Konbanwa. Your correspondent is in Japan this weekend where the big story is electric power, specifically whether to generate more or do without.
Japan has 50 functioning reactors, capable of meeting 30% of the country's demand for electricity. The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed the generating station at Fukushima, causing a meltdown of the the three operating reactors after floodwaters disabled emergency generators providing core coolant circulation. Subsequently, the Japanese government shut down all other nuclear power reactors to review and improve seismic safety.
The Japanese government estimates the total environmental radioactivity release from Fukushima at 10% of 1986's explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine.
Now the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui prefecture is ready to resume operation and has obtained permission to restart its two reactors, but this move is proving deeply unpopular.
More than 10,000 protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s office on June 22 to criticize the government’s decision to restart two nuclear reactors that had been shut down for routine inspections.
Holding aloft banners and placards, the protesters--many arriving in the early evening after getting off work--chanted their opposition to the proposed restarts.
Environmental and other anti-nuclear activists in the United States are also protesting the move to reactivate the Ohi plant.
In the United States, antinuclear protesters delivered a letter addressed to the prime minister opposing the Oi facility's restart to the Japanese Consulate General in Los Angeles.
"Your decision is undemocratic. It is clear even from the United States that the Japanese public is not supporting you," the letter warns Noda. "You may reject this letter as outside interference. . . . However, the fallout of nuclear accidents does not know national borders (and) severely impacts the global environment."
Around three dozen people protested outside the consulate, including some residents from near California's San Onofre nuclear plant, which has been idlesince a steam generator leaked radioactive water in January.
"The only difference between us and Japan is they got the earthquake before we did," said activist Gene Stone, 58, who lives about 20 km from the idled plant.
Similar protests were held Friday on the West Coast at Japan's consulates in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
The earthquake last March that triggered the tsunami that destroyed Fukushima was the most powerful ever to strike Japan and the fifth strongest in the known history of the world. Despite the destruction of the back-up systems at the local nuclear power plant, the world-ending clouds of radioactivity prophesied by many alarmists and anti-nuclear activists never materialized.
The engineer in me looks at this and feels better about the intrinsic safety of nuclear power. After all, an antiquated nuclear plant is struck by the worst natural calamity in history, far beyond its design limits, and the environmental consequences are a small fraction of the damage wrought by engineers botching an emergency test on a Soviet reactor.
But many Japanese citizens evidently feel differently, even in the face of likely brownouts and blackouts later this summer as energy demand exceeds supply.
Germany is also aboard the anti-nuclear bandwagon, with Angela Merkel's government promising to shut down all its reactors--responsible for 23% of generating capacity--by 2022.
What do you think? Is nuclear power on it's way to the ash heap of history or will it stage a comeback?