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What's Nu-clear in Japan?

Robert Bryce

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Chris Keefer  0:00  

Welcome back to decouple. Today I am joined by a man who truly does need no introduction as he is such a regular here on the decouple podcast and I think there's a huge crossover and listenership between our two podcasts. ROBERT BRYCE, the power hungry podcast. Welcome back to the couple.

Robert Bryce  0:17  

Thanks a lot, Chris. Always happy to be with you.

Chris Keefer  0:19  

So Robert, we were just texting back and forth. And I also follow your substack as everybody who listens here should do as well. And notice the Robert Bryce,

Robert Bryce  0:28  

God Let's, let's get that out there right there. Gotta get the marketing app. Right, Robert Dr. Seaver.

Chris Keefer  0:36  

Alright, we got about a good hour. So you have completed it not quite a pilgrimage. But you've been to one of the countries that I'm very eager to, to, you know, get off my bucket list. And that is Japan. So first off, welcome back. And you know, Second off, that's that's going to be the topic of our discussion today.

Robert Bryce  0:54  

Sure. Well, thanks. Yes, I was in Japan two weeks ago, and was there for a total of two weeks. And it was a remarkable experience. I mean, you know, people say it's life changing. You know, it was definitely career altering, I think and kind of thought thought provoking. I'll put it that way. Absolutely. I'd been to Japan once before, but you know, it's one thing to talk about Fukushima Daiichi. It's another thing to go there.

Chris Keefer  1:19  

Yeah, absolutely. And we will get into that. I mean, I share your fascination with this country. I think we could both be accused of being energy maximalist or energy determinists, or certainly we'd love to look at how energy explains and underpins, you know, historical phenomenon, modern phenomena, etc. But I find Japan absolutely astoundingly interesting. I mean, this is a country, I think, where that energy determinism is accompanied by sheer willpower, like when you understand a bit of the history and this Meiji Restoration, where Japan went from a feudal society to within 37 years, basically wiping out the entire Russian naval fleet, you know, from really no steel on the country to building battleships and sinking, you know, a pretty advanced nation's naval fleet, you know, another 35 years, and we're in World War Two. And Japan's building state of the art aircraft carriers and fighters that, you know, rival that of the US, obviously, as a country, they're unable to produce the US but you know, just just extraordinary. And, yeah, I mean, we're going to talk a little bit about the energy situation in Japan. But again, just fascinating, fascinating country. We have a great episode with Yuriy Humber, people want to check out the archives, we may repost it as a compliment to this episode. It's called the energy transitions in Japan. And it really, I think, does an excellent job to underpin some of what we're going to talk about today. But Robert, why do you want to get started? You wrote a great substack piece, we could use that as the as the architecture here. Really, wherever you want to start. I'm sure we'll find lots of stuff and ways to interject.

Robert Bryce  2:54  

Sure. Well, I did. I did write two pieces. While I was in Japan, one called at Fukushima Daiichi, and the other was Japan, no Kyoto, so maybe we just take them in order. You know, Chris, we both heard a lot about Fukushima Daiichi and the earthquake, but and it's one thing to hear about it. And it's one thing to think about what the damage was in the prefecture and I was fortunate to talk to my friend Jesse ASA bell before I left and he reminded me he said, you know, everybody talks about the nuclear accident and it was an accident it's going to be dealt with now for decades to come. But people forget and this is the critical point there was something like 19,000 people 19,000 Japanese people died drown in a span of about 10 minutes not one person died of radiation not one no one has even hurt no one has been injured by radiation. And so to go drive through the prefecture and see the it was kind of a ghost town you know, and see all these abandoned buildings and all these abandoned homes and businesses and how many parts of the area had just been swept clean right some of them some of them washed out to sea others that they've just been leveled because of damage to the buildings but that was the you know, one of the most immediate most immediate things that I thought about before we even got to the plant and then going to the plant and you know you and I are both adamantly pro nuclear I mean have been for a long time but it made me come to realize or come to grips with well if things go bad they can go bad really badly and when they go bad badly they I mean it they're talking about a decade's long cleanup and some areas in the in the area we're right near a particularly reactor number one, the radiation levels are very high, you can't stay there for more than a few you know, we were allowed to stay there a few minutes now workers could stay there a few hours or so but only on a very clear rotating basis. So that and also to see the one other thought that was really impactful was we got to drive around in a bus and see the the site itself which isn't very big, but you know, I've heard about 1000 tanks of treated water right they run through the Alps process. Yes, right, where they're stripping out all the nuclides, and so on and leaving this very weak concentration of tritium in this water that they still want to release into the ocean hasn't begun yet. But it's over 1000 tanks, it's easy to say 1000 tanks. But when you see it, and you see row upon row upon row upon row of these tanks, all waiting to be, you know, 1.3 million cubic meters. I mean, it's just a massive, massive amount. So that was very sobering. I think that that's the right word for the visit, it didn't really change my long term view on nuclear, but it was one that made it clear to me that this requires deep care. And it requires a level of sobriety about how we think about it, and how we as a society, we're looking at what Japan has happened in Japan, how we consider it, and what are the risks and how we have to be very clear about them.

