NUCLEAR BUSINESS AND REACTOR PRODUCTION IN JAPAN
model of a
pressure reactor One of the keys to growth in the nuclear industry worldwide is a century-old forge on the island of Hokkaido in Japan that produces 80 percent of the world’s reactors cores---highly specialized pieces of steel milled from a single 600-ton ingot. Only a few companies in the world can handle this job. Insiders in the nuclear industry told the Times of London that this is the “biggest, most overlooked bottleneck” for a nuclear revival.
The owners of the forge in Hokkaido, Japan Steel Works (JSW), can only produce four of these reactor cores a year, far below what is needed to meet demand. To address problem JSW says it will invest to ramp up production to 8½ cores a year. But that still isn’t enough. Major nuclear plant producers Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Hitachi and France’s Areva have all bought stakes in JSW to secure the cores they need.
Japan’s nuclear reactors are operated by 10 power companies, including KEPCO ( Kansai Electric Power Company) and TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) .
Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi are all in the nuclear-power-plant-making business. Recently they have all formed alliances with foreign partners. See Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi, Economics. Industry, Electronics Industry
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has an alliance with France’s Areva to build nuclear plants. Areva is a leader in building pressurized water reactors. Mitsubishi has invested heavily in Areva to boost its clout in the global nuclear market.
Nuclear reactors must undergo a regular checkup every 13 months.
Japanese Nuclear Power Industry and the Japanese Government
The government plays an enormous role in the safety of nuclear power plants, checking reports submitted by power companies regarding the quake-resistance measures implemented at each of their nuclear plants. Tetsuo Jimbo, an Internet TV reporter, told The New Yorker: “In the U.S., you have a big military industry. Well, we don’t have a big military, but we have a big nuclear industry...Nuclear is a big industry with a few large companies, so there is a circle of industry leaders and regulators who try to protect and promote the nuclear program in Japan.”
The two most important players were the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), with bureaucrats in one confident of post-retirement perches in the other under the tradition known as amakudari. “People call them the “nuclear mafia,” Jimbo said. “They tend to hide and distort information, and you can understand it, because there is such a negative attitude toward nuclear issues in Japan that they try to hold on to and not release information that will make them look bad.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, March 28, 2011]
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: Over the years, nuclear regulators became so submissive to the industry that critics named the alliance Japan’s “nuclear village.” To some extent, Taro Kono blamed the fact that the agency charged with policing power plants---the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency---was part of the very ministry in charge of promoting them. “There’s no reason for you to regulate something, because when you go back to the ministry everyone’s going to be mad at you,” he said. Moreover, staff members are reluctant to change rules laid out by predecessors. As Kono put it, “Even after top bureaucrats retire, they have influence on personnel changes, so you have to have a good relationship with the old guys.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 17, 2011]
Japanese nuclear regulators, like their American counterparts, have frequently been criticized for following a revolving door into lucrative jobs in the industries they police, and vice versa. Moreover, power-company executives are some of Japan’s most generous political donors; the utilities have not made corporate donations in a generation, but in 2009 individual executives gave seventy-two per cent of all personal contributions to the Liberal Democratic Party. In the late nineteen-nineties, a Tokyo Electric vice-president named Tokio Kano left the company to run, successfully, for parliament, where he led an effort to prevent the adoption of new textbooks until the Education Ministry removed references to the anti-nuclear movement in Europe. After leaving parliament, he returned to Tokyo Electric as an adviser.
