June 24, 2021

Proposed Rules for Japan’s Nuclear Industry Called Too Strict

The relatively stiff requirements by a panel that included nuclear power supporters appeared to take Japan’s nuclear industry and its backers in government by surprise, and pose a challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just weeks into his term.

Mr. Abe has made it clear that he wanted to restart Japan’s scores of idled reactors — all but two of which remain offline in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima plant disaster — and has even said that he wanted to build new ones. But he and his Liberal Democratic Party, the architect of Japan’s nuclear industry, already faced significant opposition from a population that was traumatized by the nuclear crisis that spread radioactive materials over a wide swath of the country’s northeast.

The crisis at the Fukushima plant, which led to meltdowns in three reactors, started after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami that swept through the plant, knocking out the electrical power needed to run crucial cooling systems.

The guidelines require a secondary command center away from the reactor buildings so that workers can control emergency cooling systems and vents even if they are forced to pull back from the heart of the plant during an emergency. They also call for power companies to prepare for worse tsunamis than they had previously planned for, forcing at least some oceanside plants to raise sea walls, a costly endeavor.

The rules also ban power companies from building or operating reactors on top of active faults, but continuing contentious discussions over what an “active” fault consists of might allow the government to avoid closing such plants for good.

Many of the proposed regulations bring Japan in line with standards in the United States.

The new guidelines are the latest step in Japan’s struggle to chart its energy future after the disaster. Previous governments led by the Democratic Party had given vague promises to phase out nuclear power as polls indicated that many people feared nuclear power and remained worried that the collusive ties between government and the industry that left the country vulnerable to disaster were ones that could not be broken.

But Mr. Abe has argued that keeping the reactors idle would hinder a recovery he is trying to jump-start with promises to tackle deflation that have already led to a weakening in the yen welcomed by struggling exporters. Nuclear energy had provided 30 percent of the nation’s electricity needs before the disaster.

With virtually all of its reactors offline, Japan has been forced to import more fossil fuels, driving resource-poor Japan to a record annual trade deficit last year. Before the accident, the country consistently posted large trade surpluses.

Still, Mr. Abe’s ability to sway the panel — or try to overrule it — might be limited. The regulatory body has been given significant autonomy, and is able to take a wide range of actions without government approval, partly as a result of maneuvering by Mr. Abe’s own party when it was out of power. Fearing the anti-nuclear agenda of some in the then-ruling Democratic Party, the Liberal Democrats had demanded that the body be insulated from political pressure.

But supporters of Japan’s powerful nuclear industry appeared to be starting a campaign Friday to ensure that the rules did not go into effect as they were.

“If we don’t have a stable energy supply, how are businesses supposed to invest and help Japan grow?” Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, told reporters Friday.

Japan’s ten nuclear operators, including Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, could pay a total of 1 trillion yen to make the required reinforcements, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday, quoting estimates from the power companies.

The panel is expected to finalize the rules in July after a public hearing process, and there are lingering suspicions among anti-nuclear activists that the new panel will ultimately go easy on the country’s nuclear operators. Though nuclear power plants must meet the new guidelines before reactor restarts are cleared, the panel has left open the possibility that some standards could be suspended to allow limited reactor restarts.

The five-member nuclear authority was put in place after complaints that previous regulators were too close to industry.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/world/asia/proposed-rules-for-japans-nuclear-industry-called-too-strict.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Japan Aims to Abandon Nuclear Power by 2030s

Japan joins countries such as Germany and Switzerland in turning away from nuclear power after last year’s earthquake unleashed a tsunami that swamped the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan was the third-biggest user of atomic energy before the disaster.

In abandoning atomic power, Japan aims to triple the share of renewable power to 30 percent of its energy mix, but will remain a top importer of oil, coal and gas for the foreseeable future.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unpopular government, which could face an election this year, had faced intense lobbying from industries to maintain atomic energy and also concerns from its major ally, the United States, which supplied it with nuclear technology in the 1950s.

“This is a strategy to create a new future,” a policy statement said, after key ministers finalized the decision on Friday. “It is not pie in the sky. It is a practical strategy.”

All but two of Japan’s nuclear 50 reactors are idled for safety checks and the government plans to allow restarts of units taken off line after the disaster if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator.

