Japan should continue to use nuclear power as a key energy source despite the Fukushima power plant disaster, a government panel said on Friday in a reversal of a phase-out plan by the previous government.
Given the turn over in Japanese governments, policy reversals could go on forever, but the recommendation is sound. That doesn’t mean that there will not be significant pushback, though.
The primary example remains the former, much respected, prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who has really gone on a tear against nuclear energy:
In a speech Nov. 12 at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Koizumi said, “I think it will be good (for Japan) to end (nuclear power generation) immediately.”
It was a brutally clear message from the mouth of a person who had long been at the center of political power.
And though he faced a lot of criticism for taking this stand (he was for nuclear energy as PM), his words carry real weight with the public:
In an opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun last weekend, 60 percent of the respondents agreed with Koizumi. Among the supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party [also Koizumi’s party], 58 percent agreed.
Polls being polls, it can be parsed any number of ways, but Koizumi’s influence can be little doubted.
Which doesn’t mean the recommendation is not good news. It is. Very good news.
Business Week explains why:
Energy costs also are a concern for the government. Power prices in Japan are more than twice those in the U.S. Electricity for industry use costs an average 17.9 cents per kilowatt-hour in Japan compared with 7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.S., 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in the U.K., and 12.2 cents per kilowatt-hour in France, according to an energy ministry research paper citing 2011 figures.
The alternatives to nuclear power either pollute more or come with a higher fuel cost, limiting Abe’s scope to reshape the energy industry and boost economic growth. Coal use rose 26 percent from a year ago in October. While solar power is taking off, the added capacity is nowhere near replacing what traditional plants supply.
Whatever Japan decided about nuclear energy has always been up to Japan. Whatever arguments could be arrayed to show that it remains the best solution to Japan’s social, economic and energy goals cannot trump the country’s experience after Fukushima Daiichi and the fantastically destructive earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the accident. That’s a national trauma outsiders cannot gainsay.
And now we need not. Because Japan is close to returning to nuclear energy – current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will need to issue a policy statement – but as Business Week writes, “this is the strongest signal yet that it wishes to keep nuclear energy.”