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Japan is No Longer Using Nuclear Energy, But That May Change

Japan is No Longer Using Nuclear Energy, But That May Change

As of Monday morning, the last working nuclear reactor in Japan had been turned off, ostensibly for inspection, but no firm restart date was set. For the forseeable future, the nation is entirely without nuclear power, and Japan is facing some difficult political and social choices. In the wake of the Fukushima nightmare, the Japanese public is nuclear-shy, while the current government is promoting a return to full nuclear capacity. The conflict between the two is likely to come to a head in the coming months as no fewer than four utilities have applied to restart their reactors.

After Fukushima, the worst nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl meltdown in the 1980s, Japan’s rapid shutdown of numerous reactors made sense. Residents and the government alike were concerned about safety and wanted time to reevaluate their use of nuclear power. As of the summer of 2012, only two reactors were left active, with Japan turning to other sources for energy. Prior to the mass reactor shutdown, Japan was meeting around 33% of its energy needs from nuclear power. That’s a big gap to bridge with power from other sources.

Japan managed to up its use of renewable energy by 15%, but much of the energy needed to fuel the country’s resource-demanding industries and populace came from imported fossil fuels and other nonrenewable sources. That’s bad news for the planet, but also bad news for Japan, which was becoming dependent on imports that were escalating in price, driving costs up for consumers, too.

In Tokyo, for example, power bills rose by 30%, putting the squeeze on many residents, especially aging adults. Japan gets very cold in the winter, making high power bills a significant concern in low-income communities where people may be forced to turn the heat dangerously low to save money.

At the same time that power bills were rising, utilities were pressuring the government to allow them to restart nuclear plants, and residents were fighting back. Japanese people flooded the streets to protest nuclear energy while Fukushima continued bleeding radioactive water into the ocean and presenting an escalating series of challenges to cleanup crews. Anti-nuclear sentiment was even strong enough to lend Greens Japan real political teeth.

All of that is starting to change, however, as the cost of high utility bills takes its toll, a new government takes up the reins and Japanese utilities fight for restarts before their idled reactors are down so long that they’d require major maintenance work before being reactivated. While Japan may be nuclear-wary, and temporarily without any power from nuclear sources, it’s highly likely that reactors will be restarted as early as next year.

Even with a commitment to energy from alternative sources, Japan needs energy now, and it may be willing to pay a high price for it. In the wake of Fukushima, numerous reports indicated that the disaster wouldn’t have been as extensive if the plant had been properly inspected and maintained. While the Japanese people may be coming around to nuclear power again, they may be warier and ready to fight for better nuclear safety in the interest of protecting themselves and their communities.

 

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Photo credit: Emilian Robert Vicol.

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32 comments

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12:48PM PDT on May 22, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

8:09PM PDT on Oct 30, 2013

I watched a special on the Bikini Atoll where hundreds of Nuclear bombs were exploded. The soil is still contaminated but the ocean and surrounding area is free from radiation. Look it up. People want to get away from coal and oil. But they do not want to use Nuclear which produces far less waste and pollution because some have said it is too dangerous. Which is more dangerous dirty air or what could happen if the worst case scenario. We do not have to imagine the worst case Scenario it has happened twice. Chernoblyl and Japan. In Russia the wildlife is prospering greatly and doing will. Those who did not leave are okay. How many died from the Radiation in Japan? As far as I know none from the radiation.

How many die each year from breathing polluted air? Thousands. If you live in China it is even worse. The sun is truly there become a bright light in the sky like an old song predicted. Out in the Country by Three Dog night.

10:58AM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

ty

6:16AM PDT on Sep 21, 2013

KUDOS BILL E: The owners and operators of the Fukushima Nuclear power plant lied to the Japanese government and to the Japanese people about the safety and the operation of "the plant" - to say nothing of its' location on the coast - prior to, during and after the nuclear disaster.

Some what difficult - to say the very least - to regain trust after all of that BS; but it can be done.

For a start, the "World" should have an International Nuclear Reactor Inspection Team - appointed by the UN - in inspect and regulate the construction and operations of all nuclear reactors worldwide. Don and I CAN! :-))

12:31PM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

They swore off nuclear energy because of the Fukashima disaster and then quickly changed their minds. Now that the world knows the the disaster is far from over and continues to expand they're taking a no nuclear stand again.
I completely sympathize with their need vs supply. But this is no sudden mind expansion. They know what the problem is. And like many other countries they trade off the future for economic gain today. I have trouble feeling sorry for them. The government and power industries. I feel bad for the people because their government and power industries are failing them. Bite the bullet. Do like Denmark and Germany have done and are doing. Go green. For everyone's sake.

11:24AM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

Nuclear energy is not the answer. Green, renewable energy is.

10:37AM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

The Japanese people really puzzle me. They of all people should want to ban all nuclear materials from their country.

10:27AM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

''THE JAPANESE PEOPLE ARE NUCLEAR-SHY'' ... - WELL, NO KIDDING !! - THAT'S PUTTING IT MILDLY, IF YOU ASK ME... - THEY SHOULD BE 'NUCLEAR-TERRIFIED' AFTER WHAT HAPPENED IN FUKUSHIMA...

10:21AM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

Let the non-sinner cast the first stone.

10:01AM PDT on Sep 20, 2013

When we all stop using nuclear energy we can point fingers...3 mile island.

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