“All that is missing is political decision-making.” – Junya Ogawa
Mr. Iida, as an expert on energy issues, what are your thoughts on the past 11 years since the earthquake?
Iida: “First of all, on a global scale, we have seen tremendous changes in the world in the past decade, while Japan has been in a stagnant or negative spiral, and the gap between the two is widening. At the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident, people around the world were looking at the situation and saying, ‘It must be tough in the midst of all that chaos.’ Germany and other countries decided to leave nuclear power generation because ‘Japan, a developed country, caused the accident.’ 10 years have passed since, and with the coronavirus infection spreading in the past two years, Japan’s incompetence was revealed. For example, Japan is the only country in the world where people argued that PCR testing will cause a collapse of the medical care system.”
Iida: “While some countries are able to thoroughly respond to this ‘universal test’ by Covid, which the whole world is simultaneously undergoing, Japan’s administration and politics have become dysfunctional due to unscientific and illogical approaches. This is also true with regard to the response to the Fukushima nuclear accident and the treatment of contaminated water, and the quality of our government has seriously deteriorated. As an example, when Taro Kono, who advocates a ‘nuclear power free’ policy, ran for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidency last year, fearing that he would be elected, the Chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, Mr. Imai, installed during Mr. Abe’s tenure, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), all of which were in support of Mr. Kishida. They decided to ‘use’ Kishida as a candidate for the LDP presidency. They claimed that direct treatment of spent nuclear fuel would take 100,000 years, but reprocessing would take 300 years. This is a blatant lie as written in Mr. Kishida’s book of promises. And yet, this blatant crap is also proudly displayed on the METI website. I was surprised at how far Japan has fallen. Now that Japan is being left behind by the rest of the world, I think it is very important to find a way to fill this gap.”
Ito: “A writer who is well versed in the digital world once told me that he was surprised to see the software used by each country as they were planning various measures to deal with Covid. Naturally, everyone was inputting data in order to analyze clusters using a variety of different software. But when he displayed the Japanese screen, it was Excel…”
(The whole panel laughs.)
Ito: “According to the writer, there is no other country in the world where this kind of thing is happening. Worse, Japan is still using fax machines.
You’re right. After the earthquake, I thought that Japan would halt nuclear power generation, but looking at the latest Sixth Basic Energy Plan, the government has set a target that nuclear power plants will account for about 20% of the energy mix in 2030. Although renewable energy is steadily increasing compared to the Fourth Energy Plan. Why is it that nuclear power is not going away, and why is it increasing? (*Figure 1)
Iida: “I don’t think there will be an increase in nuclear power plants, but these figures were made by government officials with certain intentions and falsified numbers. What I mean is that in the Fourth Basic Energy Plan announced in 2014, it was difficult to mention ‘nuclear power’ at a time right after the accident, so the term ‘important base load power source’ was used. In 2015, in order to announce the Paris Agreement, they made up a figure of 22-24% for renewable energy first, and then made up this 20-22% figure for nuclear power to make it seem less noticeable than renewable energy. In the 2018 plan, the figures for renewable energy and nuclear power were kept at the same level because Pandora’s box could no longer be closed. And this time, they couldn’t avoid increasing the renewable energy, so they increased it, but also stuck to the same nuclear power plant numbers.”
Iida: “If left unchecked, this renewable energy figure would not even be attainable, which is the current difficult situation in Japan. Over the past 10 years, the cost of solar power generation has dropped to one-tenth of what it used to be. The cost of wind power is three-tenths, and the cost of storage batteries is one-tenth. Solar and wind power were only 1% of the world’s electricity 10 years ago, but now they are 10%. Germany, the U.S., and China are all working on plans to triple the speed of decarbonization in order to increase their share to several dozen percent over the next 10 years, and they are gaining tremendous momentum. But Japan’s market is rapidly shrinking.”
Why is Japan going backwards?
Iida: “There is an assumption that there is not enough electricity without nuclear power, and we have been told that for the past 10 years. Like dogma or myth, people are shouting that we need nuclear power without looking at the facts or economics. It is easy to reduce nuclear power plants to zero, and it should be almost impossible to build new plants or expand them because the next accident is the scariest thing that could happen. I think the biggest problem is that we are trying to do short-term things in a muddled way and not keeping up with the changes in the big picture.”
Ogawa: “My position is that we should leave from nuclear power generation in a realistic way, but I also believe that restarting nuclear power plants is unavoidable to some extent. What is more problematic is that no one has painted a picture of a definite shift to renewable energy. The cost of solar and wind power will continue to fall. Japan has less flat land than Europe, and Japanese coasts have less shallow water than European seas. Given these geographical conditions, I don’t think anyone has painted a picture of how many specific watt generators it would take to cover all the energy needs, or how many years it would take to get there.”
