Friday, January 31, 2014

Nuclear energy still extremely important to Japan

Fukushima is still fresh in heads of many Japanese but this doesn't mean that nuclear energy has started seriously losing popularity in the Land of the rising sun. Nuclear energy plays extremely important role in delivering electricity and Japan currently has 54 operational nuclear reactors with a total generating capacity of 49 gigawatts. According to the Japan's 2010 plan (that still looks likely to be fulfilled) eight more nuclear reactors should be built by 2020, increasing total generating capacity to around 60 gigawatts. Japan currently gets around quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, and by 2020 third of Japan's electricity should come from nuclear power.

In order to contribute to global fight against climate change Japan plans to reduce carbon emissions by 25% by 2020, and many top state officials still believe that one of the key components that could make all the difference between success and failure in reaching this goal is nuclear power. Nuclear power should also improve Japan’s energy independence and energy security. Japan currently heavily relies on foreign fuel import (import of foreign fuels currently satisfies more than 80% of Japan's total energy needs), and therefore intends to significantly reduce this energy dependence to foreign import (to just 30% by 2030).

While nuclear energy certainly has the potential to not only reduce carbon emissions but also to ensure bigger energy independence, it will be very interesting to see what Japanese public will say about these plans. In the last decade there have been several accidents related to nuclear power which have convinced many Japanese that nuclear power may indeed have some serious safety issues. The year 2007 when a magnitude-6.8 earthquake caused a shutdown of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata after radioactive cooling water leaked into the sea is nothing compared to 2011 Fukushima accident and Japan's nuclear program still may somewhat struggle to get the necessary public support in years to come.

Some of Japan's energy experts even argue that new nuclear power plants cost too much and that they would not be commercially viable, suggesting Japanese government to seek some other clean energy solutions like geothermal and wind energy.

But the Japanese government still doesn’t give up on nuclear power. The government has already begun a review of the safety of 54 nuclear reactors in the country. And in order to further ease the safety concerns government is also planning new nuclear recycling program aimed at solving the nuclear waste disposal issue.

Not only that, last year Japan made energy deal with Kazakhstan, country that holds the world's second-largest uranium reserves and mines about 20% of the world's uranium ore. According to this deal Japan has promised to supply nuclear energy technology to Kazakhstan, and Kazakhstan should in return ensure Japan a stable supply of uranium.

Whether this will be enough to convince Japanese public to accept yet another surge of nuclear power still remains to be seen. 

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