For now, anyway, Japan is doing without nuclear energy:
Over the weekend, Japan's last remaining nuclear reactor shut down for regular maintenance. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, reactors have not been allowed back on. Japan is now the first major economy to see the modern era without nuclear power.
Tomari Nuclear Power Plant's reactor 3 in Hokkaido shut down Saturday evening in a much-watched move by government, industry and environmentalists, who are waged in a public battle over the future of Japan's energy policy.
This is especially tough as Japan enters one of its sweltering summers, but really, that’s the least of it:
The party's deputy policy chief, Yoshito Sengoku, bluntly said without nuclear energy the world's third-largest economy would suffer. "We must think ahead to the impact on Japan's economy and people's lives, if all nuclear reactors are stopped. Japan could, in some sense, be committing mass suicide," Sengoku said.
The party in question here is the ruling Democratic Party (similar to our Democrats – the main conservative party is – yes – The Liberal Democrats). Japan has 50 operable nuclear plants – the four at Fukushima, of course, excluded – but that’s a lot of workers in a twilight zone.
Right now, most of the facilities are in refueling or maintenance mode. But a lot of the talk is what will happen if Japan doesn’t proceed with nuclear energy.
Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, joined the plea in an April press conference. "We cannot possibly agree to do the kind of energy saving yet again this year, or every year from now on," he said, referring to the country's efforts to turn off air conditioners and shift operation of production lines to weekends. "The government must bring the nuclear power stations back into operation."
Some also warn of the long-term fallout as the rising cost of electricity, coupled with a strong yen, hits production and could prompt companies to shift operations overseas.
"Depending on the weather, power supply could constrain output during the summer," the Bank of Japan said.
"But we must be mindful not just of such short-term effects but the chance (the power shortages) could hurt Japan's medium- and long-term growth expectations," the central bank said in a twice-yearly report on the economy issued on April 27.
We shouldn’t be hypocrites about this. If Japan chooses a different direction for energy, that’s its right. Government and industry and business seem to understand the possible consequences and if they can live with them – or a find a way around them - so be it.
With the loss of nuclear energy, the Ministry of Environment projects that Japan will produce about 15 percent more greenhouse gas emissions this fiscal year than it did in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress in reducing emissions. In fiscal 2010, Japan's actual emissions were close to 1990 levels. It also raises doubts about whether it will be able to meet a pledge made in Copenhagen in 2009 to slash emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
But that doesn’t mean you can reasonably think it a good outcome. Japan is working with communities to turn the facilities on – Japanese society is exceptionally consensus based – and that may prove successful for at least some of the plants before summer kicks in.
So it’s not all grumbles and hrumphs. But it’s mostly so.
I paid some attention to the French presidential election because it looked for a time that it would be consequential for nuclear energy. But that seemed to fade.
We should at least finish the story:
Francois Hollande became France's first socialist president in 17 years on Sunday, ousting conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in what one observer called an "earth-shaking" election.
With 95 per cent of the ballots counted, official results showed Hollande with 51.6 per cent of the vote compared with Sarkozy's 48.4 per cent. More than 80 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the run-off election.
It is a consequential election. Hollande is, I believe, only the second socialist president since the founding of the fifth republic in 1959 (though Francois Mitterand, the first socialist president, did hold on for 15 years). But you can explore what that might mean on your own – for our purposes, Hollande is not anti-nuclear energy and has no plans to close any plant aside from an older one due to retire.
So, um, anyone else having an election soon?