October 28, 2021

Japan Courts the Money in Nuclear Reactors, Selling Them Abroad

Japanese industrial conglomerates, with the cooperation of the government in Tokyo, are renewing their pursuit of multibillion-dollar projects, particularly in smaller energy-hungry countries like Vietnam and Turkey. The effort comes despite criticism within Japan by environmental groups and opposition politicians.

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.

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.”

Mr. Noda’s government considers foreign reactor projects a way to help stimulate Japan’s export-led economy, which had been struggling even before March’s natural and nuclear disasters. Tokyo’s backing— including financial assistance to the customer countries — has become critical in negotiating deals, especially as global confidence in nuclear safety has faltered in Fukushima’s wake.

The World Nuclear Association, a trade industry group, says the world’s stock of 443 nuclear reactors could more than double in the next 15 years, but analysts say that expansion will require strong support from the governments on both sides of any deal.

In early September, after a six-month hiatus following the earthquake, the Japanese government restarted talks with Vietnamese officials on a 1 trillion yen ($13 billion) project to build two reactors in southern Vietnam. The terms include possible Japanese financial aid.

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.

The Vietnam project, if it proceeds, would join a roster of about two dozen other nuclear plant projects that Japanese makers are bidding or working on in countries including the United States, China, Turkey and Lithuania.

Japan’s nuclear drive is a contrast to the recent announcement by Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate, that it would stop building nuclear power plants. Siemens, with headquarters in Munich, is responding to Germany’s decision this year to phase out nuclear power — largely in reaction to Japan’s calamity.

But 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. 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.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=650e04a0c2da16b9e6d61e4c6b12c5c4

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