Where does Japan put its nuclear reactors?

by on March 15, 2011 at 1:12 am in Current Affairs, Political Science | Permalink

Chris Blattman reports on the work of Daniel Aldrich, quoting Aldrich:

Using a new dataset from Japan, this paper demonstrates that state agencies choose localities judged weakest in local civil society as host communities for controversial projects. In some cases, powerful politicians deliberately seek to have facilities such as nuclear power plants, dams, and airports placed in their home constituency. This paper then explores new territory: how demographic, political, and civil society factors impact the outcomes of siting attempts. It finds that the strength of local civil society impacts the probability that a proposed project will come to fruition; the greater the concentration of local civil society, the less likely state-planned projects will be completed.

Here is further reporting on the research from John Sides.

Six Ounces March 15, 2011 at 3:01 am

It may be NIMBY, but at least it’s not BANANA like the US.

We had an interesting exercise recently in my city with civil society preventing a medical marijuana clinic from opening down the street.

An interesting concept is when the central planner opposes a project (such as a permit for a Walmart) while the civil society at large would welcome it with open arms (for employment and shopping opportunities). The elected representatives are clearly more ideologically motivated than the very people who elected them. It might be that a relatively large number of electoral non-participants desire the Walmart, but the participants in voting (who don’t need the job nor want the shopping) choose the representatives.

But back to Japan, the technical consideration for placing the reactors by the sea seems to have trumped local concerns in most places. Isn’t it fairly obvious that a more organized, cohesive, and determined opposition to a project has a greater probability of stopping it? Why do we have to measure how wet water is?

What lesson do we learn from the paper? Do we learn ways to effectively stop projects by enhancing civil society? Do we learn which political parties not to elect when a desirable public project can’t overcome local objections?

If there are negative externalities to site selection, but enormous gains from reliable, safe, and inexpensive energy generation, then there should be a Coasian Bargaining solution there.

Tom T. March 15, 2011 at 7:34 am

So, Aldrich is saying that powerful politicians are elected from areas with low local civil society? How does that happen?

david March 15, 2011 at 8:08 am

Why not? The electorate may have numerous and diffuse special interests rather than a handful of concentrated anti-nuclear ones, thus allowing a pro-nuclear politician to set the agenda.

In Japan it is difficult for organized interests outside an electoral district to spread their organization into the district – no massive inter-state funding flows, as is common in the US. Plus, it has a parliamentary system, not a presidential one, and so a minister who is repeatedly and reliably elected by a weakly-organized electorate can gain considerable executive power.

yhisamat March 15, 2011 at 8:29 am

Thanks for your pointer to an interesting paper. I learned a lot from this “state-of-the-art” article. Having said that, I have an alternative hypothesis on the author’s finding about the highly significant effect of “the quantity of social capital”. The quantity of social capital is measured in terms of the change of primary sector employment in total. An obvious alternative hypothesis from an economics point of view rests on an assumption: the less primary sector employment, the less the compensation from the electric company and government to the primary sector. As a rule, the company and government compensate the loss of agricultural and fishing fields. In general, it’s a big money. Therefore, when they see the declining employment in the sector, they would reason the compensation cost is lower. In addition, the declining rate of the primary sector might indicate the lower profitability of the sector in the area. That is why people change jobs and/or leave the area. Then, the remaining residents might be inclined to accept the siting offer. The nuclear plant creates some jobs, too. So, the supply meets demand. As for the other variable, “the quality of social capital”, I have to note that the significance of the effect is weak. I’d like to check the data myself, but for now I’m just wondering. It is actually weird to me that the government and company select a booming town for nuclear plant, where population is increasing. Thank you again for the pointer.

Daniel Aldrich March 15, 2011 at 11:29 am

This is an interesting discussion; in reply to Six Ounces, it may “seem obvious” that we’ll place nuclear power plants, airports, and other public bads in the backyards of poorly organized communities, but it was an open empirical question that no one had tackled at the time. Or, we all may believe that taking vitamin C decreases the possibility of a cold, but until someone actually organizes an experiment to test it, it remains folk wisdom.

Powerful politicians indeed can come from areas which are poorly organized in terms of the groups that I focused on in the book – primarily gyogyou rodou kumiai (fishing cooperatives) and farming cooperatives. The book gives a number of examples of powerful politicians, such as Kakuei Tanaka, who openly bragged about bringing home “pork” in the form of 7 (!) nuclear power plants to a single, small rural town.

As for yhisamat’s comment that he’d like to check the data, please feel free to do so. All of the data for the project is publicly available for free both at ICPSR and Harvard’s Dataverse, as it says on my homepage (http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~daldrich/?page_id=100). It would be great to see some alternative models tested!

Daniel

Richard Lam March 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

The selection of the plant site was a normal political “market” decision.
In New York City there are wonderful case studies involving the location of homeless shelters and drug treatement centers in the “rich” upper West Side of Manhattan, or small 49MW gas power plants in the outer Boroughs.

The important issue is to keep focused on the benefit/cost side of the risk management analysis. I think there is a lot of meat left in this issue since the critical failure could have been solved at a low cost. Using the studies from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, you can boil the present problem down into a few lines.

Risk: Major earthquake up to 9 Richter scale and tsunami wave of 10 to 30 feet.

Reward: Under worse case – plants shut down but can be repaired and on line in days or months

Bad outcomes: Reactor core breach under earthquake
All power fails and reactor can not be cooled

Preparations against failure:
1. Reactor design and containment systems to meet 9 Richter scale earthquake
2. Designing power system that could survive level 9 level earthquake and resultant tsunami

Observation: The reactors survived and could have been shut down if cooled properly
The reactor design and housing met expectations.

The outside power lines were down. This had to be assumed!
However, the back of generator system was “knocked out” by the tsunami wave!
Key issue. Design failure of sea wall and containment area for the generators
The back up battery system only had a one day life cycle. WOW!!!

Looking back: Photos suggest that a “super sea wall” would have cost $15m to $30M
A super-safe 72hr battery complex could have cost $50M plus

Cost of failure: $50 B to $75B plus: Clean up plus replacement of 4 reactors

mbt footwear March 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm

An interesting concept is when the central planner opposes a project (such as a permit for a Walmart) while the civil society at large would welcome it with open arms (for employment and shopping opportunities). The elected representatives are clearly more ideologically motivated than the very people who elected them. It might be that a relatively large number of electoral non-participants desire the Walmart, but the participants in voting (who don’t need the job nor want the shopping) choose the representatives

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