Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 21st 2013 Contents BG28 | THE ECONOMIST
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt NOVEMBER 2013 • WEEK THREE
Among the twisted metal and
random debris that litter much
of the Fukushima Dai-ichi
nuclear power plant, the fourth
reactor looks in relatively good
condition. A new structure covers the damage
from a hydrogen explosion that blew its roof
off days after a massive earthquake and tsunami
hit the plant in March 2011.
The building is still unstable, however, and
its spent-fuel storage pool highly dangerous.
This month Tokyo Electric Power, aka Tepco,
will start plucking more than 1,500 radioactive
rods out of the pool in order to store them
more safely. Over the pool a crane waits to
start the procedure, and a yellow radiation
alarm stands at the ready. Experts call the
operation the riskiest stage of the plant s
cleanup so far.
Removing spent fuel is a routine task at all
nuclear facilities, plant manager Akira Ono
says. Engineers will have to take out each fuel
assembly one by one without mishap, while
overcoming the risks of fire, earthquake and
the pool boiling dry. The fuel rods could ignite
if they lose coolant, or explode if they collide.
The rods are being moved at a point when
trust in the utility that owns Fukushima Dai-
ichi is at a low point. A series of leaks of highly
radioactive water this year and other dangerous
accidents -- including a power failure in March,
when a rat chewed through the wiring -- has
brought it under fierce attack. In August the
Nuclear Regulation Authority said that leaks
of contaminated water were a level-three or
"serious" incident on an international scale
that goes up to seven. Now some are calling
for the removal of spent-fuel rods from Reactor
4 to be closely monitored by foreign experts.
Even the pro-nuclear ruling Liberal Dem-
ocratic Party wants to take Tepco in its current
form out of the decommissioning process,
which will take 40 or more years. A new entity,
including the utility s staff but separate from
its commercial side, would take charge. Finding
a solution to the problem of Tepco s structure
-- among other things, the company is finan-
cially precarious -- would help the government s
efforts to switch nuclear power back on.
At the moment Japan is entirely without
nuclear energy, but that is unlikely to last for
long. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing
for as many of the country s 50 usable reactors
to restart as soon as possible after passing
safety checks by the NRA. The need to import
energy has pushed up the price of electricity
and added to a series of trade deficits since
In September Tepco won approval from the
governor of Niigata prefecture to apply for a
safety check in order to restart two reactors
at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the
world s biggest. If it is allowed to restart, others
will probably follow.
Most of the public is broadly against restart-
ing nuclear plants, even once they pass new
checks. Nonetheless, says Hideyuki Ban, sec-
retary general of the Citizens Nuclear Infor-
mation Centre, an anti-nuclear group, no con-
sensus exists on whether an official phase-out
should happen quickly, in the course of 20
years by natural attrition or something in
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,
a popular LDP leader, has stepped in, calling
for an immediate end to nuclear power. After
he broadcast his views at a press conference,
a poll showed that three-fifths of those who
were surveyed backed his plan.
Koizumi still knows how to rouse the public,
says Jeff Kingston of Temple University in
Tokyo, but there is little chance that Abe s
commitment to nuclear power will change.
His government s links to the "nuclear village"
are too strong, and big business is clamoring
for the power stations to restart.
Koizumi s style is certainly more orthodox
than that of Taro Yamamoto, a new member
of parliament. At a garden party Yamamoto
dared to hand Emperor Akihito a letter about
the impact of the Fukushima catastrophe.
Such direct contact with a near-divine was
considered an outrage by everybody in the
establishment ... except Akihito, who carried
on chatting with him.
Japan s nuclear-energy drama is far from
@2013 Economist Newspaper Ltd. (Distributed
by the New York Times Syndicate)
The plenums of the Chinese Communist Party are
rituals of unchanging arcana. The closed-door,
four-day conclave of some 370 senior party leaders
that ended in Beijing on November 12 was a typical
example, as usual summing up its decisions in a
gnomic communiqué full of ambiguities.
A parsing of the document suggests, however, that President
Xi Jinping is tightening his grip on power, and with it his ability
to achieve breakthroughs in economic and social reforms.
China s state-controlled media have hailed the meeting,
known as the third plenum of the 18th Central Committee, as
"a new historical starting point." Global Times, an English-lan-
guage newspaper, said that it was as important as the most
famous plenum in the party s history, the one which brought
Deng Xiaoping to power in 1978 and ushered in profound
changes that turned China into the world s second-largest econ-
There is little in the communiqué to back such bullish asser-
tions, but the summary of the proceedings offers hope that the
pace of reform will pick up.
For the first time in such a document, the party has called
for markets to play a "decisive" role in the allocation of resources.
This has been glossed by official media as a step up from previous
party language that described the role of market forces as merely
This new language, according to an academic quoted by
Global Times, aroused much debate during preparations for the
plenum. Semantics can be important. The party s decision in
1992 to create a socialist market economy, not simply a socialist
one, caused an upsurge of reformist zeal, including the priva-
tization or closure of tens of thousands of state-owned enterprises,
as well as market-opening measures that paved the way for
accession to the World Trade Organisation a decade later.
As expected, this week s communiqué contained few indi-
cations of specific new policies. These will become clearer in
a few days or weeks when the resolution is published, and after
senior economic officials meet in December to decide on the
country s economic strategy for the year ahead.
There was no mention of financial reforms to allow market
forces to determine interest and exchange rates, which many
economists view as crucial. On rural land reform, also closely
watched, the document merely repeated language introduced
at a plenum five years ago about the need to unify urban and
rural property markets.
Despite its reassuring words about the role of the market, it
said that the state sector should remain the "main body" of
the economy -- an odd concept, especially since China s GDP
is now generated largely by the private sector.
At party plenums, however, repetition of familiar language
is not necessarily a sign of inertia. The 1978 meeting was laden
with Mao-era rhetoric, but led to the ditching of Mao s economic
policies. More important were the signals it sent about Deng s
grip on power, including the return to central roles of many
Deng allies who had been purged by Mao. The recently concluded
plenum announced two institutional changes that suggest that
Xi has moved fast to consolidate his position.
The first of these is the setting up of a "state-security com-
mittee." Details of this have not been revealed. It may be Xi s
attempt to rein in a security apparatus that has become too
powerful in recent years. Some of its functions are expected to
mirror those of America s National Security Council, which
advises the president on foreign policy and tries to ensure that
all government agencies are well co-ordinated.
China s new body is thought likely to include representatives
from the army and police, as well as from ministries responsible
for foreign and economic affairs. It would be a sign of Xi s
growing power if he has at last persuaded the security forces
to act more in concert with the rest of the bureaucracy.
The other notable change is the establishment of a "leading
small group to supervise reforms. Such groups count. They
report to the Politburo and help to form and implement policy
decisions. Again, no details have been given of the new body,
but it could help to overcome bureaucratic rivalries that often
stymie reforms. It may even be chaired by Xi. The communiqué
calls for "decisive results" by 2020 in unspecified "important
areas" of reform.
Not surprisingly, given a fierce crackdown on political dissent
in recent months, the document said little about political reform
-- although, for the first time in the history of party plenums,
Chinese television indulged in a show of glasnost by broadcasting
scenes of group discussions, though participants voices could
not be heard.
The communiqué favourably mentions democracy 12 times,
but plenum-watchers learned long ago that this particular count
is best ignored.
@2013 Economist Newspaper Ltd. (Distributed by the New York
High alert: The Fukushima
cleanup hits its riskiest phase
China maps the road ahead
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