Iida: “The Ministry of the Environment is using GIS (Geographic Information System) to provide precise information on this point. The results show that both solar and wind power are three times larger than Japan’s current electricity supply. The highest potential for solar power is in farmland, and for wind power, the survey shows that Japan’s total power supply can be covered by onshore power alone. So there’s more than enough potential.”
Ogawa: “Then the only thing that is lacking is political decisions.”
Iida: “In addition to political decisions, we need to create a solid implementation system.”
“The invasion of Ukraine has made various, simultaneous equations considerably complicated.” – Daisuke Tsuda
I would like to talk about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on energy issues. What are your thoughts on the Russian military’s attack on nuclear power plants in Ukraine?
Tsuda: “It is a serious matter. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was overrun earlier, does not generate electricity, but it is a hub facility for the power grid that transmits electricity to the northern part of Ukraine. If this place suddenly stops functioning, the electricity situation in northern Ukraine will become very severe. Next, they took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plants are naturally not supposed to be attacked by the military, as the reactors would easily go out of control in situations created by evacuating all the staff. So there is no need to even attack the buildings with missiles or heavy weapons. At the time of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, many people were saying, ‘Nuclear power plants are no longer viable, aren’t they? It was a man-made accident, wasn’t it?’ Eleven years have passed since then, and we are once again being asked the same questions. Furthermore, Japan is an earthquake-prone country and North Korea is nearby. After the nuclear accident, safety measures have been strengthened to some extent, and even experts have said that a military attack would never happen. However, what is happening now in Ukraine is that nuclear facilities are being targeted by the military, so it has become clear that nuclear power plants are still a risk, and this will naturally affect not only discussions about restarting nuclear power plants, but also about building new plants and replacing them.”
Tsuda: “The goal of decarbonization has become an urgent global issue and the idea of restarting nuclear power plants to meet this goal sounds like a simple and persuasive theory. But if we choose nuclear power plants, the cost of anti-terrorism measures will be incredibly high, and that cost will be reflected in the cost of electricity. So the Russian military’s attack on nuclear power plants has made all sorts of simultaneous equations considerably more complicated.”
Ito: “I think the world’s concept of war changed when the attack on nuclear power plants became clear. It is no longer surprising that extremist terrorist organizations and dictatorships could do this, right? If this concept is accepted, all the promises that had been made in the past wars will disappear. In short, a country could starve or freeze the enemy’s citizens to death by seizing their energy facilities. There is no need to use nuclear weapons at all. What really horrified me when I learned of this attack was that if a nation attacked nuclear power plants, their combatants would be exposed to tremendous radiation, including the bombers themselves. But the people who carried out the attack were not informed of the dangers of such an attack. It’s obvious that they are using only young kids who don’t know any better. Otherwise, they would have panicked and thought they were going to die if they saw so much smoke. It was like watching Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Ito: “It’s as if we are numbing our normal senses with drugs. I think that we are on the brink of extinction if we don’t somehow solve this problem that has been revealed.”
The moment mankind created the use of nuclear materials in the world, we opened Pandora’s box.
Ito: “When Aum Shinrikyo (a religious sect) committed the sarin gas attack on the subway, my wife at the time said to me, ‘Terrorists have lost their cause.’ They did something that would finish them. I believe that attacks on nuclear power plants could also grow into indiscriminate terrorism by superpowers. I feel hopeless when I think about who is going to take the helm and how this is going to be resolved.”
“It is clear what we should do.” – Tetsunari Iida
Mr. Iida, please tell us how the invasion of Ukraine will affect energy and other supplies in the future.
Iida: “What I can say clearly is that the price increase of natural gas and oil, which has been occurring even before this crisis, will further accelerate. First of all, half of Russia’s exports are natural gas and crude oil. So if these are halted, Russia will be completely choked. Conversely, Europe will accelerate its energy shift to renewable energy, especially solar and wind. The German Minister of Finance has said that ‘renewable energy is energy for freedom,’ and we are going to see more and more of a shift to renewable energy.”
What about Japan?
Iida: “I think that this bombing of nuclear power plants will be a very powerful argument in the future. And, although restarting operations is also an important discussion point, I think that new plant constructions will be completely out of the picture. So in that sense, we will have no choice but to shift to renewable energy. Mr. Ogawa mentioned earlier, ‘How many years will it take to get there?’ If we make proper policy, we can overshoot the goal. For the time being, we can use a tentative plan. For example, Germany set a target of 20% by 2020 when the renewable energy rate was 5% in 2000. But when they revealed the actual rate in 2020, they overshot the target and had doubled the rate to 40%. They had a target of 80% by 50 years at that time, but in the current war they have revised it up significantly to 100% by 2035. So we’re going to get a buzz, lower costs, and higher performance. In addition, technologies related to naturally variable wind and solar power are advancing rapidly, and storage battery technology is being added to the mix. The future is being created right now through the power of technology.”
