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Japan’s Nuclear Quandary (continued)

by Sheila A. Smith
Protesters take part in an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo March 27, 2011. The sign on the left reads, "Change energy policy". The sign on the right reads, "Do not sprinkle radioactive material".

Protesters take part in an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo March 27, 2011. The sign on the left reads, "Change energy policy". The sign on the right reads, "Do not sprinkle radioactive material". (Courtesy Reuters/Toru Hanai)

Partisan politics aside, public confidence in industry and government has plummeted. Credibility of data marshaled to date in support of the conclusion that Japan’s reactors are safe has been undermined, and media polls reveal a steady drop in public support for Japan’s existing nuclear energy policy.  

A broader debate in Japan is unfolding, and the temptation is to draw the battle lines so that industry and government are on one side and Japan’s citizens are on the other. But this would be a flawed—and from a policy perspective, deeply damaging—premise. Read more »

Japan’s Nuclear Quandary

by Sheila A. Smith
An aerial view shows Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai nuclear power plant, in Genkai town, Saga Prefecture, in this picture taken by Kyodo on June 9, 2011. The Japanese government moved closer on Wednesday to securing approval from local authorities to restart the first of 35 nuclear reactors shut for regular maintenance or kept idle since the March earthquake and tsunami. Japan's trade and energy minister, undeterred by several dozen anti-nuclear protesters urging him to go home, tried to persuade local governments in the southern Saga prefecture that it was safe to restart nuclear reactors shut since a deadly natural disaster struck the country's northeast on March 11.

An aerial view shows Kyushu Electric Power's Genkai nuclear power plant, in Genkai town, Saga Prefecture, in this picture taken by Kyodo on June 9, 2011. The Japanese government moved closer on Wednesday to securing approval from local authorities to restart the first of 35 nuclear reactors shut for regular maintenance or kept idle since the March earthquake and tsunami. (Courtesy Reuters/Kyodo)

The Kan cabinet is facing a defining moment in Japan’s postwar nuclear debate. With the bulk of nuclear reactors now offline, the country is holding its breath over how the prime minister will proceed. Difficulties continue at Fukushima Daiichi. Dangerous levels of radiation have been reported in the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, and new sources of food—this time beef—have been taken off the market by the Japanese government with dire consequences for the livestock producers in the stricken regions.   

The short-term prognosis for Japan’s electricity supply is uncertain, yet it is the longer term effort to reform Japan’s energy policy that is the key to resolving the current impasse. Public confidence in Japan’s nuclear industry was shattered by the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, and until the reactors are fully cooled, it is unlikely that the full impact of this disaster will be appreciated. In the meantime, decisions need to be made, and Japan’s energy supply needs to be assured.  Read more »

Carbon Capture and Storage Ramps Up in the United States and South Korea

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) announced last fall it would spend 1.3 trillion won ($1.1 billion) by 2020 on Carbon Capture and Storage (You Sung-ho/Courtesy Reuters). Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) announced last fall it would spend 1.3 trillion won ($1.1 billion) by 2020 on Carbon Capture and Storage (You Sung-ho/Courtesy Reuters).

Jill Kosch O’Donnell is a former Junior Associate of The Asia Foundation and writer in Washington, DC.

Demonstration projects now underway in the United States and South Korea to capture CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and store them deep underground have one critical factor in common: a reliance on government funding. In recent months, both governments have announced new funding to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. In a world where cheap and abundant coal-fired power accounts for about 40 percent of man-made CO2 emissions, CCS is a way to reduce emissions without giving up coal. Read more »

Stakes Rise for U.S.-ROK Nuclear Energy Talks

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan watch as Korea Electric Power Co president Kim Ssang-su  and chairman of Emirates Nuclear Energy Co Khaldoon Khalifa al-Mubarak sign a contract in Abu Dhab (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan watch as Korea Electric Power Co president Kim Ssang-su and chairman of Emirates Nuclear Energy Co Khaldoon Khalifa al-Mubarak sign a contract in Abu Dhab (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Miles A. Pomper is a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, DC.

When South Korea and the United States negotiated their last nuclear cooperation agreement in the early 1970s, the talks were a low-key affair. As a poor economy lagging behind its Northern neighbor, South Korea did not have a single operating nuclear power plant, let alone piles of spent nuclear fuel. It seemed impossible that a South Korean company would one day be able to design and export nuclear reactors.U.S.nuclear nonproliferation efforts remained in their infancy. The United States had not yet attempted to clamp down on sales of sensitive fuel cycle technology and supplied most of the world’s enriched uranium. Pyongyang and Seoul had not yet pledged not to pursue uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing—which can be used for nuclear weapons or nuclear energy—and Pyongyang had yet to violate that agreement. Iran was still a U.S.ally. Not surprisingly, little political attention or concern was attached to the U.S.-South Korea nuclear pact. Read more »