Japan Now Without Nuclear Power

May 4th, 2012
in econ_news

Econintersect:  Tomorrow (5 May 2012) Japan will be without any operating nuclear power plants for the first time in 46 years.  The final power plant, which /fukushima-close-uphad been operating, will be shut down for maintenance.  Some are asking if there will be any nuclear power for Japan going forward.  Opposition has been strong and growing as the extent of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility, following the 11 May 2011 earthquake and tsunami, has become more apparent.  More than one year later the radiation levels around the facility remain at fatally high levels.  CBS News has reported that lack of cooling is still a problem and stability of the nuclear core of one of the reactors is still problematic.  The shutdown plants in Japan may not ever reopen due to public opposition which grows as the lack of control of the Fukushima meltdown becomes more and more apparent Click on caption photo for huge Fukushima aerial view.

Follow up:

One effect of the reduced nuclear power is an increase in greenhouse gas emissions as a greater proportion of power is produced by burning oil and natural gas. From the AP:

With the loss of nuclear energy, the Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it did in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress in reducing emissions. In fiscal 2010, Japan's actual emissions were close to 1990 levels. It also raises doubts about whether it will be able to meet a pledge made in Copenhagen in 2009 to slash emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Another problem for Japan is the negative impact on the country’s balance of trade.  See GEI News 10 April 2011.  Japan’s large manufacturing sector has been keeping the current account positive which aided the country in supporting a huge national debt.  Before the 2011 disaster Japan produced as much as 30% of its electricity from nuclear power and planned to go to 50% by 2020.  The possibility that the nuclear output may stay at the current 0% produces quite an economic dislocation.

Japan produces only 9% of its power from renewables (mostly hydroelectric) and, according the AP article, has been considered by some experts not to be a good location for reliable use of wind and solar power.  However, Germany is providing a counter example with 20% of energy from renewable sources, planning to go to 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.  Germany has also been shutting down nuclear reactors following the Fukushima disaster and plans to have all phased out by 2022.

The U.S. has plans to expand its nuclear power production in coming years, although the rate of implementation is slowing because of very low natural gas prices.  The World Nuclear Association lists plans for nuclear power expansion in the U.S. and 36 other countries.

Why is it that Germany appears to be going one way with respect to electric power and Japan another? And the U.S. and other countries in still a third direction?

Economic factors related to energy have been discussed by Elliott Morss and others at GEI Analysis.

The following picture (click on image for huge picture) was taken by a small unmanned drone (Air Photo Service Co. Ltd., Japan) on 24 March 2011.  Nuclear reactor number 3 is on the left and number 4 is on the right.


The picture below is a close up aerial of reactor 3.  Click on image for huge picture.


John Lounsbury


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