There is good news from Japan this week. After four long years the first Sendai reactor has been allowed to restart. But many high profile Japanese don’t agree that this is good news. E.g., former prime minister Naoto Kan:
“By moving ahead with restarts, the Abe administration is leading a doomed country”
The survivors of Japan’s Tohoku Earthquake have suffered so much. And the former residents of the Fukushima exclusion zone are bearing the additional stress of nuclear fear. For example, polling of former residents is discouraging – fewer than one-half may be willing to return. We can credit some of their reticence to the physical state of their home neighborhood, but there is so much fear.
Radiophobia seems to be common in Japan, probably explaining why governments enacted radiation standards much lower than scientifically justified; and why politicians nourished expectations of nuclear power perfection. Combining this history with the mismanagement of the Fukushima accident has put Japan in a very unfortunate position: Japan’s economy is damaged by importing fossil fuels to replace the almost 30% of their electricity generation that has been closed. And the widespread radio phobia may prevent restarting the majority of Japan’s 43 operable reactors. In addition to Japan’s economic stress, the fear of nuclear catastrophe is causing Japan to share their fear globally – in the form of unnecessary carbon emissions.
What could be done to help the Japanese people shift to a realistic view of the benefits vs. risks of choosing nuclear from the menu of feasible low-carbon options? I’ll offer a few thoughts:
Consider the segment of the American population with similar fears of apocalyptic nuclear accidents. If you wanted to form a Presidential Commission to evaluate and report on the entire range of energy options – who would you nominate that could influence the potential switchers? That’s a big staffing challenge – to attract the people who combine the necessary credibility with the capability of managing such an honest inquiry.
Who would I nominate? George P. Shultz is an easy choice. If he accepted, the rest of the recruiting would go well. My next call would be to Burton Richter. Besides his deep competence and gravitas he has long experience with just this sort of public policy responsibility, and practical experience with getting things done in government. As an example Burt has been a key contributor to the California Council On Science And Technology project “Policies for California’s Energy Future”. My third pick would be Jane Long – who coincidentally was the very effective leader of the enlightened CCST project.
Surely Japan has public figures of similar skills and stature. Who are they? How much impact could such an “Japan Energy Commission” have on public fears? Could such a commission get the ear of Japan’s heavily anti-nuclear media?
A complementary approach could be to adapt Robert Stone’s concept of building a high-credibility story around “switchers”. If Robert himself could be enlisted to this project he would be a powerful agent of change. I’m sure he could train a Japanese counterpart. As a director Robert knows how to organize the effort to tell a compelling story. There must be Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners who have switched?
Regarding funding of such a project, moving Japan towards a pragmatic energy policy isn’t just for Japan’s benefit. Earth’s atmosphere will obviously say “Thank you” for reduced Japanese emissions. Emissions aside, Japan is having a significant negative energy policy impact across the globe.