See Fukushima nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plants in Japan
Support for Nuclear Power in Japan
Reporting from Kashima, Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “When the Shimane nuclear plant was first proposed here more than 40 years ago, this rural port town put up such fierce resistance that the plant’s would-be operator, Chugoku Electric, almost scrapped the project. Angry fishermen vowed to defend areas where they had fished and harvested seaweed for generations. Two decades later, when Chugoku Electric was considering whether to expand the plant with a third reactor, Kashima once again swung into action: this time, to rally in favor. Prodded by the local fishing cooperative, the town assembly voted 15 to 2 to make a public appeal for construction of the $4 billion reactor.” [Source: Martin Fackler and Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, May 30, 2011]
“Kashima’s reversal is a common story in Japan, and one that helps explain what is, so far, this nation’s unwavering pursuit of nuclear power: a lack of widespread grass-roots opposition in the communities around its 54 nuclear reactors. This has held true even after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami generated a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi station that has raised serious questions about whether this quake-prone nation has adequately ensured the safety of its plants. So far, it has spurred only muted public questioning in towns like this...Communities appear willing to fight fiercely for nuclear power, despite concerns about safety that many residents refrain from voicing publicly.” [Ibid]
“To understand Kashima’s about-face, one need look no further than the Fukada Sports Park, which serves the 7,500 mostly older residents here with a baseball diamond, lighted tennis courts, a soccer field and a $35 million gymnasium with indoor pool and Olympic-size volleyball arena. The gym is just one of several big public works projects paid for with the hundreds of millions of dollars this community is receiving for accepting the No. 3 reactor, which is still under construction.” [Ibid]
“As Kashima’s story suggests, Tokyo has been able to essentially buy the support, or at least the silent acquiescence, of communities by showering them with generous subsidies, payouts and jobs. In 2009 alone, Tokyo gave $1.15 billion for public works projects to communities that have electric plants, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Experts say the majority of that money goes to communities near nuclear plants. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, experts say, as the communities also receive a host of subsidies, property and income tax revenues, compensation to individuals and even “anonymous” donations to local treasuries that are widely believed to come from plant operators. Unquestionably, the aid has enriched rural communities that were rapidly losing jobs and people to the cities.” [Ibid]
Dependency on Nuclear Power in Japan and the Code of Silence
Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Critics contend that the largess has also made communities dependent on central government spending---and thus unwilling to rock the boat by pushing for robust safety measures. In a process that critics have likened to drug addiction, the flow of easy money and higher-paying jobs quickly replaces the communities’ original economic basis, usually farming or fishing. Nor did planners offer alternatives to public works projects like nuclear plants. Keeping the spending spigots open became the only way to maintain newly elevated living standards.” [Source: Martin Fackler and Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, May 30, 2011]
“Experts and some residents say this dependency helps explain why, despite the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the accidents at the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear plants, Japan never faced the levels of popular opposition to nuclear power seen in the United States and Europe---and is less likely than the United States to stop building new plants. Towns become enmeshed in the same circle---which includes politicians, bureaucrats, judges and nuclear industry executives---that has relentlessly promoted the expansion of nuclear power over safety concerns.” “This structure of dependency makes it impossible for communities to speak out against the plants or nuclear power,” Shuji Shimizu, a professor of public finance at Fukushima University, told the New York Times. Indeed, a code of silence seems to prevail even now in towns like Kashima, which merged with the neighboring city of Matsue a half decade ago. [Ibid]
“Tsuneyoshi Adachi, a 63-year-old fisherman, joined the huge protests in the 1970s and 1980s against the plant’s No. 2 reactor,” Onishi and Fackler wrote. “He said many fishermen were angry then because chlorine from the pumps of the plant’s No. 1 reactor, which began operating in 1974, was killing seaweed and fish in local fishing grounds. However, Mr. Adachi said, once compensation payments from the No. 2 reactor began to flow in, neighbors began to give him cold looks and then ignore him. By the time the No. 3 reactor was proposed in the early 1990s, no one, including Mr. Adachi, was willing to speak out against the plant. He said that there was the same peer pressure even after the accident at Fukushima, which scared many here because they live within a few miles of the Shimane plant.” “Sure, we are all worried in our hearts about whether the same disaster could happen at the Shimane nuclear plant,” Mr. Adachi said. However, “the town knows it can no longer survive economically without the nuclear plant.” [Ibid]
