Fukushima Disaster May Take Major Turn Due To Trump

rsz_daiichi_2016_apJapan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe was one of the first foreign leaders to scurry to New York to meet with Trump after he won the US election. What PM Abe did upon returning home was much more telling regarding the results of that visit.

Soon after returning to Japan talks with Russia began and a summit was hastily arranged. Usually these kinds of diplomatic meetings involve broad economic or political issues. This one created a major turn of events for Fukushima Daiichi.

Part of the new agreements between Japan & Russia included this:
“The Japanese government and Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corp. agreed on cooperation in helping with the clean-up at from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, including radioactive waste management and possible decommissioning. The two sides already have been discussing working together on uranium exploration and mining; design, construction and operation of light water reactors; waste processing and management; nuclear safety including radiation protection and environmental control; research and application of radioisotopes and radiation; other areas based on additional written agreements between the parties, Rosatom says.”

This is a major turn of events for Japanese policy. The US had been the major player in urging Japan to adopt nuclear technology in the 1950’s and has been an almost exclusive partner in this sector ever since.

Over the decades the US has become, in many ways, dependent on Japan to keep the US nuclear power industry afloat as the technology waned domestically. What began as US nuclear power companies such as GE and Westinghouse have morphed into Japanese owned multi-nationals Hitachi-GE and Toshiba-Westinghouse.

After the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, the US and the nuclear industry contractors came looking to gain contracts for technology and services needed to deal with the aftermath. The US Department of Energy on a diplomatic level saw it as part being a good partner and part cash cow for smaller US contractors. Currently many of the technologies and supplies for the disaster site come from US based companies.

Now Japan pivots towards Russia. They are looking to open contracts at Fukushima Daiichi to Russian firms including government owned Rosatom. There is also an agreement to foster nuclear power technology with Russia. These diplomatic changes could drastically impact current and future contracts for US companies. It is not clear yet how this may impact French or British participation in the disaster response.

Russia’s nuclear power technology capabilities are largely unknown in the west, at least in any depth. This new situation may also cause problems where the US or other existing participating countries could balk at Russian companies having access to their technology being used on site. While all of this may be the sphere of corporate profits and international diplomacy it could have a very real impact on the decommissioning work at Daiichi.

If companies or countries pull support out of fear of leaking protected technologies it could cause supply chain or timeline problems at the site. It could complicate on site work if various parties begin staking out territory among the clean up work or trying to restrict access to certain parts of the site. Russia could potentially possess technology not currently available that might expedite some of the problematic challenges on site. There may also be other unexpected disruptions with the work as changes take place.

The series of events and the abrupt nature so soon after Abe’s meeting in the US indicates he did not see a reliable partner in Trump, at least on this issue.

US business interests appear to be hitting back with this article in Bloomberg accusing Japanese interests of not allowing US companies to fairly bid or receive contracts for work at Fukushima Daiichi. The article erroneously describes contracts being awarded to IRID. IRID is a committee formed to guide the research needed to decommission the disaster site. They then award funds to proposals submitted to IRID from around the world. Japanese companies do tend to have an advantage over foreign companies in business and contracts in general but this is nothing new. The Bloomberg story seems to be a response to Japan’s new agreement with Russia.

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