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Patience Needed in Post-Fukushima Japan

One year after the 9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Japan may still face a nuclear energy crisis. The country was already forced to take on more fossil fuels to offset the loss of nuclear power and could now face a summer of energy shortages given expected shutdowns at its nuclear reactors. Renewables may provide an answer, though the Asian economy may need to muster some political will so that it doesn't lose another decade, but this time to energy.

Japan after the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant started looking to other forms of energy, notably liquefied natural gas.  Japan has few of its own natural resources so it was forced to move closer to natural gas giants like Russia's Gazprom to shore up the loss from the disaster. Nuclear power made up nearly 30 percent of the country's electricity before the Fukushima meltdown and by May, the country's last reactor will shut down for maintenance. That means, on paper at least, that Japan has to find some way to offset that difference and do it quickly in order to avert a summer energy crisis.

Safety assurances are needed before the country starts to move back toward nuclear power with any degree of confidence. The country faces an energy gap of about 16 million kilowatts by summer, however. Meanwhile, utility companies are re-examining fossil fuels to power their electricity plants, but that infrastructure is old and doesn't provide much of a long-term guarantee.

The country in May is expected to host a community forum to discuss plans for geothermal energy, an alternative not seriously considered in years. Tokyo last year said that, with its volcanic geography, as much as 14,000 megawatts of energy could come from geothermal energy. Of course, as is the case with wind, there are local objections. Barely 3 percent of its geothermal potential is theoretically available because of land restrictions.

A subsidy for renewables is set to go into effect by July, but by that point, the country may already be coping with a 30-percent energy deficit. Japan has a reputation for energy efficiency, but could be criticized as well for making quick decisions for short-term protection. By 2009, the IEA indicated that coal, nuclear energy and natural gas were driving the Japanese economy. That suggests an energy mix that largely ignores renewables or other forms of energy. If the country learns anything from the Fukishima disaster, or from its lost decade, it’s that balance and patience should prevail before an energy crisis forces the sun to set on Tokyo.

By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com




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