Japan’s growing anti-nuclear movement, which wants an immediate end to the use of atomic power, is certain to oppose any such proposal to secure electricity supplies by restarting reactors.

By applying a strict 40-year limit on the lifetime of reactors, most will be shut down by the 2030s.

LNG, COAL AND OIL IMPORTS

A shift from nuclear means Japan should remain the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and third-largest purchaser of oil to feed its power stations. The company is also a major importer of coal and is likely to increase reliance on it.

The government estimated last week it will need to spend about 3.1 trillion yen ($40.03 billion) more on fuel imports a year if it abandons nuclear power immediately.

Japan’s hunger for energy has helped sustain an investment boom in gas projects from Australia to new export terminals in the U.S., where a shale gas revolution is in full swing. LNG prices also soared earlier this year as Japan scoured the world for supplies.

The new policy was adopted 18 months after the earthquake and tsunami devastated Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggering meltdowns, spewing radiation and forcing some 160,000 people to flee.

Tomoko Abe, an opposition lawmaker who heads a non-partisan group seeking to abandon atomic power, told Reuters the new strategy was lacking in key details.

“More than (a promise to) exit nuclear power in the 2030s, which is a long way away, what the people want to know is what they are going to do about restarting reactors,” Abe said.

The government’s strategy calls for a push to reduce energy consumption through efficiency and other measures to at least 10 percent less than 2010 levels.

Noda’s decision is unlikely to resolve fierce debate over whether reducing atomic power’s role will do more harm or good to the economy. Nuclear power provided 30 percent of Japan’s electricity before the Fukushima disaster crippled the sector.

And with Noda’s Democratic Party expected to lose the general election, there is no guarantee that the next government would stand by the policy.

COSTS OF ABANDONING NUCLEAR POWER

Japan’s powerful business lobbies also argue that exiting nuclear energy in favor of fossil fuels and renewable sources such as solar and wind power will boost electricity prices, making industry uncompetitive and complicating efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The shift also threatens the financial viability of Japan’s nuclear operators, which will be saddled with high decommissioning costs.

“To consider such an energy policy runs counter to a growth strategy,” Hiromasa Yonekura, the chairman of the biggest business lobby, told reporters.

Anti-nuclear advocates counter that warnings of economic damage are exaggerated. They say the policy shift will create new openings for corporate profits in areas such as renewable energy that will spark innovation and give the economy a boost.

“A total exit from nuclear is positive for the economy, on balance,” said Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University who studies energy policy.

Surveys show that a majority of voters favor exiting nuclear power sooner or later.

Noda’s decision to restart two units to avoid potential outages this summer galvanized anti-nuclear protests. Last week, the government ended voluntary power savings for parts of the country, with no blackouts during the hot summer months.

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Kentaro Hamada, Yuko Inoue and James Topham; Editing by Ed Davies, Miral Fahmy and Ron Popeski)

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2012/09/14/world/asia/14reuters-japan-nuclear.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Japan’s Central Bank Sounds Warning on Global Economy

TOKYO — The Japanese central bank sounded the alarm over the risks facing the world economy, even as it left its monetary policy unchanged Friday, underscoring the gravity of a global economic slowdown over which policy makers may have little control.

Also Friday, the Japanese cabinet outlined a supplemental budget of ¥12 trillion, or $155 billion, for the reconstruction of areas affected by the natural and nuclear disasters this year, the third such budget, and approved a plan to raise taxes temporarily to fund the effort.

The latest emergency budget follows about ¥6 trillion already earmarked in two supplemental budgets this year. It includes money to help relocate survivors and create a fund to revitalize the economy of Fukushima Prefecture, which has been hit hard by the nuclear crisis.

The government will raise up to ¥11.2 trillion from temporary taxes to help cover costs of rebuilding, according to the provisional tax plan. Officials have said they would also cut unnecessary government expenditures and sell state-owned assets, possibly including the government’s entire stake in Japan Tobacco.

The government has yet to work out the details of any extra spending, as well as tax increases, and must also win the approval of a divided Parliament. It aims to submit the budget to Parliament later this month, according to Kyodo News.

“The uncertain outlook for the global economy and instability in financial markets are underscoring the downside risks for Japan’s economy,” said Masaaki Shirakawa, the Bank of Japan governor.

