Nuke plant manufacturers export plans entangled after Lithuania vote

October 16, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Hitachi Ltd. and other Japanese nuclear power plant manufacturers will have to rethink their export strategies after a referendum in Lithuania sent plans for a nuclear plant back to the drawing board.

In the Oct. 14 referendum, more than 60 percent of voters opposed a plan to construct a new nuclear plant in the northern European Baltic nation.

"We accept the result with all seriousness and will carefully watch how discussions proceed in the newly formed national assembly," a Hitachi official said of the outcome.

Other Hitachi officials were more pessimistic.

"The future has become much more uncertain with the referendum," one source said. "If the new government heeds public opinion, it will become difficult to continue with the project."

Hitachi officials had envisioned increasing nuclear plant sales to about 360 billion yen ($4.6 billion) in fiscal 2020, or 2.3 times the figure for fiscal 2011. Those projections included winning the order to construct a nuclear plant in Lithuania.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. are the other major Japanese nuclear plant manufacturers.

Under the Noda administration's policy of stopping all nuclear plant operations by the 2030s, prospects for the construction of new plants or reactors in Japan are virtually nil.

For that reason, the manufacturers have shifted their emphasis to exports where there is growing demand for nuclear energy, even after last year's disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

However, the Lithuania vote could hurt those expectations for exports, especially in the face of fierce competition with South Korean and Chinese nuclear plant manufacturers to win orders.

"There is no connection between the referendum and an evaluation of Japan's technology," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at an Oct. 15 news conference. "We will watch over the progress in future talks with Japanese companies."

Despite the Fukushima disaster, Japan prides itself on the safety of its nuclear technology. The Democratic Party of Japan-led government has made the export of such technology a pillar of economic revival.

To this end, it has continued to support domestic nuclear plant manufacturers by signing nuclear agreements with other nations to export the technology.

In its "Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment" drawn up last month, the government stated: "If foreign nations want to use our nuclear energy technology, we will provide technology that has the world's highest standards for safety."

The contradictory stance taken by the government--pushing exports even as it winds down dependence on nuclear energy at home--could sow distrust in foreign markets, say analysts.

"The Hitachi project was the lone bright spot," said a source at a Japanese nuclear plant manufacturer. "There may be many cases in the future where the situation will be much more severe."

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Anti-nuclear activists attend a protest march in Vilnius, Lithuania, in April last year. Lithuanians rejected a plan to build a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy in a nonbinding referendum on Oct. 14. (AP file photo)

Anti-nuclear activists attend a protest march in Vilnius, Lithuania, in April last year. Lithuanians rejected a plan to build a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy in a nonbinding referendum on Oct. 14. (AP file photo)

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  • Anti-nuclear activists attend a protest march in Vilnius, Lithuania, in April last year. Lithuanians rejected a plan to build a nuclear plant to cut dependence on imports of Russian energy in a nonbinding referendum on Oct. 14. (AP file photo)

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