Setsuden Poised To Replace Nuclear Power In Japan

Posted by Jeff Rubin on August 2nd, 2011 under SmallerWorld • 6 Comments

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was recently quoted as seeing the country as a nuclear-free nation. But unlike similar pronouncements from Germany, which pledges to be nuclear-free by 2022, Japan may become nuclear free literally within a year.

That would be quite a feat for a country that only five months ago relied on nuclear plants for about 30% of its electrical power.

By some measures, the country is already two thirds of the way to becoming nuclear free. Thirty eight of the country’s 54 reactors are currently shut down, and there are no dates set for their return to service.

Aside from the irretrievably damaged reactors at the Fukushima power plant, reactors have been shut down across Japan for maintenance checks. The only problem is once the nuclear plants are shut down, none have been restarted as local governments have balked against their reopening.

By law, all Japanese reactors must be temporarily shut down for maintenance every 13 months. All of currently operating reactors have maintenance scheduled by next spring. As a result, if the present pattern of indefinite shutdowns after maintenance inspections continues, Japan could effectively be nuclear free by next spring.

But will the lights go out on the world’s third largest economy when that happens? Even with boosting hydrocarbon-based power generation to the hilt, the Japanese  government  estimates it will still be at least 10% short of  peak power demand expected for next summer.

If, however, you look at Tokyo this summer, there is reason for the Japanese to be optimistic.

When the March 11 tsunami knocked out more than half of the nuclear power plants servicing Tokyo, the 30 million person metropolis lost about one-fifth of its power supply just as it was heading into the peak summer power season. But there have been no power shortages in Tokyo this summer despite the sweltering heat.

The reason is setsuden – the Japanese word for power conservation. It’s suddenly the new watchword of post- Fukushima Japan. And this new mantra of energy conservation mandates as much of a change in the practices of Japanese business and the lifestyles of Japanese households as the OPEC oil shocks did three decades ago.

From convincing staid Japanese business men to stop wearing suits and turning down the office air conditioning to closing the energy-sucking visitors gallery of the Tokyo Stock Exchange,  the Japanese government is asking for 15% to 20% power cuts from the board rooms of the country’s powerful corporate sector. And it is asking no less in power savings from the Japanese in their homes.

As setsuni continues to pare back the power requirements of the Japanese economy, maybe the country won’t need the power from the 54 reactors that it might mothball by next year.

If so, setsuden isn’t just an energy solution for Japan.

  • Rojelio

    I’ve read that historically, civilizations that have grown,  prospered and expanded wealth have typically enjoyed excess energy and excess food. That is, enough to throw away after gorging. Isn’t setsuden incompatible with our current economic model, in which consumption, resource extraction and debt must grow in order to function?

  • Unc

    Jeff,good point that setsuden didi,realistic-ley it would not hurt every body to think along those lines, in BC here, we have the powersmart program in service for many years now,quite sucsessful so far,also we are blessed with hydro power ,represents a good chunk of our generation capacity at a reasonable rate,we had to pull in the horns on some neato proposals,but others really make a lot of sense.The Japanese people are tough and as in the past they will adapt accordingly.Nuclear power can be bullet proof if you use the right model and build in multi redundancey ,such as the Canadian built-new wave Candu Reacter.In the mean time barring the old nuke plants ,in my mind natural gas seems to be the best source for energy as a bridge fuel,especialy with respect to Japans needs.Best bang for the buck,and can be brought on stream the fastest within reason,regarding efficiency and carbon foot-print.Unc fsj can.

  • Dhouston

    THe japanese have always been masters at conservation becuase they have had to be. Exactly opposite the lazy westerners

  • Instincts

    Exactly, conservation or setsudan is the inverse of needing to increase power generation, and roughly half of the solution to the world’s energy problems.  People underestimate the capacity for societies to persist sustainably, but it requires a change in mindset and most or all people need to play along.  Those who don’t should be penalized.

  • Derekwartz

    The people of Japan certainly deserve credit for their reaction to their energy challenge. The question for the rest of the developed world is how can we follow suit (short of a natural disaster)? Perhaps the savings Japanese businesses realize will result in lower costs for final products, and these lower prices work their way through the economy. We’ve copied lean manufacturing from Japan. Is Lean Energy next?
    Anyone have thoughts?

  • Kirktimpdx

    It is remarkable that the third largest economy in the world can continue to function with no power outages with 21% of its electricity off line!  I guess it would not be stretch to imagine shutting down the remaining reactors (another 9%) and envisioning a total nuclear free Japan.  These are significant data points to consider as the US contemplates closing several more dirty coal fired power plants.  My take away:  optimism