By Bob Duncan
The Japanese government has announced it plans to phase out nuclear power by 2030 and increase its renewable output, in a major policy shift after last year’s Fukushima disaster.
The country’s attachment to nuclear power was severely weakened after the Fukushima accident sent radioactive materials into the ocean and atmosphere, contaminating the food and water supply, and forced the evacuation of 160,000 residents.
Before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power supplied about a third of Japan’s energy needs and the government had planned to increase nuclear’s share of the energy mix to 50% by 2050, but the country now aims to increase the use of renewable energy as nuclear power is phased out.
Under proposals put forward by a government panel, the last of Japan’s reactors would be shut down completely by the year 2040. The panel said Japan’s energy policy would be completely overhauled.
“Based on facing the reality of this grave accident and by learning lessons from the accident, the government has decided to review the national energy strategy from scratch,” a policy document said.
“One of the key pillars of the new strategy is to achieve a society that does not depend on nuclear energy as soon as possible.”
Responding to the news, Friends of the Earth’s Head of Campaigns Andrew Pendleton said:
“Fukushima reminded the world how risky nuclear power can be – Japan’s landmark move sends a strong signal to other nuclear powers.
“Britain should follow suit. We’ve got a bounty of renewable energy at our fingertips that’s already falling in cost and which, together with energy saving and smart technologies, can meet our electricity needs.”
Japan follows Germany, Switzerland and Scotland in announcing their intention to be nuclear free.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, ordered half her country’s nuclear plants to be shut last year and pledged to replace the rest with renewable energy sources over the next decade.
The Scottish Government has refused to sanction any new nuclear plants being built in Scotland and is committed to generating the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s own electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020.
Japan’s plan would give it almost 20 more years to accomplish the same goal.
The Japanese Government plans to replace nuclear with a mix of more renewables and energy generated from importing oil, coal and gas. Japan is already the world’s third-largest importer of crude oil, after the US and China. The country is also the largest importer of thermal coal, on a par with China, and by far the biggest buyer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), a form of supercooled natural gas shipped in huge tankers.
However, the Japanese government intends to avoid adding to their energy bill by replacing as much as possible of the closed nuclear plants’ capacity with renewable energy production.
“A total exit from nuclear is positive for the economy, on balance,” said Andrew Dewit, a professor at Rikkyo University who studies energy policy.
“It incentivises Japan’s political economy to focus on efficiency and renewables. Japan lags in both these areas and they offer the greatest opportunities for growth.”
In abandoning atomic power, Japan aims to raise the share of renewable power to 30 percent of its energy mix but will remain a top importer of oil, coal and gas for the foreseeable future. Renewable energy, excluding hydro-electric dams, currently accounts for a slim 1 percent of Japan’s electricity supply.
The new strategy also calls for a push to reduce energy consumption through efficiency and other measures to at least 10 percent less than 2010 levels.
The SNP’s Energy and Climate Change spokesperson, Mike Weir MP said:
“The world is waking up to the massive safety risks presented by nuclear energy as Japan becomes the latest country to announce its intention to go nuclear free.
“The Scottish Government has already ruled out any new nuclear power stations in Scotland and it is time the UK Government followed Scotland and Germany’s lead.
“Scotland is well placed to lead this global renewable energy revolution with our huge natural advantage. Scotland has the capacity to generate a quarter of Europe’s offshore wind and tidal power and a tenth of the Continent’s wave energy. Realising that potential will be a priority for the SNP Scottish Government.
“The SNP have already made a commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2020. By achieving this ambitious target, we can secure Scotland’s power supply and create 130,000 jobs in the renewable and low carbon sector.
“A reindustrialised Scotland can lead the world’s renewables revolution.”
The UK government is already planning to build new nuclear plants in order to meet the energy shortfall south of the border. However French giant EDF, who are pivotal in the construction plans have insisted on price guarantees that would mean household bills increasing across the UK.
The demands by EDF, who are insisting on £140 per MegaWatt hour, are over 50% higher than the current prodcution costs of onshore wind which currently stands at between £80 – £95 for the same energy.