Time to Rethink Japan's Energy Future
Nearly four weeks after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, emergency personnel are still struggling to stabilize the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Beyond the immediate need to minimize further radioactive leakage and protect public health, the government is beginning to reconsider its long-term plans for nuclear power expansion. International media coverage has typically assumed that Japan must expand its electricity generation from coal, oil, and natural gas if nuclear is no longer an option. But the leaders in Tokyo do not have to be restricted to just these choices. A review of Japan’s geothermal, wind, and solar energy potential shows that domestic renewable resources could easily power the world’s third-largest economy.
The aftermath of the two natural disasters has brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of a nation currently reliant on imports to meet the vast majority of its energy needs. Japan imports all the uranium used to fuel its nuclear reactors, which account for 11 percent of its energy consumption. And Japan is the world’s top importer of both coal and natural gas, which make up 21 percent and 17 percent of its energy use. It is also the third-ranking oil importer. Consumed largely in the transportation sector, oil accounts for 46 percent of Japan’s energy use. The remainder comes from renewable sources, mostly hydropower. Altogether, Japan spends some $160 billion a year importing all of its coal and uranium and virtually all of its oil and natural gas.
Earth Policy Institute is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to planning a sustainable future as well as providing a roadmap of how to get from here to there.