I was initially going to write a whole article about how the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, as represented by the weekly demos outside the Prime Minister’s house, differs from the west, but I couldn’t quite find the references I was looking for, and my background in genetic and social sciences is of course non-existent, so instead this article will be a hodge-podge of Bad Social Science™.
First, anti-nuclear protests. In the west, the majority appears to be professional protesters and NIMBYs, but in Japan, many seem to be articulating some difficult-to-pinpoint worries about radiation and stuff. My argument is based around the results of experiments that have shown that the serotonin (5-HT) transporter gene-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) of up to 90% of the Japanese population has either the short/short (s/s) or short/long (s/l) genotype, whereas Caucasian and African populations have a much lower percentage, closer to 45% and 60%, if I remember correctly. (Note, I picked this information up off a TV program, and I don’t have full text access to PubMed to verify the exact figures) This genotype is correlated with anxiety (and depression), particularly the s/s variant. Thus Japanese tend to be more anxious – the mentioned TV program did a quick experiment by telling 10 members of each of the races that they had to sing their favourite song in front of an audience soon, and 10 out of the 13 people who had significantly raised pulse rate were Japanese.
So, extrapolating (ie pulling stuff out of my arse) we can say that anxiety is endemic in Japan, thus following the Fukushima disaster where nuclear power issues came to the fore, it was socio-genetically (does such a word exist?) inevitable that there would be a mass outbreak of radiophobia.
This leads me onto the second part, the 2030 energy plan that has just recently finished going through a public discussion phase. At the start, public opinion was about 30% for no nukes, 45% for 15%, and 15% for 25% approximately, but by the end it had hardened to almost a majority for phasing out nuclear power. We are all (I hope) aware of the paucity of the media debate regarding associated issues such as greenhouse gas emissions – these really do have the ability to literally, not just hyperbolically figuratively, wipe countries off the map, with many Pacific islands and most of Bangladesh being prime risks – and economic issues such future generation costs, and even fundamentals like what production mix is going to replace the 10% or 25% of nuclear. About the only figures I have see have been from KEPCO presenting numbers to Osaka. 25% nukes (hmm, Kansai is 50% though, but let’s skip that) would cost 15.1 yen per unit, 15% would also cost 15.1 yen, and 0% 16.2 yen; I would vote for 0% for an extra yen, and KEPCO admitted that they hadn’t factored in full clean-up costs in the event of a major accident into the 15.1 yen, which would make nuclear more expensive if they chose a high-end number. (Note that these figures suggest to me that KEPCO would replace nuclear with mostly LNG, not renewables.)
Now, given the way that consultation has gone, and given the recent tone of Cabinet members, I suspect that the conclusion of the policy review will indeed be 0% by 2030. Even PM Noda himself when he (stupidly, in my opinion) met the protesters just repeated his stock line about he made his Oi reactors restart decision decision based on economic factors. With an election due within a couple of months, I will predict that the DPJ will adopt this 0% as part of their manifesto, and with most of the other parties voicing similar 0% goals, this will be one of the key election issues. However, I won’t put it past the new PM to look at the books and arbitrarily decide that manifesto pledges need to be ignored… I believe that a strong and confident leader (specifically, Toru Hashimoto having a Road to Damascus conversion) could do that and break through the mass anxiety described above.