Japan faces a deepening energy gap that may lead to new investment in nuclear power despite overwhelming public opposition.
In a country that knows all too much about nuclear holocausts — Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the Fukushima nuclear-reactor disaster in 2011 — public support for nuclear power is almost nonexistent.
After Fukushima, Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors were taken out of operation. With them went 30 percent chunk of the energy diet of the world’s third largest economy.
Since then, and starved for energy, Japan has turned to imported oil and natural gas to fill the gap.
This includes coal, a major polluter and greenhouse-gas source. Japan has been building new coal-fired power plants since 2011.
But mindful of the environmental and economic consequences of costly fossil fuels, the Japanese government appears eager to turn back to nuclear energy — which in many ways is cleaner and, it is often claimed, cheaper and safer, if the proper precautions are followed.
Today, only nine Japanese nuclear reactors are operational, while 24 are in the process of decommissioning.
But most of the rest will, by the government’s reckoning, reopen in the future, with a goal of supplying over 20 percent of Japan’s energy needs by the end of the 2020s.
The problem, of course, is that almost no one wishes for a return to atomic power.
Public sentiment is heavily against the idea — according to a 2015 poll by the Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, only 10 percent of Japanese wanted nuclear energy.
Public suspicions of nuclear power were further stirred with recent news that dangerous levels of radiation will prevent spent fuel from being removed from the Daiichi reactors until 2024, 2027, or even later.
The relative affordability of nuclear energy compared to fossil fuels also took a hit after Fukushima, with the Japanese energy industry spending over $45 billion on safety nuclear-safety upgrades.
Fukushima Prefecture itself will be the site of a giant solar and wind project that will occupy farmland and mountain slopes; the multibillion-dollar project will take five years to complete, and generate 600 megawatts — about two-thirds of the energy output of a nuclear plant.
While in many situations renewable energy infrastructure displaces people or takes valuable land out of commission, this is not the case in Fukushima.
The new renewable-energy stations are being built in part on farmland that can no longer be used after being poisoned by heavy radiation doses, and in mountain regions that have been depopulated after the nuclear disaster devastated the regional economy.
The Fukushima prefecture has also made a public commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy sourcing by 2040.