Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Opinion

Lessons from Fukushima for EU energy policy

  • UK's construction of the two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point is an unwelcome, costly and high-risk expense (Photo: IAEA Imagebank)

On 11 March 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes in history shook Japan’s northeast. The Tohoku earthquake triggered a 10-metre (33ft) tsunami, which smashed into the power plant on the Fukushima coastline precipitating three nuclear meltdowns and forcing nearby towns to evacuate.

The disaster killed over 19,000 people across Japan and caused an estimated 16.9 trillion yen (€136 billion) in damages.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Fukushima plant in Japan - destroyed five years ago (Photo: DigitalGlobe)

Five years on from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster - which remains the world’s second worst disaster after Chernobyl in 1986 - some 10,000 children whose families fled Fukushima Prefecture have yet to return.

Despite Tokyo’s pledge of 26.3 trillion yen (€211 billion) over five years and a further 6 trillion between now and 2020 to rebuild the disaster area, the Japanese population are reported to be picking up the bill.

The Financial Times recently found that the nuclear disaster has cost Japanese taxpayers almost €90.8 billion, as the underlying cost of the disaster is mainly “being pay by the public, either through electricity bills or as tax”, according to Ritsumeikan University professor Kenichi Oshima.

The wider consequences stemming from the Fukushima disaster are far-ranging. Radioactivity from the nuclear disaster can still be found in some freshwater fish and ocean bottom dwellers near Fukushima have a higher risk of contamination with the radioactive chemical cesium.

Public awareness

In a recent investigation, Greenpeace found that over 9 million cubic metres of nuclear waste are scattered over at least 113,000 locations across Fukushima prefecture.

The NGO’s underwater investigation is set to release findings on the extent to which the Pacific Ocean and local rivers have been contaminated by radioactive material later this month.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a cautious, sceptical attitude over Japan’s nuclear future is prevailing. The disaster changed the national debate over energy policy overnight. As some analysts suggest, the crisis “dramatically raised public awareness about energy use and sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment”.

But the New York Times recently commented despite the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the accidents at the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear plants, Japan never faced the levels of popular opposition to nuclear power seen in the US and Europe, before the disaster at Fukushima.

I welcome the measures taken by Japan to address the disaster - including the recent indictment of three former Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) executives on charges of criminal negligence - but there remains a lot to be done.

Following the Fukushima disaster, one by one the country's nuclear plants were shut-down for maintenance checks and prevented from restarting as a result of widespread public concern.

Anti-nuclear sentiment

Earlier this week, the Otsu District Court ordered Kansai Electric Power to shut down two of its nuclear reactors in Takahama, western Japan following complaints by local residents over the safety of the plant.

It seems that even despite the Nuclear Regulation Authority being established in 2012, the Japanese population are wary of any nuclear plant restarting. Yet so far four out of the 43 operable reactors in Japan have restarted under the new, post-Fukushima safety rules.

Japan still relies heavily on nuclear power for domestic energy purposes, which constituted almost 30 percent of Japan’s energy mix prior to 2011.

The country’s industry ministry is aiming to make nuclear energy account for 20-22 percent of the country’s electricity mix by 2030 with renewable energy sources to make up for 22-24 percent, liquefied natural gas set at 27 percent and coal at 26 percent of electricity generation between now and 2030.

Earlier this week Japan’s former prime minister, Naoto Kan, who held office at the time of March 2011 stated that over the past five years, Japan spent two years without a single nuclear plant on line.

He said that “we can secure enough power without nuclear plants and I believe we should stay away from the large risk posed by nuclear plants and focus instead on renewable energy by changing our sources of power”.

Opinion polls across Japan reveal a growing anti-nuclear sentiment. In a nationwide survey sent to all of Japan’s local authorities - of which 99.6 percent responded - 44.6 percent sought cuts in Japan’s dependence on nuclear power and 21 percent requested the eventual abolishment of nuclear power generation.

Renewable energy

Given the public mood, I am hopeful that Japan continues to diversify its energy mix, and decrease its over-reliance on nuclear energy altogether.

For a country such as the UK, who is undoubtedly able to rely on a diverse range of energy options, the nuclear way is quite clearly not the way forward.

As I said back in 2011, Fukushima offers us a clear-cut example of why we must retain our opposition to the development of nuclear power stations in Scotland and across the UK. The construction of the two nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England is therefore an unwelcomed, costly and high-risk expense for the taxpayer.

The Guardian reports that the UK government agreed to pay £92.50 (€119.40) for each unit of electricity: more than double the market price now.

With an abundance of natural resources and opportunities for renewable energy sources, not at least offshore wind and tidal power along with wave energy, there is simply no justification for the UK Government to opt out of a cleaner, safer, more cost effective solution to the UK’s energy needs.

Five years on from the Fukushima disaster, I hope that Japan finds alternative, renewable efficient and most importantly safe means to provide energy and that the UK, along with other EU states, commemorate the victims of Fukushima with the view to opt for renewable sources of energy over a high-risk and unnecessarily expensive nuclear energy future.

Ian Hudghton is the president of the Scottish National Party and a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to Japan

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Fukushima one year on - lessons learnt?

Almost one year after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, killing thousands and causing a nuclear disaster, the European-level response has been to let the nuclear industry continue with business as usual, writes Rebecca Harms.

Feature

Why Germany is digging up its nuclear waste

Germany admits it will take decades to retrieve nuclear waste from the Asse II salt mine - a "disastrous" choice for a storage location that clouds the current search for a new dumping site.

Investigation

Soviet uranium legacy blights eastern EU

Widespread mining of uranium has left a legacy of environmental destruction and health problems that Romania and the Czech Republic are still struggling to deal with.

Stakeholder

Europe needs integrated energy solutions

Europe needs secure, affordable and sustainable energy for all - the integration of power generation, heating, cooling, buildings, transport and ICT is part of the solution.

News in Brief

  1. Germany prepared to top up post-Brexit EU budget
  2. New Saudi attack threats, but EU and US still divided
  3. EU anti-trust chief goes after Belgian tax breaks
  4. Luxembourg PM Bettel humiliates Johnson
  5. No new backstop proposal at Juncker-Johnson lunch
  6. Saudi oil production in flames after drone attack
  7. US: attack on Saudi oil came from Iran or Iraq
  8. Poll: Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang largest party

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  2. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  3. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated
  4. In detail: Belgium's EU nominee faces crime probe
  5. France urges EU virtual currency rules amid Libra risk
  6. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  7. As recession looms, Europe needs more spending
  8. How should the EU handle Russia now?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us