It would seem a decision on the fate of nuclear power in Japan has potentially been decided this week, with the announcement by the prime minister’s leading democratic party that policy will be settled soon which intends to ‘realise a situation where the number of nuclear plants operated be zero in the 2030s’, effectively hammering home the final nail in the industry’s coffin.
It has long been thought by followers of the nuclear market that Japan would eventually cut all ties and close down their operations post-Fukushima, but for a long time the prime minister was caught in two minds; on the one hand, he had an angry Japanese public to answer to for the Fukushima disaster, whilst he and the business sector believed Japan would need to nuclear to progress without blackouts and that the benefits outweighed the possible risks. Now it seems that the public may have won, with this statement no doubt gratifying many concerned citizens, although it may not seem to be coming quick enough for some.
Since the Tohoku earthquake, all of Japans fifty reactors have been offline, bar two in the same plot restarted earlier this year, for regulation and safety checks, leaving the country with a gaping energy deficit of 30%, the amount fission provided up until the fateful tsunami. With the closure in full effect and possible edgings towards restarting the nuclear fleet being banded around, a country normally peaceful and well conformed to government life was up in arms, with protests in the thousands rattling the streets of Tokyo, demanding an end to nuclear and it’s inherent dangers. This was certainly a Japan not often seen by the global public, not least the media.
Unfortunately, Japan has had to heavily rely on oil imports since the shutdowns across the country, ramping up their consumption of Middle Eastern black gold considerably, whilst at the same time employing strict and tough efficiency rulings and energy-saving requirements back home, just to stop the nation from all out blackouts during the summer months. In effect, this increased oil consumption not only stalled what looked to be a peaking industry, but also contributed greatly to the carbon being dumped into the atmosphere, carbon which otherwise would have been left in the ground had the nuclear plants been left on or restarted.
This is the crucial point of the entire ‘end to nuclear’ debate currently being hotly contested all over the developed world. If we choose to dump nuclear, an industry which provides a large chunk of global energy supply, we must be prepared to replace it with something else, and that doesn’t mean more oil, coal and natural gas from elsewhere in the world. That is clearly backward thinking and progress.