Japan’s nuclear dilemma

Six months since the Fukushima disaster and Japan is still in the midst of a nuclear crisis. After the earthquake and tsunami, and resulting problems at the Fukushima plant, Japan has shut down the majority of its nuclear power stations. For a country that relies heavily on nuclear power for its electricity this is nothing short of an economic disaster. The Japanese government will not re-activate the power plants until all have been cleared. For a while, rumors were that Japan may be shutting down nuclear power stations permanently, but that is not yet clear.

To compensate for the reduction in output, Japan is forced to import oil-fuel and natural gas. The increased fossil fuel demands seem to be mostly met by Qatar, Australia and the Arab states.

To avoid paying huge sums for imported fossil fuels, the Japanese government is working hard to reduce demand in the country. Industry has already cut its energy use by 20%. This is an astonishing drop. Naturally, companies are looking at alternative energy generation and/or movement of their operations overseas. For an economy already fragile, the latter is very disconcerting. Although there is a strong push to build renewable plants now, it will be some time before they could replace nuclear plants.

Japan is not the only country that is re-considering nuclear energy. Germany has moved to close its nuclear plants permanently. It is rather interesting because it is not yet clear from where Germany will get its replacement power. Ironically, the two main options are electricity from coal-fired power plants in, for example, Poland, and electricity generated by nuclear power in France.
Other large users of nuclear power have not as yet changed their views. India, China and Russia will not revise their nuclear programs. I wonder if France will, but I do not think that even today’s nuclear accident will make a difference.

In the meantime, Japan is in dire straits.

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