“While few will say so in public, many residents also quietly express concern about how their town gave up its once-busy fishing industry. They also say that flashy projects like the sports park have brought little lasting economic benefit. The No. 3 reactor alone brought the town some $90 million in public works money, and the promise of another $690 million in property tax revenues spread over more than 15 years once the reactor becomes operational next year. In the 1990s, property taxes from the No. 2 reactor supplied as much as three-quarters of town tax revenues. The fact that the revenues were going to decline eventually was one factor that drove the town to seek the No. 3 reactor, said the mayor at the time, Zentaro Aoyama.” [Ibid]
“Mr. Aoyama admitted that the Fukushima accident had frightened many people here. Even so, he said, the community had no regrets about accepting the Shimane plant, which he said had raised living standards and prevented the depopulation that has hollowed out much of rural Japan. “What would have happened here without the plant?” said Mr. Aoyama, 73, who said the town used its very first compensation payment from the No. 1 reactor back in the late 1960s to install indoor plumbing.” [Ibid]
“While the plants provide power mostly to distant urban areas, they were built in isolated, impoverished rural areas. Kazuyoshi Nakamura, 84, recalls how difficult life was as a child in Kataku, a tiny fishing hamlet within Kashima that faces the rough Sea of Japan. His father used a tiny wooden skiff to catch squid and bream, which his mother carried on her back to market, walking narrow mountain paths in straw sandals.” [Ibid]
Still, at first local fishermen adamantly refused to give up rights to the seaweed and fishing grounds near the plant, said Mr. Nakamura, who was a leader of Kataku’s fishing cooperative at the time. They eventually accepted compensation payments that have totaled up to $600,000 for each fisherman. “In the end, we gave in for money,” Mr. Nakamura said. Today, the dirt-floor huts of Mr. Nakamura’s childhood have been replaced by oversize homes with driveways, and a tunnel has made central Kashima a five-minute drive away. But the new wealth has changed this hamlet of almost 300 in unforeseen ways. Only about 30 aging residents still make a living from fishing. Many of the rest now commute to the plant, where they work as security guards or cleaners. “There was no need to work anymore because the money just flowed so easily,” said a former town assemblyman who twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor on an antinuclear platform.
Nuclear Power Subsidies and Incentives to Build New Nuclear Plants
According to the Three Power Source Development Law--- a sophisticated system of government subsidies created in 1974 by Kakuei Tanaka, the powerful prime minister who shaped Japan’s nuclear power landscape--- all Japanese power consumers to pay, as part of their utility bills, a tax that was funneled to communities with nuclear plants. Officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the nuclear industry, oversees the subsidies. “This is money to promote the locality’s acceptance of a nuclear plant,” Tatsumi Nakano of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, told the New York Times.
Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Political experts say the subsidies encourage not only acceptance of a plant but also, over time, its expansion. That is because subsidies are designed to peak soon after a plant or reactor becomes operational, and then decline.” “In many cases, what you’ll see is that a town that was depopulating and had very little tax base gets a tremendous insurge of money,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, a political scientist at Purdue University who has studied the laws. [Ibid]
As the subsidies continue to decline over the lifetime of a reactor, communities come under pressure to accept the construction of new ones, Mr. Aldrich said. “The local community gets used to the spending they got for the first reactor---and the second, third, fourth, and fifth reactors help them keep up,” he added. Critics point to the case of Futaba, the town that includes Fukushima Daiichi’s No. 5 and No. 6 reactors, which began operating in 1978 and 1979, respectively. [Ibid]
According to Professor Shimizu of Fukushima University, Fukushima Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini plants directly or indirectly employed some 11,000 people in communities that include Futaba---or about one person in every two households. Since 1974, communities in Fukushima Prefecture have received about $3.3 billion in subsidies for its electrical plants, most of it for the two nuclear power facilities, Mr. Shimizu said.”
“Despite these huge subsidies, most given in the 1970s, Futaba recently began to experience budget problems. As they did in Kashima, the subsidies dwindled along with other revenues related to the nuclear plant, including property taxes. By 2007, Futaba was one of the most fiscally troubled towns in Japan and nearly went bankrupt. Town officials blamed the upkeep costs of the public facilities built in the early days of flush subsidies and poor management stemming from the belief that the subsidies would remain generous.” [Ibid]
Eisaku Sato, who served as the governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988 to 2006 and became a critic of the nuclear industry, said that 30 years after its first reactor started operating, the town of Futaba could no longer pay its mayor’s salary. “With a nuclear reactor, in one generation, or about 30 years, it’s possible that you’ll become a community that won’t be able to survive,” Mr. Sato said.
Futaba’s solution to its fiscal crisis was to ask the government and Tokyo Electric, Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, to build two new reactors, which would have eventually increased the number of reactors at Fukushima Daiichi to eight. The request immediately earned Futaba new subsidies. “Putting aside whether “drugs” is the right expression,” Mr. Sato said, “if you take them one time, you’ll definitely want to take them again.”