Speaker 1  5:50  

I've been thinking a lot about this, we had Jack Devanney, on a little while ago, he's the author of why nuclear energy has been a flop. And one of the things that he documents in terms of, you know, a grand error in terms of how the nuclear industry has communicated, is basically to accept the idea that a nuclear accident is an utter catastrophe. You know, this was based upon some early studies, like I think, with the wash 700 report, which said, you know, 70,000, people would die from the fallout of nuclear accident, which actually their modeling released less radionuclides than Chernobyl, and we now know that, you know, the deaths from Chernobyl are under 100. And there's not really many more expected. But basically, their approach was to say that, you know, to accept that, that a catastrophe would be that, but say, you know, it's have the hubris to say, basically, it's, but it's impossible for there to actually be a nuclear meltdown. And I think, you know, Japan's a living example of that, because a lot of the response, in order to buy public trust, they actually reduced the acceptable limits of a bunch of radionuclides and, you know, regulatory limits about how much radiation could be in water or food. And, you know, in one sense, maybe that does show some extra efforts and restore some confidence. But on the other, it does make things more scary. And it does result in a cleanup, which is, you know, in my humble opinion, very excessive, like, you look at them, and I don't know what you saw here, but you hear about them, you know, stripping the topsoil off of fields and putting it in big plastic bags, you know, when that level of radiation and it's no different than natural radiation is, you know, you'd be doing that to, you know, Denver, Colorado, or certainly, you know, stripping all the beaches off of Kerala, India, you know, in terms of the actual health impacts, and the decision making around spending hundreds of billions of dollars cleaning it up to a level of natural backhand radiation that's, frankly, very low. And even again, like I'm trying to think as well, you know, that visualization of these tanks of water, I mean, do they need to be holding that water there? They really don't, once it's deep, the, you know, gone through the, the alpha process you're mentioning, but you know, it's kind of a monument to our nuclear fears. And really, again, the consequences of I think the industry and the regulatory bodies taking a, you know, a very unique approach to nuclear. That's my sermon from the mountain. No,

Robert Bryce  8:04  

no, I'll take all your points. I think they're, they're, they're well taken. But Japan has a different relationship with nuclear than any other country in the world as well. And we did some interviews for our documentary, Tyson COVID, met me over in Tokyo. And we we went over together, and I was very lucky to go with Washington policy, Washington policy and analysis group that was created by Bill Martin, and we were guests of the trip was sponsored by the Japanese utilities. But we talked to people and you know, both in government and in industry, and not every one of them, but most of them, you know, when we take them aside and say, Well, what's really going on here, and they, you know, they will mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they say, you know, this is a different culture is different because of this background, or this, this, this backdrop of being the only country ever to experience being hit with nuclear weapons and, and that also to remember that the support for nuclear was very high in Japan prior to the accident, Fukushima Daiichi, and then after the accident fell dramatically. Well, now it's rebounding. And so they've restarted 10 reactors, and a lot of this is simply due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the spike in LNG prices. And, and I think, you know, that we can talk about, you know, the Kyoto Protocol in a minute. But, you know, all of this backdrop is kind of an all of that history, in some ways, has been discarded, because now in you know, as a very industrialized society, when that depends on making things shipping them out, you know, when producing things. They are not climate change is not their concern. I mean, they've made that very clear, you know, that this especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that they're nowhere near meeting the terms of the Kyoto Protocol and, and I live in Austin, Texas, I see more electric cars here than I saw in my entire time in Japan. I mean, I didn't see but one or two or three or four EVs in Tokyo, and we spent almost the entire trip In Tokyo,

Chris Keefer  10:01  

you know, it's fascinating looking at that period of the shutdown of the Japanese fleet. I mean, you want to talk about the energy shock in Europe, I think something very comparable happened in Japan, you know, nuclear was 30% of their electricity generation, they left a couple plants on because they would have blacked out one of their prefectures. But they got everything shut down by 2014. And the estimates are they spent an extra $100 billion in added fuel costs for fossil fuels to make up that shortfall, you know, ran some of the most stringent demand management programs. You ever heard of shutting off elevators in high rise buildings and making people take the stairs? I mean, returning to that earlier theme, I'm an energy determinist. But there's something going on in Japan with the sheer willpower of the Japanese people, whether it's, you know, the most rapid industrialization, I think in human history, or, you know, you know, soldiering on through, you know, kind of a self imposed energy shock. Did you hear any other sort of stories of the consequences of of the shutdown? And the kind of Yeah, it's just the self imposed, energy shock? It's, it's fascinating.

