Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the government’s change of heart with regard to promoting renewable energy. The column does not discuss nuclear energy as much as it does energy autonomy, something that is difficult to achieve when national energy policies are controlled by large profit-making organizations. As mentioned near the end of the article, the Japanese government, through METI, had been thinking of deregulating the energy market since the mid-90s, but the regional power companies resisted. Eventually, METI prevailed, and starting next April consumers will have the chance to choose which companies they want to buy their electricity from. Ironically, while it is the government that has pushed deregulation, it is also now dialing down its support for renewables, ostensibly because the current grid can’t handle all the extra input, though many people believe it’s due to pressure from the energy industry, which wants to get nuclear power back on line as soon as possible. One reason for the haste is that households faced with a choice of energy providers will most likely choose the cheapest, and having nuclear reactors up and running will reduce the major providers’ costs.
But only in the short run. The German documentary, The Fourth Revolution, cited in the column doesn’t single out nuclear power as a peculiar evil. It certainly doesn’t seem to be as immediately harmful as plants that burn fossil fuels. But one of the reasons nukes aren’t addressed as much is that, except for France and Japan, all the industrialized countries in the world are decreasing their reliance on nuclear energy. As the late German politician and renewables advocate Hermann Scheer says in the movie, nuclear reactors are just too expensive in the long run. They need huge amounts of water and maintenance work, and disposing of the radioactive waste requires transportation and storage facilities that have proven to be logistically difficult. Developing countries can’t hope to pay for such systems, though the nuclear industry is doing its best to help them afford it. Even before the Fukushima accident, Japan and the U.S. had been jointly helping Mongolia develop a nuclear power capability, while at the same time convincing the government to allow developed countries with nuclear reactors to dump their waste in a proposed site in the Gobi Desert. When I say “U.S” I really mean companies like General Electric and Westinghouse, which still export nuclear technology and have been instrumental in pushing the Japanese government to retain its dependence on it for their own sake. In this regard, Japan’s nuclear reliance is not being pushed only by the regional power companies, but by manufacturers who make a great deal of money when reactors are built or renovated. So the issue of energy autonomy reaches beyond profit-seeking power providers. It involves profit-seeking equipment makers who have enough money to sway entire national governments.