Eiji Nakamura, the failed candidate for mayor of Kashima, said the town came to rely on the constant flow of subsidies for political as well as economic reasons. He said the prefectural and town leaders used the jobs and money from public works to secure the support of key voting blocs like the construction industry and the fishing cooperative, to which about a third of the town’s working population belongs.
Communities That Want Nuclear Power Plants
Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “This dependence explains why Prime Minister Kan’s talk of slowing Japan’s push for nuclear power worries some places. Consider Higashidori, a town with one working reactor and three more scheduled to start operating over the next decade. With the subsidies and other revenues from four planned reactors, town officials began building an entirely new town center two decades ago.” [Source: Martin Fackler and Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, May 30, 2011]
“Serving a rapidly declining population of 7,300, the town center is now dominated by three gigantic, and barely used, buildings in the shape of a triangle, a circle and a square, which, according to the Tokyo-based designer, symbolize man, woman and child. Nearby, a sprawling campus with two running tracks, two large gymnasiums, eight tennis courts and an indoor baseball field serves fewer than 600 elementary and junior high school children. In 2010, nearly 46 percent of the town’s $94 million budget came from nuclear-related subsidies and property taxes.” [Ibid]
Shigenori Sasatake, a town official overseeing nuclear power, said Higashidori hoped that the Japanese government and plant operators would not waver from their commitment to build three more reactors there, despite the risks exposed at Fukushima. “Because there are risks, there is no way reactors would be built in Tokyo, but only here in this kind of rural area,” Mr. Sasatake said, adding that town officials harbored no regrets about having undertaken such grandiose building projects. [Ibid]
But Higashidori’s building spree raised eyebrows in Oma, another peninsula town, with 6,300 residents, where construction on its first reactor, scheduled to start operating in 2014, was halted after the Fukushima disaster. Tsuneyoshi Asami, a former mayor who played a critical role in bringing the plant to Oma, said that the town did not want to be stuck with fancy but useless buildings that would create fiscal problems in the future. So far, Oma has resisted building a new town hall, using nuclear subsidies instead to construct educational and fisheries facilities, as well as a home for the elderly.”Regular people and town council members kept saying that no other community where a plant was located has stopped at only one reactor---that there was always a second or third one---so we should be spending more,” Mr. Asami said. “But I said no.” [Ibid]
Still, even in Oma, there were worries that the Fukushima disaster would indefinitely delay the construction of its plant. It is just the latest example of how the system of subsidies and dependency Japan created to expand nuclear power makes it difficult for the country to reverse course. “We absolutely need it,” Yoshifumi Matsuyama, the chairman of Oma’s Chamber of Commerce, said of the plant. “Nothing other than a nuclear plant will bring money here. That’s for sure. What else can an isolated town like this do except host a nuclear plant?” [Ibid]
Problems with the Japanese Nuclear Establishment
Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, “Kenichi Ido, the chief judge at the district court who is now a lawyer in private practice, said that, in general, it was difficult for plaintiffs to prove that a plant was dangerous. What is more, because of the technical complexities surrounding nuclear plants, judges effectively tended to side with a national strategy of promoting nuclear power, he said. “I think it can’t be denied that a psychology favoring the safer path comes into play,” Mr. Ido said. “Judges are less likely to invite criticism by siding and erring with the government than by sympathizing and erring with a small group of experts.” [Source: Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 16, 2011]
That appears to have happened when a higher court reversed the decision in 2009 and allowed Hokuriku Electric to keep operating the reactor. In that decision, the court ruled that the plant was safe because it met new standards for Japan’s nuclear plants issued in 2006. Critics say that this exposed the main weakness in Japan’s nuclear power industry: weak oversight. [Ibid]
The 2006 guidelines had been set by a government panel composed of many experts with ties to nuclear operators. Instead of setting stringent industrywide standards, the guidelines effectively left it to operators to check whether their plants met new standards. In 2008, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan’s main nuclear regulator, said that all the country’s reactors met the new quake standards and did not order any upgrades. [Ibid]
Toshiba and Nuclear Power
Toshiba nuclear plant Toshiba is among world’s largest nuclear power companies. In 2006 purchased Westinghouse in the United States for $5 billion. In 2007, it announced a tie up with IHI, a leading equipment maker for nuclear power plants, and Korea-based Doosan Heavy Industries to produce nuclear reactors. The alliance with IHI allows Toshiba to improve its production of pressurized water reactors and makes it easier to build reactors in the United States. The alliance Doosan makes it easier to build them in China.
