Sometimes, it takes a disaster to open people’s eyes. For Japan, it took and earthquake, tsunami and continuous nuclear fallout. The Japanese government announced Friday that it intends to stop using nuclear power by the 2030s. Many say this dramatic shift is the result of public concerns about safety following the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which experts have called the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Since the Fukushima fallout, the effects of the radiation leak have been widespread and varied, from mutant butterflies to tests that suggest Japanese youth are already showing signs of internal radiation exposure. Immediately following the disaster, Japanese officials ordered inspections of all nuclear reactors, and started to look more seriously at solar and geothermal energy.
Now, it appears that the current administration, which has lost favor with the constituency, is ready to pull the plug completely. To make up for the lost power, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, intends to triple the share of renewable power to 30 percent of Japan’s energy mix. However, a policy statement admits that the country will remain a top importer of oil, coal and gas for the foreseeable future.
It may just be political posturing, a way to engender goodwill and votes among an electorate that’s more enthusiastic about renewable energy, but in this case, the end may justify the means. Still, if Noda fails to get re-elected, there’s fear that the plan to phase out nuclear may be reversed. Critics say taking all nuclear power plants off line will lead to painful increases in the cost of electricity.
According to Reuters, all but two of Japan’s nuclear 50 reactors are idled for safety checks and the government plans to allow restarts of units taken off line after the disaster if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator. The move follows suit with Germany which last year announced a plan to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.
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