The world’s advanced economies, in particular, are on the brink of a major slowdown, threatening the Japanese economy, he warned. The European debt crisis has started to cause real damage to the economies in Europe and beyond, he said.

“European financial markets remain tense, as there have been moves in money markets similar to those seen during the Lehman crisis,” he said, referring to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. “What’s different is that the credibility of government debt has become the target of market worries, and this has resulted in bigger impact.”

The global economic problems have affected the Japanese economy just as it has shown signs of recovery following the hugely disruptive earthquake and tsunami in March, and the subsequent nuclear crisis. Economists say they expect figures to show that Japan emerged from recession in the third quarter, as companies restored supply chains disrupted by the disasters.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the Japanese economy will grow 2.3 percent in 2012, the fastest among advanced economies, thanks to Japan’s large fiscal outlays for reconstruction, in contrast with fiscal austerity measures imposed elsewhere in the world.

But prospects for a strong rebound of the country’s exports — on which Japan ultimately depends for economic growth — are looking increasingly frail.

Particularly worrying has been the strong yen, which has surged as investors look for a haven in which to park their assets. The strength of the yen has hurt Japan by making its exports less competitive and eroding exporters’ overseas profits.

Still, the central bank, with interest rates already near zero and a reluctance to flood the economy with more money, has little left in its policy arsenal to bolster the Japanese economy.

Its kept its key interest rate untouched at a range of zero to 0.1 percent and maintained the size of its asset-buying program.

It extended by only six months a ¥1 trillion emergency loan program for regions hit by the March disasters. Half that amount remains untapped amid a still-tepid economic recovery in disaster-affected areas.

The bank’s decision came after the European Central Bank also kept interest rates steady, though it threw a lifeline to struggling banks to ward off a credit crunch. Also Thursday, the Bank of England announced a second round of monetary easing.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a1f21636c2f0a38e52e243f808e676e9

Green Column: Trains That Run Like, and on, the Wind

Deutsche Bahn says it wants to raise the percentage of wind, hydro and solar energy used in powering its trains from 20 percent now to 28 percent in 2014 and to become carbon-free by 2050 — targets that exceed the German government’s already ambitious national goals.

“Consumers in Germany have made it clear they want us all to get away from nuclear energy and to more renewable energy,” said Hans-Jürgen Witschke, chief executive of Deutsche Bahn Energie, which supplies electricity for trains in Germany.

“It’s what customers want, and we’re making it happen,” Mr. Witschke said in an interview. “The demand for green electricity keeps rising each year, and that’ll continue.”

Prevailing attitudes in Germany were already decidedly green before the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan set off by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

After the nuclear crisis in Japan, the Berlin government abruptly reversed course on nuclear power, shutting eight nuclear plants and vowing to close the other nine by 2022.

That caught Deutsche Bahn — and German industry — off guard. The state-owned railroad had relied heavily on nuclear energy. But now the public and industry are increasingly attuned to sustainability and to what companies are doing, Mr. Witschke said.

“Environmental protection has become an important issue in the marketplace and especially in the transport sector,” he said. “Even though more renewables will cost a bit more, that can be contained with an intelligent energy mix and reasonable time frame. We’re confident that cutting CO2 emissions will give us a competitive advantage.”

There are still concerns about the reliability of renewables as their share rises toward 100 percent and before more storage capacity is available. What happens when there is no wind or sunshine?

Some transportation industry analysts are skeptical.

“It sounds like a bit of ‘greenwashing,”’ said Stefan Kick, an analyst at Silvia Quandt Research, a Frankfurt brokerage. “Obviously, costs for renewable energy are going to be higher. Yet if customers are truly willing to pay, it could make sense.”

The railroad’s new push for a larger share of renewable energy to operate trains that transport 1.9 billion passengers and 415 million tons of freight each year has won applause from environmental groups.

They have cheered Deutsche Bahn’s partnerships with wind and hydroelectric power suppliers and its exploratory moves into harvesting solar power from the roofs of its 5,700 stations.

Photovoltaic panels in the spectacular glass roof of the Hauptbahnhof, the main station in Berlin, produce 160,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year — about 2 percent of the station’s needs.

Previously, environmentalists had accused the company of neglecting to develop renewables on its vast properties because of its heavy reliance on nuclear power.

