Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

The cost of no-nukes? 28 November, 2012

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

We’ve had a spate of announced price rises from electricity companies the last few days – first Tokyo, then Osaka and yesterday Kyushu. Not small either, in the region of 10%~20%, and most unwelcome to us consumers and industries alike. The word is that closing down nuclear reactors has meant more use of oil and gas which have to be bought on the increasingly tight world market.

These rises still have to be approved by the government, which will probably trim them down a bit, but there’s a strong message coming out that denuclearization will cost money. A lot of money. Of course this is coming just before an important general election of which the outcome is totally unclear, and in which abandoning nuclear energy is becoming a major issue. It has overwhelming public support and more and more polititians are jumping on this bandwagon in a desperate effort to get re-elected.

Electricity companies, and the business community in general, have invested a lot of money over the years in nuclear power and are strongly opposed to change. Of course burning oil and gas is not a long-term option either, and alternative renewable energy sources will be expensive, especially at first, but the timing of these price rise announcements is rather suspicious…

Kepco’s electricity bill increase has industries worried | The Japan Times Online.


Hamaoka 21 May, 2011

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 2:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Maybe you’ve heard of the Tokai Earthquake. The expected epicentre is a bit west of here, in Shizuoka prefecture, but near enough for the predicted magnitude of over 8 to do plenty of damage in Nagoya. Our house was built fairly recently to the more stringent standards that came in after the Kobe earthquake, so I’m hoping we’ll be OK. Whatever, it’s definitely on its way – this quake has occurred regularly every 100~150 years, and the last one was in 1854 so it’s overdue. The probability of it happening in the next 30 years has been estimated at 87%.

Now, right in the centre of where the Tokai Earthquake is expected is the city of Omaezaki, and right there, on the coast, is the Hamaoka nuclear power station. It’s hard to believe that permission was granted to build this even after the danger of earthquake damage had been pointed out in official reports, but there seems to have been an unholy coalition between the previous LDP government, the nuclear and construction industries, and even sponsored university professors and the media, all of which have set Japan on the way to generating a large proportion of its electricity from nuclear energy. Read the Asahi newspaper’s interview with Taro Kono, one of the few LDP Diet members to oppose nuclear energy: (English translation).

In the context of having to reduce, almost eliminate, cabon dioxide emissions if the world is to remain inhabitable for human beings, replacing oil-burning power stations with atomic energy seems to make some sense as a temporary stop-gap, even if the cost of disposing of used fuel rods and of dismantling old power stations is probably huge, and still somewhat unknown. The recent earthquake in Tohoku, though, has reminded us just how enormous the costs of a nuclear accident could be. Of course earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan, and though the power stations are supposed to have been built so as to withstand major shaking and high tidal waves, we have now seen how the best laid plans of mice and men…

The implications of a nuclear disaster within a couple of hundred kilometeres of Tokyo and Nagoya just don’t bear thinking about. Imagine having to evacuate Tokyo!!! So is an energy policy centred on nuclear power feasable for Japan? Prime minister Kan seems to have decided not, at least till they can harden the things up considerably, and two weeks ago he asked the Chubu power company to close down the remaining two reactors of five which were in operation at Hamaoka – a request they couldn’t really refuse.

So what now? The nuclear lobby are kicking hard, making quite reasonable claims that renewable energy is nowhere near being in a position to take over, or cheap enough even if the windmills and solar panels could be put up quickly. Public opinion, though, is with Kan on this, even though his overall popularity is pretty low, and the mood now is very much into economy. A bit of effort – turn down the air conditioners, turn off some lights, stagger days off, introduce Summer Time – and power consumption this summer might be cut by 15%. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. The point is that once a consensus has been reached the Japanese have been known to move quite fast. Revolutionary changes have taken place here still within living memory, and the Edo era wasn’t all that long ago.

Maybe we can afford some cautious optimism. Maybe Japan will catch up with Europe on the use of renewable energy and set an example for a less wasteful lifestyle – “mottanai” started here. Maybe Japanese technology will take the lead in developing new sources of energy. Maybe between us the more sane places in the world can bring America on board too…

All we can do is hope that this disaster might trigger the action needed to avoid the far worse disasters staring us in the face.


A walk in the woods 16 June, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A "Jizo" Buddha at the pass on many country roads.

Beautiful day in Golden Week, and we took the road above the house up the hill, past the “Jizo” at the pass, down a bit and took this little road off to the left. More a track really, with an almost obliterated sign pointing to a village we hadn’t heard of. About a 20-minute walk though cedar plantations later we arrived at this “village”: three buildings drowning in the forest. A few years ago people lived there, in these rather nice traditional wooden houses, growing rice in paddy fields nearby, now planted with cedars or spruce which have grown up all around.

...another couple of years...