Robert Bryce  11:03  

Sure. Well, and remember, this has been ongoing for years now. And in nearly every establishment, you go in, they say, you know, there are signs saying, you know, turn off the lights, you know, save energy. And this has been some, you know, part of the culture. And remember, this is also a very homogeneous culture. They're very, there's very little in migration into Japan that, you know, they're, you know, you don't see a lot of mixed race. You know, you don't see black folks, you don't see it. I mean, I live in Texas, you know, I'm used to seeing different races of people I was in. Lauren and I went birding yesterday, and we were remarking in a suburb here in wells branch north of Austin. We saw Indian folks we saw black folks, Latinos, I mean, you know, it, it's a very diverse community, right? That does you don't see that in Japan. And so there is also this very feeling of responsibility. My friend Youichi talked about it that are no my friend Coach K food or Tachi, who works for Nippon oil. He said, in Japan, we always think about everyone else first, right? And make sure everyone else is comfortable. And so it for an exam as an example, you know, you know, all about COVID and masking and the rest of it in Japan, nearly everyone is wearing masks on the streets, still, I mean, you know, some tours, outdoors. And so the mask mandates were still in place in Japan. And, you know, I'm I'm over the masks and contrast over. I get outside and first thing I do is take my mask off, but not so for, I would say 90% of the Japanese people we saw even outside at Tokyo Station, they were wearing masks and maybe 95% Only a handful of people were not wearing masks. So that's indicative of this kind of, I'd say a spree decor, I'm looking for the right term that you know, to, to reflect the Japanese society of their sense of themselves. Right. And it's not anything like that kind of, you know, here in Texas in particular, will you know, screw you? I've got mine, you know, I'm going to do what I want to do. Right. None of that that doesn't exist there. As far as I can tell.

Chris Keefer  12:57  

I think you know, we both have admiration for the work computers I hand and a lot of that stems from his analysis of demography. Yeah, just just off the cuff question again. Sure. I hope to see it for myself. But did you notice that there's very few young people as you made your way around, you know, crowded cities like Tokyo? Or you couldn't tell? Because they all had masks?

Robert Bryce  13:15  

Well, no. I mean, we saw kids and young families, definitely. But we also saw a lot of old people and a lot of very old people. And this is one of the things I bring up my friend Kostanay. Again, he was very kind we got, we went to Kabuki Theater in Tokyo, two or three weeks, it was just amazing. I mean, just amazing. The theater and the movement of some of the actors just incredible. I didn't understand the word they were saying. But it was just incredible. But he talked about this about the demographic issue and about, particularly for Nippon oil, where they're planning on closing one of the refiners because demand is going down, right? Because cars are more efficient, but they have fewer and fewer people. And so they're facing this demographic time bomb. And I said, What are you going to do about it? He said, Well, we're not going to allow more there. They're not going to allow his viewers they're not going to allow more immigration. So what are they going to do they're going to do it with they're going to keep up with robots is one of the things that he said that they're going to really try and increase automation, and that this is one of their strategies as they look at the future, and the future of energy. But I think the other key part here, Chris, I mean, to get back to the electricity service side of this is, and it's what I wrote about in this piece of Japan, no, Kyoto, they're they're building Yes, they've restarted some reactors, and they're going to restart some others, but they're building a total of 7.3 gigawatts of coal and gas fired capacity right now.

Chris Keefer  14:34  

I mean, it's this kind of dystopian robot based future. Just imagine like an elders care home and you know, these little, you know, large eyed, humanoid robots coming out, of course, they run on juice on electricity. You want to talk about fuel, diversity, I mean, good old fashioned food and people's probably a pretty good thing as well. But, you know, as you said, they've been building a lot of new coal infrastructure. You know, that's, that's the real baddie. When it comes to climate change, I mean, the whole history of this island, as far as I can tell, is intimately tied up with a question of energy security. You know, Yuri, again, Yuriy Humber who he had on to give us a background on Japan, he mentioned that the reason they built those nuclear plants in the Fukushima Prefecture is that that used to be a major source of their coal. And if you think about it, there's no breakneck industrialization if you don't have coal, and they weren't importing coal in the early days, you know, as they say, in 35 years, they industrialized their country, but they ran out of it. So I mean, what's your understanding of, you know, what their options are? I've heard Japan at this was maybe a couple of years ago, but the largest LNG importer in the world. Tell it tell me a little bit more about the kind of energy context of of Japan's energy security.

