Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Japan's Nuclear Nationalism


Nuclear advocates are dismayed that fears over Japan's Fukushima plant might kill an industry that has a better safety record than virtually any other. But they ignore the fact that nuclear's potential for catastrophe is orders of magnitude greater than any of its alternatives. Hence, only when investors are willing to foot the entire bill for its construction and liability can we believe that nuclear is truly safe.

That, however, is not the case anywhere—least of all in Japan, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her latest column at The Daily. Japan's mercantilist rulers have made nuclear a major stepping-stone on Japan's road to energy independence nirvana. As Dalmia notes, the Japanese government has effectively privatized the profits of nuclear and socialized the risks. "It uses taxpayer money to diminish the industry's concern with safety—which government regulations can't restore," she writes. "In 2008, Tokyo actually started offering bigger subsidies to communities that agreed to fewer inspections."

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  1. Japan’s nuclear radiation to make the world worry about him, I hope the Japanese government to properly deal with this, I hope Japanese people can be better.

    1. The professional envy is strong in this one.

  2. the true total cost for nuke power never includes the HUGE decommissioning costs when the plant’s life-cycle is over.

  3. effectively privatized the profits of nuclear and socialized the risks

    There is an argument to be made that this is true of the entire energy industry. Nuclear is not special in this sense.

    1. And the auto industry, and the mortgage industry, and the flood insurance industry, and the…

    2. Or oil and coal.
      I’m not a KLoch conspiracist, but it’s interesting that Reason goes against the consensus libertarian position on this issue and in a pro-fossil-fuels direction.

      1. Er Koch conspiracist.

  4. Sounds to me like Japan is all over it dude. They know what they have to do!

  5. No, the potential for catastophic disaster is also lower than EVERY other industry.

    Notice a pattern from Three Mile Island? That there is actually no fucking disaster at all?

  6. “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
    ? Friedrich von Hayek

  7. Nuclear power I think can be incredibly competitive, but the techno-stagnation over the past thirty, forty years has been pretty bad. Its not just the modern nuclear plant technically that’s risky, its the social construct that informs its design.

    For instance, why have a power-station and then worry about transporting and burying the spent fuel somewhere? A power station incorporating something like a big PWR -> Hot Re-pro Cell -> IFR -> Glass-encasement fuel cycle would not only minimize the waste generated, but allow a plant where nuke-fuel goes in, and nothing comes out.

    But with govt. calling the shots, nuclear power isn’t going anywhere. Here’s a pattern worth noting for both space-travel and nuclear tech: Once the government figured out how to wring every bit of boom out of SNM in bombs (>90% burn-up in a W-87) and get those things to anywhere on the planet (MX, Trident D5) it lost all interest in advancing either technology. Both those ‘strategic investments’ and prestige-projects became stagnant PC make-work (space shuttle, RRW, NIF) that don’t push the envelope anymore. But once all the violent potential is wrung out, the government loses interest. Naturally.

  8. 3 Mile Island is an odd choice. Chernobyl would be a better example. The ODDS of it happening may be lower, but there are some pretty bad possible events. Had Chernobyl happened in a more populated area, for instance.

    Lots of the cost of nuclear is involved in preventing the worst case scenarios that are worse than that of other energy sources. Much like airplane travel is safer than car travel, nuclear is safer than other sources of energy because people recognize the potential dangers are high and design to minimize them.

    1. Dang threading. That was in response to mick.

    2. “3 Mile Island is an odd choice. Chernobyl would be a better example. The ODDS of it happening may be lower, but there are some pretty bad possible events. Had Chernobyl happened in a more populated area, for instance.”

      It’s a perfectly appropriate choice. The 3 Mile Island nuke plant is in the US while Chhernobyl is in Russia.

      The safety of US plants built and operated to US standards is the only data set that matters regarding decisions about further US nuke power development.

      What happens in other countries is irelevant. They are going to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it regardless of what we think about it over here. We have no control over them or what they do.

      We can only control what we do.

      1. I’ve been in some really nasty earthquakes in Southern California, and I drove by San Onofre last weekend. There are some nuclear plants in Northern California too, where the earthquakes are even stronger and even more likely.

        Any system that’s set up to make any commodity as artificially cheap as possible through interference is a bad system, and there are lots of people in Northern California getting cheap nuclear energy, where the price they’re paying isn’t compensating the locals for the risks.

        That’s like Japan–not Three Mile Island.

        1. It was the tsunami that caused the problem at the Japanese plant – not the earthquake.

          1. Furthermore the risks of California plants subject to higher earthquake risks are not instructive on how risky plants are in other areas of the country or whether new plants should be built or not.

