Japan Considers Nuclear-free Future_Featured_, Alternative Energy Friday, June 8th, 2012
(Nature) It’s official: nuclear power will have a much smaller role in Japan’s energy future than was once thought. Since the meltdowns and gas explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in March 2011, all of Japan’s remaining reactors have been shut down for inspections and maintenance. Last week the government offered a glimpse of their future, and that of the country’s nuclear power in general, when it published an outline of four ways to satisfy Japan’s future energy demands. One scenario recommends using a market mechanism to determine the nuclear contribution. Under the other three, nuclear power would supply at most one-quarter of Japan’s energy by 2030 — and in one case, none at all.
The scenarios come from a 25-person advisory committee to the industry ministry. The committee has been meeting since last October to discuss revisions to the 2010 Basic Energy Plan, which had proposed that nuclear energy would generate 45% of the country’s electricity by 2030. The sharp reductions in that proportion mean that Japan will struggle to reach the 31% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that it had planned by 2030; three of the new scenarios post more modest targets of 16%, 20% or 23% (see ‘Energy seesaw’). A fifth plan included a heavier dependence on nuclear power (35%), enabling greenhouse-gas reductions of 28%, but committee head Akio Mimura, president of Nippon Steel based in Tokyo, said that he had made the “heartbreaking” decision to discard that option because of popular opposition to nuclear energy.
Before Fukushima, Japan’s energy plans depended on an ambitious expansion of its nuclear capacity, which accounted for 26% of the country’s electricity in 2010. That plan faced opposition before the disaster and is now all but dead, with local governments blocking efforts to restart existing plants. Some prefectures, including Fukushima, hope to use renewable energy sources to become self-sufficient without reliance on nuclear energy.
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Photo: Toru Hana/Reuters