Robert Bryce  15:48  

Sure. Well, this is one of the things before I left I you know, tried to do my homework to you know, make sure I was really ready to, you know, with good questions and good focus with the because we had meetings with a Tina, the Atomic Energy Association, we had meetings with the Federation of electric power cord companies, we had meetings with top level government, people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economic economy, technology and industry. And these are high level people. And I'll just preface this to get before I get to the whole thing I in every one of the meetings and including when we met with Japan nuclear fuel limited, and the people at TEPCO Tokyo Electric Power. I said, Give me your best, your most optimistic scenario under the most blue sky it for me, when will Japan build another new nuclear reactor? Every one of them said 15 to 20 years. There was no one that was more optimistic now, you know, Canada, you're obviously you're refurbishing your reactors, you're building the new small SMR the BW RX 300. You know, you're moving ahead. And but in Japan, no. And so what are they doing? Well, before I left, you know, I'd noticed that this news clip so they're right in central Tokyo today. There's a coal fired power plant called yo cosca. That is being built by TEPCO, which is the UN associated with tubular I guess its own by JIRA is the acronym 1.3 gigawatts, a new coal fired power plant in the middle of Tokyo. And it's going to be an ultra supercritical plant. But you take that that facility, and then there's one other, I've just looked it up here, there's another 500 megawatt facility being built by Shikoku. Electric power. So there's 1.8 gigawatts of coal fired capacity and 5.5 gigawatts of new gas fired capacity being built now in Japan, so 7.3 gigawatts of new new hydrocarbon infrastructure being built, at the same time that they have, what 20 or 30 reactors that are still offline. So Japan is being they are very candidly saying, and they in the meetings, they you know, in fact, one of the government officials I talked to I said very clearly said, Yeah, this is this is the reality, or no, this was a guy from TEPCO, he said, This is the energy reality in Japan today.

Chris Keefer  17:59  

I mean, I'm under no delusion that you know, something with such an upfront high capital cost, as nuclear is going to be built for, for climate reasons. It's going to happen for you know, people that are in Japan, maybe they're going to be forced kicking and screaming, and maybe they are to return to restarts here. Because of that very reliance on overseas, coal and natural gas. I mean, you saw it, you were documenting the spiking of coal prices. Over the last couple of years, you know, LNG prices are obviously very volatile. And the Japanese try these long term contracts to recognize that long term dependence they'll have, but that's a real real vulnerability, in terms of that, you know, 1520 years to build a new,

Robert Bryce  18:42  

can they catch that too, in not just in price, but in geographic terms? You know, and many of them said, you know, look, we live in a bad neighborhood here, you got North Korea, we got Russia, we got China, we don't have any friends nearby. And so it's this I looked at was my friend from TEPCO, I showed him the list of power plants, which you can you can get on a Japanese website, if you're nowhere to look. But he also said, You'll never see this in the Japanese newspapers, they won't report on it. But he said, Yes, this is the reality today in Japan. And so, you know, they are looking at it, there's a geographic security issue, but there's an energy security issue as well. And so, and then they have hit a lot of heavy industry, a lot of you know, steel and automaking you know, all the things we know about so this is Japan is going to take care of Japan first and, and the impact of the nuclear accident. It is very deep and but even deeper, I think, in fact, when we were at the Tokyo International Forum, right there in central Tokyo right next to Tokyo Station. On the day we visited, there was a an exhibit of the people who had been killed in Fukushima by the tsunami and the earthquake. And so this is still very much that history. Now the 311 11 It's not that long ago and is still very much present today.

Chris Keefer  19:57  

I mean, getting back to that question of demography Um, something I'm very concerned about in terms of a nuclear revival in Japan is that, you know, populations aren't getting any younger, there's fewer and fewer, you know, 3040 50 year olds, as time marches on, and that nuclear workforce has, you know, been sidelined. For what the last 10 years. It's, you know, that's, that's one of the big lessons. And one of the advantages, you know, say we have in Ontario is that we have a very active and large and highly skilled workforce. That's there's no atrophy going on there. But I do. That's one of my concerns, anyway, about Japan's ability to restart.

Robert Bryce  20:32  

Yeah, I hadn't thought about I hadn't thought about that. But yeah, I mean, that does figure right into the labor issues. And, you know, it's something by the way, I mean, just to bring it back to the US, I was in Washington, like it was last week or the week before, I'm losing track of time since I got back from Japan. But I spoke at a Nuclear Energy Institute event, and there was a supplier there, he worked with a company, I've forgotten the name of the precision manufacturer, and they provide components to the nuclear sector. And I said, What's your biggest challenge? He said, finding labor, you know, so this, you know, we're particularly machinists, mechanics, blue collar, guys, that's what we need, we can't find them. And so this is something that's not unique to Japan, but it's also here in the US very much as well in terms of these skilled laborers that are going to be needed for the next phase of manufacturing industrial output in the United States and around the world.

Chris Keefer  21:23  

I really think, especially in the context of AI now, threatening a lot of, you know, cognitively heavy or intellectual work, that the skilled trades as, as a career choice are going to kind of inherit the earth to some degree, that's going to be interesting to wages. welders and electricians and pipe fitters are a hot commodity auto mechanic

Robert Bryce  21:43  

auto mechanics. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. You know, window installers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians.

