Nuclear power stories have dominated TV in Japan this year. Everybody has been forced to talk about nuclear power at some point, yet most – including me – know little about it, and most do not like to talk about it. It`s like a steaming turd.
For the last week, I have tried to reduce some of my ignorance by reading the bestselling Genpatsu no Uso (The Lies of Nuclear Power Plants) by Hiroaki Koide. In Fukushima city this summer, I saw a young university student devouring its contents. Clear, concise and wide-ranging – with no distracting references to steaming turds, the book has simply explained what I had assumed to be complex.
The most simple puzzle he solved for me relates to the lights in my home in Tokyo. My guesthouse gets its electricity from TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company). Everybody in Tokyo uses electricity supplied by TEPCO; they have no other choice – there are no competitors. So, where does TEPCO get electricity?
TEPCO takes some electricity from Tohoku – a rural region in the north-east of Japan. The notorious Fukushima nuclear power plant is in Tohoku. But the plant is not run by the Tohoku electricity company, but by TEPCO. Before the March 11th shutdown, all the electricity produced at the plant was sent straight to TEPCO areas, none of it stayed in Tohoku.
Why did TEPCO choose to run a steaming turd in distant Tohoku, and also Niigata on the Japan Sea coast?
It seems stupid – it costs money to send electricity across the country. On page 103, I found the reason.
Steaming turds are controlled by long-standing laws:
1) Steaming turds must be placed in unpopulated areas.
2) Areas surrounding steaming turds must be of low population density.
3) Steaming turds must not lie near any high density population areas (like Tokyo).
In 1961, the Steaming Turd Compensation Act was introduced. This specified that if people living near steaming turds tried to claim compensation from electric companies, the government would help with payouts. From this time on, steaming turds became good business. In the same year, Japan bought its first steaming turd from Britain.
A map of Japan in the book shows the Japan coastline speckled with steaming turds – all 53 in remote coastal regions, none of them near the big cities of Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya.
It doesn`t quite seem right. I can`t say I wish to live near a steaming turd. But surely, if Japan must have steaming turds, everybody should share the stench.
NOTE: Hiroaki Koide provided the intelligent input for this post; I provided the interpretation and the steaming turds.