After the frightening events that unfolded at the Fukushima power plant following the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan, the future of nuclear power in that country initially seemed doomed.
In fact, the events impacted a number of other countries, which started to reconsider their use of nuclear power as a source of energy. Countries like Germany, for example, decided to off-line their nuclear power production.
However, two years after the events of Fukushima, it seems that Japan may give nuclear power a second chance.
Indeed, recent reports show that the government is doing its best to stimulate Japan’s sluggish economy and any measure to reduce or remove reliance on nuclear power would have the opposite effect and hurt Japan’s economy.
Unlike Germany, Japan cannot obtain power from other sources or other markets as easily. Germany is buying power from France amongst other countries, and can thus compensate reductions in one source of power with another.
However, it is much more difficult for Japan to find alternative sources of power. Nuclear power accounted for about 30 percent of Japan’s consumed power. Perhaps, in the short term, gas fired peaking generation could help in combination with demand response programs. But the government doesn’t seem convinced that this is a viable long-term option.
Could Japan replace nuclear power with renewable sources? The answer is a qualified yes. The nature of the country offers plenty of scope for renewable energies, including hydro-electric, geothermal, as well as off-shore wind and solar. However, all of these take a lot of time to set up.
What then, should be made of the new government’s decision, in apparent disregard for the public mood, to back the reinstatement of nuclear power? It could be to appease Japan’s top nuclear companies like Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, though these companies have reported strong orders from overseas.
Or, it could be to appease local power industry interests, though the government has not backed out of its plan to implement market reforms. Japan has also been having territorial disputes with its neighbors recently, which would incline its interests towards industrial strengthening.
In the end, however, based on current decisions, it appears the government believes concerns over nuclear power are more ideological than pragmatic.
Taking all these matters into account, therefore, against the odds, nuclear power seems to be getting a second chance in Japan.