How electricity price is decided in Japan

Japanese electric companies have regional monopolies. They own the transmission infrastructure, and would not allow anybody else to use them.

Electricity price, therefore, is worked out by adding an “appropriate profit” to all the costs.
This “appropriate profit” is 4.4% of all the costs. So, bigger the cost, bigger the profit is. This “cost” includes huge retirement money for the senior management and generous pension packages. It also includes about $200 million PR cost – TEPCO is the largest sponsor of the Japanese Media beyond Toyota – plus separate “entertainment expenses,” using which senior journalists, academics, politicians and high-class civil servants, etc., are invited for golf, nights out in Ginza (classier version of Roppongi,) or “study trips” overseas. Separate to both PR cost and entertainment expenses, they also make donations, to universities, research labs, political parties, etc.
All that money. The more they spend, the bigger their profit is.
I didn’t know this till quite recently. Unbelievable.

Anti-nuclear environmentalist described the electric companies as the one who really rules Japan. Perhaps it wasn’t too much of an exaggeration.
According to him, electric companies borrow money from banks at a high interest rate. This is because interest also becomes the cost – once again, bigger the better.
They go and buy out the politicians, the media, the academics, the banks, the investors, and we ordinary consumers have no choice but to foot the bill.

No wonder TEPCO is behaving the way it is. They’ve already bought much of the central nervous system of the country. No wonder the main TEPCO spokesman speaks as with “I’m the government. Does anybody have a problem?” written on his forehead and don’t hesitate to glare, with loath, at journalists who dare tries to corner him.

You can see well that the structure was asking for a catastrophe.
Then again, I wouldn’t just blame on the structure. There is an ongoing serious deterioration of things like human decency, sensibility and independent thinking on a global scale. Any structure will deform itself enough when people are corrupt.


13 Jul 2011 Is there enough power?

One of the major criticisms used against anti-nuclear side on all levels is that "what is the alternative?"

30% of power is generated through nuclear in Japan. What do we do about that?

Many pro-nuclear people seemed to believe being anti-nuclear meant they had no right to lose electricity.

How pro-nuclear people automatically gets the exclusive right over the remaining 70% of power generated by other means remains a mystery, but many anti-nuclear people were apparently silenced by that argument.

Some major derivatives of that arguments include:
- We'll have major power cuts in middle of the summer and there will be deaths by heatstroke.
- It will damage the industries and hurt the economy even more and Japan will become poorer.

People have been arguing for some time that in fact in Japan there was enough power generating capacity to cope with current demands. But it never got talked about most of the mainstream media. Most papers and news programs (sponsored by TEPCO) repeated stories about concerns over possible shortage of power.

A few people broke out with the story that even during the scheduled power cuts during March, there in fact were enough power to meet the demands. The scheduled power cuts, in which they cut power supply off all hospitals too (they have emergency generators but with limited capacity so certain emergency surgeries couldn't be performed - and sick patients had to cope without heating, lifts, etc.), they say, were only part of propaganda to scare people off how inconvenient life will be if we were to turn away from nuclear power.

Today, PM confirmed in his speech that we had enough power.
So did the new president of TEPCO, who appeared on TV tonight.

Apparently none of the news programs on terrestrial TV channels didn't give any attention to the PM's reference to the new nuclear-independent energy policy that he announced today. Top news on NHK apparently was the ladies football team.

13 Jul 2011 PM announces energy policy shift

PM Naoto Kan addressed the nation on Wednesday in which he announced the change in country's energy policy. He also apparently mentioned that there will be sufficient energy available even if nuclear power stations were to shut down.

I didn't listen to the speech properly but there will be plenty of info on this available on the net.

It's very difficult to tell what's on PM's mind.

It's widely believed in Japan that he'd lost it a bit during the initial phase of the crisis. There's a persistent rumor that he caused delays in venting unit 1 by insisting them not to vent till he got there, etc. - insinuating it was his fault that unit 1 exploded.

There are passionate haters of Kan - most of the civil servants and passionate supporters of LDP, who dominated the Japanese political scene for over half a century and has built one solid grounds for corruption. Kan's Democratic party has split from LDP - think quite recently - and merged and this and that - and took office a couple of years ago. It was kinda similar to how Obama got elected. Despite what you might learn from GDP figures and others, average Japanese person has been getting poorer and poorer over past 20 years. So they votedfor a change. (Hatoyama was leading the party then)

Must admit, not a lot had changed.
I personally couldn't tell if it was because it was structurally impossible or because they'd stopped caring now that they were in power.

