September 17, 2012
Is Nuclear Japan A Thing Of The Past? – New Policy To Phase Out Atomic Energy By 2040
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Since 1945, the Japanese people have been haunted by the specter of radioactive fallout. Yet despite the disturbing memories of the two innocuously dubbed nuclear warheads Fat Man and Little Boy, the island nation has embraced the power of the atom and currently depends on nuclear reactors for 30 percent of its total energy needs.
However, Japan´s nuclear-sensitive psyche was rocked last year by the series of catastrophes at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that resulted from a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Against the backdrop of grim recent experiences with atomic power, the Japanese government announced last week that it would phase out all of its nuclear power plants by the year 2040.
To make up the difference, the Japanese plan envisions tripling the amount of energy currently generated from renewable sources. In the meantime, however, the country will remain a top importer of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. The plan also calls on the country to take steps to conserve energy and reduce waste, thereby reducing — or at least slowing the growth of — their total energy requirements.
"This is a strategy to create a new future," a policy statement released on Friday said. "It is not pie in the sky. It is a practical strategy."
Whether it is enacted or not, the new policy will serve as a source of fuel for the political debate surrounding nuclear power that is currently raging within Japanese society. Many people say the shift away from nuclear power could disrupt the fragile economy, and cynics view the new plan as a desperate political strategy from a party that could be removed from power in the coming months.
"To consider such an energy policy runs counter to a growth strategy," business lobbyist Hiromasa Yonekura told reporters.
Currently, many of the country´s nuclear reactors are sitting idle after they were shut down during the Fukushima disaster. As pro-business parties clamor for a restart of the reactors, public opposition over safety concerns has kept them off-line.
A voluntary energy conservation program has allowed Japan to survive the summer months using only two reactors, and fears of widespread blackouts were unfounded. To compensate for the loss of nuclear-generated energy, power companies fired up old fossil fuel power stations and boosted their imports of these resources. The relative success of these steps has prevented the country from slipping further into their economic mire, but also emboldened nuclear critics who insisted that the country could do without the reactors.
Several economic factors, however, could prevent the permanent shuttering of the idled reactors. Doing so would set back power companies $56 billion in losses and make at least four of the utility companies insolvent, according to the government´s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. The tightly regulated and competition-free nature of the Japanese power industry means if power companies go bankrupt, there will be no existing entities to fill the void.
Yet despite economic and safety concerns, the removal of the reactors from the Japanese energy landscape remains popular with the public. Most polls show that Japanese people would like to completely eliminate the use of nuclear power in the future.
"A total exit from nuclear is positive for the economy, on balance," Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University told Reuters.