Page 1 of 2 Tsunami clears way for
solar-powered Japan By Masayoshi Son
This article by Softbank chief executive Son Masayoshi outlines the thinking of
one of Japan's most innovative capitalists and public-spirited citizens. Having
helped create a competitive market in telecommunications, Son is seeking to
liberate and "green" Japan's 16 trillion yen electricity industry. He
inaugurated his Japan Renewable Energy Foundation on September 12. The
foundation, to be led by Tomas Kaberger, the former director general of the
Swedish Energy Agency, includes a cast of international experts on renewable
energy, associated support policies (especially the feed in tariff), and other
aspects of the energy revolution. Without Son putting renewable energy so
squarely and credibly on the public agenda, Japan might have succumbed to the
enormous pressure from business lobby, government and nuclear power operator
TEPCO to maintain the unsustainable status quo.- Andrew DeWit. 
I was shocked by the Great East Japan Earthquake. These days I
carry a Geiger counter wherever I go, and I was surprised when I went to the
Kansai area [southwest of Tokyo] last week and the device registered double
digits like I had seen in Tokyo. Radiation now spreads beyond Tohoku and Kanto
to the west as well.
One thing that I, as an operator of a cell-phone business, was reminded from
this earthquake and tsunami is that although cell phones are wireless, stations
are wired with optical fiber cables, and when these are broken or power fails,
cell phones do not work at all. When we lose electricity and the network is
crippled, cell phones are completely out of service.
Softbank phones also lacked sufficient functioning for receiving earthquake
early warnings, so I have decided to equip nearly every phone in the future
with this function.
In terms of recovery support, we are preparing to establish a foundation to aid
and support disaster-hit areas, in hopes of bringing together the goodwill of
the entire nation.
While I was wondering if there is anything I could do as an individual citizen
in fields that do not necessarily have direct relation with my primary
business, I launched a portal site specializing in recovery assistance in an
effort to create a system that collaborates with local autonomies and
non-profit organizations (NPOs).
The site joins forces with volunteers to develop tools to manage insufficient
supplies to eliminate the imbalance of accumulated supplies not reaching those
who truly need them, or a system that allows individual supporters to support
individual evacuees in ways such as a certain volunteer visiting a certain
evacuation camp to report on what supplies are needed. The site also provides
information on evacuee reception, evacuation camps, NPOs and donations. The
site is being accessed two million times a day, or 60 million a month, and that
has made me feel the enormous demand for this service.
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred in 1995, which was when Yahoo!
launched and the Internet was in its early stages. Cell phones had only spread
to about 10% of the population and the ability to access the Internet from them
was very limited. I had not yet entered the cell-phone business and in a sense
considered it none of my business. But seeing cell-phone networks fail before
my very eyes this time around, I was deeply shocked. Lives may have been saved
had cell phones worked.
And looking at questionnaires filled out at disaster-hit areas, I found that
many people wanted cell phones to work, more than they wanted food or anything
else. This made me again think of my responsibility and my powerless was
So I resolved that Softbank will offer earthquake orphans free cell-phone
service until they turn 18 years old; all disaster-hit areas and evacuation
camps will be given free public iPads; and I personally will donate 10 billion
yen (US$130 million) together with my executive pay.
How should we counter international misinformation and its effects?
I personally visited an evacuation camp in Fukushima. A high level of caesium
137, six times that found in evacuated areas around the Chernobyl plant, was
detected from soil in Lidate Village, and radioactive contamination was going
to remain for a long time. Fukushima evacuees are suffering severe anxiety.
I conducted a questionnaire from my Twitter account on the government policy
concerning voluntary evacuation within the 20-30 kilometer radius, and 85%
responded that the policy is too vague and indecisive regarding what people
should do. When left to decide for themselves, and if elderly people living
alone or bedridden patients cannot evacuate, those who support them with food,
gas and other provisions would have to remain as well. This would increase the
number of victims.
Mistaken information about radiation and its effects has spread not only
throughout the nation but overseas as well. The trend of avoiding Japanese
products is seen not only with vegetables and other food but with industrial
goods as well. To eradicate such damage from misinformation, we must announce
our figures measured under the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA)
standard together with the global International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
standard. No matter how well thought out the Japanese original standard may be,
the world will not accept it.
