Nuclear Opportunities in Japan

Jeff Siegel

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted October 19, 2011

They’ve been quietly campaigning, keeping their meetings relatively secret.

They didn’t want to draw too much attention to their agenda.

After all, what they’re proposing goes against the wishes of the majority…

In Japan, 70 percent of voters polled backed a call to phase out all of the country’s nuclear power plants. And former Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced earlier this year that nuclear power was no longer worth the risk.

But his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, doesn’t agree — and in fact has recently suggested nuclear will continue to play a role for decades to come.

Scandalous Emails

While Economy Minister Yukio Edano told reporters that Japan was still committed to developing its solar resources and gas-powered generation operations, he also noted that nuclear is “still under consideration.”

Of course, this announcement comes on the heels of a recent email scandal that further distanced Japan’s voters from the nuclear industry.

Last week, Kyushu Electric Power delivered a final report on a scandal that involved the company asking employees to send support comments for nuclear restarts from their personal email accounts to organizers of a government-organized public meeting.

Kyushu’s final report was denounced by Yukio Edano, who called it “meaningless” while saying, “I can’t understand how they have the nerve to do this.”

To give you an idea of the kinds of emails that were sent, check out this one that was uncovered last month from a man posing as a local farmer:

The Number One reactor has been operating for 30 years and I’ve never had a problem selling my rice or vegetables because of fears of radiation.

The sad thing is Kyushu didn’t really have to go through such extremes.

Because while most Japanese citizens would prefer to phase out all of the country’s nuclear power generation, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The Smart Money Loves this Nuclear Play

There is no doubt that Japan is actively preparing to increase its installed solar capacity. And it could be as much as ten times what’s installed today. This is huge — and it’s pretty much a done deal.

In addition, natural gas imports will continue to rise. LNG imports are already expected to climb 12.2% this year, thanks to low nuclear utilization rates. Today, Japan’s top three sources of LNG imports are Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia (although last month we learned Japan may soon be importing LNG from the United States as well).

While Japan is currently unable to import LNG from the United States without approval, Japanese officials have begun negotiations to get the U.S. to promote our exports. If all works out, Japanese utilities would start out by importing up to 3 million tons per year, with the estimated goal allowing U.S. exports to make up 10 percent of Japan’s LNG needs.

And nuclear? Well, that’s still a tough one…

Certainly Japan has not shown the same determination the Germans have demonstrated with regards to phasing out nuclear.

And given one of the worst nuclear power disasters in history happened less than a year ago on Japanese soil, this tells me that although it is unlikely Japan will ever build another nuclear power plant again, it is also unlikely that its current fleet of operational nuclear power plants will be decommissioned any sooner than 2030.

Truth is, there is a movement in Japan to keep its nuclear power generation in place. And that movement has some pretty well-connected and deep-pocketed supporters.

Now will that be enough to win out over nuclear’s bad reputation in the Land of the Rising Sun?

Hard to say…

While anarchist slackers and opportunistic celebrities protest on Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street supporters in Tokyo have taken to the streets in solidarity — but with a different message focused primarily on getting rid of the country’s nuclear power generation.

Anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong in Japan. And I don’t think that’s going to subside anytime soon.

But for nuclear investors, none of this really matters.

Even if Japan does allow its nuclear industry to go gently into that good night, aside from Germany, Switzerland, and perhaps Italy, nuclear power generation isn’t going anywhere.

In fact, with a renewed demand for safer nuclear power generation — and at a cheaper cost — new, safer, and cheaper nuclear fuel technologies are ushering in some of the most lucrative investment opportunities we’ve seen in years. I personally jumped on this one myself.

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Jeff Siegel
Editor, Energy and Capital

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