Chris Keefer  21:51  

Okay. Well, I mean, you know, Japan has made some lofty commitments, I think you are documenting the number of municipalities that have signed on to net zero declarations as being celebrated by in Davos by the World Economic Forum as a country that's taking a lot of action. I mean, first, update us on the the truth of those claims, or lack thereof. And also, you know, what are Japan's options other than nuclear for decarbonisation?

Robert Bryce  22:18  

Well, as I said, before, you know, the, in just just walking the streets of Tokyo, right, and looking around, where are the electric cars, I didn't see any I didn't see any charging stations, I see more of those here in the US than I saw in Japan. And remember, this is the home at home with the Kyoto Protocol, which of course, is the first of the of the big will first and probably the most important of the all the climate con fabs was the one that happened in Kyoto. Gosh, it was 26 years ago. But you know, for all of the talk about net zero, and as I pointed out, I think what is it and there something like 281 cities, and local governments have declared net zero by 2050.

Chris Keefer  22:58  

Easy to declare a Robert? Yeah, easy to say,

Robert Bryce  23:01  

easy to say Dr. Keefer, but very hard to do. And this is on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. And then they go on saying this covers more than 100 million people or 80% of Japan's population. So they're mouthing the words about this. But the reality is that, you know, you look at and just looking with my own eyes around what is going on? And what are people saying, and what are people doing? And it's just two completely different things. And it's very similar, I think, here to the situation in the United States, you know, where there's a lot of talk about the energy transition, and so on and so forth. But the reality is quite different.

Chris Keefer  23:35  

Okay. But hold on, Robert, because I was, I was doing some sleuthing looking at some stats. And I learned that Japan has the most solar panels deployed per square meter meter of any country on the earth, I think 75 gigawatts. For context. Germany has installed 60 gigawatts. I'm not sure how they compare in terms of their solar resources, their capacity factors, but I mean, that's, that's a remarkable number. littering the country. I mean, do you see these things everywhere?

Robert Bryce  24:03  

Well, no, I'm not gonna profess to be an expert on Japan, you know, and we spent, you know,

Chris Keefer  24:09  

just just traveling through it. Did you see what

Robert Bryce  24:11  

we saw a lot? Yeah, sure. But I also talked to my friend, Yuichi, food, Hitachi, and a known Yuichi water Nuki. He works for Kyushu electric. He said they're not they're not connecting any more renewables to their grid. They said, We tapped out. We can't, we can't manage anymore. So yes, your numbers are right. They had BP data 75 gigawatts of installed capacity. They tripled solar generation between 2014 and 2021. But they, you know, they're reaching the limits of the system, because Japan and you know, their geography is not very good either. Right? It's a small it's very densely populated island. They have a lot of mountains, and they so they can't build much wind. Its wind is unpopular, and they're reaching the limits of the public acceptability on Solar as well. And also it with that, as you know, it's not just the public, you know, it's li coordinators online, where are you going to put it? How you get connected? How are you going to pay for it? So not only do they have the limits of the public acceptability, they can't connect it, they can't build, you know, built more high voltage infrastructure. And this was one of the things I did a short video when I was in Japan, in Hakone. You know, that Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory puts out a study well of Japan of all everything's great, elegant, go to 90% renewables? Well, yeah, if you just ignore all the physical constraints on the system, you could, but you can't. And that's one of the things that they're facing

Chris Keefer  25:35  

any issues at all, you mentioned, Japan being in a pretty unfriendly neighborhood, about where all that solar comes from? Does that factor at all into their decision making around putting some limits on it now? Do they care about the Uyghurs anything like that, or?

Robert Bryce  25:47  

I didn't, I didn't hear much. I mean, I talked with some of my friends about the, you know, the China, you know, supply issue, and they're, you know, it's, you know, when I would mention China, to my friends from Japan, they all just this kind of look came over their face, like, oh, yeah, you know, their China and Japan have a long history and all of its bad. And so, you know, they're very aware of their supply chains, whether it's oil and gas, coal, you name it, they're very aware and very concerned about it.

Chris Keefer  26:19  

So another big part of the state of climate plans of Japan, as I understand it, is hydrogen talks with I think, Australia about becoming, you know, a big supplier of hydrogen, that hydrogen could somehow swap in and play the role that LNG is to facilitate a climate transition. How I mean, I think you and I both have pretty clear opinions on this, that are pretty informed by it by science and engineering discipline. But, you know, I'm wondering, because I assume that the Japan political class is less of a clown show than, you know, the political representatives in our respective countries who tend to be, you know, lawyers, and folks without much use you set a low bar, Chris. It strikes me as strange. I mean, any country that that is, you know, got a lot of energy delusions may built into it. But I mean, maybe use hydrogen as example, that I don't expect you to be an expert on, you know, the Japanese political class, but within what, you know, what, what's the what's the case for hydrogen in Japan as some kind of

Robert Bryce  27:19  

this? Well, I didn't, I didn't hear much talk about hydrogen. I mean, there were some, I think, from what I gathered in talking with people in government and and in industry, there's more, there's a bigger push on for carbon capture and sequestration, because I think they see that as a more viable possibility. You know, I'm a longtime, you know, skeptic on hydrogen, I have a piece that I've been thinking about for substack. And I'll give you the title of the H stands for hype.