Tsuda: “Before the invasion of Ukraine, there was a major global commitment to decarbonization, and there was talk of increasing renewable energy and reducing coal and oil consumption to achieve this. One argument was that nuclear power is clean energy and does not emit CO2, so we should restart nuclear power plants and shift to nuclear energy in order to decarbonize the world. The other argument was that we should accelerate the shift to renewable energy. But in the case of Japan, there is a separate debate about restarting nuclear power plants, and I think the situation is different from Europe and the U.S. What do you expect will happen to this?”
Iida: “The most likely scenario is more and more chaos, but it is clear what should be done. If we look more carefully at what Mr. Tsuda first said, ‘Before the invasion of Ukraine, decarbonization was the name of the game,’ we can see that before decarbonization, there was an explosion of renewable energy. Originally, until around 2010, solar power accounted for only 0.1% of the world’s electricity, and wind power was a tiny 1%, so renewable energy was out of sight in the world of climate change.”
Tsuda: “So it could not contribute in a significant way.”
Iida: “That’s right. Of course it was useful, but everyone thought it was expensive and not very promising. In 2014, just prior to the 2015 Paris Agreement *1, Apple, Google, and other major companies around the world launched a movement called RE100, in which they are using renewable energy for all their businesses.”
Tsuda: “Then investment money started coming in, and Europe and the U.S. started talking about the Green New Deal *2?”
Iida: “Yes, the reason we were able to agree to the Paris Agreement in 2015 was because until then, there was a belief that the only way to reduce carbon emissions was through cap and trade and carbon taxes, and that ‘reducing carbon’ meant ‘stopping growth.’ However, by that time, they had come to agree that it would be a good idea to switch to renewable energy. Moreover, since then the solar, wind, and storage batteries industries have grown, and electric vehicles (EVs) have also grown, so we now have the technical ability to say, ‘We may be able to achieve our goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C through decarbonization.’ So all we have to do now is to accelerate the process.”
Ito: “Regarding the issue of waste from solar panels, I understand that the amount of waste is getting smaller and smaller as far as I can see on site. What would become of that?”
Iida: “In terms of individual items, I think that in Japan, about 800,000 to 1 million tons of waste will be generated in about 30 years. However, solar panels can be recycled 95-98% of the time, so the amount is almost negligible.”
It’s obvious that we are moving toward renewable energy, but how do we counter the argument that Japan needs to restart nuclear power plants in the face of urgent power shortages?
Iida: “As shown in *Figure 2, power shortages occur for 30 to 40 hours a year, or 0.4% of the time, so we can avoid power shortages by simply shifting the time period slightly and lowering the peak by 10% to 5 million kW. The most effective ways to achieve this is demand response(DR) and storage batteries, whose cost is rapidly declining. It’s pointless to use small, inefficient nuclear power plants that run all year.”
Paris Agreement*1…… The Paris Agreement was reached at COP21 (21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) held in Paris, France in December 2015, and is the successor to the Kyoto Protocol established in 1997. The treaty will limit the increase in global average temperature to “less than 2 degrees Celsius” compared to pre-industrial times. In addition, it aims to achieve an average temperature increase of “less than 1.5 degrees Celsius”.
Green New Deal*2……A policy that seeks to create new jobs and economic growth through public investment in renewable energy and global warming countermeasures. It was proposed by Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. It is attracting attention as a method to solve environmental and economic problems at the same time, and beginning with the United States, Japan and the international community have begun to study and develop this policy.
“We can show resistance by constantly correcting and updating information.” – Ito Seiko
I use renewable energy power for my home, but when the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG) or oil goes up, the price of unrelated renewable energy also goes up. I think this current system would not help push up the ratio of renewable energy use.
Iida: “Yes, prices will definitely go up. This is because the electricity price is currently set by the wholesale power exchange, and the existing power companies hold the power to control the price. We need to make the system more transparent and rational. Furthermore, if we think in the long run, the dmore we shift to renewable energy, the more electricity prices should decrease, except for the cost of maintaining the network.”
What should be changed to promote the shift to renewable energy?
Iida: “Broadly speaking, it’s politics, but we could also change the power companies we use, and for those who have houses, they can install solar power and storage batteries along with using electric vehicles and trading electricity. In Australia, there is a community-based initiative to share electricity by installing solar power and storage batteries that Japan can use as a model. In this way, we can create a mechanism for sharing electricity with everyone from the individual to the community level, and open the way for more and more people to share electricity, while also collaborating with politicians to combine bottom-up and top-down approaches such as legal revisions. It will be good to create a free and independent energy society through this process.”