Nuclear power-related sales account for about 9 percent of Toshiba’s total revenue. Before the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 Toshiba had set the targets of winning orders to build 39 nuclear reactors around the world by fiscal 2015 and having its nuclear power business bring in revenue of 1 trillion yen that year. [Source: Etsuo Kono and Takeshi Kurihara, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 18, 2011]
The nuclear power business activities had been one of Toshiba's top priorities, and the government's new economic growth program placed exports of nuclear plants as a centerpiece of its infrastructure export drive. Some observers have suggested the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant could derail these plans to expand exports of nuclear power plants.
Toshiba’s latest boiling water reactor can produce 1.35 million kilowatts an hour, enough to power 2.5 million households.
Toshiba Nuclear Deals
As of 2008 Toshiba-Westinghouse had orders to build 12 pressurized nuclear reactors in the United States and China and was seeking nuclear contracts in South Africa and Britain and other countries. Most of the reactors are Westinghouse-designed AP-1000 reactors. Westinghouse has made about half of the world’s reactors. It has deals to build future new reactors in China .
In 2007, Toshiba won deals to construct two nuclear power plants in Texas for NRG Energy at a coast of between $5 billion and $6 billion. In 2008 it won deals with Scana Corp to build two nuclear reactors in South Carolina and with Southern Co to build two other nuclear reactors in Georgia.
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster it looks as if the plan to build nuclear reactors in South Texas is dead. In April 2011, NRG, the U.S. utility behind the project, said it would not spend any more money on the project. About $481 million had already been spent, with 70 percent of the money coming from NRG and the rest from Toshiba. The $20 million need to shut down the program is the last money NRG will spend on the project, the company said.
In February 2009, Toshiba signed an agreement to build two new nuclear reactors in Florida, the first two 1,400 megawatt advanced boiler water reactors in the United States, completed in 2016 and 2017. Th deal was Toshiba first in the United States that wasn’t a Westinghouse deal.
There is a strong demand for nuclear power plants as nuclear power is seen a clean alternative to coal and oil. About 150 nuclear power plants are planned around the world by 2030, with 30 each in the United States, Russia and China. These days they cots cost $3 billion to $4 billion to make and require constant upkeep and maintenance over the 30 to 50 years of planned operation.
The various deals gave Toshiba total sales of over ¥1 trillion making it the largest heavy machinery manufacturer in Japan. Toshiba is negotiating with the Russian state-run nuclear monopoly Atomenergoprom, or Atompro, to make nuclear plant parts in Russia and cooperate in other ways.
Toshiba’s Nuclear Business After the Fukushima Nuclear Crisis
Reactor No.3 at Fukushima nuclear power plant was made by Toshiba. Reactors No. 1 and 2 were made by GE. Reactor No.4 was made by Hitachi. Toshiba and Hitachi have mobilized 2,900 workers to work on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis. The 1,400 Toshiba workers among other things have operated unmanned helicopter to inspect the reactors and provided equipment to dispose of radioactive water.
Toshiba and rival Hitachi are exploring the possibility of working together to decommission the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Under the Toshiba plan it will take about six months to stabilize the reactors, five and half years to disassemble them and 10 years to dismantle the reactor buildings. Under Hitachi’s plan it will take about six months to stabilize the reactors, ten years to disassemble them and 30 years to dismantle the reactor buildings.
The Fukushima nuclear crisis is expected to cause Toshiba to miss its ambitious targets of winning orders to build 39 nuclear reactors. However, President Norio Sasaki said demand for nuclear power plants is likely to continue over the medium and long term, especially in emerging economies, and Toshiba's after-tax profit for fiscal 2010 is likely to exceed initial projections.
On Toshiba's prospects in nuclear power business, Sasaki said: “Safety regulations at nuclear power facilities, such as defenses against tsunami, will be toughened worldwide, which may delay construction at some nuclear power plants. Given this, it is difficult to judge whether our company will attain our nuclear business goal for the period up to fiscal 2015. Achieving this goal may be delayed to fiscal 2016 or beyond.”
