Last week Japan joined Germany in announcing that the country will phase out nuclear power. The Japanese government announced on September 14 that all 50 of its nuclear reactors will be shut down by the year 2040, nearly 20 years after the German phaseout is to be complete. The Japanese decision is particularly significant because the country had been the third largest nuclear generator with 30 percent of its electricity coming from nuclear power prior to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Prior to the accident, Japan had planned to increase its use of nuclear power to 50 percent of all electricity generation by 2030. Now that the government has announced a phaseout of nuclear power, it is believed that it will be easier to restart existing reactors, which will be allowed to operated until the end of their 40-year operating lives. Jonathan Soble & Javier Blas, Financial Times, Sept. 15/16, 2012, p. 3. Japan’s nuclear phaseout likely will increase demand for natural gas-fired plants and renewable energy sources, though China and the UK are planning significant expansions of nuclear power in their countries and it is not clear that Japan will stop work on nuclear powerplants already under construction. Guy Chazan & Pilita Clark, Financial Times, Sept. 15/16, 2012, p. 12.
France’s ruling party has promised to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power from 75 percent to 50 percent by closing 24 nuclear reactors by the year 2025. On September 15 French President Francois Hollande announced that the nuclear powerplant at Fessenheim would be closed. He also announced that he effectively would continue the country’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) by rejecting seven applications for shale gas exploration. Hollande cited “the heavy risk to health and the environment” from fracking in rejecting the applications. He also announced the creation of a national agency to protect biodiversity.
On September 13 India announced that it would significantly reduce the $34 billion it spends each year to subsidize the price of fuel. The goverment’s action is expected to raise diesel fuel prices to consumers by 14 percent. The move was taken as a measure to reduce the government’s large budget deficit to avoid a downgrade of the country’s credit rating to “junk” bond status.
On September 12 Professor Tan Hong of China’s National Judges College visited the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. He gave a terrific talk about recent legal reforms in China to a large and enthusiastic group of environmental and international law students. Tim Epp of EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board is hosting Professor Tan’s visit to Washington. Professor Tan discussed administrative cases filed when citizens challenge actions by local units of government. There are more than 1 million such cases filed each year with the most frequent category of cases being urban development followed by natural resources cases. Labor cases are the fourth (and fastest growing) category. Professor Tan noted that when China authorized intermediate courts to provide “off-site jurisdiction” by transferring cases from local courts who might favor local agencies to another jurisdiction within the region, the success rate of plaintiffs rose from 40 percent to 70 percent. One oddity is that Article 50 of China’s Administrative Procedure Law has been interpreted to bar mediation of administrative cases so that settlements are difficult. Professor Tan predicted that this provision would be amended. He also noted that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has just amended the China’s Code of Civil Procedure to allow authorized organizations to bring public interest litigation in environmental cases. China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection also recently announced that environmental impact assessments and government decisions concerning them will be made available to the public online.