Dr Chuck Casto: Leader of the US Integrated Government and NRC efforts in Japan during the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011
I don’t think that there is anyone with deeper insight into the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster, its management, causes and consequences, than Dr. Chuck Casto.
Dr Casto arrived in Japan a few days after March 11, 2011, representing the US Government regarding the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster, and heading a team of 150 US nuclear industry experts, and for 11 months advised the Japanese Prime Minister and Ministers on the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi disaster management.
Dr. Chuck Custo is licensed nuclear power station operator, and as regional NRC Regulator was responsible for the safety of 23 US nuclear power stations.
Reading the talks above will give you a good insight into the key causes and implications of the Fukushima-Dai-Ichi nuclear disaster by the world’s best experts directly involved in this nuclear disaster management.
Many times, often several times a day, I get asked about what will happen with Japan’s nuclear power stations – today alone twice. So here is the answer I usually give – please note that I am Physicist, and I know a lot about the Physics of nuclear power, and although I have personally avoided working in the nuclear physics field (which is much wider than nuclear power), I do not have a personal opinion for or against nuclear power:
Quick answer: it is impossible for anyone, including the Prime Minister of Japan, to know with any certainty.
Long answer: Japan is a democracy. Japan currently is quite polarized for or against nuclear power. Everyone knows that some Japanese leaders including the Prime Minister Abe, are in favor of nuclear power. On the other hand, many outstanding opinion leaders are strongly against nuclear power in Japan, these include Nobel Prize Winner Kenzaburo Oe, and also the former Prime Minister Koizumi. Currently we can observe the evolution of a democratic process in Japan to reach a consensus on the future of nuclear power stations in Japan. This process is different for every single nuclear power station, and it is impossible for anyone to make predictions.
Obviously the owners of the nuclear power stations hope to restart their power stations as quickly as possible, and they are supported by many industrial leaders and the current Prime Minister. They need to obtain the agreement by the newly established nuclear power regulator, which was newly established because the Parliamentary Committee which investigated the Fukushima nuclear disaster established that the cause for the nuclear disaster was “regulatory capture”. This committee was chaired by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, and you can read one of his speeches “Groupthink can kill”, and watch YouTube movies explaining the results of his committee here.
Sofar none of the nuclear power station was cleared by the new nuclear safety agency, and no one knows when the safety inspection program will be concluded for any of the nuclear power stations, nor which stations will be cleared to restart (in principle) and to which the nuclear safety agency will refuse the clearance.
However, clearance by the nuclear safety agency is by far not enough. In addition, in Japan, nuclear power stations need the agreement of the local communities, i.e. the local mayors and Province (Ken, Prefecture) Government Prefects. As an example, the world’s largest nuclear power plant is Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, it is currently owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Company to supply Tokyo with electricity, and it is located approximately 80 km from the Prefecture capital city Niigata-shi, which has about 1 million inhabitants. The current very outspoken Governor (Government Leader) of Niigata-Prefecture, Hirohiko Izumida (泉田 裕彦), has clearly stated his opposition both to the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station, and secondly he has also stated that he considers Tokyo Electric Power Company unsuited to manage a nuclear power station. Read and watch a video of Governor Hirohito Izumida here. I have read speculations that as a consequence it might be thinkable that ownership and/or management of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power station could be transferred to a different power company to overcome this local resistance. But it is not possible for anyone to predict how this will play out.
It is my understanding also, that in Japan it is not clearly defined which local authorities have to agree before a nuclear plant can operate, and which distance from the nuclear power station is still close enough that agreement of local authorities is needed. In my understanding also it seems to be unclear which type of local authorities have veto power: The Prefect (i.e. the chief of the Prefectural Government), cities, towns, villages etc. There seems to be much uncertainty here, which did not exist in the past, or which did not come out into the open in the past.
Another factor is the local geological situation for each nuclear power station. In Japan there are legal requirements that nuclear power stations need to be located away from active geological faults. Recently there have been investigations by geological experts about the geological conditions near the nuclear power stations, but my understanding is that many questions are still unsettled at least for some of the nuclear power stations.
Still another factor are the courts. Traditionally Japanese courts have rejected all complaints against the operation of nuclear power stations, but I hear that recently some court complaints against the operation, or against the restart of nuclear power stations have been successful. Court decisions also cannot be predicted by anyone.
So in summary: No-one can possibly predict what will happen with Japan’s nuclear power stations. When pushed, I sometimes say that a possible scenario will be that about 10 out of Japan’s approx. 50 nuclear power stations might be restarted in about 3 years from now. However, no one can know this for sure, and no one can assign a probability to any outcome.
There have been enquires by some non-Japanese/foreign media, which interviewed a number of experts, asked them to estimate the probability for each of Japan’s nuclear power plant, and then took some kind of average of these experts opinions. I was also asked to participate in this experts’ enquiry, but I refused to participate, and said that simply no one can know with any precision at all.
Japan energy mix, smart grid, electricity deregulation – briefing by The Economist Corporate Network
Economist Corporate Network held a breakfast briefing today April 24, 2014 for about 50 Japan-CEOs and executives.
Shigeki (Sean) Miwa, General Manager of SoftBank’s CEO Office, and Representative Director & CEO of Bloom Energy Japan KK, and EVP of SB Energy Corporation
Mr Shigeki (Sean) Miwa, General Manager of SoftBank’s CEO Office, and Representative Director & CEO of Bloom Energy Japan KK, and EVP of SB Energy Corporation, explained SoftBank’s and Masayoshi Son’s reasons for entering the energy business, and he explained Bloom Energy’s offering of energy sources based on very efficient fuel cells in Japan.
