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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Japan Is Eyeing A Historic Return To Nuclear Energy

  • The global energy crunch has pushed Japan to make a monumental policy shift.
  • Japan, a country which once relied heavily on nuclear, has shunned the power source since the 2011 Fukushima tragedy.
  • On Wednesday, Japanese government officials met to work on a "green transformation" plan that will likely include a return to nuclear power.

An energy crisis of unprecedented proportions is unfolding across the world. In the United Kingdom, short energy supply and sky-high prices has set off an energy emergency deemed to be “bigger than the pandemic.”  Across the European continent, the cost of the energy crisis threatens to “dwarf” the $279 billion dollars in rescue aid that European governments have allotted as an emergency measure. The Washington Post is reporting that over in China the energy crisis could reach a “Himalayan scale” and in nearby Japan, the energy crunch has pushed the government to make a monumental policy shift in a direction they swore they would never go again: nuclear energy.  Japan, a country that once relied heavily on nuclear power, has shunned the technology since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear tragedy, when the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan sent a tsunami wave crashing into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, creating the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. In the aftermath of Fukushima, the Japanese populace rallied against nuclear plants in their communities and the Japanese government promised to permanently move away from the power source. Now, however, more than a decade has passed and the energy landscape is radically different than when the Japanese government made those promises. 

Now, as the fallout from the pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine continue to reverberate through energy markets, Japan is looking at all of its idled nuclear energy plants with a new, rosier outlook. This week Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that not only will Japan restart idled nuclear plants, it will consider developing new next-generation reactors, in a stark turnaround from the nation’s policy over the last decade.

Until now, Japan has relied on imports of coal and natural gas to make up for the loss of domestic nuclear energy capacity, but as these fuel sources grow more scarce and more costly, Japan is being forced to search for new alternatives. In this context, nuclear power is the obvious choice. Japan already has the infrastructure waiting at the flip of a switch. It’s cheap, abundant, efficient, and carbon-neutral. And despite high-profile nuclear tragedies like the accidents at Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, nuclear is, on the whole, an extremely safe form of power production. In fact, a 2013 paper by NASA scientists found that overall nuclear energy has saved 1.8 million lives that would have otherwise been lost to air pollution from burning fossil fuels.  Related: Europe’s Energy Crisis Has Ended Its Era Of Abundance

Pro-nuclear arguments tend to fall on deaf ears, however, in the wake of a nuclear tragedy. And for the past decade Japan has shown no sign of budging on nuclear, even though establishing energy independence, not to mention meeting the country’s climate goals, would be all but impossible without it. But as they say, time heals all wounds – and a poor economy can be an incredibly persuasive tool. According to a report by Reuters, the Japanese public’s anti-nuclear stance has softened considerably in recent months “ as fuel prices have risen and an early and hot summer spurred calls for energy-saving.” 

On Wednesday, Japanese government officials met to work on a "green transformation" plan that will likely include a return to nuclear power. “Stable use of nuclear power will be promoted on the major premise that public trust in nuclear power should be gained and that safety should be secured,” read an outline of the plan. Japan’s climate targets have set a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. The country’s “ambitious outlook” as outlined in the 6th Strategic Energy Plan calls for a 2030 energy mix that includes 36% to 38% renewable energy and 20% to 22% nuclear energy. 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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