Despite public protest, Japan is going nuclear—again.
Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were gradually switched off for inspections. Meanwhile, new regulatory standards have been developed. Reactors are undergoing inspections.
Prior to 2011, nuclear power provided nearly one third of Japan’s electricity. Lost power-generation capacity has been replaced by importing pricey fossil fuels. Japan has few natural resources of its own. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports: “Japan imports more than 90% of its fossil fuels, and is particularly dependent on the Middle East for oil and natural gas.”
The loss of nuclear power has raised household utility bills and made it harder for industry to operate profitably.
The economic impact of shifting from nuclear power to imported fossil fuels is evident in Japan’s trade deficits. In OilPrice.com, John Manfreda sees a direct correlation. He says: “Before the Fukushima accident occurred, Japan’s economy was driven by its large trade surpluses, which it achieved year after year. However, since Fukushima, Japan reversed that trend, and began posting trade deficits on a yearly basis.”
Japan’s fourth Basic Energy Plan, approved in June 2015, concludes: “Nuclear power is an ‘important power source that supports the stability of our energy supply and demand structure.’” The plan increases nuclear energy from current levels by restarting most of the idle plants, while calling for an approximate 10 percent reduction from the pre-Fukushima level of 30 percent. WSJ adds: “Japan also plans to continue its use of coal, the cheapest of its energy imports. … Already this year, the nation’s utilities have announced the construction of seven new coal-fired power plants.”
Addressing Japan’s plan, World Nuclear News states: nuclear power “gives stable power, operates inexpensively and has a low greenhouse gas profile.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government reportedly wants to operate as many nuclear plants as possible “to meet the nation’s energy needs and grow the economy.” Twenty-five reactors are seeking a restart.
“There is no greater issue for the health of the Japanese economy,” Robert Feldman, managing director of Morgan Stanley’s MUFG Securities Co., opined in WSJ, “than energy.”
Japan is restarting its nuclear program. Iran, supposedly, wants nuclear power. Driven by the need for clean reliable power, to bolster energy security, and to reduce dependence on imported fuels, many other countries are pursuing nuclear power. Russia has eight reactors under construction—which will double its nuclear capacity. China has 26 reactors in operation and 24 under construction, and is now building identical power plants that allow for cost efficiencies that come with mass production. Many new plants, such as the reactors being built in the U.S., utilize “third-generation designs that improve safety and cut costs,” E&E News reports. Fourth-generation reactors, which use different coolants and fuels, are in the proposal stages.
The lesson here is less about nuclear power and more about the need for energy that is cost-effective, reliable, and secure.
In a country such as Japan, with limited natural resources, nuclear power meets the need. In the U.S., where we are rich in coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium (the fuel for nuclear power), we have more options and should select the energy source that is right for specific needs and locales. As Japan has learned, energy is one of the most important components of the economy; and expensive energy has hurt it.
In the U.S., instead of having an energy plan, we drive up costs by regulating away our energy advantage and throwing money at expensive energy. It is time for America to really evaluate our energy needs and maximize our advantage.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth