CNIC Statement: GX Nuclear Power Plant Bill Passed by Japanese House of Representatives After Diet Deliberations Full of Deceit and Fabrication
April 27, 2023
On April 27, 2023, the “Bill to Partially Amend the Electricity Business Act, etc. to Establish an Electricity Supply System for the Realization of a Decarbonized Society” was voted on in a plenary session of the Japanese House of Representatives, and was passed by a majority consisting of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito, Restoration Party, and National Democratic Party. The discussion will now move to the upper house.
The bill is a very complex package of five bills, including the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law, the Atomic Energy Basic Law, and the Electricity Utilities Industry Law. However, since it was bundled, the time allowed for deliberation was extremely limited.
Many questions left unanswered
The government’s Basic Policy for Realizing a Green Transformation (GX Basic Policy) states that nuclear power reactors need to be restarted, extended in operation, or replaced by new reactors to realize a decarbonized society. If it is said to be necessary, then some grounds must be given. However, there has been nothing except an extremely qualitative discussion, with the government not yet setting any numerical targets. On the other hand, the revised Atomic Energy Basic Law seeks to position the promotion of nuclear energy as a national duty. There is no causal relationship between GX and the revision of the Atomic Energy Basic Law. Moreover, nuclear power is only one of many energy sources. Positioning the promotion of nuclear power as a national duty would lead to the fixing in place of nuclear power and undermine the flexibility of Japan’s energy supply.
The GX Basic Policy states that the construction of nuclear power reactors should be limited to new-build replacements. However, in the development of the next generation of innovative reactors, the construction of a prototype reactor is included in the plan, and the government plans to allocate money for research and development. Prototype reactors are research-stage reactors and naturally have higher accident and investment risks than commercial reactors. The policy of reactor construction alone is being pushed ahead without any indication of who will build them, where and what they will be, or whether they will be replacements or totally new power plants. The government has also said that restarting reactors will help hold down power rates. However, according to Tokyo Electric Power EP’s application for a price hike, it is clear that the effect of restarting nuclear power plants on price suppression is a mere 0.4 yen/kWh. At the same time, the cost of maintaining a nuclear power plant is around 2 yen/kWh. That’s a very small benefit for such big risks. When we see the reality of this, can we still say that nuclear power is a cheap power source?
Many problems also remain unresolved regarding extended reactor operating periods. Regarding nuclear reactors exceeding 60 years of operation, Yamanaka Shinsuke, chairperson of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), has explained that “there are scientific grounds for the ability to assess the degree of soundness even after more than 60 years of actual operation.” In reality, however, the age of the world’s oldest nuclear reactor is 53 years, and an operating period of 60 years is something that has never been experienced. The Nuclear Safety Authority of France, a major nuclear power country, says it will look at ways to ensure the safety of the operation of nuclear reactors after 50 years of operation, since “that has not yet been proven.” NRA is trying to disguise reality with a veil of words such as “scientific and technical.” However, facilities at nuclear power plants steadily deteriorate over time.
Even more problematic is the assertion that “safety first” should be the approach for the use of nuclear energy. Of course safety should be paramount, however, during discussions on extending the operation period, it became clear that the independence of the NRA, which is supposed to ensure this safety, was questionable. The Nuclear Regulation Agency, the NRA secretariat, held advance consultations with the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, the agency responsible for promoting operating period extensions, in which they actually advocated extensions. The Nuclear Regulation Agency repeatedly misrepresented its secret prior coordination with the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. In December, in response to CNIC’s request for information disclosure, the NRA answered by phone that it was not true that the Nuclear Regulation Agency had discussed the extension of the operating period before October, when the NRA instructed the Nuclear Regulation Agency to consider the matter. At the end of December, even after CNIC finally revealed the existence of internal documents that showed that consultations had taken place in advance, the NRA disclosed redacted internal review documents and documents presented by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy at a meeting NRA had with that Agency, saying that the memos written by the Nuclear Regulation Agency were irrelevant and that Nuclear Regulation Agency officials had handed over new documents to officials of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy at Kasumigaseki Station, discarding the materials that contained the memos. They also initially denied the fact that the documents had been handed over at the station. In addition, in the Diet, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy stated that it was informed by the Nuclear Regulation Agency that the memos said to have been irrelevant were written at the time of the meeting. How on earth can this incredibly deceitful Nuclear Regulation Agency be entrusted with the serious business of nuclear regulation?
Looking back, we can see that during the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident, then-Minister of International Trade and Industry Esaki Masumi stated in the Diet, “In the case of Japan, safety is already the first principle, and especially in the regulation of safety, we have two fully-developed laws which are more than sufficiently contributing to safety” (i). Further, during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, then-Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro stated, “The Soviet graphite, light water, and other reactors are completely different reactor types from the two kinds of light-water reactors operated by Japan, the boiling-water and pressurized-water reactors, and thus there is no need for concern” (ii).
Japan therefore lost two opportunities to take these valuable lessons to heart, leading to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Now, despite our own bitter experience of a nuclear disaster, we are throwing away this third lesson as well.
(Documents in Japanese)