Gerhard Fasol, CEO of Eurotechnology-Japan
Gerhard Fasol, CEO of Eurotechnology-Japan, gave an overview of Japan’s energy situation, and an outlook into the future. Here is an interview by The Economist after the breakfast briefing:
Japan went 100% nuclear free since Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. When nuclear reactors will be restarted is totally unclear.
Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) on Sunday Sept 15, 2013 at 16:40 started to reduce power output of Japan’s last remaining active nuclear power reactor (Oi No. 4 reactor), and stopped operations of this reactor on Monday Sept 16, 2013 morning.
Since Monday September 16, 2013 Japan is nuclear free, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is unclear currently, when and if nuclear power will be restarted again in Japan.
Japan is strongly polarized over nuclear power
The reason Japan is currently nuclear free is not a policy decision by the Government of Japan or the Prime-Minister, the reason is mainly technical and a consequence of Japanese local politics:
Japan’s nuclear reactors are stopped every 13 months for checks, cannot be restarted in the current political and legal climate
Japan’s nuclear reactors are switched off for routine maintenance and security checks once every 13 months. In order to restart each reactor after this periodic maintenance both Japan’s nuclear safety agency, and also “the local community” have to give their formal agreements. Before the Fukushima disaster, both these two agreements were a formality and given quickly. Since the Fukushima disaster however, the approval by the newly formed Nuclear Safety Agency has been a far higher barrier to overcome.
However, more importantly, it has turned out that “the local community” who’s approval is also necessary is in some cases not well defined. Therefore many community authorities which in the past did not raise their voices, now join in the decision making process. In addition, some regional administrative leaders, such as the Governor of Niigata-ken, have expressed their very strong distrust in current management of nuclear power stations, and are refusing to give their agreement, without which the restart of nuclear power stations within the Prefecture they govern is impossible.
Nuclear power is mainly replaced by LNG
For the time being, nuclear power is replaced predominantly by electricity generation from Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). As a consequence Japan’s payments for LNG are at an all-time high.
Japan’s last operating nuclear reactor (No. 4 reactor at KEPCO’s Oi plant) was switched off on Monday, Sept 16, 2013. Since then Japan is nuclear free. It is unclear when nuclear power plants will be operated again in Japan.
Read detailed analysis in our report on Japan’s energy sector:
Radiation in Tokyo due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster
Our second update of the radiation and disaster situation in Tokyo, as of 22 March 2011
Suffering caused by the Friday March 11, 14:46 earthquake in Japan continues, but we see hope and reconstruction. Tomorrow the new high-speed train line north of the disaster zone is planned to run again between Shin-Aomori and Morioka. Radiation in Tokyo is evolving due to the Fukushima disaster and explosions and melt-down of nuclear reactors.
Japan’s society has developed over 100s of years coping with similar disasters, and it is already obvious that Japan will overcome this disaster strengthened. In recent years, Japan overcame the Kobe-Earthquake and the Niigata-Earthquake, and Japan will also overcome this earthquake soon. We observe many discussions to learn from this disaster and to strengthen Japan.
In this newsletter we focus on analysis of radiation risks (see below) in Tokyo, and on US and EU response.
Radiation in Tokyo: situation in Tokyo
We see Japanese companies and Japanese workers – including our company Eurotechnology-Japan here in Tokyo – working almost normally throughout the period of after-quakes. A notable exception is the account settlement IT system of Mizuho-Bank which apparently has broken down.
Electricity savings by the population were beyond expectations, so that planned electricity cuts have been largely avoided – most electricity cuts were announced but not implemented – the electricity keeps flowing in most areas, especially in the central areas.
While many long-term foreign residents remained in Tokyo, a large fraction of temporary foreigners left either to Osaka, or left Japan altogether.
The departure of some foreigners (and some Japanese) has not been un-noticed.
One of my friends, Japanese surgeon (medical doctor) at Tokyo University’s hospital, who had stayed at the bedside of patients throughout the quake, broke down in tears telling me about a colleague leaving Tokyo during the after-quakes.
US actions – Operation Tomodachi
“Operation Tomodachi”: The US Pacific Command has built up a massive help and relief effort “Operation Tomodachi”, which involves US Air Force, US Marine Corps, US Army (458 personell + 1000 contractors), US Navy (12,750 personell participating in Operation Tomodachi). A summary of US Pacific Command help to Japan including “Operation Tomodachi” can be found here. In particular, US experts and loaned equipment are helping with the Fukushima nuclear power stations, US is working to repair Sendai Airport and other damaged infrastructure so that supplies can be forwarded, and US military is delivering supplies including food, blankets, fuel and water into the disaster area.
According to announcements by the US Ambassador Roos, the US Embassy in Tokyo has increased staffing by about 30%, and 96 US Government employees and experts have arrived from outside Japan to help.
Many EU country Embassies have reduced staff or shut down in Tokyo. (This is in stark contrast to the actions of the US Embassy in Japan, which actually increased staff numbers).
Situation at the Fukushima Reactor
Through heroic work of the fire fighters at the reactors the situation seems to stabilize and improve in the right direction. The International Atomic Energy Agency website summarizes the the situation officially here dated March 20, 2011. It appears that since March 20 the situation has improved further.
We here at Eurotechnology-Japan are continously working here in Tokyo for you – and our customers. We actually closed new business contracts a few days after the March 11 earthquake.