Peter Ahmels, a renewable energy specialist at the German Environmental Aid Association, said the railroad could have done more with wind and solar on its property holdings.

Instead, he said Deutsche Bahn had relied complacently on its image as a low-emission mode of transport. Even high-speed trains, which zip across the country at as much as 300 kilometers, or 185 miles, per hour, have carbon emissions of 46 grams per passenger per kilometer, or about 2.6 ounces per passenger per mile, compared with an average of 140 grams for cars and 180 for planes.

“Since Fukushima, Deutsche Bahn has been moving in the right direction,” Mr. Ahmels said. “There’s clearly a new thinking on the board. They’re doing sensible things. Before, they resisted. The argument was that renewables were not their core business.”

By 2014, the railroad wants a third of the electricity for long-distance trains to come from renewable sources.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/22/business/energy-environment/trains-that-run-like-and-on-the-wind.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Japan Announces Emergency Budget

The $48.5 billion budget is likely to be followed by more spending, as Japan takes on the gargantuan task of rebuilding the section of its Pacific coastline ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Parliament is expected to pass the budget next week.

At least 14,133 people been found dead, an additional 13,346 remain missing and more than 130,000 still live in evacuation centers. Government estimates put the total damage from the quake and tsunami at $300 billion.

The nuclear crisis set off by the tsunami has added to the human and economic toll. On Friday, the government banned residents from a 12-mile evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, where several reactors have suffered explosions and radiation leaks. A previous order urged but did not require evacuation from that zone; the government still recommends that residents leave if they are within 19 miles of the plant.

“We all share the hope that reconstruction does not mean a return to where we were, but the building of a brighter future,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at a news conference.

“I feel it was my fate to be prime minister at a time of great adversity,” said Mr. Kan, whose handling of the crises has been criticized sharply in Parliament and in the country at large.

Japan has rebounded from prior catastrophic disasters. The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, for example, killed as many as 140,000 people and brought widespread destruction to Tokyo. It also is thought to have wiped out almost 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. In comparison, the death toll from the March 11 quake and tsunami is far lower, and the economic damage is likely to add up to just a few percent of G.D.P.

Still, Japan faces different challenges now, which could weigh heavily as it rebuilds: a rapidly aging population, a long-stagnant economy and public debt that is already at twice the size of its economy, thanks to its profligate public works projects of the 1990s.

That debt burden adds serious obstacles to financing the great reconstruction. Raising taxes, for which there appears to be a measure of public support, will dampen already tepid personal consumption levels. Issuing more government bonds will add to the ballooning deficit.

Adding to the country’s troubled forecast, Mr. Kan’s grip on leadership appears to be weakening under the withering criticism, including charges that he bungled the initial response to the nuclear crisis, causing it to worsen.

The president of Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, visited an evacuation center on Friday that houses those evacuated from around the crippled plant.

“I have no words to express my regret,” the president, Masataka Shimizu, told the evacuees after making his way through cardboard beds and blankets. TV cameras in tow, he knelt on the ground and bowed deeply — the ultimate posture of apology in Japan.

Some refugees bowed deeply back, while others heckled him. “We all just want to go home,” one told him quietly.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=76fddc8730d55cc2cd561fee353f9549

Business Confidence Sags in Japan

The data are a subset of a wider, closely watched business sentiment survey, the Tankan, which is conducted quarterly by the Bank of Japan and was released Friday. In an unusual step, the bank stripped out responses returned before the earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11 from those received after that date, in an effort to gauge how sentiment had shifted in the wake of the twin disasters.

The post-quake Tankan results released Monday showed large manufacturers, who are most closely watched by economists and manufacturers, turning negative in their outlook for the next three months, with a reading of minus 2. Answers received from those who replied before the quake made for a reading of plus 3. A negative number means pessimists outnumber optimists.

Small and medium-size businesses, which tend to be more reliant on the domestic economy, had been negative even before the quake. They turned even more nervous after the disaster, the data released Monday showed.

Economists cautioned that the data probably underestimated the impact of the disasters, and of the nuclear crisis that has unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant since then. The Bank of Japan also stressed that the relatively small number of responses that came in after March 11 meant that the results probably did not fully reflect the shift in sentiment.

Still, the data give one of the clearest pictures available so far of the effect that the disasters have had on business confidence in what is the world’s third-largest economy.

