3 Questions: The future of nuclear energy in Japan

TEPCO executive discusses the fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and Japan’s nuclear energy future.

Turner Jackson    ·    May 29, 2019    ·    MITEI

Naomi Hirose, former president and current executive vice chairman of Fukushima Affairs at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), recently spoke at a MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) seminar at the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. The seminar focused on TEPCO’s cleanup and rehabilitation efforts after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the current nuclear energy landscape in Japan, and predictions of the role that nuclear energy will play in the upcoming decades for the country.

Q: Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011, how has TEPCO been working to reestablish public trust?

A: Gaining public trust is the most important but challenging issue for TEPCO. To fulfill our responsibility to the people affected by the accident, we disclose all data related to the decommissioning operations to the public. We also dispatch employees to assist with the cleanup of the affected areas that would allow evacuees to return home.

As a nuclear power plant operator, the continuous safe operation of nuclear power plants is the apparent evidence needed for us to reestablish public trust, but we are unable to do that at present because all of our plants are inoperative. Instead, we are making efforts to gain the understanding and trust of local residents by inviting them to the plants and explaining our safety measures in an accessible manner. We are aiming to share the concept of “the plant is our plant based in our community” with local residents.

Q: What techniques have you used in the cleanup and removal efforts at the power plant and surrounding areas?

A: At the power plant, measures such as the removal of rubble from the site and the decontamination of soil and ground paving are underway. As a result, the Green Zone (where protective gear is no longer necessary) has gradually expanded. By May 2018, the Green Zone expanded to comprise 96% of the plant site. For surrounding areas, measures to deal with radioactive substances are being implemented by national and local governments based on laws such as the Act on Special Measures concerning the Handling of Radioactive Pollution. We help with decontamination work headed up by the government. Due to these efforts, radiation dosage levels in the surrounding communities have decreased significantly and designated evacuation zones have decreased, as well.

Q: What is the current energy mix in Japan, and how are you working to shape the future of TEPCO and the nuclear energy sector?

A: As of 2016, 82% of Japan’s energy was from fossil fuels, 16% from renewables, and 2% from nuclear. In 2030, the Japanese government’s target is to have a mix of 56% from fossil fuels, 22% from renewables, and 22% from nuclear, which is a very ambitious goal. We will not only need to restart the existing plants, but also construct new nuclear power plants to achieve it.

In Japan, the electricity market has been deregulated, so we have to compete with the newcomers to the market. To gain the competitive edge, TEPCO is making efforts to reduce costs, enhance customer service, and improve technology. At the same time, we are trying to build solidarity through the company. For nuclear energy, we are instilling a commitment to safety culture to regain public trust; then we plan to restart the existing nuclear plants. Eventually, we aim to become a comprehensive energy company not only in Japan, but also globally.

Nuclear energyRenewable energy

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