Japan nuclear free for the first time since 1970: brave experiment or stupid?By Anna Watanabe May 06, 2012 12:46PM UTC
Yesterday, Japan turned off it‘s final nuclear reactor; the first time the energy-hungry, resource-poor country has been without nuclear power in over 40 years.
And while technicians worked in Hokkaido to decommission the Number Three unit at Tomari, protesters gathered in Tokyo to celebrate the historical event.
Protest organizer Masao Kimura, told Japan Today: “It’s a symbolic day today. Now we can prove that we will be able to live without nuclear power.”
But can Japan really live without nuclear power?
With a muggy and long summer only months away, people will be reaching for their air-conditioning remotes and fans, while the rainy season is sure to keep people inside, watching television and using their computers.
Kansai Electric Power has already announced it’s electricity supply to mid-western Japan, including large cities like Osaka and Kyoto, could fall short by up to 20 per cent and Hokkaido Electric Power has voiced similar concerns.
Until the disaster at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, almost 30 per cent of the world’s third largest economy’s power came from nuclear energy. Plans to construct even more plants saw that figure jump to 50 per cent by 2030.
But now, Japan has been forced to make ends meet by using Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). The end of last financial year saw Japan’s LNG imports surge by almost 20 per cent, and Japan has already opened two new, state-owned natural gas drilling sites off it’s coast.
The Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF) insists that Japan should continue Nuclear Power generation, noting that increased domestic electricity costs caused by an “emotional reaction” to abandon nuclear power could force Japanese companies to relocate their factory operations overseas.
“[This would cause] increased stagnation of domestic industrial production and other economic activities. Moreover, it would jeopardize the international position of Japan in Asia and in the world.”
The Guardian reports a recent survey shows 71 per cent of Japanese manufacturers said their production would be cut if affected by power shortages while 96 per cent said their earning would be affected by higher electricity bills.
The JINF, also stressed that it is important to maintain a nuclear industry in Japan, not only for it’s own power supply and economy’s sake, but for other nuclear nations as well.
The Tokyo-based think tank says that as the leading manufacturer of nuclear technology “It is Japan’s obligation to maintain and further develop this key technology and use it to improve the safety of nuclear power plants in developed countries as well as in developing countries, where nuclear power generation continues to grow.”
“We want to face the reality firmly”
Yet in the face of these cold, hard facts and predictions, the Japanese Government has, in a move that some would call ‘brave’, insisted that safety must come first.
It’s important to note that although all of Japan’s reactors are offline, this is not a permanent move away from nuclear power in Japan.
Instead, Japan’s dormant reactors will be allowed back online once they pass ‘stress tests’ approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The State Minister for Nuclear policy, told : “Situations surrounding electric power are severe, but we can’t sacrifice safety. We want to face the reality firmly.
But the hardest is yet to come – local communities must also give their approval before the plant is fired back up again.
In a recent poll by Kyodo News, 59.5 per cent of Fukui Prefecture residents are opposed to restarting the Oi nuclear power while 26.7 per cent support it.
The JINF says that if nuclear power is to be re-started in Japan, the government must first re-build the population’s trust in the energy source.
“It is imperative to thoroughly examine problems related to the human factors and rebuild highly reliable systems of safety management and operation,” they said.
However you see Japan’s move to temporarily halt nuclear power – for better or for worse – it seems now is an important time to keep a open mind about everything. With a shrinking population and an already shakey economy, this experiment into a nuclear-free world is just that – an experiment. And blame should not be laid too quickly on any party, regardless of the consequences.