Chris Keefer  27:47  

Well, Robert, any other any other insights from your trip or anything else that you've covered in your article? I feel like we've got a good a good sense of things now. But

Robert Bryce  27:54  

we only think that, you know, the the main things to me still are, you know, how Japan Oh, well, this is this is in there, I think an important thing that we deserves discussing as well. And it was one of the sobering parts of my visit, which was seeing how committed the Japanese utilities are to the future of nuclear, despite all the things we've talked about. So one of the things we did, as the group Washington policy and analysis, we went to the Japan nuclear fuel limited facility in Aomori prefecture. And this was impressive, Chris, I mean, I've been as my father used to say, to county care county fair to goat roping I you know, I've seen industrial facilities, they're spending $20 billion, the the 10 nuclear 10 utilities in Japan $20 billion on an integrated fuel supply chain in Amori. prefecture. So they have a high level disposal facility, a low level disposal facility, they have an enrichment plant they have and they're building a reprocessing plant. So in this massive facility, I mean, just massive covering a couple square miles, they are trying to integrate their entire fuel cycle within with, they'll have everything they need except the uranium input, right? So they'll they'll they'll take the enrich, they'll get some, you know, I don't know all my terms, I needed to understand the fuel supply cycle better, but they need to import the ore or the refined ore. And then they can do everything else after that. And so despite the near term issues, right, of not being able to open as many reactors as they want, and they're going to try and open more over time, and that's going to take a while. But in the meantime, J NFL is building this entire infrastructure to be ready, because there is a very clear sense and we interviewed Navajo Tanaka, who's the former head of the IEA when in Tokyo Masakazu Toyota, who has been in a high level guy in the nuclear in the energy sector sector and in Japan for decades. And there was a sense among all the people we talked to the inevitability of nuclear in Japan and that was all kind of understood and the utilities, they're only in this is the other key thing. There are only 10 of them, right. But they're all coming together behind Jay NFL to have this integrated fuel supply system, because they know the future of Japan has to be nuclear in a big way. So this was the I mean, so that's the kind of a long preamble. But to me, the key part of why that matters, particularly for the United States, is, we don't have that close alignment between government and industry that Japan does. And in, you know, you can argue, Well, that's good, or you can argue that's bad. But I'm walking, you know, thinking about and seeing j&j, NFL getting, you know, seeing all this industry and all this infrastructure. And I'm thinking, Could this happen in the United States? And my near term answer is hell, no, it couldn't, because we can't get any, you can't get all these guys to sing from the same hymnal, I mean, you know, on pretty much anything, because it would be such an enormous commitment of capital and resources. But that's what if the US is going to be I think you have an advantage in Canada toward all of this, because you have a more integrated system, in terms of the nuclear in the industry, and the government and so on. But I don't see a system here in the US where we can get on the same page for anything like that. So it's a talked for a long time about this. But I think I want to make sure I put this in context, because the scale of what the J NFL is doing is impressive. I mean, really impressive. And I, you know, driving around, and I'm thinking man, the US needs this right? But it doesn't. And could it happen? Well, maybe but it's going to take decades?

Speaker 1  31:36  

Well, it needs it in a hurry, especially with, you know, Russian supplies of enriched uranium dropping off, I think 20 25% of the US fleets enriched fuel source from Russia, the halo for this whole Advanced Generation, US gotta get cracking, speaking of the Russian invasion, cuz you mentioned this before you view that as I think a real turning point in terms of the pragmatism of Japan's decision making. Any comments on that from folks that you talk to, or I believe that there's a big gas field that Japan has some contracts with? And they're a little worried that Russia could pull the same as it did on Europe? If I'm not mistaken. But anyway, any any comments, or

Robert Bryce  32:15  

I haven't heard about the latter about the gas field, but the Russia invasion was top of mind in nearly all the conversations we had, and all of these meetings that we had, and and what uh, but beyond that, you know, I can't speculate but in terms of the gas fields, or whatever, but, you know, every in addition to pointing to the Russia, Ukraine conflict and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, here, all of the you know, that was the other repeated, we don't have any natural resources here, you know, we have to import pretty much everything. But I want to jump back to the fuel supply issue, because that was the other thing going to J. NFL and then watching what's happening here in the US with all the SMRs that are being proposed that are in various stages, stages of dealing with the NRC. And and by the way, there was another similarity between Japan and the US, they their group, their agencies, called the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, NRA, but also within government. And within industry, the attitude toward the NRA in Japan was very similar to the attitude toward the NRC in the United States was that, well, here's this intractable independent agency, and they are making things hard for us and just increasing the amount of friction. But back to the fuel thing, because this was the other thing that I, you know, going and seeing, actually the centrifuges, and I've never seen them before I'd seen pictures of them, and trying to figure out okay, well, how tall are they? You know, I'm asking already, how big are they? Well, we're not going to tell you how fast they spent, we're not going to tell you how much different we're not going to tell you, you know, because this is these are closely guarded this closely guarded information. But I was thinking, well, the US now we're kind of stuck in terms of build deploying new SMRs. Because we don't have a solid sub fuel supply chain, you