Ito : “I often use the partnership system as an example of combining bottom-up and top-down approaches. Many municipalities from Shibuya and Setagaya are using this system. If a bottom-up movement demanding change becomes the majority, the government will have no choice but to approve it through major laws. Most of us first try to make changes in big laws. But I think the only effective possibility for change is that these people with different ideas come together and increase in number and become the majority. For example, when the number of people who think ‘it would be more interesting if we share’ or ‘let’s change the power company’ gradually increases and exceeds 50%, they will no longer be the minority. I think it is possible for such communities to connect with each other and strengthen their own worldview.”
Ito: “Hearing Mr. Iida’s idea, I think that it doesn’t have to start from small groups of people. Also, I think a drastic change can happen if a channel of information is created. It’s just that we’re being kept from knowing and hearing about those technologies evolving out there.”
I would like to close the event with a few words from the speakers.
Tsuda: “We have more and more things that we really need to think about now. 10 years ago, there was a tragic nuclear accident, and to some extent we were united in thinking that it would be difficult for humanity to continue using nuclear power. But after 3 years, that atmosphere disappeared. Then, in the last 101 years, renewable energy has really changed a lot as an industry, and we are finally on track to decarbonize worldwide. It’s hard to understand if you only look at the Japanese press, but a major paradigm shift is taking place in the world. As the energy environment has become more directly related to our daily lives due to the invasion of Ukraine, politicians who want nuclear power plants to survive are using the invasion of Ukraine as a shock doctrine to their advantage. We must beware of cherry-picking logic in which only good information is shared. Right now, propaganda and information warfare between Ukraine and Russia is a hot topic, but it’s not limited to those two countries. Nuclear power plants are a propaganda war. To counter this, I think we have to face this issue, learn about it, and speak out against it.”
Ogawa: “All the problems we are facing now ultimately come down to politics. We as politicians must do our best, but in the end, the voters have the final authority on what kind of politics they want to achieve. Though it’s hard to feel the weight of one person’s vote, that one vote will determine whether or not we can overcome these issues. I am determined not to give in to the struggle, and I will go as far as I can.”
Iida: “From a global perspective, changes in the field of technology, which I am interested in, are accelerating in a positive direction. Japan is just standing still and, according to the theory of relativity, it is in a regression. I want to bring as much reality to that change as I can through my personal, modest activities.”
Ito: “When I think about the Vietnam War, the U.S. could not overthrow their enemy for many years, and during that time, American culture, music, theater, movies, fashion, and other ways of thinking changed rapidly. And eventually, it changed the world. What is happening now in Russia and Ukraine is like a one-week version of that, and what took years to happen during the Vietnam War is happening in the last few weeks. So I think that is how much of an information battle is being waged right now. But those who see this battle as nothing more than a clash of forces are saying things like, “How should we go about possessing nuclear weapons?” It’s so obvious that Japan will be hacked right away after possessing nuclear weapons. They don’t know how much Japan has been hacked already. It’s very important for us to keep our information correct and up-to-date, and I think this will be our way of resisting.”
Born in Tokyo in 1961, Seiko Ito made his debut in 1988 with the novel No Life King.
In 1999, he won the 15th Kodansha Essay Award for Botanical Life and the 35th Noma Literary Newcomer Award for Imagination Radio. Currently writing Tohoku Monologue for Kahoku Shimpo and Bungei.
He has introduced a new way of appreciating Buddhist statues through Mibutsu-ki, a collaborative work with Jun Miura, and produced the extremely popular event “The Slide Show,” which packed the Budokan with people. Currently, he is distributing “Radio Gohanban!” on his notebook.
In his musical activities, he has made hip-hop culture widely known in Japan and is one of the pioneers of Japanese rap.
An energy scientist and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP). Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1959, he graduated from the Department of Nuclear Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, Kyoto University, and completed his doctorate credits at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo.
After working in the nuclear industry and nuclear safety regulation, he escaped from the “nuclear mura” (nuclear power village) and established ISEP after conducting research and non-profit activities in Scandinavia, where he currently works. He is known as a leading figure in renewable energy policy both in Japan and abroad, and his progressive and realistic policy proposals and proactive activities and statements have greatly influenced the energy policies of the Japanese government and local governments such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Politician, born in 1971 in Kagawa Prefecture. Former bureaucrat in the local government and general affairs bureaucracy. Member of the House of Representatives (six terms), affiliated with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Served as Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications (in the Yukio Hatoyama Cabinet and Naoto Kan Cabinet), Special Assistant to the President of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, and Chairman of the Political Research Council of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Films about Ogawa, “Why You Can’t Be Prime Minister” and “Kagawa Ward 1” (Director: Shin Oshima), were shown in 2020 and 2021.
Journalist and media activist. Editor-in-Chief of Politas and anchor of Politas TV. Born in Tokyo in 1973. He graduated from the School of Social Sciences at Waseda University. His areas of expertise include media and journalism, technology and society, freedom of expression and human rights violations on the Internet, solving regional issues and cultural projects of the government, and copyright and content business.