Japan’s Scenarios for a Non-Nuclear Future
The Japanese government has proposed three possible scenarios for its energy future in light of the widespread revulsionagainst nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima. Last week the government held public hearings asking people to express their views. The results are illustrated in the chart above.
As illustrated in the left-hand bar chart, Japan currently gets 26 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, 63 percent from fossil fuels and 10 percent from “renewables,” almost entirely hydroelectricity. Wind and solar energy play an insignificant role. Future scenario 1 (second from left) would reduce nuclear energy to zero. Fossil fuels would be increased to 65 percent and renewables ramped up to 30 percent, almost all of it coming from new wind and solar generation. Scenario 2 (third from left) would retain 15 percent nuclear while reducing fossil fuels to 55 percent. Renewables would be increased to 30 percent. Scenario 3 would actually involve building new nuclear capacity, although the contribution would be reduced to 20-25 percent because of the retirement of older reactors. Renewables would be increased to a 25-30 percent contribution.
More than 1250 people responded to these proposals, both at public hearings and over the Internet. The numbers at the bottom measure the outcome. The overwhelming number of respondents (70 percent) want to get rid of nuclear power altogether. 11 percent favored a reduction of nuclear to 15 percent and 17 percent wanted to build new reactors. Another 2 percent suggested scenarios not envisioned by the government. As often happens, the public response may have been by people with extreme views. But public opinion in Japan has turned decisively anti-nuclear.
Phasing out nuclear, however, will not be easy. Japan has almost no fossil fuel resources and is entirely dependent on coal and gas imports. This has already pushed up the price of electricity so that some factories are now relocating to the Philippines and other Asian countries in search of cheaper energy. Ramping up wind and solar will be very challenging. “People really don’t understand the difficulty in promoting a wider use of renewable energy sources,” was the comment of one unnamed government official. For now, Japan seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Public anti-nuclear sentiment is strong yet it is highly dependent on nuclear for its prosperity. The country faces a difficult future.