got it in Canada, you mean it's amazing, you know, your advantage over the US? How are we going to deal with that? And in the near term, how

were we going to get these tons of dens of 10s of metric tons of Halo who's going to make the trisul Where's it going to come from where who, you know, don't tell me you know, because I hear a lot of talk about it, but I don't see this clear line to see where that is going to happen. And one of the questions put to the our hosts at Jay NFL when we were in the enrichment plant was could you make Hey, Lou, if you had authority to do it, I said sure. We can make it we don't have the regulatory approval to make it but if we got it yeah, we can enrich it to whatever level you want. But you know contrast that with the United States where we're still looking around right well how where's it going to come from and no one's gonna you know, everybody's looking around well we think it's gonna come from here but I need to I need to understand this better I'm going to do more another podcast and find somebody I'm gonna have on a talk about it maybe Dan parliament from centrist to get do a deeper dive on this because this is the What are the two main obstacles? I talked to a guy Shut up after this point, but with one of the SMR companies, he was here in Austin, just the other night. I said, What do you see the two big hurdles? You said the NRC and the fuel?

Speaker 1  35:10  

Well, it's interesting. You mentioned, the NRA. And let's be clear, this is not the National Rifle Association. This is I think, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority in Japan, and the frustration that it's behaving in a similar way as the NRC. I mean, as I understand it, the regulatory agency before Fukushima was a lot like the Atomic Energy Commission, it was tasked both with the promotion and regulation of nuclear and there was a feeling that that conflict of interest had in some way, contributed to the poor siting of the the diesel generators or lack of enforcement on moving those which in turn led to the accident. So, you know, understandable that they would pivot towards a more stringent regulatory framework. But I don't know if you share this opinion, Robert, I think, you know, as hard as I fight for nuclear energy, I do feel it's inevitable, simply from, you know, these pragmatic concerns, again, not not because of climate change, but because of, you know, real energy security imperatives, you know, if Japan, you know, took the hit, and, and, you know, knock 30% of their power generation out, did the stringent demand management, it's not the people's opinions in Japan, I think, have changed that much in terms of the global population. It's this, it's this pragmatic understanding, they need it. And you know, as fossil fuels inevitably become somewhat constrained, or more pricey, or harder to access because of geopolitics. You know, that's where nuclear makes its resurgence. And that's where I think, regulations, there will be flexibility. At some point, I don't have a lot of a lot of optimism that's going to happen in the US anytime soon. Because you got a lot of energy resources, there's not really an imperative deploy nuclear, other than it's kind of cool. So I mean, I I'm, you know, very bearish on on the US, as you probably know, but I think Japan, you know, may have to make some rapid regulatory changes in order to, you know, keep the lights on and keep their industry going.

Robert Bryce  36:57  

Well, I tend to use the word bearish, and I hesitate to use that. But I think, you know, I've said the visit to Japan made me more sober. And I think that that's right. And I also, but yeah, I mean, I think that the I'm just looking at the jKm price today, what is the front month is $13.35. That's for LNG delivered into the Asian market. And then on the Henry Hub today, I don't know what is it to $2.25, something like that. So yeah, $2.21. So they're paying 6x, almost, you know, roughly six times more for LNG into the jab into Asia than we're paying for here in the US. So there isn't that market driver in terms of the the electricity cost in Japan, in the US that there is in Japan, which is one of the reasons why, you know that I think you're right to be skeptical. I don't want to use the word bearish about the US nuclear possibility. Because there's a lot of money and a lot of momentum behind the industry. There's just no doubt about it. But you still have this uncertainty with the NRC on the regulatory front. And that was one of the questions I had when I spoke at the Nuclear Energy Institute event which, you know, I gave them my brief on being in Japan and told them what, you know, how I see this lack of energy transition and what's really happening in the world. And one of the questions was, well, where do you see the biggest hurdle? I said, it's regulatory certainty, you don't have any regulatory certainty here in the US on these different SMRs that are being proposed and unless or until you get more certainty, and there's also market risk, right, because we're of a saturated market, and you're competing against heavily subsidized solar and wind. I mean, if I was a developer and I was wanted to build power plants, would I build nuclear? Would I build solar and wind I'd go follow the damn money. I mean, there's so much more subsidy available for wind and solar you you know, I'm not saying you'd be foolish not to build nuclear but there's a lot more enticements to build either gas or solar and wind.