These once-handsome buildings are slowly collapsing, disintegrating and returning to the hills they came from. Sad but inevitable I suppose. It’s not really on to expect to make any kind of living out in a place like this. Just after the war there was a building boom to replace the flattened cities and since wood was (and still is, really) the main construction material large areas of Japan’s wild forest was replaced with plantations of quick-growing cedar and spruce. The idea of many people was that 20 or 30 years down the road these trees could be sold off at a good price, so were regarded as an investment for their childrens’ future. Unfortunately cheap timber imports from countries like Canada have knocked the bottom out of that, so now the value of a tree is less than the cost of transporting it down the hill into the town…

A footpath, still usable, led up the side of the hill from those houses to, we calculated, the next village a kilometre or so away. Just above was a little shrine with a couple of Buddha statues, an empty sake bottle and some flowers which were still fresh, so someone must have visited in the last day or two. A bit further on, down a slope, and sure enough there was the village, basking in the Spring sunshine. An image of rustic tranquillity. Really, quite beautiful, but so quiet. There is only a handful of people living there now, all getting on in years. Children have moved out into the cities to get jobs in offices and factories, leaving their parents tending the ricefields and cows in this corner of paradise. As it happens, we know a couple of the people here. The couple who live at the top looked after our house – opening the windows to let the breeze though once in a while, bit of weeding etc – while we were in Thailand for a year. Further down the road we ran into Hashimoto san, who must be 70 or so by now; he keeps some cows and grows rice.

I wonder what it will be like in 10 or 15 years when most of these people have passed on? Will there be a u-turn from the city, a boom in eco-living… or will this idyllic village go the way of those houses in the woods?


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Yesterday’s Papers 2 April, 2009

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 2:50 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m usually two or three weeks behind in reading my Guardian Weekly – this doesn’t bother me all that month as I reckon that if it was worth reading three weeks ago, it’s still worth reading now (and the reverse of course). It was Autumn by the time I came across Andrew Simms’ article about the “100 months” movement so by then of course we were down to 98 months or so. That’s the time by which the game will be up unless our politicians start taking the dangers of climate change seriously. The first line of the report, which you can download from the 100 months website, says:

We calculate that 100 months from 1 August 2008, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will begin to exceed a point whereby it is no longer likely we will be able to avert potentially irreversible climate change.

That’s One Hundred Months, not years. About 8 years from now the process will get out of control, and the planet will cook, whatever we do. Unless, that is, all the countries of the world really get to work on this and drastically cut our CO2 output. Not sometime in 2050, but right now. The possible, or likely, horrific consequences of letting this slip have been well described elsewhere, but we can look forward to things like destructive storms, flooded cities, plagues of tropical diseases, destruction of productive cropland, millions of hungry refugees, wars over water, mass starvation, a drastic reduction in the human population the world is able to support, the end of civilization as we know it, or even our extinction…

I don’t know about you, but I find this all somewhat depressing. Some world leaders seem to have started to get the picture, but what chance is there of getting the whole world on board in time? It’s hard to be optimistic. Of course the current economic depression might turn out to have a silver lining if it has the same effects that the collapse of the Soviet Union did on Russia’s emissions in the 90’s. Meanwhile here in Japan wind power has hardly taken off at all because this relatively small country doesn’t have a proper national grid system for distributing electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed. Among the government’s pitiful collection of economic stimuli so far was making the highway tolls a (cheap) 1000 yen to drive anywhere in the country at weekends. Starting last weekend, we got an increase in traffic of 30~40%. Great stuff. (The opposition would like to go even further and make the highways free! )

They just don’t get it.


Guerilla Rain 4 September, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 2:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Guerilla Rain is what they call those sudden fierce downpours that seem to be getting more and more common. What we’d call flash floods I suppose. In July they had an attack in Kobe, where four people were swept away, then in Tokyo five sewer workers.

Last Thursday night we had a taste here in Nagoya. It suddenly started pouring, water came in under out garage shutter, and while we were nervously watching the TV news we noticed a pool forming under out living room window. I ran out and pulled off the dead leaves that were blocking the drain hole of our veranda (got soaked in the 3~4 seconds that it took) and the 15cm of water that had built up soon went down… They were saying later that in Nagoya about 100mm of water fell in that hour. Down the road in Okazaki they got 140mm, many houses were flooded, and again two people were drowned. One old lady was found washed up on the coast 40 Km away. More recently, some places in the area have had 400~odd mm of rain in 24 hours.

These are serious quantities of rain when you think about it. 500mm is half a metre of water spread over many square kilometres. No wonder little streams turn into raging torrents, and mountains crumble. While Japan certainly gets plenty of rain, this is unusual for August, or any time for that matter. The cause seems to be that the Pacific high pressure area that usually brings the hot but clear Summer weather has given up, swathes of hot moist air are coming up from the South and colliding with cold air from the Asian continent – right here.

Still, there have been no typhoons up this way so far (touch wood) so we’re luckier than people in the Caribbean who seem to be getting hit by one cyclone after another, not to mention India, where a river has changed course. Back in the day, everything used to be blamed on The Bomb, now it’s Global Warming, though that seems more credible.



%d bloggers like this: