I had an interesting discussion today with an interesting Professor from Kyushu University. We were having coffee break during the regional conference on energy engineering, a meeting sponsored by JICA, held in Bangkok. So, our trips and accommodation are fully covered by the organizer. The Professor wore a colorful shirt, unlike the rest who were in plain shirt, a neck-tie and a dark blue jacket, a typical outfit for a meeting like this.
We were talking about the Tsunami, Fukushima and its aftermath in terms of energy policy. Post Fukushima disaster had the 35 nuclear power plant in Japan shut down. The effect? Significant increase of energy costs to be absorbed by the government through the energy companies. A small increase in electricity tariff was imposed but the larger portion was absorbed by the companies, I was told. A brave move by the government, with aspiration to provide safety and satisfy the general public’s demand.
But everybody would imagine that such moves won’t be sustainable for long term purposes since Japan had to rely on imported oil and gas to power their power plant. So, the nuclear option has got to be back in action.
This morning, a speaker told us that come next spring, one of the nuclear power plant in Japan would start operation. So, I asked the Professor with colorful shirt, “how do you decide on which plant to be put in operation?” He then explained the Japanese decision making procedure on this issue.
Japan has had a tradition of being regionally autonomous and some level of democracy since the old days. So, for a plant to start operation, the company has to negotiate with the local municipality to get their consent. Then they would have to approach the prefecture and get the nod before they can get the permission to operate by the federal agency. Each plant has to go through this process. It is a slow process as it involves many people with many different concerns.
So, there is a significant level of autonomy at various level. Good or bad? Well,… it depends on how you look at it. It definitely slows down the decision making process. It can prolong the financial difficulties.
I wonder how many plants would be in operation within the next two years… The slower they act, the more additional costs would be incurred. Of course, they are also working on other options such as solar, but you would need around 10 solar plant for each nuclear plant of equal size due to availability of sunlight and efficiency of the solar panels.
So, which is better? A strong federalism, or more regional autonomy?