It has been 18 months since the horrific live broadcast of the Fukushima Daichii Nuclear Power Plant reactors explosion wreaked fear and dread throughout Japan. Visions of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island came into my mind, and the minds of the many friends and relatives who called and told me to get out of Japan. However, being 1,200 km from Fukushima, my common sense prevailed and I stayed, but since then I have been overcome with a feeling of guilt – that my tacit acceptance of nuclear power was one of the causes of the disaster.
I grew up in Australia during the Cold War, and one of the big political issues was the banning of uranium exports. Apart from New Zealand, Australia was about as antinuclear as you could get. The mere thought of building a nuke power station would be an election-loser for any party. However, in my 25 years in Japan I wasn’t that worried that there was a nuclear reactor only 50 km from my house in Fukuoka.
That is not to say that I didn’t raise the question. After a few beers I once challenged a Kyuden employee, saying that it was silly for them to build such a station in Sendai, Kagoshima, an area prone to earthquakes, to which his tone turned aggressive. He told me that, “It is people like you spreading such unfounded rumors that is the bigger problem.” There were all those questions to be asked: what will happen to the spent fuel, what will happen when the plants are decommissioned, is the cost of storing the high radioactive nuclear waste included in the cost of nuclear power? All these questions I should have been asking just didn’t seem as important as turning on the air conditioning during the summer heat.
Fast-forward to the present. The majority of Japanese don’t see nuclear power as an acceptable form of energy. The cost of the Fukushima cleanup will never be covered by the nuclear power industry, and there is no insurance against another disaster. Industry wants the power, and donation-taking politicians are still willing to take the nuclear risk, but the people are not standing for it. I see the tens of thousands of people demonstrating against nuclear power in front of the Diet, and I think I should be there with them. But I’m not.
I do not feel I have the moral ground to protest, after being so accepting of nuclear power for so long. Am I willing to take a 40% cut in electricity to see nuke reactors go? Do I have a better alternative? The answer is yes.
Having the luxury of being a homeowner, I have a roof over my head that gets its daily dose of sunlight. It makes perfect sense– get solar power. It wasn’t long before I was flooded by companies measuring up my roof for their free quotes, and I have been presented with numerous options.
The government has just passed a bill guaranteeing the buyback of your unused solar electricity at ¥42 per KWh for 10 years. Compare that to the cost of electricity: ¥30 peak, ¥19 shoulder and ¥9 off peak, and it is a generous offer. Add a national subsidy of about ¥100K and the Fukuoka City subsidy of ¥100K and solar power generation starts looking attractive. If I installed a solar power generation system, the money I save and make on electricity would be roughly equivalent to the monthly payments for the loan to pay for the system. Of course there are some questions – will the amount of power generated be as much as the salesman is telling me? Will the panels really last for 10 years? How much will the maintenance cost? Will it get cloudy as soon as I get them installed? Will it actually cost me money in the long run?
But after weighing up the alternatives, I am going to bite the bullet and get the solar installed – costing about ¥1.5 million for a 3.7kw system. The loan repayments will be about ¥12,000 per month, about how much I pay for electricity now. Only when I am electrically self-sufficient will I have the moral ground to join the demonstrators and demand that these potential disasters in the form of nuclear power stations be shut down for good, so that families can raise their children without the fear of another Fukushima raining down on us. I urge as many as possible to do what you can to make nuclear power history. Dodesho?
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn165, Sep. 2012)
Opinions expressed here are our writer’s and not the publisher’s.
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