Nov. 03--A "zero-nuclear" Japan will be a serious concern for the United States as its key ally both from economic and security standpoints, the chief of an influential U.S. think tank said at a recent seminar on Japan-U.S. relations.
The policy set out in September by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet seeking to phase out nuclear power generation in Japan by the end of the 2030s -- in response to strong anti-nuclear sentiments in the country following the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 -- is not viable given Japan's vast economic needs, said John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Hamre, a former deputy U.S. defense secretary, and his CSIS colleague Michael Green were speaking at a seminar organized by the Keizai Koho Center on Oct. 25 to discuss American policy on East Asia ahead of the U.S. presidential election as well as the imminent change in leadership in China.
Nuclear power generation in Japan over the past four decades has been an important part of Japan's economic success that provided "a strong, reliable supply of base energy" for the historically energy-poor country, Hamre said.
While he said he understood that the Fukushima crisis shook people's confidence in nuclear power -- just as the 1979 Three Mile Island incident did for Americans -- he noted there is "too much of a romantic idea about alternative energy in this country as a substitute for nuclear power."
The Democratic Party of Japan-led government's policy does not include a specific road map to achieve the goal, but assumes that renewable sources like wind and solar power will account for a greater portion of the nation's energy mix in coming decades.
Citing U.S. experience in wind and solar power generation, Hamre said the low efficiency and output of these sources that rely on natural conditions will not "replace the base capacity of nuclear power generation."
Japan will also face a huge cost disadvantage if it is going to turn more to natural gas as a source of power generation, he said. While in the U.S., where the so-called shale revolution in recent years has dramatically changed the energy industry structure, natural gas today costs $2.60 per million BTU, Japan is paying $14 per million BTU, he pointed out.
"You're paying five times as much for natural gas. So if you're going to make the decision that you're only going to have natural gas-fired electric generation plants, you're going to encumber your economy with energy costs five times higher than the competition," Hamre said. "There can't be any romanticism about alternative energy. If you're going to be a modern, sophisticated economy, you have to address this question of making nuclear power a legitimate source of energy."
Hamre also said the policy poses a security concern from the viewpoint of international control for nonproliferation of nuclear materials.
"Nuclear power from the very beginning was (not only) a source of promise, but (also) a source of great threat because nuclear power electric generation is also the base for making nuclear weapons, and it's a great risk to the world to have commercial nuclear power plants because there is a possibility of diverting the material and turning it into weapons.
"So for the last 40 years the U.S. and Japan, along with Europe, have been leaders in creating an international system to monitor and control the use of commercial nuclear energy so that we know if people were illegitimately going to divert it and turn it into weapons," he said.
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- Scotch Whisky Sales Raise Distillers' Spirits
- Budget Deal Will Cut 220,000 Californians Out of Jobless Benefits
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Fake Deaf Interpreter Was Hallucinating, Has Schizophrenia
- Tea Party Glum in Face of Bipartisan Budget Deal
- Futures Fall, Holiday Spending and Unemployment Up
- Health Coverage Disparities Emerge Among States