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|Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari nuclear|
power plant is seen in Tomari town on Japan's
northern island of Hokkaido (Reuters / Kyodo)
The government has faced increasing pressure from environmental groups to abandon nuclear energy following the Fukushima catastrophe. It forced tens of thousands of Japanese from their homes after dangerous levels of radiation contaminated local food and water supplies. The decision to turn away from nuclear energy is a controversial one in resource-poor Japan. Prior to the March 2011 disaster the country drew approximately 30 per cent of its energy from nuclear power, a figure that was expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2030 to meet exploding energy demands. The energy vacuum is set to incur shortfalls and power cuts this summer, with supplies falling short by 14 per cent in Tokyo and up to 16 per cent in western Japan.
"I have to say we are facing the risk of a very severe electricity shortage," said Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano in April. He added that rising fuel imports would be felt by the Japanese taxpayer.
Japan bites off more than it can chew?As it stands the transfer to a non-nuclear energy infrastructure will be very costly as Japan will have no choice but to step-up its fuel imports. Preliminary figures from the international energy agency increase oil-demand to 4.5 barrels a day, costing an additional $100 million, a bleak prospect for an economy that reported its biggest ever trade deficit in 2011.
|Elderly women shout slogans as they wave banners|
during a demonstraton denouncing nuclear power
plants (AFP Photo / Toru Yamanaka)
Environmental groups see the closure of the country’s last operational plant as an opportunity to wean Japan off atomic energy and follow the German model. However, creating the infrastructure for green energy will take time and significant investment. Currently, Japan gets around 8 per cent of its energy from renewable sources and is looking to raise that figure to over 25 per cent by 2030.
Many have criticized Japan’s plans as too ambitious and view the reactivation of the country’s power plants as inevitable in spite of public protest. Dr. Howard Hayden, Professor of Physics at Connecticut University, said that Japan “will probably go back to nuclear in due time because money talks.” “It’s costing them very dearly. They haven’t got nearly enough electricity and they have actually called on some factories to cut back their operations quite a bit,” said Hayden. He added that some factories in the North of Japan had been effectively shut down because of power shortages. “Eventually they will probably restart most of their reactors. The ones that are in possible danger of tsunamis, they’ll of course either shut down completely or build some much better protective walls around them”, Hayden concluded.
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