Japan's nuclear energy debate: some see spur for a renewable revolution
Though Japan appears to be set on a short-term course that includes a significant role for nuclear power, the future is geared toward a revolution in renewables, say advocates.
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Miyazaki says focusing on safety is a more realistic short-term goal for Japan's energy needs. He represents a portion of the Japanese population who are calling on power company executives to review and update safety measures to ensure that even plants subjected to quakes and tsunami of a size seen last month would emerge unscathed.Skip to next paragraph
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Government reassurance for nuclear power
The government, worried that Japan's economic future would be threatened without nuclear power, is attempting to ease public concern over safety. Given recent events in Fukushima, however, it will struggle to make a convincing argument in favor of building new plants.
The country’s 54 reactors provide 30 percent of its electricity, and there are plans to increase provision to 50 percent by 2030. The government has said that greater use of nuclear energy will better equip the country to reduce its CO2 emissions.
As the government struggles to convince the public that nuclear power is safe, plans for 11 new plants – including the world’s largest – have been put on hold.
The Japanese public is divided. According to a poll earlier this month in the Mainichi Shimbun, 40 percent of respondents said that the nation's dependence on nuclear power was unavoidable, while 41 percent supported cut in the number of plants. Only 13 percent said the plants should be permanently closed.
Not in my back yard
The fiercest opposition to nuclear power has come from communities affected by the current crisis, and others who fear a repeat in their own backyard.
Now, attention is shifting to plants in other regions that, according to seismologists, are due to be hit by a powerful earthquake. Pressure is mounting for the immediate closure of Hamaoka nuclear plant in Shizuoka, which campaigners say is particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage.
“The Hamaoka plant is potentially even more dangerous than Fukushima,” says Mizuho Fukushima (no relation to the plant), leader of the Social Democratic Party of Japan. “It should be closed down now. Scientists say the region in which Hamaoka is located is due for a major earthquake. If we wait until that happens, it will be too late.”
“When you talk about risk you need to have a qualitative risk standard,” says Mr. Kasai, who now works for the Radiology Education Forum. “When we talk about the probability of a nuclear accident it very small – about 10 times less likely than an airplane crash.
“But when you factor in the potential damage, the risk is incredibly high,” he says.
“The people of Japan have to decide what to do about our nuclear power plants. My view is that for the immediate future, we have no choice but to continue with things as the way they are."
If Japan appears to be set on a short-term course that includes a significant role for nuclear power, the future is geared toward a revolution in renewables, Mainichi Shimbun said in an editorial: “Now is the time for Japan to pursue electric power sources that are suitable for such an earthquake-prone country and adopt lifestyles that match the supply of electricity.”