of other countries and an enviable 76% average rate of operation.

To correct “distortions” advanced by Hirose and others, the federation has spent more than $5.6 million on newspaper advertising since this year’s Chernobyl anniversary in April, trying to reassure people that Japan’s water-cooled nuclear reactors are far safer than the graphite reactor in Chernobyl.

August 2004, Four workers die in Japanese nuclear plant accident:

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters: “We must put all our effort into determining the cause of the accident and to ensuring safety.” His government would respond “resolutely, after confirming the facts.”

However, a review of the events leading up to the accident and the history of other nuclear industry incidents over more than a decade reveals that far from “ensuring safety”, the government, together with the self-regulated nuclear power companies, is squarely to blame for the horrific deaths and injuries suffered at the KEPCO plant.

KEPCO admitted this week that the burst pipe had not been checked in the 28 years since the nuclear reactor began operating, even after a maintenance sub contractor notified it of the urgent need for inspection in November 2003. Further reports emerged that up to 17 such pipes at up to 10 other nuclear power plants operated by KEPCO throughout Japan have never been inspected.

March 2006, Nuclear reactor ordered shut by Japanese court:

A district court yesterday ordered the first shutdown of a nuclear reactor in Japan, saying the country’s second-largest reactor has a high risk of causing accidents and leaking radiation if an earthquake strikes, media reports said.

July 2007, Japan nuke plant leak bigger than thought:

The malfunctions and a delay in reporting them fueled concerns about the safety of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors, which have suffered a string of accidents and cover-ups. Nuclear power plants around Japan were ordered to conduct inspections.

The plant in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, 135 miles northwest of Tokyo, eclipsed a nuclear power station in Ontario as the world’s largest power station when it added its seventh reactor in 1997.

The Japanese plant, which generates 8.2 million kilowatts of electricity, has been plagued with mishaps. In 2001, a radioactive leak was found in the turbine room of one reactor.

The plant’s safety record and its proximity to a fault line prompted residents to file lawsuits claiming the government had failed to conduct sufficient safety reviews when it approved construction of the plant in the 1970s. But in 2005, a Tokyo court threw out a lawsuit filed by 33 residents, saying there was no error in the government safety reviews.

Environmentalists have criticized Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy as irresponsible in a nation with such a vulnerability to powerful quakes.

“This fire and leakage underscores the threat of nuclear accidents in Japan, especially in earthquake zones,” said Jan Beranek, a Greenpeace official in Amsterdam. “In principle, it’s a bad idea to build nuclear plants in earthquake-prone areas.”

July 2007, Japanese nuclear reactor under-designed for earthquake?

An earthquake off the western coast of Japan yesterday hit a nuclear plant with more than twice the jolt that the plant was expected to have to handle. The shock seems to have done little immediate damage, but has raised concerns about whether Japan’s nuclear plants are designed to withstand the kind of shaking they are likely to experience.

May 2009, Delays at Japan’s ill-fated nuclear plant:

“The failure to produce vitrified waste with domestic technology shows that Japan’s reprocessing technology is 10 to 20 years behind Europe and the United States,” Koide said.

The source at the Rokkasho plant agrees with Koide. “We have to accept that we were too optimistic from the beginning,” he said. He also said that JNFL should change its policy, whatever it takes, to solve the difficulties with the current furnace at Rokkasho.

One possible solution would be to use French technology, but the Japanese government is bent on developing its own technology and unlikely to choose that option. If the plant suspends operations for more than three years, as the source at Rokkasho suggests, then the situation will be more serious as Japan’s nuclear power policy is premised on reprocessing spent nuclear fuel at the plant.

May 2010, Japan reactivates repaired nuclear reactor:

The BBC said the accident that forced the shutdown resulted in no injuries and no release of radiation, but coming just two years after starting operation raised concerns about the safety of the plant. The plant’s operators were criticized for concealing the extent of damage to the reactor, the BBC said.

May 2010, Japan restarts controversial nuclear reactor

The proportion of the country’s energy generated from nuclear plants is to increase to 50 per cent from the current one third, and the utilization of the power plants is to increase from 60 per cent to 90 per cent of their generating capacity.

Monju is already decades behind its original schedule, and the government has so far poured some 900 billion yen (9.7 billion dollars) into the project.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency expects to spend another 23 billion yen a year on the fast-breeder programme in the coming years. The government wants to complete the development of a commercial fast-breeder reactor by around 2050.

