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Hitachi's Nuclear Energy Business Unit has been involved in nuclear power plant construction and maintenance for many years, always working to push nuclear technology forward and cultivate key core competencies in our people. Our current activities within Japan include promoting customer support for the early restarting of existing nuclear power plants and decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Outside Japan, one major current activity is promoting construction planning for new, cutting-edge Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) for the United Kingdom.
As demand for energy grows worldwide, natural resources are not equally distributed and power supply lacks stability in some areas. At the same time, the CO2 emissions from fossil fuel–based electricity generation have also become a global social challenge. We believe that nuclear power is an energy option that must see wider adoption if society is to use energy resources more effectively and reduce CO2 emissions. Our business unit contributes to society by reducing dependence on CO2-emitting technology, while making nuclear technology both safer and more efficient.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in March 2011, demand for safety enhancement at nuclear plants has risen dramatically. Social acceptance of nuclear power has particularly suffered in Japan, and both new plant construction and restarting existing plants require addressing concerns from a variety of stakeholders. We consider it important to share information and work proactively and respectfully to improve understanding these issues. Low social acceptance of nuclear power has also made it difficult to attract the next generation of young minds needed for nuclear engineering challenges. In fact, this has become one of the primary risks to the ongoing and future activities of our business unit.
In Japan's neighbor, China, where new nuclear power plant construction is continuing, the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power is rapidly increasing. If an accident were to occur in a neighboring country, it could have a significant impact on Japan. Reducing the risks requires enhancing the safety of nuclear plants within Japan; working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide information about safety enhancement to neighboring countries; sustainably maintaining the technology and human resources necessary to handle incidents; and continuing to build the experience necessary to support these activities. In Japan, adopting the notion of “Atoms for Peace” proposed at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1953, we have developed our technology within Japan in order to contribute to society through the peaceful use of nuclear power. We believe that the key to maintaining our lead in this area is developing a strong workforce of talented and skilled individuals capable of supporting the next generation of the nuclear power industry.
From the point of view of energy security, there are many countries and regions with grave power shortages. With Hitachi's reputation for reliability, based on a fifty-year history of building nuclear power plants “on time, on budget” safely and successfully, we see this as an opportunity to expand our business.
For example, the extensive power network within the European Union allowed Germany to move away from nuclear power. In contrast, the United Kingdom's options for importing electricity are limited, and as its North Sea oil fields dry up, the UK must replace lost North Sea production with imports. To prevent an over-dependence on imports, the question of how to replace the 15 nuclear reactors in the United Kingdom nearing the end of their service life with increased production capacity is becoming a pressing issue. With the support of the UK government, Hitachi has begun the Horizon Project to construct cutting-edge ABWRs offering superior safety and economy. This was partly made possible by the deep trust Hitachi has built up in the United Kingdom with its successful railway business.
Effective knowledge capture and transfer on the scale needed to build nuclear power plants requires hands-on experience and on-the-job training that only comes from involvement in construction. We are currently reaching out to veteran technicians aged 60 and over with experience in Japanese nuclear plant construction from three or four decades ago, so that they can be involved in the UK project to support and enhance knowledge capture and transfer. With the cooperation of these “nuclear plant construction elder statesmen,” the upcoming construction projects can become opportunities for young Japanese and UK technicians alike to learn about nuclear technology.
The Nuclear Energy Business Unit believes that nuclear power generation is an effective way to stabilize the energy supply and address climate change. As such, we are focusing our efforts on the achievement of Goals 7 and 13 of the SDGs. We also believe that the nuclear industry and human resource development will be essential in this effort, and so we consider Goals 4, 9, and 17 important as well.
In the future, in order to contribute to society by stably providing electricity to a range of countries and regions, we will move forward with the development of a next-generation small modular reactor that is suitable for areas where it is difficult to justify large capital expenditure.
The business of constructing and operating nuclear plants contributes to technological development in the country or region where the plants are located, and we believe that we can also contribute greatly to training young technicians and expanding employment.
Since the accident in Fukushima, the world views nuclear power with a more critical eye, but we will continue striving to ensure that the debate is not dominated by emotion and the importance of nuclear power in the optimal mix of energy generation is recognized.
(This interview was conducted in September, 2018.)