Aside from the human toll and the damage directly caused by the quake and tsunami in the country’s northeast, the disasters have caused considerable disruption to businesses elsewhere in the country, by knocking out part of Japan’s power-generation capacity.

Numerous manufacturers have had to idle plants, both because of power cuts and because of disruption to supply chains, especially in the electronics and automobile sectors.

Many economists believe overall industrial production slumped by more than 10 percent in March, compared with February, and that the impact of the quake and power shortfalls is likely to be felt for several months. Much uncertainty remains, notably about the full measure of supply chain disruption and about the effect of the disasters on consumer spending in Japan.

Still, most economists expect a marked pickup later this year, as reconstruction activity kicks in. Although many have lowered their growth forecasts for the Japanese economy, most say the disaster will delay but not completely derail Japan’s gradual economic recovery.

HSBC, for example, lowered its forecasts for G.D.P. growth this year by 0.5 percentage point to 0.9 percent, but it forecasts 3.5 percent growth for next year. Economists at Société Générale lowered their forecast for 2011 from 2 percent to 1 percent in the wake of the quake, but they project that a rapid rebound will kick in as early as the current quarter. They forecast 3.9 percent growth for 2012.

Similarly, analysts at Nomura have lowered their full-year projection 0.7 percentage point to 0.8 percent growth but project expansion of 2.9 percent in 2012.

“We expect real G.D.P. to contract in both 2011 Q1 and Q2, pushing back Japan’s move out of its economic lull. We nonetheless look for real G.D.P. to return to growth in Q3 as supply chain problems ease, and for growth to accelerate sharply in Q4 on a marked increase in reconstruction demand,” the Nomura analysts wrote in a research note last week.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/05/business/global/05yen.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Stocks & Bonds: Last Day of Strong Quarter, and Shares Close Mixed

The index of 30 large companies gained 742 points in that stretch. Measured against other first quarters, that is the largest point gain since 1998 and the second best on record.

The price of oil rose to a 30-month high. Slightly disappointing reports on unemployment claims and factory orders also weighed on the market.

Stocks rose in the first quarter despite uprisings in the Arab world, a jump in oil prices and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.

“This is a market that has been defined by resilience in the face of uncertainty,” said Andrew D. Goldberg, a market strategist at J. P. Morgan Funds.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.88 points, or 0.25 percent, to 12,319.73. The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index fell 2.43 points, or 0.18 percent, to 1,325.83. The Nasdaq composite index rose 4.28 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,781.07.

The S. P. 500 rose 5.4 percent during the first quarter and the Nasdaq gained 4.8 percent.

Shares of Berkshire Hathaway lost 2.1 percent after the company said that David Sokol, once a candidate to succeed Warren E. Buffett as the head of the conglomerate, resigned.

Stocks swung between small gains and losses on Thursday as the price of oil surged to settle at $106.72 a barrel. In Libya, troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi retook control of the crucial oil port of Ras Lanouf from rebel forces. The power shift threatens the quick restart of oil exports promised by a rebel victory.

Oil prices have risen $20 a barrel since the Libyan uprising began in February. Higher oil prices can pinch spending by forcing consumers to pay more for gasoline and could cut into economic growth.

Spot gold prices also rose $4.52 an ounce to $1,423.02.

There were also slightly disappointing reports on new unemployment claims and factory orders. The Labor Department said fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that companies may be slowing layoffs. The number of new claims declined 6,000, to 388,000. Analysts expected a larger decline.

The news comes a day before the Labor Department’s monthly employment report. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.9 percent.

Banks in Ireland were also under pressure. The country’s central bank said Thursday that four of its banks needed another 24 billion euros in coming months to show that they will not collapse in the face of future crises. Ireland has already put 46 billion euros into the country’s banks since 2009. The four banks will need to draw on an emergency credit line from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Still, stocks in Europe broadly rose. The FTSE 100 in London closed up 16.13 point to 5,948.30 while the CAC-40 in Paris rose 36.64 points, to 4,024.44.

Interest rates were a little higher on Thursday. The Treasury’s benchmark 10-year note fell 7/32, to 101 11/32, and the yield rose to 3.46 percent from 3.43 percent late Wednesday.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c1d8ed8b9a66abcc45149273c6420253