As always, the best thing we can do to ensure a safer future for ourselves and our offspring is listen to those who saw things coming before everyone else suddenly became an expert on the causes of such earthshaking events.

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Farm Subsidies & Tariffs – How US Consumers Foot the Bill

Subsidies

A subsidy is when the government takes money from a certain group of individuals via taxation and gives it to certain entrepreneurs. It enables the recipients to sell goods at a price below market price when they compete with other entrepreneurs. It makes consumers who might not even buy the goods in question foot the bill for other consumers. It also limits the sales by those entrepreneurs whose goods would have been purchased by the taxed consumers. Its ultimate damage is that it allocates goods amongst individuals against their voluntary value preferences, due to compulsive government intervention.

Tariffs

A tariff is when the government of a certain territory orders entrepreneurs from different territories to pay taxes when selling goods in its territory. This results in higher prices for the goods sold by entrepreneurs from other territories. It enables the entrepreneurs selling the same goods within said government’s territory to demand higher prices from the consumers. It transfers wealth from consumers to the government and to the aforementioned local entrepreneurs. It hurts the majority of consumers and of producers whose goods the domestic consumers and foreign entrepreneurs would have purchased with the money they would have at their disposal, had the government not intervened. Its ultimate damage is that it allocates goods amongst individuals against their voluntary value preferences, due to compulsive government intervention.

Thus The Atlantic urges the government to Tell Americans What They’re Really Paying for Their Food:

Before you start spooning up your next bowl of Frosted Flakes, ponder this: driven partly by the demand for ethanol, the price of the corn in your flakes is about 40 percent higher than it was a few years ago; the sugar easily cost you more than double the world price; and your milk is at least 15 percent more expensive than it would be in many other countries.

Americans pay much more than they should for their food. Thanks to a thicket of subsidies and tariffs that support American farmers and tilt the growing field against cheaper foreign producers, we get ripped off twice: first as taxpayers who ante up for roughly $25 billion in agricultural subsidies each year ($4 billion for milk alone in 2006); then as consumers who pay higher prices at the checkout counter because we can’t take advantage of low-price imports.

Subsidies and tariffs were originally intended to help protect small farmers–a purpose they’ve largely outlived. They keep rolling on, though, because the only people who focus on them tend to be their direct beneficiaries. Spread over tens of millions of consumers, the costs seem small: the average American taxpayer, for example, pays only $322 each year to fund subsidies. But for some of the thousands of farmers who get such payments, the benefits are huge: from 1995 to 2005, roughly 75 percent of subsidy payments went to just 10 percent of the subsidy recipients, who took in an average of $91,000 a year; and 55 farmers received more than $1 million each. Talk about a green thumb.

Given the megadeficit now darkening our fruited plain, $25 billion each year is real money; so is the roughly $2 billion in economic benefits that the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates we would get each year if we lifted all tariffs on food and agriculture items. We’d bring in more than $800 million by lifting tariffs on sugar alone. What’s more, by ending this kind of subsidy profiteering and opening our markets, we would not only save money but enable some of the world’s poorest agricultural producers to make a buck in the bargain.

So, how can we get more Americans to look up from their feedbags and demand that Congress restore some sense to the marketplace? I recommend a little truth-in-packaging. Just as food manufacturers now list their products’ ingredients and nutritional value, they should also disclose their “free-market” value.

To wit, every product whose ingredients benefit from a subsidy should include the following language on the label:

“This product has been subsidized by the U.S. government at taxpayer expense. For more information, please visit usda.gov.”

And every product that benefits from tariff protection should have the following language on the label:

“This product is protected from foreign competition by U.S. import tariffs. Its price is higher as a result. For more information, please visit usitc.gov.”

Ideally, the Web sites of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and International Trade Commission would provide not just specific information on subsidies and tariffs, but contact information for the relevant congressional committees that oversee them–hmmmm, perhaps even their chairs’ home phone numbers.

Let the angry 2 a.m. phone calls begin!

During the illusory days of inflation and consumer credit expansion individuals didn’t care a whole lot about a few extra dollars. Now, that deflation is a day to day reality, cash hungry consumers will be more receptive to the damages caused by subsidies and tariffs.

I have a simple proposal for President Obama and Congress if they were at all serious about helping US consumers: Get rid of every single subsidy and tariff imposed by the federal government.

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