For example, the IAEA standard for soil surveys samples a one-square-meter
layer of soil one to three centimeters below the surface and measures
becquerels per square meter. But the Japanese standard samples soil five
centimeters from the surface and measures becquerels per kilogram. Dust and
particles carry and spread radioactive elements, which take time to penetrate
five centimeters into the soil. Foreign nations, at least, see that the
Japanese method would yield lower figures, and doubts spread that Japanese
figures might possibly be lower than the actual state.
Something else also concerns me. On April 6, the Ministry of Internal Affairs
and Communications issued an official notice requesting "relevant ministries
and agencies to collaborate against comments and information on the Internet
that violate laws or public order, asking website operators to voluntarily
delete them and taking appropriate action against such operators," which was
also posted on its website.
This is an extremely dangerous idea that could lead to repression of free
speech. We know very well having seen revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and other
Middle Eastern regions how governments that repress free speech on the Internet
I understand that the government has no intention of controlling the Internet,
but I sincerely hope it will be extremely careful on this issue. Some foreign
nations are already commenting that they hope to see nothing resembling speech
repression in advanced and democratic Japan. I offer my strong warning for the
sake of Japan's trust.
Telecommunications cannot work without electricity, and nuclear power plants
are dangerous, but electricity in Japan will not come without nuclear power
plants. At least this is what I had thought. I did some research on this and
learned quite a few things.
In responding to the nuclear plant incident, [now former] prime minister Naota
Kan has already made his stand clear on three points: We need to reevaluate the
conventional safety standards (on existing nuclear power plants); we need to
evaluate (plans for building new plants) from scratch and we will pursue safety
in nuclear power while we work proactively toward clean energy. I am in favor
of these ideas. I wish to offer some specific suggestions to push them further.
As we are well aware, Japan's power production is comprised of 30% nuclear
energy, 9% hydropower and other natural energy and 61% thermal energy. People
panicked that if we lose nuclear plants we would lack electricity and the Kanto
area [around Greater Tokyo] would have to undergo rolling blackouts. But
arguments that began several days ago are saying that we could probably get
along without nuclear power by increasing thermal power.
How long does a nuclear power plant last anyway? A reactor pressure vessel
deteriorates as neutrons continue bouncing against it, and becomes more fragile
against earthquakes and rising temperatures. When we look at the lifespan of
nuclear power plants around the world until shutdown, we find that the average
is 22 years. I was very surprised that few in the world remain in operation
beyond 40 years.
Just because nuclear power plants are dangerous, we realistically cannot stop
them today at this very instant. But if we intentionally halted nuclear plants
when they reached a 40-year lifespan, the power they produced would naturally
decline unless we constructed new ones.
Until a month ago, I had believed that nuclear power was the global trend and
that nations around the world are building more nuclear power plants in order
to reduce carbon dioxide. But the nuclear power plant boom was actually in the
mid-1980s (Figure 1). Hardly any new nuclear plants were built after this
period. This amazed me.
If we were to maintain the current level of electrical power provided by
nuclear plants, we would have to build so many of them again, as we did in the
1980s when production peaked. But having experienced the Fukushima events,
would the world welcome a move toward constructing new nuclear power plants
when we have so few of them now? I think we the people need to discuss this
Either way, as the prime minister says, we must raise operation safety
standards of existing nuclear power plants. Some of my suggestions are:
1. Principally halt all reactors whose lives have expired;
2. Prohibit exchange of executives/officials among the Ministry of Economy,
Trade and Industry (METI), the Nuclear Safety Commission, the Nuclear
Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) and the power companies;
3. Toughen safety assessments concerning cracks and other abnormalities;
4. Safely disclose information on abnormalities;
5. Release IAEA international standard figures together with Japanese figures,
and 6. Reevaluate operation of plants in areas of heightened earthquake risk.
Are nuclear power plants actually cheap while natural energy is expensive?
From the standpoint of practical, economical logic, solar power and natural
energy are expensive. I had always believed that nuclear power was the most
inexpensive way of producing power, at five to six yen per kilowatt-hour;
therefore we have to use nuclear power and construct new plants. I am sure that
many people thought the same.