Japan embraces nuclear power in major post-Fukushima shift
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that his country would restart its idled nuclear power plants and weigh the construction of new facilities, a major pivot in energy policy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Kishida attributed the decision largely to the energy crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has touched off a massive increase in energy costs across the globe.
Japan, which imports 94% of its energy supplies and relies on Russia for 9% of its natural gas, has been especially hit by the price hikes.
“As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the global energy situation has drastically changed,” Kishida told reporters Wednesday.
Under the new plan, the country will seek to bring back 17 of its 33 operable reactors by summer 2023 and extend the life of its existing plants. No new nuclear facilities have been built in Japan since 2011, when a tsunami and earthquake triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
As of July, Japan had just seven reactors in operation, with three others offline for maintenance.
“Whatever happens globally, we need to prepare every possible measure in advance to minimize the impact on people’s lives,” he said, adding that he has instructed the government to come up with concrete plans for the nuclear power sector by the end of the year.
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Public opinion has shifted in the years since the 2011 disaster, including the war in Ukraine and an energy supply crisis, which has threatened blackouts and supply cuts in many parts of the country.
Nuclear is also embraced by many as a way to help reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and help meet its pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Japan just really does not have many better options” than to turn to nuclear to meet its clean energy goals, Rich Powell, executive director of the energy group ClearPath, told the Washington Examiner last fall. He pointed to Japan’s dense population and mountainous topography, as well as its high percentage of energy imports.
“There’s nothing like an energy crisis to make nuclear look really good,” Powell added.
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Kishida previously signaled his openness to restarting the idled nuclear plants. Speaking before members of parliament in May, he said: “With priority in safety, we will take concrete steps to restart [plants]” to help maximize the use of nuclear power and help stabilize high energy costs.