Japan's private sector split on
nuclear switch By Christopher
TOKYO - Softbank president
Masayoshi Son is not waiting for entrenched
utilities and the government to get their act
together on shifting Japan's economy away from
depending on nuclear reactors that are located on
dangerous fault lines.
Son, who is
ethnically Korean and perhaps Japan's wealthiest
man, last week said Softbank would shoulder most
of the 80 billion yen (US$980 million) cost of
building 10 massive solar power plants in Japan.
Other corporations and state organizations
are making their own moves to save power or create
new energy technologies, after the March disaster
at the Fukushima nuclear power plant forced
Japan to break out of its
malaise of recent years.
prefectures including Hokkaido, Nagasaki and
Saitama (a suburb of Tokyo) will join his project
to build solar power plants to wean Japan off
nuclear energy. They will set up a council to
coincide with a meeting of the National Governors'
Association in July.
The 19 prefectures in
the project include Nagano, Mie and the auto
industry heartland of Aichi and Shizuoka, all of
which lost power supply when the government
ordered a cold shutdown of Hamaoka nuclear plant,
built in the 1970s on the site of massive quakes
and tsunamis throughout history.
Hamaoka nuclear power plant had covered more than
80% of the electricity needs of our prefecture,''
said Shizuoka governor Heita Kawakatsu. ''We
cannot help but switch to solar power to
compensate for it. This is a big turning point.''
The prefectures will build vast solar
power farms on abandoned farmland - for which
Japan has no shortage. Son also wants to involve
seven prefectures in western Japan, including
Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, home to yakuza
mafias allegedly connected to groups hiring
temporary laborers, known as ''nuclear gypsies'',
to do the dirty work at reactors.
more than half of Japan's aging nuclear reactors
are switched off, and many sensible Japanese -
including many progressive chief executive
officers - would like to keep it that way.
Japan's automobile manufacturers, long the
backbone of the economy, are radically altering
work schedules. An estimated 900,000 auto workers
will take Thursday and Friday off, and work
Saturdays and Sundays instead. The move will not
only save energy during peak weekday periods, it
could also boost domestic tourism and fill hotel
rooms normally empty on Wednesday and Thursday
This will cut down on gas-guzzling
traffic gridlocks and crammed trains on weekends,
and inspire more urbanites to spend time and money
in declining rural areas.
Many in Japan
hope the nation will regain the status it had in
the 1980s as the world's leading solar power
producer. Dow Corning Toray in Tokyo is among
those calling for turning contaminated land around
the Fukushima reactors into a massive solar power
farm. Members of the reconstruction panel in
devastated Miyagi prefecture are calling for
government loans to ensure all new homes in
disaster areas have solar panels.
want to make better use of geothermal energy from
some of Japan's 200 volcanoes and 28,000 hot
springs, which are the throbbing pulse of domestic
tourism. Share values in Japan Wind Development
Corporation have tripled since the power supply
disruptions following the March disasters.
But will Japan's government, renowned for
preserving the status quo, really go green? Prime
Minister Naoto Kan and other senior party leaders
have made conflicting statements on whether the
government will really scrap plans, inherited from
previous rulers, to boost nuclear power production
from its pre-quake level of 30%. "Under the
current energy policy, by the year 2030, more than
50% of Japan's electricity will come from nuclear
power generation and 20% from renewable energy
sources," Kan told a press conference this month.
"However, we now have to go back to the drawing
board and conduct a fundamental review of the
nation's basic energy policy."
meeting leaders of the Group of Eight nations in
France this weekend, is expected to trumpet the
government's so-called Sunrise Project, which has
been on the table gathering dust for seven years.
It aims to reduce the cost of solar power over the
next 10 years to a third of current levels, to
spur more people to install it.
those government measures could take 10 or 20
years to develop, Japan's private sector is moving
on its own.
Companies are worried about
power shortages or rolling black-outs this summer
because Japan's two power grids systems - 50 Hz in
the north from Shizuoka to Hokkaido including
Tokyo, and 60 Hz from Nagoya to Kyushu down south
- are not compatible. This means that Tokyo
Electric Power Company, which lost 40% of output
after the March 11 disasters, can't easily borrow
power from many of Japan's nine other private
Seven-Eleven, which has 13,000
convenience stories in Japan, plans to install
solar panels on the roofs of 1,000 stores in
coming months, and will spend $123 million on
switching to LED lighting.
Tokyo Bay fireworks festival, originally set for
August 13, has been canceled, and organizers have
moved the Sumida River fireworks festival back a
month to August 27 to avoid expected power
shortages during the hottest weeks of summer.
Since many old-guard Japanese politicians
have come out against using daylight savings time,
saying it will cause ''confusion'', Aeon, Japan's
largest supermarket chain, will effectively go to
daylight savings time this summer on its own. The
company's stores will open and close an hour
earlier to save electricity on lighting.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will
move work schedules ahead one hour for many of its
25,000 employees, meaning some will start at 7:30
am from June 6 to September 30. Teachers, police
and firefighters will be exempt, along with
employees who must take care of kids or elders at
Many companies will cite
reasons for why they should be exempt from
setsu-den energy saving measures, and not
all executives in Japan are taking public stands
against nuclear energy. Toshiba president Norio
Sasaki said on May 24 the company would likely
need ''a few more years'' to win over buyers for
the 39 reactors it hoped to sell worldwide by
Despite a meltdown that has turned
much of Fukushima prefecture into a wasteland,
Sasaki said Toshiba will try to convince the world
that nuclear energy is safe. ''We cannot pursue
our strategy if opposition to nuclear energy
spreads worldwide.'' Toshiba's current plans aim
to double sales of nuclear technology to 1
trillion yen (US$12 billion) for fiscal 2015.
"Uncertainties lie ahead, but we will do the best
Toshiba, which calls nuclear
plants part of its ''social infrastructure
business'', aims to generate 900 billion yen in
sales, up 200 billion from last year's forecast,
on green business such as making ''environmentally
friendly cities'' out of memory chips, which are
the company's top moneymaker.
In the past
week, Toshiba announced it was buying a stake in a
South Korean wind turbine maker, and spending 186
billion yen on buying out Landis+Gyr AG, a Swiss
maker of electricity meters for smart-grids. "Some
countries and companies may choose to shift to
renewable energy following the latest accident,"
Sasaki said. "We have to make clear that we are
prepared to cater to such needs."
is also releasing a new computer with an "eco
button" that cuts power consumption by 24%.
Osaka-based Sharp, which made the solar panels
used on the Skylab in the 1970s, is offering a new
TV that can last between three and four hours
without being plugged in.
Industries said it would boost supply of wind
turbines and storage batteries, though nuclear
energy is still important long term. Hitachi
president Hiroaki Nakanishi said the company was
developing technology to capture more than 90% of
the carbon dioxide emitted from thermal power
Even pachinko parlors have
dimmed lights and turned off escalators. But
inside, the rows of machines are as obnoxiously
bright and noisy as ever, an indication that
Japan's green shift might end up being short-lived
window-dressing, as powerful players such as the
nuclear industry dig in to protect their turf in
the long term.
www.globalite.posterous.com, is author of
Siamese Dreams and Kobe Blue.
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