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Some Aspects of Japan and Nuclear Energy

Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
March 15th, 2013

In my new energy economics book (2013), the words "lies" and "misunderstandingsf are found several times in almost every chapter. I may also have mentioned (once again) that many years ago I took a stroll through wonderful Vienna with some sort of Japanese insider, who explained to me in a very serious tone of voice that many of the persons who gave the orders in his country did not want to have anything to do with nuclear energy.

By that - as he clarified a few minutes later - he meant energy generated in 'light water' reactors, which in terms of economics the Japanese energy bosses of his acquaintance put in the same category as dinosaurs, although they did not expand on this belief to the voting public. What they wanted - and almost certainly are eventually going to get - is electricity generated in breeder reactors, where of course the ability to fully exploit the isotope U-238 of uranium (instead of the isotope U-235) results in a huge increase in the supply of fissionable materials.

The background to this short paper is a seminar recently presented to graduate students at Uppsala University a few days ago, which was completely and totally filled with nonsense, and in which the main claim was that the very important topic of future food and future energy can be examined in terms of scores or many scores of years by a crank economic model containing several badly specified mathematical expressions. In the course of the discussion I tried to explain to one of the authors that the energy future will eventually devolve into nuclear and 'something else', although I did not try to explain that several students of mine in Bangkok (Thailand) and Australia concluded that by 'something else' I meant - or should have meant - biological resources,


By up-to-date I mean this morning (March 13, 2013), where in my daily paper (Svenska Dagbladet) the journalist Mr Johan Myrsten told his readers about the glorious future awaiting Japan, because the new prime minister (Mr Shinzo Abe) has the support of between 60 and 70 percent of the electorate. Although not adequately stressed, a large part of this support is due to Mr Abe's enthusiasm for nuclear, because Japanese voters - like those in Germany - will eventually find a way to express their preference for higher incomes and more welfare, as compared to the ignorant misunderstandings about nuclear energy promulgated by Mr Thomas Kaberger, formerly the top-ranking Swedish energy bureaucrat, and now apparently leading research at Japan's Masayoshi Sons Foundation for Renewable Energy.

Somewhere in my new book I present and ridicule a load of superficial bunkum about energy economics by the well known anti-nuclear physicist Amory Lovins, and I hope that I will get an opportunity to do the same thing for the present research of Mr Kaberger. This is because as part of his duties at the aforementioned foundation, Kaberger has brazenly informed the persons who pay his salary, and of course the members of the Japanese branch of the anti-nuclear booster club, that "IT IS SENSATIONAL THAT A COUNTRY CAN CLOSE DOWN 30 PERCENT OF ITS ELECTRICTY PRODUCTION, AND STILL MANAGE".

A translation to English might be useful here. What Mr Kaberger is proclaiming in his misleading way is that the Japanese can junk their nuclear assets, and still eat, drink and be as merry as if nothing has happened. As much as I hate to say it, I spent almost two years in Japan teaching American soldiers how to use weapons of non-mass destruction without gaining a comprehensive insight into the culture of that country, but I can remember telling my international finance students in Sweden that where energy was concerned, Japanese decision makers can always be counted on to do the right thing. Accordingly, the Japanese can close down 30% of their electric output and manage, but managing does not imply the expanding standard of living that the Japanese want as much as the citizens of Sweden, and who therefore made it quite clear that they do not want any silly departures where their energy supply is concerned.


The German President, Angela Merkel, announced a forthcoming German nuclear retreat shortly after the tragedy at Fukushima in Japan, and it has also been mentioned that Germany wants to set an environmental example for Europe. Doing this will not be easy, because although we hear a great deal about solar power in Germany, forecasts are that more than 8000 megawatts of coal-based electric power will be added. As absurd as all of this sounds, it is a paragon of well-ordered logic when compared with the program that the IEA is outlining for Scandinavia. That agenda, put together by Mr Markus Wrake and his associates, features more bio-fuels and windmills, though less nuclear. It is not just absurd, but in conception and detail unreservedly destructive. To get an idea of what windmills and solar would mean in Scandinavian countries, I suggest that readers (particularly in Northern Sweden) use GOOGLE to become acquainted with the work of physicist and environmentalist John Droz.