What impact has the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis had on nuclear power projects abroad?” Sasaki said, “At this point, none of the countries in which we are involved in nuclear power plant construction plans, including Finland and Turkey, has told us they are canceling their plans. Nuclear power plants are inexpensive in terms of power generation costs, and they will remain an important alternative in resolving environmental problems [such as global warming] and ensuring energy security.
On the safety of nuclear power plants, he said, “Our latest model of nuclear power plant is capable of cooling itself for 72 hours even if the reactor loses its external sources of electricity.” On the impact of the Fukushima crisis on Toshiba’s bottom line, Sasaki said, “Even if our nuclear power business contracts 10 percent or so, the cut in total sales would be no more than 0.9 percent. This decline could be offset by expanding our sales of TVs, computers and other products in emerging economies. Our sales and operating profits in the business year ending March 31, 2011, will be slightly lower than we projected in January, but after-tax profits could be slightly up from a year before.
Regarding existing plants, "We'll deal with permanent improvement in accordance with safety standards that will be revised based on analysis" of the crisis, Sasaki told Toshiba shareholders in June 2011. "We'll also develop next-generation nuclear reactors with high security.” On building new nuclear plants, the company will proceed by checking the situations of customers in each country, Sasaki said. He said the company is emphasizing renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar and wind power, and sought shareholders' support for its plan to promote a "smart-community" business involving creation of diverse infrastructure systems, including energy, water and transportation. Regarding its goal of securing orders to build 39 reactors globally by fiscal 2015 with sales totaling ¥1 trillion, Toshiba Vice President Masashi Muromachi said, "Achievement could be delayed for several years."
Toshiba has been actively boosting investments in the energy field recently. In June 2011, it announced it had agreed to acquire Swiss electrical meter company Landis+Gyr AG to enhance its “’smart-grid”--- next generation power delivery network business. Around the same time, the company said it will enter the wind power business by forming a strategic business and capital alliance with South Korean wind power equipment maker Unison Co.
In September 2011, Toshiba said it was going the Shaw Group’s 20 percent stack in Westinghouse, increasing the Japanese company’s stake in Westinghouse from 67 percent to 87 percent , and showing that Toshiba was committed to the nuclear power business.
Hitachi’s Nuclear Business
Hitachi and GE have formed an alliance to build nuclear reactors and were likely to receive a contract to build 1.5-million kilowatt economical and simplified boiling water reactor (ESBWR) for the Dominion Energy Company in Virginia. The two companies are also seeking orders for mid-size nuclear reactors in Southeast Asia that cost between $2 billion and $3 billion.
The alliance between Hitachi and GE was a blow to Toshiba that had a relation with GE in the nuclear business that went back 40 years. The tie up with GE is seen by many analysts as a move by Hitachi to gain a foothold in the booming nuclear market in the United States.
Reactor No.4 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant where meltdowns occurred after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami was made by Hitachi. Reactors No. 1 and 2 were made by GE. Reactor No.3 was made by Toshiba.
Hitachi and rival Toshiba are exploring the possibility of working together to decommission the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Under the Toshiba plan it will take about six months to stabilize the reactors, five and half years to disassemble them and 10 years to dismantle the reactor buildings. Under Hitachi’s plan it will take about six months to stabilize the reactors, ten years to disassemble them and 30 years to dismantle the reactor buildings.
Toshiba and Hitachi have mobilized 2,900 workers to work on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis. The 1,500 Hitachi personnel among other things have been injecting nitrogen into the troubled reactors and helped restore system for storing the spent nuclear fuel. Hitachi did decommissioning work at Chernobyl and Three Mile island.
In July 2011, Hitachi announced that it had obtained preferred negotiating rights for an order to construct a nuclear power plant in Visaginas, northeastern Lithuania. It is the first time since the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that a Japanese company has secured preferred negotiating rights for building a nuclear power plant overseas. Lithuania plans to start operating the new power plant in 2020.
Hitachi’s new ABWR (advanced boiling water reactor) have enhanced safety features including ensuring backup power in the event of a major disaster, drawing lessons from the Fukushima crisis, and produces more electricity than conventional ABWRs.