  9. “Only when the nuclear industry fully internalizes safety costs will we know that it is actually safe.”

    I would only add that this is the flip side of internalizing the costs associated with global warming.

    People who are benefiting from the risks aren’t compensating the rest of us for the risks they’re taking…

    Markets are by far the best way to internalize risk–and why we would tax the hell out of each other’s income when there are externalities aplenty to tax is beyond me.

    1. I don’t know why it’s controversial to suggest that the costs to society of such things should be paid–to society?

      …but for some reason, it is!

  10. Tokyo actually started offering bigger subsidies to communities that agreed to fewer inspections.

    So, the gov’t was paying people in exchange for leaving them alone?

    Tokyo, your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    1. You know, it was that government interference that ended up putting radiation in their tap water.

      If the only legitimate function of government is to protect our (property) rights, then the Japanese government failed the people of Japan miserably.

  11. “But they ignore the fact that nuclear’s potential for catastrophe is orders of magnitude greater than any of its alternatives.”

    Not if your nuclear is Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors.

    1. The other point here is that the Japanese problem is due to a broke government looking the other way on even the most reasonable regulation (enforcement of reactor lifespan). They made it more expensive to build a newer safer one so instead opted to extend the use of an older one that shoul have been retired. Blaming the private nuclear industry for that is moronic.

  12. I would be happy to see the nuclear industry cover it’s own liability, provided the regulations are also based on a fair and equiable assessment of the actual risks associated with energy industry. Let’s include carbon emissions in that as well.

    1. If they had to handle their own liability, they wouldn’t bother. They’d be better off opening a hot dog stand. Nuclear would not exist without “socialized risk.”

      1. Bullshit fear-mongering bullshit. Liability for nuclear isn’t that bad. You want to know what liability for a 50-year nuclear plant would be? Average out the total damages caused by them. The number is relatively small.

        1. That is not how anyone potentially affected by a major accident would measure liability. Don’t believe me, try to go insure a power plant.

        2. The liability on a 50 year old reactor should be astronomical compared to a new one. The fact that it isn’t is a result of subsidies to the insurance business and the fact that building a new reactor is front loaded with liability costs for all the goddamned fear based regulation.

      2. PS – You’re a brain-dead fucktard who can’t think for yourself.

  13. But they ignore the fact that nuclear’s potential for catastrophe is orders of magnitude greater than any of its alternatives.

    Not really. The worst case scenario with current reactor designs is that a particular region suffers marginally higher rates of certain types of cancer. That’s really no worse than incidents of chemical contamination such as Love Canal.

    It’s physically impossible for a nuclear reactor to turn into a bomb. Deaths from radiation sickness amoung emergency workers at Chernobyl are dwarfed by people killed in accidents at oil and gas refineries, coal mines and oil platforms.

    Ultimately, the cost of Fukushima will be orders of magnitude less than the cost of the BP oil spill last year.

  14. According to my hand wringing friend, we have had three [sic] nuclear accidents in the history of nuclear power, and that it’s time to consider shutting the technology down.

    I bet his ancestor protested the invention of fire too. We should never have climbed out of the trees in the first place.

  15. There is no reason for libertarians to defend nuclear power. There is absolutely no way it would exist in the free market. Even leaving aside the fact that government invented the technology, there is not an insurance company on earth big enough to handle nuclear plants. Nuclear is essentially a wholly government-backed industry managed by corporations.

    1. Shut-the-fuck-up!

      The reason for defending it is because it’s bad reputation is based on liberal bullshit fearmongering. We should defend it just like we should defend any truth against statist propaganda.

      “Nuclear is essentially a wholly government-backed industry managed by corporations.”

      You’re a dumbass. Nuclear power is subsidized like 0.4 cents per kw/hr. FACT! Wind and solar? 24 cents per kw/hr.

      The only reason lefties attack nuclear is because of their stupid statist market manipulating agenda.

      1. Yes, that is a good parody of libertarians, thank you.

  16. I don’t get the point of the article. Nuclear takes all the subsidies thrown at them and all the disasters have been because of government laziness/greed. You could make the exact same argument for the BP spill, coal miner deaths, dam mishaps, etc.

    I might trust the Amish to build a safe reactor but the government won’t let them; I don’t recall any stories of their unsafe microwave ranges.

  17. Who in their RIGHT mind builds nuclear plants on a major fault . My GOD monetary things aren’t going with you if your dead. God help us all.

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