Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The fine art of placing nuclear power plants

Relating to yesterdays posting about influence, there are some physical and operation limitations as to where you put a nuclear reactor.  Because they needed a lot of cooling water, and Japan is lacking in large rivers, a coastal location was always likely.  But within those bounds, how did they decide to place them?

DANIEL P. ALDRICH, Purdue University, Department of Political Science, Singapore Economic Review, 2008.   Ht MR

[D]emographic, 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… 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

Japan provides an excellent setting for testing hypotheses about the factors critical in the siting of controversial facilities because of its high population density, variety of policy instruments used in handling siting, and differing levels of success at siting across facility types. Japan continues to grapple with high population density, with 30 times as many people as the US on every square kilometer of habitable land. Urban land prices in Japan skyrocketed over the post-war period due to the shortage of available space, and even after the bursting of the “bubble economy” of the 1990s land prices in Tokyo remain among the highest in the world. Given the scarcity of available land, Japanese government officials must work doubly hard at selecting sites. If Japanese officials cannot solve these problems and “pass the buck” to future generations, the costs for siting, negotiation and compensation will only rise. Their decision-making in selecting sites for nuclear power plants, dams and airports provides broader insights into other national and institutional contexts where issues of land scarcity and higher prices are beginning to surface…

Observers have been surprised at the success that Japan, the only nation in the world to have experienced nuclear weapons, experienced in its commercial nuclear reactor program, which supplies one-third of its electricity through 54 reactors. In recent decades, however, Japan, like the US, Germany, Italy and other advanced industrial democracies, has faced rising local opposition to nuclear plant facilities. Despite increasing subsidies, lead times for reactors, including negotiations with local communities, licensing and construction, have increased threefold over the past three decades (Aldrich, 2005a,b). Government energy plans have been scaled back in a number of areas, and recent public documents acknowledge the difficulties in achieving “local understanding” over plant siting. Further, Japan has experienced many non-nuclear land use conflicts, over issues including the construction of airports and high-speed rail lines (Apter and Sawa, 1984; Groth, 1987) and the placement of US military bases (Smith, 2000). Japan’s successes and failures in facility siting must be explained, and not taken for granted. In short, as Lesbirel (1998) has argued, Japan provides an excellent window into how bureaucracies and decision makers around the world, pressed both for resources and available land, handle the problem of controversial facility siting. My underlining.

So the answer is:  They put them were people were not able to stop them, or occasionally where a powerful politician wanted them.

On the plus side, if you local area is known to be a hotbed of disent and public activism, nobody in the United States is going to have the guts to mess with you:  they will find an easier target.  So in North Carolina, a lot of people do an eye roll over Chapel Hill, NC local politics.  But you don't see anyone trying to put an unwanted waste water treatment there either.

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