Japanese Companies Pushing Nuclear Power Overseas
Japanese companies are involved in building nuclear power plants in China and other places. They had been expected to profit as nuclear power come back in favor because it doesn't produce any greehouse gases.
In October 2010, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen tan Dung gave his approval for plans for Japan to build two 1000-megawatt nuclear power plants in Vietnam in Ninh Thuan Province about 300 kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Mihn City, Construction is slated to begin in 2014 with operation starting in 2020. The deal is worth about $13 billion.
The Japan nuclear lobby has put a great amount of effort into winning the contract to build nuclear power stations in Vietnam and identified winning the bid as an urgent priority for the government. Japan is also negotiating to build nuclear power plants in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Turkey has expressed strong hopes that Japan will help its build a nuclear power plant in the Black Sea.
In August 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, the government gave is okay for now for the continued export of nuclear power technology. The move came a few weeks after Turkey threatened to take away preferential negotiating rights on a nuclear power plant deal from Japan because of the government’s unclear intentions on exporting nuclear technology.
In August 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Hitachi announced it will tie up with the provincial government of Saskatchewan, Canada, over development of nuclear energy and radiation technologies. Hitachi and the provincial government will work on projects developing small nuclear power reactors, technology to re-collect uranium for nuclear fuel and medical technologies that use radiation. It will be the first time since the crisis at Fukushima nuclear power plant that a Japanese company has established a business partnership over practical nuclear projects. The project is worth about $10 million.
Nuclear Reactor Firms Work Hard to Secure Overseas Orders After the Fukushima Crisis
Yu Toda wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: With the United States expected to build new nuclear power plants for the first time in 34 years, Toshiba Corp. shipped a load of turbine-related equipment to that country in early December 2011. Even after the outbreak of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the United States and emerging economies such as China and India did not stop promoting nuclear power generation. China is constructing 27 nuclear reactors and plans to build an additional 170 by 2030.[Source: Yu Toda, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 3, 2011]
Japanese makers are seeking deals in about two dozen nuclear plant projects in countries including the United States, Vietnam, China, Turkey and Lithuania. In the United States, construction of new nuclear power plants was frozen in 1979 when the Three Mile Island accident occurred. Currently, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is collectively screening construction and operation of 26 nuclear reactors. Some experts say U.S. nuclear engineers have become older and technological capabilities have degenerated during the moratorium on construction of nuclear plants. Therefore, some observers say Japanese companies in the nuclear-related field should be able to contribute to the envisaged development of new nuclear plants.
Newer reactors have much higher safety levels that those at Fukushima. Toshiba, Hitachi Ltd. and General Electric Co. of the United States jointly developed a model called the advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR). The ABWR model is more earthquake-resistant. Its center of gravity is lower and it can cool reactor cores for eight hours even if the external power supply is cut. The AP1000 pressurized light water reactor, which was developed by Toshiba's U.S. subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric Co., can continue to operate on batteries for 72 hours if the external power supply is lost.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's total electricity output from nuclear power plants is predicted to rise from about 375 million kilowatts in 2010 to about 746 million kilowatts in 2030. Though the figure was revised downward slightly after the outbreak of the Fukushima plant crisis, it is still predicted to double in the coming 20 years.
After the March disaster, Germany, Italy and Switzerland declared they would not construct any new nuclear power plants. This was not surprising as the three countries have never been enthusiastic about nuclear power. In Europe, where electric power supply grids are well constructed, the countries can buy electricity from their neighbors.
In Japan, construction of new nuclear power plants is considered difficult in the near future. Therefore, Japanese manufacturers will concentrate on exports of nuclear-related facilities and technology. The companies aim to maintain their technological capabilities by continuing construction of nuclear plants overseas and manufacturing parts, as well as help contain the problems caused by the Fukushima plant.
The New York Times reported: Makers of nuclear reactors from other countries, including Areva of France, General Electric of the United States, Russia’s state-owned Rostacom and several government-backed Chinese conglomerates like China National Nuclear, are pursuing new contracts.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: French rival Areva SA promotes its reactors for their hardiness, saying they would not be destroyed even if a jumbo jet smashed into them. South Korea has also developed safer and economically efficient nuclear reactors in a project supported by both the public and private sectors. It succeeded in winning a contract from the United Arab Emirates. In Finland, South Korea is competing with Japan to win orders.
