In the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown, Japanese politics flirted with a nuclear free Japan option for a couple of years. The groundswell of anti nuclear public sentiment was extremely high (over 80 percent in 2011) and the public remains skeptical of atomic power. The government shut down all reactors (later restarting two) and promised to phase out nuclear power by 2040.
But now the country has a new (old) government after last month’s elections, signalling the return of nuclear energy for Japan. Funny how mandates change and public opinion can be ignored on major issues in liberal “democracies”. But how far will the LDP party go for nuclear? Will they return to the previous goal of ramping it up to produce 50 percent of the country’s power by 2030 or just tacitly start turning on some more of those 50 reactors, almost all of which are currently dormant. So far they have only announced a “review” of the previous governments phase out pledge, but most know which way the nuclear wind is blowing. Read more on that in the Guardian.
So if the Japanese public is basically anti-nuclear power, why didn’t it make a difference in the last election? Was it simply a case of Clintonian “it’s the economy, stupid”? The Japan Times has a short piece on possible reasons. Of course there are the local governments of the communities in which those 50 strong reactors are located. They get money and jobs from the nuclear industry and they don’t want that to end. A recent poll showed a majority (albeit a weak one) of mayors in those towns and cities would agree to have the reactors restarted. Meanwhile nuclear waste is still being imported into Japan from countries like the UK.
Oddly enough, a major nuclear power company, Japan Atomic Power, posted record profits while all of its reactors were offline. It had contracts with utility companies and had few expenses since they weren’t running anything, you see. Read more about that in the Asahi Shimbun.
It is possible to cut down on energy consumption without going nuclear. It’s only been a couple of years, but the development of renewables coupled with more energy conservation could be, and has already been, effective in Japan.
From the Stanford News:
While government forecasters expected voluntary reductions in consumption to shave peak demand by about 6 percent, in fact, residents and businesses cut about 11 percent, according to government analysis.
But I guess that didn’t raise anyone’s profits and will therefore not be a long-term solution of the LDP.