According to the journalist Ian Buruma, it was in the l950s that conservative Japanese politicians began to push for nuclear. Let me make it clear though that they did not shout and cheer for nuclear because they are conservative, but because they were told by their scientists and engineers that nuclear would get the Japanese people the prosperity they desired faster than anything else. To construct their nuclear sector - which eventually provided 30 percent of Japanese electricity - technology was imported from the large U.S. firm General Electric. What Mr Buruma and many other persons in his network do not know - and if they do know do not fully understand - the Japanese probably constructed some of their reactors faster than any country in the world, which must have had a very beneficial effect on the cost of electricity in that country.

The only other country I know of that constructed reactors as fast as Japan was Sweden: beginning in the l970s, 12 reactors were constructed in 13+ years, and this equipment played a decisive role in providing Swedes with a standard of living that was envied by the rest of the world. In theory that standard could have been maintained had electricity not been deregulated in Sweden, and the largest electricity suppliers in the country provided with licenses to make fools of electricity buyers. (I have also been informed by the nuclear engineer and executive Malcolm Rawlingson that in Ontario (Canada) four 'Candu' reactors (of 800 Megawatts each) have been installed since 2005, and the intention is to reduce the burning of coal to an absolute minimum. Another of the brilliant contributors to Energy Pulse, Len Gould, has noted that nuclear is an unqualified success in Ontario, and other provinces in Canada are bidding to store spent uranium. As Gould and many others point out, this 'dechet' should be carefully managed, because it might be a valuable input for new types of reactors.)

The question that I have often asked myself, especially in the silence of my lonely room, is why didn't the Japanese construct more reactors? After all, at least 70% of French electricity has a nuclear base One answer is the meddling of persons like Buruma, because Japan is desperately short of energy resources, although not as short as they would be if they followed the advice of people like Kaberger. But the principal answer is that a commercial breeder reactor is probably at most decade away in China, and when that piece of equipment is available and understood, the Japanese government will embark on what they see as the only meaningful energy future for their country.

Apparently, the intention of the present Japanese government is to emphasize nuclear safety. Here it should be noted that of the 34 American nuclear facilities in the path of Hurricane (or 'Superstorm') Sandy, every single one performed the way that they were designed to perform, and all of them are privately owned. I was recently told that there are about 2500 earthquakes a year in Japan. This may or may not be true, but I can recall one of them when I was returning to my regiment from the U.S. military hospital in Nagoya, and its results were hardly noticible. In fact, if that figure for the number of earthquakes is correct, it suggests - as the Swedish politician and nuclear expert Hans Blix once pointed out - that the destructiveness in Fukushima was almost entirely due to the tsunami and the faulty location of the reactors. Put another way, if the nuclear facilities at Fukushima had been located elsewhere, my memory of the details of the Fukushima incident would perhaps match my memory of the rotgut wine and whiskey that members of my platoon occasionally binged on when we were stationed in the port city of Kobe.


I think that I have the right to say that I cannot remember attending a lecture as meaningless as the one on energy and food given in the department of economics at Uppsala University a few days ago, but this is quite alright, because nobody in his or her right mind cares about a half-baked academic lecture presented to a few dozen graduate students and teachers. On the other hand, energy is serious business.

The good Tomas Kaberger has apparently said that only two Japanese reactors will be restarted this year, and he also claims that among the top bureaucrats in Japan, there is increasing skepticism about nuclear. According to Kaberger, there will be more emphasis on solar cells, windmills, water-power, and geothermal energy. My reaction to this nuthouse evaluation is 'why him and not me', where by that I am thinking of the high salaried job he holds, because as far as I know, no credible Japanese economist, scientist, politician, break-dancer or moonwalker with an interest in energy issues believes that more than marginal gains are possible in Japan with increased investment in water-power and geothermal energy.

Of course, there is some good in the present arrangement, because Sweden is better off with Swedish 'hot-shots' helping to manage or mismanage foreign energy affairs, than preaching their wacko messages in Stockholm or Gothenburg.


Banks, Ferdinand E. (2013). Energy Economics: A Non-technical Introduction. Forthcoming.

______. Energy and Economic Theory (2013). London, New York and Singapore: World Scientific.

Myrsten, Johan (2013). 'Japan's finansiella horisont ljusnar'. Svenska Dagbladet (March 13, 2013).

Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
March 15th, 2013

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