Japan Promotes Nuclear Power Abroad While Cleaning up the Fukushima Mess at Home
Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times: It may seem a stretch for Japan to acclaim its nuclear technology overseas while struggling at home to contain the nuclear meltdowns that displaced more than 100,000 people. But Japan argues that its latest technology includes safeguards not present at the decades-old reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant, which continues to leak radiation. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, October 10, 2011]
While Fukushima Daiichi could not withstand the magnitude 9 quake and the tsunami that ravaged much of Japan’s northeast coast in March, Japanese officials argue, their nation has learned valuable lessons---and has good nuclear track record withstanding most earlier earthquakes. “Many countries of the world are seriously exploring the use of nuclear power, and we have assisted them in improving nuclear safety,” Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, said at an address at the United Nations General Assembly recently. “We will continue to answer to the interest of those countries.”
The project would involve a new government-supported company whose largest shareholder is Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. The industrial conglomerates Toshiba and Hitachi, which supplied reactors to the Fukushima plant, are also investors. Ichiro Takekuro, a former executive of Tokyo Electric, is the president of the new company, called International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan.
Within Japan, Tokyo’s effort has already drawn protest from nuclear opponents. “The Japanese government’s promotion of nuclear exports is clearly a double standard and a mistake,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth Japan, said in September. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party has also called for more debate on the nuclear export initiative by Mr. Noda and the ruling Democratic Party, although opinion in both parties remains divided.
“Some people are asking: Why is Japan trying to export something it rejected at home?” said Itsunori Onodera, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker and director of a parliamentary foreign policy panel charged with approving bilateral nuclear agreements. “Even if Japan ultimately does decide to continue nuclear exports, there needs to be more debate on the issue.”
Japan and Vietnam Reaffirm Plans to Build Nuclear Plant
In November 2011, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reaffirmed Japan’s plan to build a nuclear power plant in Vietnam that meets the highest standards of safety during his talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Construction by Japanese firms of two reactors is planned at the second nuclear power plant facility in Ninh Thuan Province is southern Vietnam. South Korea and France also competed for the contract, but Japan won the order in October 2011. However, after an accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan called for a review of the plan, referring to a denuclearization policy. This has caused confusion in the contracts between the two nations. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2, 2011]
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano during a visit to Japan in late October that Hanoi expects much from Japan's technological capability in nuclear power generation. "I trust Japan's high-level technology. Drawing lessons from the Fukushima plant disaster, I want Japan to construct the world's safest nuclear power plant," the prime minister said.
The project is worth 1 trillion yen ($13 billion). The terms include possible Japanese financial aid. Vietnam says it is happy that the deal is back on the table. Vietnam’s ambassador to Japan, Nguyen Phu Binh, told the Mainichi newspaper in late August that he wanted to see construction proceed and believed Japan would “use the Fukushima crisis to learn important lessons.”
Japan, Turkey to Resume Nuclear Pact Talks
In November 2011, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to resume negotiations on their countries' nuclear cooperation pact. During their talks on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Cannes, Noda told Erdogan that Tokyo will move ahead with civilian nuclear cooperation with Turkey by sharing lessons from the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, according to the Japanese official. Touching on Turkey's plan to construct a nuclear power station, Erdogan was quoted by the official as telling Noda that he hopes the bilateral negotiations on the matter will go forward. The negotiations had been been suspended since Japan's worst nuclear plant accident was triggered by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami. [Source: Kyodo, November 4, 2011]
According to New York Times The Toshiba-Tokyo Electric team also abandoned a bid to build Turkey’s second nuclear power plant after the Turkish government indicated that it was interested in a different kind of technology than the boiling water reactors that are Toshiba’s specialty. Older versions of boiling water reactors were in use at Fukushima.
But that could benefit yet another Japanese company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which specializes in so-called pressurized water reactors, a technology in which Turkey has shown interest. Mitsubishi has already won contracts to build three nuclear reactors in the United States, two in Texas and one in Virginia.
Image Sources: Japan Nuclear Power Program, TEPCO, Greenpeace
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012