Simlarly with Kan, following the disasters, it was difficult to tell whether he was pro-nuclear, anti-nuclear or neither (whatever lets him stay in the office.) Many people seemed to believe that he was, whatever the case, not very competent.

Then certain respected anti-nuclear figures, however, started to say that, whatever the rumours are, Kan had managed to stop Hamaoka and stopped Genkai from being restarted.

It is possible that the current power structure means Kan's left with very little choice. And all he could do was to pull out the (otherwise completely non-sensical) stress tests.

This evening's speech will no doubt propel that interpretation.
Personally, I'm still not that sure. But he has won my reluctant support for the time being.

Much Ado About Nothing?: Genkai Nuclear Power Plant 2

<--  Genkai Nuclear Power Plant 1

On 18th Jun, Kaieda, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, announced that "Safety Checks" were complete and nuclear power stations currently suspended are safe to resume their operation.

Many of Prefectural Governors were outraged by the subsequent request to resume the operations of nuclear power plants. Governor Hashimoto of Osaka went as far as saying "we should have the ministry moved to Fukusima."

The points made by the governors et al are as follows:

i. 3.5 months on, Fukushima is FAR from being resolved. From what we see, you're not capable of dealing with another nuclear accident.

ii. We don't even know the mechanism of Fukushima accident - therefore what the problems were. What makes you think you can safeguard against those problems?

iii. What Fukushima has proven is that both our safety standard and the regulatory bodies who manage them are totally inadequate. In fact, you're trying to reorganize them in a hurry. How could they possibly have the authority to decide what's safe?

It indeed was the heavily criticized regulatory bodies who carried out the Safety Check. And you got what you'd expect.

The contents of the Safety Check, which took 11 days to complete from its initiation, had the aim of measuring the preparedness of power plants against severe accidents.
The regulatory bodies first requested the electric companies to report (based on their self-inspection) on following five points then performed inspection.

i. Measures to secure a workable environment in the central control room.
ii. Measures to secure communication means within the site during blackouts.
iii. System and structural development for radiation control.
iv. Measures against hydrogen explosions.
v. Allocation of heavy machinery to remove rubble.

According to the report by the ministry, they ticked the box for item i. as long as they had an emergency generator to supply power to the central control room.

Apparently, as long as they have an emergency generator the air-circulation system with a filter should be able to make the Central Control Room workable.
If you remember, they said as long as we had emergency generators, they can keep on cooling the reactors, but the generators were destroyed by the tsunami.
Just having the generator, or electric companies saying "yep we've ordered one already," to me does not at all ensure a workable environment.
Have they even specified how good this "filter" has to be? What if the Control Room got super radioactive and the filters weren't good enough? What kind of radiation levels were they supposing?

As for iv., "yep, we have a drill to make a hole on the roof and got one of our chaps to practice drilling a hole using a hand drill" was good enough an answer.
OK, think Fukushima, again. How the fuck are you gonna send a chap with an electric drill up there on the roof of the reactor building? Are you telling me they were able to do that during 11th-18th March?

If a hole on the roof of the reactor building was good enough to prevent a hydrogen explosion, why is TEPCO now trying so hard to put nitrogen into reactor #3? Reactor building of #3 no longer exists.

Honestly! These people must seriously think as long as they have enough bullet-points on their power-point presentations, we'll buy what they claim!!

Much Ado About Nothing?: Genkai Nuclear Power Plant 1

Genkai Nuclear Power Plant is located in north of Kyushu.

View Untitled in a larger map

Its reactors in Unit 2&3 were stopped a while ago for routine inspection. Its restart, originally scheduled for April 2011, was postponed as the electric company failed to obtain the consensus of local population.
It became a focal-point of the energy policy debate following the ongoing disaster of Fukushima in recent weeks (from late Jun.) It probably was picked because the Mayor of Genkai Town and the governor of Saga Prefecture are both supportive of the economical gains nuclear plants bring.

For the nuclear industry and its friends, it's vital to restart the power plants after their routine maintenance, compulsory every 13 months. If none of them is able to restart then nuclear power generation in Japan will stop within 1 year.

A series of shady measures were employed by the government and the electric company to try and swing the public opinion, and one of which was disclosed, fueling public anger and anxiety to such an extent now the restart has been postponed.

I will try and cover the story of Genkai Nuclear Power Plant in South-West of Japan in the next few entries, as this story shows the current Japanese political situation quite well.