Awaji Conference Statement 2013

Awaji Conference Statement
14th Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan
Saturday, August 3, 2013

In 1972, the Club of Rome released The Limits to Growth; this was followed by the occurrence of the first oil crisis in 1973. Some 40 years has passed since the political disturbance in the Middle East shook the economies of Japan and the rest of the world. It is profoundly significant that in this 40th anniversary year, this discussion with a focus on energy was held over a two-day period.

The commemorative lectures were given by Research Adviser Toichi, Research Director Herberg, and Professor Saito. We would like to express our respect and appreciation for their high-level reports, which served as the cornerstone of our two-day discussion.

While the current world’s situation surrounding energy is ever-changing, 2011 was characterized by two events. One was the political change known as the “Arab Spring,” which has generated a political instability in the Middle East. Japan still depends on the Persian Gulf for nearly 90% of the country’s oil consumption, and 25% of its gas consumption. If the conflict in the Middle East becomes further intensified, there is concern that Japan will suffer from as serious situation as the oil crisis of 1973, or even the oil crisis of 1941. In addition, as indicated in the discussion, there is a great concern about the accident at the nuclear power generation plant in Fukushima.

The other event is the shale oil/gas revolution. As a person directly involved in this movement, Research Director Herberg indicated that the development of the U.S. technology for extracting shale oil/gas from shale strata would have a considerable effect on the world’s energy situation. While the U.S. has been a huge energy consumer so far, the country is transforming itself into an energy exporter, which will drastically change the international energy supply-demand balance. Some people believe that since shale gas and shale oil are to be found under the ground throughout the world, the rest of the world will catch up with the U.S. in five to ten years after the country’s full launch of efforts concerning this natural resource. However, Research Director Herberg presented the perspective that since complicated and sophisticated technologies and various other conditions are necessary, and also since the extraction requires a vast amount of water, it would take much longer than expected for the U.S. to be overtaken by other countries.

Another discussion topic concerned whether the U.S. will lower its interest in the Middle East and draw back from the region. To the U.S., the Middle East is not just an issue relating to oil resources. In light of the influence of Jewish people in the U.S. society, it will be extremely difficult for the country to abandon Israel. Moreover, the region is certainly crucial as a weapons market. Research Director Herberg indicated that nevertheless, the U.S. would gradually lose interest in the Middle East, accompanied by the decline in the country’s commitments to energy sources in the region. He went on to say that the country’s balance of trade would improve greatly, explained about the world’s problems regarding sea lanes, and forecast that Asia’s commitments to the region will deepen. An audience member on the floor described such an attitude that the U.S. may begin to adopt as self-complacent and expressed a strong opposition. We look forward to the country’s reinforcing its role as a forward-looking guard in the international arena.

As well as the Arab Spring and the shale oil/gas revolution, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is an extremely important problem. Post-war Japan, in which the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki engraved the fear of nuclear threat, tended to hesitate from nuclear power generation. However, people were finally reaching the point of the awareness that nuclear power generation was safe, low-cost, and a clean energy resource and that it was extremely desirable for a country without sufficient resources. It was at this very time when the accident occurred in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. This is very ironic. At the conference, it was repeatedly indicated that on top of a growing deep uneasiness among the general public, a deep distrust against experts and the government has now been formed. Professor Saito shared the idea that people were easily driven by fear of the unknown, and presented a very thought-provoking view on how to overcome such a situation. Although he is an economist, he approached the reality of nuclear power generation facilities, which is out of his specialty, using a reliable method that he gained from his work as a social scientist, demonstrating his intellectual integrity. Tackling a problem for which a complete solution was never available, he presented as broad perspective as possible.

At a working session, it was indicated that it was important to sympathize with the difficulties being experienced by mothers with children who were still taking refuge from Fukushima. This problem cannot be resolved with an awareness program featuring a one-sided perspective from above. It is essential to consider the issue together with citizens and share an awareness of their difficulties. It was indicated that to do so, it will be necessary for experts to present their deep expertise, and in that sense, the discussion held at this conference was truly significant. As for country-level issues, it is a very difficult time now for the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. The process for the restarting of the existing nuclear power plants must be accompanied by a widespread discussion among citizens. The difficulties regarding the issue of nuclear power generation is also observed in the disposal of radioactive waste, especially spent nuclear fuel. Disposal is a very tough question. It was also indicated that it was necessary to distinguish the issue of the huge risk in the case of an emergency from the issue of the probability that the risk would become real.