Speaker 1  39:02  

No, I think nuclear in the US is just too much of a nice to have not not a need to have it is good seeing that. I mean, Indian Point being an exception there that plants do seem relatively safe from premature shutdown. Now, there's been you know, talking about sobriety I think this most recent little energy crisis as small of an impact has that had on the US has brought some sobriety to the political class beautiful scene Gavin Gavin Newsom in the control room at the applicant and maybe

Robert Bryce  39:27  

they reopened Palisades right you know that maybe that happens but the NRC to their credit just a few weeks ago said that they will extend what did they have was like license it was like they said I forgot the term of art they used but it was they're going to allow Diablo Canyon to stay open while they apply for license extension Bucha before they're saying no no no no kings actually 21st Because

Chris Keefer  39:50  

it is that is that's because California's got itself into such a mess with its grid planning the Diablo Canyon is a need to is a need to have not a nice to have. Right yeah. that you see some wiggle room in terms of, you know, the regulatory bodies behavior.

Robert Bryce  40:06  

When is that? Isn't that interesting that maybe it is that the NRC is influenceable and can be influenced by, by hard politics. And I'll plug my substack one more time, Robert, I have a new piece out on California called California screamin. That last year alone, residential prices in California went up 15%. That since 2008, when Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the renewable energy mandate in California demand mandating that the utilities it was executive ordered the lead to the assemblies never passed any of these mandates. They've all been by administrate the administrative state, or the governor. The I'm sorry, I take that back then 2018, the legislature did amp up the requirements. But the electricity rates in California have gone up 80% It's high a bigger percentage increase than any other state in the United States. And all of it has coincided with these this ratcheting up of these renewable energy mandates. And so, you know, had they closed Diablo The rates would have gone through the roof. I mean, the rates are exploding. I mean, they absolutely has come to us mark Nelson's line, absolutely exploding, and it's going to get worse these prices, these electricity prices, which are all regressive. They're gonna go yet higher in California, because of the they painted themselves into a corner with this renewable energy. Insanity. Another word for it.

Speaker 1  41:23  

I mean, I'm struck by it, maybe you have an idea of what power prices are like in Japan. But I mean, just in terms of those Asian market spot prices compared to Henry Hub, you know, how can heavy industry compete? And it does seem like a lot of that industry may come and localize itself, you know, where, where the gas is cheap. And they can actually do that in Russia because of sanctions. But the shirt could do that, in the US. So interesting to see if that's a that's in the cards.

Robert Bryce  41:48  

Yeah, well, I mean, this is one of the big threats that, you know, for Japan, that that cost of electricity is key, and that it was one of the reasons why a TEPCO was building this coal plant in the middle of Tokyo. Because power prices in Tokyo were, you know, the most Japanese live, it's most heavily densely populated, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. power prices in Tokyo were very high, I don't know the exact number Christen 3040 cents a kilowatt hour if memory serves. But that's one of the reasons why they're building a coal plant there because they needed that generation capacity close to the to the population center. And so Tokyo residents were paying very high prices relative to people in Kyushu or other places that are, you know, remote from Tokyo. So, again, this is energy realism. And this is the, you know, the Japanese are nothing, if not practical. And so what I saw and again, you know, really made me pause my thinking, we're really be questioning my assumptions about the future of nuclear. And by seeing it through the Japanese lens and seeing that well, then, how does this apply to the US? And that fuel part of it and the regulatory part of it? Both of them were just very much underscored by the by that visit?

Speaker 1  43:00  

Yeah. I mean, it kind of boggles the mind thinking about, you know, the number of coal cars that would need to make their way into the city, to this supercritical coal plant. I mean, it's, it's wild. I mean, it just seems like such a step backwards, not just from a climate perspective,

Robert Bryce  43:15  

right on the water, they're gonna bring that colon by water, right? Because so it's the harbor. I've forgotten the name of the harbor there. But ya know, Tokyo has got a big extensive harbor network. So it's going to come it's going to be seaborne coal, probably from Australia. I'm guessing that the Japanese import a lot of coal from Australia.

Chris Keefer  43:33  

Right, right. Well, Robert, I think we'll park it there. But thank you for the travel diaries. Great to get a sense again, just from your descriptions of the Fukushima site and your insights. On our side, we do have a great episode, I think it's called cyanide, nuclear. And that's with Yuriy Humber. It was recorded probably two years ago now, but I was just really listening to it in preparation for this interview, and it's one of my I think, great achievements. Beautiful country profile. Robert sounds like you're going to be covering Japan a bit more as well. But thank you for for coming on. decouple and sharing your recent experiences. Always a pleasure, Chris. And Robert

Robert Bryce  44:14  

That's it. Thank you very kindly. Yes, Robert. Sign up. It's free. Haven't great fun on substack and I know you're on substack now as well. So yeah, it's I've really enjoyed being on that did a lot of freedom there and able to publish what I want when I want how I want which is a great luxury

Chris Keefer  44:30  

in this world. That is okay, Robert, beautiful. Talk to you soon. Thank you

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