Japan is officially restarting its nuclear energy program, after shutting down its reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis. It’s an understandably emotionally fraught decision, but as the FT reports, it’s crucial for the country’s shaky economy:
Japan must inevitably return to nuclear power in the long run. Friday’s decision by prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to restart nuclear power generators will not have come as a surprise, given the pro-nuclear stance of the government. But it needs to move more quickly to assure the supply of electricity to Japan’s fragile, recovering economy. […]The loss of nuclear brought a costly increased reliance on imported natural gas. By the beginning of 2012, liquefied natural gas import volumes had jumped a quarter. That is a big factor in the disappearance of Japan’s current account surplus, nearly 5 per cent of GDP before the accident. Electricity prices to households jumped a fifth in the 18 months after the earthquake.
Nuclear’s benefits aren’t just economic; it’s an effectively zero-emissions energy source, and when countries phase it out, as Japan and Germany did in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, their emissions go up. Of course, if that was the whole story, it would be easy to chart Japan’s energy future. But when nuclear goes wrong, it can go very wrong. Japan sits on a tectonic boundary—not the ideal location for nuclear plants (it’s worth noting that the case for nuclear energy in Germany, which is not vulnerable to the same seismicity, is much more straightforward).Fortunately, there’s a new generation of nuclear reactors coming down the pipe, reactors that are fail-safe by design, which would lessen the likelihood of another Fukushima catastrophe happening again. Nuclear remains an important component of a robust, green energy mix, but we need to be smart with where and how we deploy it.