Professor Saito explained that the reactor units 1 to 5 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were the first-generation type (Mark I) and their operation was launched in the 1970s. Although these units were originally expected to operate for 40 years, the period was extended to 60 years in 2005. After this decision, the power station was struck by the great earthquake and following tsunami. It is interesting to consider how the decision was made. Anyway, the old, low performance type, which was rendered helpless at the time of the disaster, is quite different from the Mark II, which was developed after the introduction of more rigorous standards in 1981, in terms of safety levels. With consideration for human error, however, it can never be said that the new type is ultimately safe. There is no doubt that nuclear power plants are inherently difficult to handle. Overwhelmed by the impact of the accident at the Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, people tend to regard the second and third generation models as similar to the first-generation model. Professor Saito said that this approach should be avoided.

Based on an understanding of such differences, Research Adviser Toichi analyzed that countries were divided into three groups in terms of their response to the issue of nuclear power generation. One group consists of countries supporting the decommissioning of nuclear power plants, such as Germany and Switzerland. Germany is facing difficulties in terms of costs. It is a part of Europe, where extensive power networks have been established, allowing the country to import nuclear power from France. This is the background of the country’s decision. The second group, to which most major countries belong, supports the continued operation of nuclear power plants. According to former ambassador Fujii, Sweden has made an extremely practical decision, even though 50% of the country’s energy consumption depends on renewable energy. China will manufacture a large number of third-generation nuclear power plants with high safety levels. The third group comprises countries that will newly launch the operation of nuclear power plants, such as Vietnam and Turkey. An energy breakdown of the entire Europe is nuclear power, gas, coal, and renewable energy, including hydroelectric power, with each occupying approximately 25%. It was indicated that this balance was very favorable.

At this conference, many hopes regarding new energy were presented. It might not be long before the further development and widespread use of electric vehicles (EV) and fuel cells. The engagement of the entire community, including households, stores, and buildings, in efforts to generate, save, and store energy might produce a considerable change. Additionally, it also might not be long before the realization of a hydrogen-energy-oriented society. The explanation on digital grids suggested that the new technology might soon lead to new forms of lifestyle. The use of renewable energy (excluding hydroelectric power) has doubled over the past 10 years, although the increase, which was from a really small percentage to just 1.6%, is very small. At the conference, it was almost unanimously agreed that it was integral to pursue these possibilities and further increase the percentage of the use of renewable energy.

Based on this, it is important to consider the best mix for Japan. First, Japan should promote diversification in terms of energy sources. While changing the current dependence on the Persian Gulf, the country needs to work on two areas: developing renewable energy technologies and energy-saving technologies, and improving the social response to these technologies. Following the two major oil crises, Japan, without sufficient energy resources, still played a leading role in the world. Many participants in this conference hope that the current risks will serve as a good opportunity for Japan to realize further development.

On the other hand, as for the issue of nuclear power plants, forming a consensus is difficult. While hastening to develop renewable energy, continuing to use natural gas for the time being, decommissioning old-type nuclear power plants, continuing to use nuclear power plants with high-level safety as a stopgap, and further increasing the safety level—these were the main ideas upon which the three lecturers almost agreed. Even though there might be some opposition, we think that these ideas are practical and reasonable.

This is because if an energy crisis such as the one in 1941 and 1973 occurs again, it means that people’s lives will be at risk. According to a report released by a research group on comprehensive security in 1980, comprehensive security consists of three pillars: national defense and military security; resource and economic security; and the protection of citizens from great disasters. Today, it is necessary to rephrase this last as, “the protection of citizens from great disasters and devastating accidents.” From the point of the view of such comprehensive security, it is unavoidable to continue using nuclear power plants as a stopgap while managing the risk of accidents, rather than decide simplistically to stop all use just because of the fear of nuclear power plants. Additionally, the decommissioning of nuclear power plants takes a huge amount of human resources and money. If it is decided to decommission nuclear power plants right now, this means that human resources and money will be lost. At the conference, it was emphasized that in order to complete the decommissioning successfully and strategically, it was required to continue using some nuclear power plants with high-level safety. Moreover, considering that there are many nuclear power plants along the coast of China and on the Korean Peninsula, even if Japan discontinues using nuclear power plants, the issue will not be resolved. It was indicated at the conference that Japan should be prepared to provide technical cooperation to support the safety of nuclear power generation in international society.

If it is decided to continue constructing nuclear power plants for the time being while confirming their safety, the important thing is to share awareness among citizens. In Sweden, the critical decision was made based on dialogues between the government and citizens. What made this possible was that experts provided their reliable expertise and that their expertise gained the trust of citizens. Nothing will proceed without a shared understanding and awareness among people. In that sense, this two-day conference, though neither an agreement nor conclusion was easily reached, was truly significant for providing the basis for sharing such awareness.

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